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March 2017

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Project: 1920s Sun Hat, Part One

It's Labor Day today in the US, and unlike most folks who get the day off for cookouts and fun, i went into work and labored! (I had dye work i had to get done for Pericles, fabric that needed to be dyed before the drapers could cut their pieces out for the costumes we're making in-house. I worked on some hats off and on while waiting for water to heat.)

Remember that 1920s hat with the fishbone inset that won my poll a while back? This one?


I've been working on it as an example for my students in millinery class--i start out doing the projects a stage ahead of them, so they have a practical example of the various steps i'm teaching. This one's fairly far along and i have a good batch of photographs, so i thought i'd make a first post on the progress.

heavy buckram crown

The first step was to stretch the crown. I chose a head block slightly larger than i wanted the hat to be, wrapped it in plastic wrap, and marked out the shape with a thick black marker. I soaked a piece of heavy buckram in warm water and pulled it over the block, pinching out darts as needed and clipping away the excess. (You can see in the deformation of the weave of the buckram how much shaping i was able to get with just pulling it across its bias.) I used steel drafting pins to anchor the buckram to the block and let it sit overnight to dry. Once it was dry, i traced my crown shape line and removed the buckram from the block, creating the dome shape you see in the above photo. I used a wide zigzag stitch on a standard domestic sewing machine to reinforce the darts--the buckram sticks to itself but not so well that it doesn't bear reinforcement. I made sure to mark my center front and center back, tried the crown on to check that bottom edge measurement, then trimmed away my excess down to the pencil line.

* * *

brim mock-up in brown paper

Here you can see that i've marked my style lines on the crown--where that fishbone inset goes, basically--and created a mockup of the brim shape. I usually do this in a sculptural draping sort of way, by taping and cutting and adding in or taking out darts of paper wherever i want shaping. For this one, i did a lot of comparing between the width of the crown and fishbone inset to the width of the brim in the original image, then adjusting my paper brim accordingly until i got what seemed like the right shape. Note the wire taped on the edge to give the paper some stability. (I usually wire a paper mockup so it looks as much like the finished hat will look as possible--i can then usually reuse the wire in the actual brim as well.) In a theatrical setting i'd take it into a fitting at this point and look at it with the costume, talk to the designer about the shape/scale, etc., before moving on to the next step. Since in the case of the class I'm functioning as the designer, i only had to worry about whether i liked it. I do!

* * *

crown with mulling and threadmarking

This one's a little blurry, for which i apologize, but i think it still shows you what's going on here: namely, that the crown has been wired along the bottom (zigzagged on by machine while wearing safety goggles, in case the needle hits the wire and breaks), then bound with French elastic, which is essentially no-fold bias tape, and the entire thing covered in icewool. Icewool is also known by a range of other names--MacFleece, fleecy domette, eskimo, French fleece--and serves kind of the same function that padding does on a chair arm, or batting does inside a quilt. It gives some loft support to the cover fabric, so it doesn't hang, bag, or cling to the buckram and show its stiff texture. This step is called mulling or baffling.

You can also use baby flannel or some other type of fleece if you don't have icewool, but i often use icewool because it's so forgiving and easy to work with. I'm also working on a hat (which i'll write up in another future post later on) on which i've used baby flannel as my mulling, so once i post that you'll be able to see the difference.

The other important thing to notice here is how i've thread-marked my style lines through all layers--now they can be seen both inside the crown of the hat and on the outside of the icewool.

* * *

the fishbone starts to go on...

Here you can see how i've started the pin the fishbone detailing into place. I'm using two types of matching metallic-thread quilting cotton cut on the bias, alternating patterns for each step of the fishbone. For now, I'm just pinning them into place (good thing, too, as i notice in this photo that i need to adjust a couple of the plaits for uniformity) along my thread-marked style lines. I'm using slightly wider strips than in the original image, because i only had a fat quarter of each of these fabrics and didn't want to run out of them before finishing the inset!

* * *

side view

This picture is in a bit better focus, particularly on the icewool section. You can see i've done the back half first--if i have a choice about something like this, i always do the back first because if i learn something in the process i can implement it on the front. There's not always time in theatre to go back and undo a day's work, but actors try not to show the audience the backs of their heads, so if i'm going to have a less-fabulous side of a hat, the back's the ideal placement on that. Luckily, i think the back of this one will turn out pretty excellent.

