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Home > Craft Topics > Craft Introductions > Millinery

The Craft of Hat Making / Millinery

Lina Stein School of MillineryIntroduction to Hat Making

Hats have a major fashion impact and their return to fashion as a chic and fun accessory heralds a  renewed interest in the craft of millinery. Individual flair applied to a wide range of fabric and trimmings can transform a basic hat into 'designer' headwear.

Origins of hat making

Hat making is probably one of the oldest and most geographically wide spread crafts for the practical reason that hats afford protection against harsh weather conditions. But apart from being purely utilitarian, hats conferred status and revealed origin - literally saying where the wearer was coming from.

Thus, in the middle ages, an English lord would keep a workshop of hat makers on his estate to work solely for himself and his family.
For centuries, it was the sign of a gentleman to wear a richly trimmed hat, while for the poor, elaborate hats were forbidden.

Until the Industrial revolution that is. The machine took away the exclusivity of the traditional milliners and rendered stylish hats affordable. By the 1920's and 30's young women saw it as a point of honour not to appear in the same hat twice, at least not if it was recognizable. They often used a kettle to steam hats into a new shape or to revive drooping brims. Almost everyone wore a hat outdoors everyday up until the 1950's.

Lina Stein School of MillineryBasic Millinery Techniques

Felt hats can be made from any matted hair or wool material. The felt is shaped by hand on wooden blocks - industrial milliners use aluminium - and a professional milliner will have blocks in a number of sizes. The felt is slowly worked or 'blocked' into the desired hat using a steam iron or proper millinery iron. The skilful milliner can create an almost infinite variety of shapes.

Most straw hats, including the ever-popular boater, are made in two parts. Firstly, the crown is slowly worked into shape or 'blocked to get the right effect.
Once the crown of the hat has been shaped and cut off to the right depth - short for a boater - the brim is cut, blocked and attached. If the straw is lacquered before it is shaped, the milliner uses steam to soften it during blocking. Otherwise, it is lacquered afterwards to hold its shape. Once it is shaped and lacquered the straw hat is left overnight to settle.

There is much scope for trimming hats. Ribbon, dried fruit and wax fruit are all traditional for summer hats. Alternatively, scraps of old lace or pieces cut from worn out dresses or a torn silk shawl can look romantic. You can of course, buy a plain, ready made hat and decorate it yourself.

Hat pins

The essential accessory of the Edwardian lady, the hat pin, is making a comeback. Genuine antique pins should be used with care as they were designed to penetrate the huge mounds of false hair that were in fashion at the time. Modern pins are much shorter and less sharp and the tops are decorated in a variety of ways.

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