Cloche Encounters (Part 2)


Although a cloche hat is one of the simplest forms of hat design, I have been discovering how much hard work, precision, care and effort is required to make one.  It has also given me a whole new perspective on the art of millinery and the level of difficulty involved in creating more ambitious and intricate designs.  Part 1 of this post found me in Atelier Millinery’s workshop, steaming, blocking and shaping the wool felt into a decently-shaped cloche under the expert eye of Tina Giuntini.

Now came the trickiest and most frustrating part of the process: pinning the sweatband into the inside of the hat.  First we pinned the ribbon in a circle, unfolded end slightly overlapping the folded end.  Then we had to position it the right way up, having already curved one side of the ribbon: shorter side towards the crown and the rough edge of the pinned ends against the felt.

We had measured out our petersham ribbon for the sweatband 3cm longer than the hat’s circumference and then ironed a 1cm fold at one end (for the back seam).  20151129_142919That still meant that there was more ribbon than circumference so the (not so fine) art of pinning in the sweatband is an almost scream-inducing task of evening out the distribution of the petersham inside the hat.  We started by putting in four pins: front, back and two sides.  Even out the ribbon.  Add more pins between the first four.  Even out the ribbon.  More pins.  Even out the ribbon.  And so it went on – every time new pins went in they seemed to highlight unevenness in the distribution of ribbon and I had to go back and re-position things.

Eventually I got as close as I was ever going to get and I began to sew the ribbon in with a “stab” stitch so as to make the stitching invisible on the exterior of the hat.  Starting at the fold, the needle goes through the felt to the exterior of the hat and then re-enters through the same hole but at an angle pointing away from the starting point. You then “travel” a little to your next “stab”, keeping the line of stitches around 1mm from the base of the ribbon.  20151129_160417Going all the way around the band took around 45 minutes to an hour and this was a job I loved.  It was relaxing after the rage of ribbon-positioning but satisfying too as, mysteriously, all the excess ribbon that had caused me such frustration seemed to disappear.


Finally came the moment I was really relishing: adding the exterior decoration.  I had chosen a black lace ribbon for this and so, after checking which way was front, I draped the ribbon around the crown and pinned it in place.


Once satisfied with the position I could begin sewing again – the same stab stitch along the top line of the lace.  Once the lace was secured around the circumference, I just had to fold and sew the excess under the brim.


Something was still lacking though – it needed a little glitter so I added a sequinned and beaded flower patch where the lace ribbon crossed.


So, after around seven hours’ work, frustration, fun, creativity, steaming and stitching I could hardly believe that I was holding a cloche hat that I had made for myself.  It was a moment of real satisfaction – it had turned out even better than I had dared hope.  I wear it with pride.

If you love hats or even if you are just curious about the milliner’s art, I recommend having a go.  If you are in London, check out Atelier Millinery’s genius workshops at 9 Smiths Court (off Brewer Street) and moments from Piccadilly Circus.


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