A history of millinery
The oldest hat shop in the world is in James St, London. James Lock and Co was established in 1676 and is still family run. Robert Davis a hatter from Bishopsgate set up his hat shop in a prime location, next to St James Palace and near the coffee house frequented by the political classes. Locks were the creatures of the bowler hat (named after William and Thomas Bowler who made the prototype), then called the Coke, as it was made for William Coke in 1850. The bowler hat started its life as protective headgear for gamekeepers.
One of the main characters in Alice in Wonderland was the mad hatter. Hatters of old used to mercury nitrate in the felting process and the fumes damaged their lung and brains.
The Hat Works Museum in Stockport, is the only museum in the county dedicated to hatting, hats and head-wear.
John Hetherington was a hatter who famously was arrested for wearing a hat that was calculated to frighten timid people, the top hat.
Tools of the trade
Hatmaking, depending on the complexity of the hat, requires many skills and potentially lots of tools.
Some standard things are hat blocks (pillbox, two piece brim and crown, whole head) with rope lines, ropes with slip knots, tape measure, pins, thimbles, kneedles and heavy threads for structure that will not be seen and fine threads in the colours of the material being used, a selection of scissors, water spray bottle and steam iron for wetting and heating felts for shaping, markers, heat cloves, millinery wire (for stucture) and ribbon that can be curved. A hat stretcher depending on the number of hst forms you are creating.
You can purchase hand woven materials and silks for your hats that give a unique feel but you will need to make sure that any imperfection in the material are ditched and not passed onto the hat. Be selective.
No two silks (hatters plush) are exactly the same, as it is a natural product produced by silk worms then woven.
Glue is use where it is of benefit to the hat and sewing is impracticle, like when attaching feathers.
Felt is a popular material for hats because it can be shaped so well.
Hats need to be shaped, trimmed and sewn.
You start with the cutting process for which you can just use a pair of scissors, if you are making one hat at a time to order. Cut all the shapes and sizes you need for the finished hat.
After cutting you will be blocking (shaping from the hood) it on a wood or aluminium block.
After blocking, if the hat has a brim then you would cut the the brim to the correct shape and then put a supporting wire around the edge to keep it stiff. Then you would bind the edge with a ribbon or material.
Tips and tricks
If you are making a hat to order have the customer pick and approve the colours from the material you have rather than from swatches. When you order from a swatch, it is very unlikely to be the exact the same shade when it arrives, which could leave you and the customer unhappy.
You can use a single piece of material for the colour but you could also layer multiple materials to create different tones.
Panama hats are made from grass that is woven to create a material. A very tightly woven material is like a cotton and once turned into a hat can be folded up. This is not the case with an inferior grade of weave.
If you are using all natural and handmade materials no two hats will be exactly the same.
A hat is a very personal object and if you are making a hat by hand for an individual then you need to understand what they want to convey on the day. Try to complete the hat with a week or so of meeting and talking to the customer, so that you can remember there personality.
Ideas and inspiration
There are a number of different roles in the making of a hat, all of these can be done by one person or in a larger hat makers there may be a team. For example the trimmer that finishes the hats once they have been cut and shaped. Learning the crafts associated with millinery like sewing can help you.
When wearing a hat it is important to put it on correctly. Have the hat at a slight angle and tipped either forwards or backwards. Choose that hat that you want but make sure you get advise from a person you like.
The hat does not have to be matched to a dress or a suit it can also be matched to the colour of your eyes. This is especially true with day wear.
There are a lot of different hats, like