It might seem premature to be writing about straw hats, at least in London where spring is only just taking hold, but it is never too early to be making your own and that is exactly what a few of us did during Atelier Millinery’s Intermediate Millinery course. In Part 1 of this post I described how we made fur-felt cloches and this post will cover how we made wide-brim straw capelines.
We started with a vintage straw form, soaked it in a basin of water to make it flexible, placed it onto the block and smoothed it down from the top of the crown. Our tutor, Tina explained that for straw hats, the top centre is usually marked by either a cross or a square and that the weave of the straw can be seen curving around the crown from that point. The idea is to follow the direction of the weave as you smooth the straw, taking care not to pull down from the brim which could rip it.
Next as for the cloche, we secured string at the point where crown met brim, pulling it tight and then smoothing out pleats and creases. Now you decide how deep you want your crown. For a shallow crown you match it to the exact measurement of the crown of your head (taken ear-to-ear over the top). For a deeper crown you add a centimetre. The former gives a 1980s look, or a Bette-style 1930s look . A deeper crown gives you a 1970s vibe but as ever with these things, how it suits and flatters the wearer is important. After shifting the string to the right level for our crown depth, we steam ironed the crown and sides to smooth everything down.
After letting the straw dry out overnight, we marked the front and back of the hat – tradition has it that the front is marked ‘X’ and the back market ‘I’ – and then removed the string and eased the hat off the block. We ironed the brim, keeping the crown in shape with a ‘band block’ or ‘hat stretcher’ inside it. Then it was time to sew in the sweatband. As we had done with our cloches, we cut out petersham ribbon slightly longer than the circumference of the crown, curved it using the iron and then pinned it in place, taking care to ensure it was distributed evenly around the interior of the crown, before sewing it into place.
The wide brim requires a wire, secured at its outer edge, so that the wearer can adjust the angle. We cut a length of milliner’s wire to the circumference of the brim plus an additional 5-7cm overlap, and then straightened the wire before re-shaping it to the exact curvature of the brim. We secured it with tape and thread and then used clothes pegs to attach it to the underside of the brim.
We were using more petersham ribbon for the exterior hat band, again cut to the length of the crown circumference plus a 2.5cm overlap. We also cut a 10-12cm piece of ribbon that would fold over the join line to hide it. Tradition suggests that for a ladies’ hat the ribbon should meet on the right hand side, on the left for the men. After ensuring that the ribbon fitted tightly around the exterior of the crown, we took it off the hat to sew down the centre of the overlapped section in running stitch, securing it with a double stitch at each end.
After replacing the ribbon on the hat, we put a tiny stitch into each of the four corners of the overlap square, taking care to ensure that stitches were underneath the sweatband on the inside. Then we added another two tiny stitches at different points on the other side of the hat. These keep the band in place so that it does not ride up the crown with wear.
Next we blanket stitched the wire underneath the outer edge of the brim and then the final task was to hide the wire and the raw edge of the brim under some petersham ribbon. We cut a longer length than the brim circumference to give an overlap, curved it with the iron and then ironed a crease running all the way along its length so that it fitted snugly over the rim of the brim. This made the final sewing task much easier and this proved important because the stitches had to be tiny in order to be as invisible as possible.
The final product was the reward for the long task: my Bette Davis couture capeline that I will take particular pride in wearing next summer.
Atelier Millinery’s next Intermediate Millinery course runs on 2-3 July 2016 if you are tempted to try your skills and London Hat week follows on 6-12 October. I cannot recommend these courses enough as a source of highly creative fun, meeting some very interesting people and emerging with two hats that I know I will absolutely love wearing, even more so for the knowledge I made them myself, using couture techniques. Thank you Tina, Marie and all at Atelier Millinery.