Tuesday, August 11, 2009

WAWAS Work--Blocking Straw and Felt

Last Friday was the monthly scheduled Studio Crawl for the WAWAS--Wrightsville Avenue Working Artists Studios. I chose to block a parisisal hood and a felt hood so that everyone could see how that is accomplished. While I didn't do anything other than block them during the open studio hours, here you will see the process including the finished product.

As some of you know, I love the free form process of blocking a hood over a block. The many, many styles one can achieve using this process never ceases to amaze me. I usually just let the material guide me as to what it wants to be. Something I call 'the spirit within the material,' is real...I've experienced this too many times. Sometimes the material knows what IT wants to be, NOT what I want it to be. Try it; you too will be amazed.

Above you see the folds and pleats I used to come up with the style. See the bead-head pins? They help keep the folds in place until the straw dries. It has been spritzed with water and steamed over a steamer to help control the straw, to get it stabilized into a shape.

Here you see the shape on Deloris, one of my mannequins. It helps immensely to see the hat on a mannequin head or a REAL head. I've made many shapes that looked fabulous on the block and horrible on the head. I find this especially true with the more abstract shapes that free forming gives you.

Deloris wears the finished product. I've stitched two vintage shades-of-green flowers of silk and velvet, plus a few stipped coqs with beads. It is difficult to see but the straw is the palest shade of green, more a natural straw with a tint of green. I really didn't like the color of the straw until I started looking for embellishments. When these flowers were placed against the straws it popped nicely!

Here's the wool felt after it has been blocked on this 'negative' block. The hood is placed into the block instead over the block...at least the crown. Then the brim is pulled over the edges of the block. You are actually looking at the hat upside down! I've used blocking line and pins to hold the felt against the block as there are a few indents in the shape.
This shot was taken outside because I was in the process of spraying felt sizing on the hat to stiffen it and hold the shape.

Inside again. I've taken the blocking lines off the felt and am ready to take the felt out of the block!

The crown has been removed from the block base. This is a two part block--one part for the crown and one part for the brim. Note on the back side of the felt that I was NOT able to pull the hood all the way down onto the brim part of the block. That is why you see a horizontal line across the inside back. Ah, to be remedied later.

The next few shots are experiments in embellishments. People always ask me how long it takes to make a hat. That is an impossible questions to answer! I can tell you, however, that if I am making a hat for the shop, and have every possible option for embellishment, that it can take a long time. What embellishment; how many; what color; what combination of items??
Piece above is a vintage horsehair bit. Yes, real horsehair! What we call horsehair these days is not real (and is usually a braid of sorts) and you can certainly tell the difference in feel and texture.

Next I tried a pheasant feather pad and a swirled fabric pad in gold. Needs more.

What about a combination? I really liked this but in the end thought it was too much for my tastes.
Oh, and by placing the hat on the dollie head I was able to round out that part of the felt that had the horizonal line on one side of the hat. This is not ideal, but that felt was NOT going to go up against the block in that spot. I've used the same block with straw with much better results in blocking. As some of you know, blocking a tough shape in felt can be, um, problematic to say the least.

I finally came up with using the feather pad, fabric pad, a vintage bakelite hat pin on that wide expanse of felt in the front, and a small triple loop of irridescent ribbon to pull it all together.

Another view of the final product. Can you see the indents in the felt from the block? Remember, these were also a result of using the blocking line.
So all in all it took me about 3 days to finalize these hats that are now in the shop for sale.


  1. It is an excellent post! I've just finished a course in millinery and eager to learn more!

  2. Thanks, Alice! I hope you find millinery as satisfying as I do. There is always something new and exciting to learn!