* * *

brim with upper brim fabric partly applied

Here i've skipped a few steps--cutting the brim out in buckram, wiring the edge and mulling it with icewool--and am onto the application of the cover fabric. In this case, i'm using a green crossweave silk taffeta embroidered with a foliage motif. (Long-term readers will recognize the fabric from last season's Amadeus, worn by the opera singer Katerina Cavalieri. I'm using some of the remaining fabric left over from the making of the costume. The sides of the crown will also be covered in this fabric.) At this point, i've cut out the headsize opening (leaving a good 1" seam allowance) in the buckram layer, but left the icewool and cover fabric intact. I want to retain the tension across the headsize opening while i putz around with finishing the brim edge and the like--i'll cut it all away in there when i get to the point where i attach the brim to the crown.

I've threadmarked the headsize opening and if you look closely you can see the stitching along the very edge where i've attached the cover fabric to the French elastic beneath. That's one of the reasons you sew it on covering your wire--it gives you something lighter than the buckram to stitch cover fabric to. It also helps mask the location of the wire, so it's not a hard bump around the edge of the hat.

That's as far as i've documented as yet; i'll hopefully finish it this week or so and get the remainder of the process up here for y'all to see.

And, if you love this hat all to bits to the point that you want to own it, it's probably going to be one of the items available in PlayMakers' Spring Auction--I'm doing a small collection of one-of-a-kind, hand-made millinery under the La Bricoleuse label just for the auction! The current idea is that they will all be hats that could be worn in a modern context, even if they are made to conform to historic shapes (like this one), and they'll all feature some element of fabric or trim or similar which has appeared on the PRC stage.


After you blocked your crown, did you use any sizing at all for additional stiffness/sweat proofing? Or are the layers of domette, lining, etc., sufficient?
I didn't further size this hat, as it's going to be a streetwear hat that will likely only rarely get worn, and the style is such that it is pulled down tight to the head.

I spent a lot of time debating how much structure, if any, to put into that crown, in fact. I thought about whether sizing was necessary, or a wire support cage inside it,and talked about it with my students in class.

I don't like sizing pulled buckram hats for the time involved--i already have to wait for the buckram to dry after i've blocked it, so to then add another several hours' or overnight's worth of dry time on sizing is prohibitive, especially in theatre when time is of the essence (or when i'm trying to stay a step ahead of my very fast students!).

So, i had been considering wire to reinforce it, either a "birdcage" sort of deal (arcs of wire CF to CB and side to side, with a support ring halfway or 2/3 up the depth), or a wire along each of those style lines (also with a support ring or a side-to-side arc).

Ultimately though i thought that the head itself is crammed so far up into the crown of this hat--it's like a cloche with a brim on it--that the head of the wearer supports the hat when worn, even if the buckram gets a bit wooby from heat/sweat.

Or, that's the theory anyway. :D
" Icewool is also known by a range of other names--MacFleece, fleecy domette, eskimo, French fleece-"

May I ask your source for this? I've been looking, but the stuff I found was not as nice as what you seem to have. And the one place I have found it is in the UK.

And thank you for your progress shots. I am learning quite a bit.
Our source is Whaleys Bradford in the UK. I order it by the bolt, the same time we order a bunch of other stuff in bolts.

HatSupply.com has it, under the name French Fleece in their "foundation materials" section, but i've never ordered it from them, so i can't speak to the quality.

Richard the Thread also has it in their "Fabrics" section, but again, i've not ordered from them so i have no idea what the quality's like. http://www.richardthethread.com/

If you do order from either of these, let me know if it's good stuff!
Wow what a gorgeous hat, I love the fishbone. I missed your poll entry due to my vacation, but I would have voted for this one too!

Thanks for posting about the process :)


BEAUTIFUL!! Do you have any pictures of the front of the hat? How wide does the brim get? Is it suppose to sit on the head at and angle or just above the brow?
The front of the brim is quite narrow, maybe about 2.5-3". Unfortunately, i haven't actually finished it yet (i do these as teaching examples for my classes, so they don't always get finished in a timely fashion). When i eventually do--maybe the next time i teach the course, in fall of 2010--i will post pix!