Millinery Tools for Making Hats
Equipment used in Millinery
Millinery is an age old craft and over the years the millinery tools and equipment used haven't really changed a great deal. Sure, there are some that can be put in the more modern category, but in general, techniques have not dramatically changed but it maybe just the way in which they are implemented.
Hat Blocks: The most used tools used for making hats are hat blocks. These come in varying shapes and sizes and could be made of wood or aluminum. and each head size requires a different block. The wooden block is used when cold blocking, and the cast aluminium blocks are cast as a hollow shape and placed on a heating element to heat the block for hot blocking The Brim block, which is usually made from wood, can sometimes be carved with an oval head shaped hole cut in the centre of the brim.
Drying Cabinet: Drying equipment, especially for thicker material such as felts is a necessity, unless you have several hours or days to wait for drying. These drying cabinets are not strictly millinery tools, but are vintage dryers which have been replaced with the tumble dryer, a search at a secondhand shop might be needed.
General sewing tools that will become essential millinery tools are: Scissors, tape measure, Ironing board, thimble, tailor’s chalk, quick unpick, pins etc. Several pairs of scissors for different jobs will be needed.
Note Pad, pens and pencils should be at hand whenever possible as it often necessary to jot down a fantastic idea that might have come into your mind. Don't be tempted to rely in your memory, because it may not stay there.
Pencil sharpener and eraser are also valuable assets to have on hand.
Steaming equipment is an absolute necessity, Special steamers, a millinery tool called a 'Jiffy steamer' is a worthy investment, however, my favorite is the steam generated iron, as it can double as an iron and a steamer, and is quite a lot cheaper.
Iron: I also like my chromium plated iron without any steam, which is perfect for blocking and pressing fine straws.
Pliers and wire cutters will be needed to cut and shape the hat wire. This should include pliers with a long nose.
Pressing cushions, such as the ones used by Tailors, or a self made millinery tool, folded wool blankets covered with washed calico can make getting a smooth finish to small brims or inside crowns relatively easy.
Pot Holder, hand towel and Oven Mit: These are an absolute necessity when working with the cast iron hot elements and hat blocks. (Keep in mind the safety aspect of using this equipment, as it is a matter of working with water to create steam and electricity, so every precaution should be taken).
Hand Sewing Needles made especially for sewing straw and felt are available; these come in several sizes, long and short, thick and thin. You will get the feel of which is your favourite; however, the fabric thickness can determine the size needed. These are either labeled as Millinery or Straw needles.
Thimbles are often useful when sewing thicker felts and tough straws. Get one to fit, and you will work with ease if you are not already used to working with one. My favorite, though, is one without a closed-in top, it caters for longer fingernails.
Machine Sewing needles can vary, depending on the weight of the fabric, the type of the fabric and what you are sewing. Millinery warrants a great deal of hand sewing, but there are times when the machine can be used to achieve some speed in the production of your masterpiece. I believe that in the areas that are not seen, machine stitches are quite acceptable, and there are times when stitching can be a feature, so its really horses for courses. Of course, there are many situations where it is impossible to use a sewing machine and hand stitching is the only avenue.
Hat Stands: These will hold the hat so that the hat is not resting on its brim causing the brim to distort. However, you do need to consider the size of the actual stand, as, if it is too small it may damage the crown area and cause pointed distortion where the hat is resting. A covered foam oval shape resembling your head is the best.
Brushes: Brushes, similar to these used to polish shoes are excellent for brushing up felts when blocking felt hats. This should be done in an anti-clockwise direction to brush the pile to a perfect sheen. Small paint brushes are used to apply a stiffening solution to felt and straw hats, so that they keep their shape.
Dolly: A linen dolly head enables you to work on your hats while placed on these dolly heads. The paded linen allows for pinning while viewing the hat on a "head"
Drawing pins are necessary when using wooden hat blocks. These allow your felt or straw to be secured when stretched over the wooden block, as, if it is not pinned securely felts in particular, will shrink when drying, making the hat crown or brim shorter or smaller than was intended.
Cotton covered Millinery wire: this wire is used in the construction of a hat, but can also be used to secure hats on blocks while in the blocking process, making it one of your millinery tools. The cotton covering allows the wire to be secured when sewn together for head wires etc. and not pull loose if placed on a larger head. Paper covered or plain wire will not give the same security that can be achieved with the cotton covered wire.
Old corset boning makes an excellent millinery tool to remove blocked hats from the wooden and cast iron blocks. It is important to not distort the shape when removing the hat from the blocks, and by running the flexible corset boning between the hat and the block can firstly detach any stickiness from the block and secondly allow some leverage to assist in the removal of the hat. Be aware, however, that the modern type boning is made from plastics and is not suitable, so you would need to search out some vintage clothing to find the particular corset boning I am referring to.
Plastic bags to cover the wooden block, so that the timber doesn't stain your beautiful hat before you have even finished it, as well as preserving your hat block. I usually use a layer of plastic and then a layer of cotton interlock fabric, which absorbs the steam and lays a nice foundation when blocking sinamay or straw.
Threads can vary in quality, and it is really worthwhile using threads that wont snap at every pull. The lesser quality are usually fluffy and unevenly spun and wont pull through smoothly.
Glues are not very often used in Millinery. However, there are many who use glue continually, but traditionally, it is not a common method of putting a hat together. The only times I use glue is when I need to secure a lining into the crown of a hat or something like that. Stitches are much more secure and if it is a summer hat, the heat of the sun can melt the glue to leave an area looking very second hand when it has stained the fabrics used to create the hat.
Measuring equipment: A dressmaker's tape measure is an absolute necessity. Other rulers, particularly the shorter ones can prove helpful. There is one millinery tool I have seen and haven't been able to find one to purchase, and that is a steel tape measure with a scissor action to open and extend while measuring the inside of the crown. (Let me know if you know where to find one to purchase).
These are by no means the only Millinery tools you will use, as you progress you will find others that will work for you.