London Hat Week, founded by the redoubtable Georgina Abbott and Rebecca Weaver goes from strength to strength. This year it delivered a cornucopia of instruction and advice to the budding milliner. Workshops covered trimmings of all kinds, base construction as well as specialist courses and a tempting suppliers’ fair with some very tempting offers.
Workshops offered the opportunity to learn from some of British millinery’s greatest – Bridget Bailey, Edwina Ibbotson just two of the stellar names on offer – but for me, the advantages were as much in the hints and tips on offer in the sidelines. So here, for fellow millinery enthusiasts, is a small digest of the small but important hints and tips on offer.
Spray starch, ironed into silk organza helps it to hold pleated folds and is a labour-saving way of preparing the fabric.
For light fabrics prone to fraying, metallic binder set in place with some glue helps to ‘finish’ the edges that are unavoidably exposed. Though, equally, never be afraid to try some ‘artistic’ fringing or fraying of edges – sometimes it works beautifully.
For intricate pleating, use bondaweb to hold fabric in place to make it easier to sew into place once you are happy with the effect.
When stiffening felt hoods use a 50-50 solution of stiffener and methylated spirits – the alcohol helps drive the solution into the felt and reduce the risk of creating white marks. The purple colouring of the methylated spirits is also a useful reminder that you have made up the solution.
When stiffening felt, use a short-haired round brush (a stencilling brush cut down is perfect) to drive the solution into the hat in small areas. Put a pin in the base of the hood to remind you of the start-finish point as you spiral down from the crown.
When draping felt, let the hood and the steam dictate the folds. It can be a daunting experience but allow the felt to adopt its natural folds. Then use dressmaker pins to score it and hold it in place and leave it to harden overnight.
Faced with a choice to two alternative thread colours (for base and trim) always choose the darker – it will be more invisible.
12cm is the standard cloche depth (measured ear-to-ear over the top of the head) – go deeper or shallower for a more extreme effect. Remember if you go shallow that you might need to wire the edge to hold the hat on (and then hide the wire under petersham or another trim).
Thread a needle using the end of the thread from the reel not the cut you have just made – your sewing will work with the weave of the thread and it will be less prone to knotting.
Use the thimble on your middle finger to push to needle through stiff fabric. It leaves the index finger free to direct the needle and will help you stitch faster with practice.
Mark the front and back of a felt hood with soap and/or bright tacking thread – ‘X’ for the front and ‘I’ for the back as the couture milliners used to do.
File down cut edges of felt to even and soften the line with fine sandpaper or a nailfile.
Though London Hat Week is over for this year, Atelier Millinery and many of the other master milliners continue to offer workshops year round so it is always worth checking their websites for details.