November 28 was our 7th (and next-to-last) millinery class. It was odd, because only about half the class showed up – I am wondering if so many days off has messed up the schedules for some of my classmates? We were supposed to work on straws and felts, but with the power issues we had last week (ahem… apparently we blew a fuse using irons and steamers and blow dryers all at the same time…) not yet resolved (as in, not fixed) and the missing students, we had a late start.
I ended up taking back the green/white/purple straw hood – I just couldn’t think of anything modern and interesting to do with it, and I wasn’t too interested in trying to do something with more of a vintage feel with those particular colours.
I had worked on the remaining straws at home (using my kettle for steam instead of a steamer, which worked fine for the reasonably easy-to-shape straws) so I didn’t even bother bringing a straw hood to class (or the big-brimmed straw for that matter either) and instead knew that I wanted to focus on felts.
Red Felt Top Hat
So I took a look at my millinery wish list, and decided that I wanted to try a top hat, so started to think of how it would come together – then the instructor brought out her puzzle block and offered it up, so I jumped at the chance. It’s a 23″ puzzle block, so I had to pad it up with my felt for my big ol’ 24″ head, and began working my red felt hood with the steam.
Oh MY it took a LOT more work to shape than the felts! I was having a very hard time smoothing down the crown, until one of my classmates came over to help. Between the two of us and a lot of work, we finally got it down and over. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty darn good. At that point I had perhaps an inch and a half down the band, and the instructor came over to let me know that the “short” (crowned) capeline was the wrong one to use with this block, and that I would “never get it worked down much further” and that instead of trying to make a top hat, I should “just work with what the fabric wants to do”. I was irritated at that, since I was sure she had seen my choice of block when I raised my hand to have my chance at the puzzle block, when I had padded up the block with my felt, and when I had talked about using the red capeline for the hat… I said that I had no idea it wasn’t appropriate and she responded with “well you never asked”. And here I thought when I said “so… what do I do here? Is it basically just like the straws?” It should have been close enough to asking, since there was absolutely no direction on how to work with the felts.
The fact that throughout the class she was saying the same thing to the one classmate who is very far behind might have influenced my frustration as well. My classmate didn’t cover her brim block properly before blocking – and was chastised for it. She used too much water, and was chastised for it. All things that with a little more supervision or direction could have been avoided, instead turned into her just wasting her time and materials.
Don’t get me wrong… I’m enjoying the class – and I am sure that the instructor is a fabulous milliner; she just could use more experience as an instructor.
Ok.. back to the hat!
So I knew that I didn’t want to have this tiny little flat crown and a big huge brim with this red felt – I wanted a nice, tall top hat! So… I worked.. and worked… and worked… and worked. I asked the instructor if pins would show in the finished hat – and she said that in felts they wouldn’t. (Another frustration, once I was done and was taking the pins out, and saw the gaping holes, she said that they sometimes did… and I needed to pin along with the design with the thought of covering them. ARG… this is why I asked!) I pinned down an inch at a time, pulling and steaming the felt to get it to pull down and shrink in along the padded block. Eventually I got it down, much to the instructor’s surprise!
From there I didn’t have much material left for the brim, so we started looking at brim blocks. All of the ones that would fit my large crown were entirely the wrong shape, and the one that was the right shape was too small for my crown. Frustrating! I can imagine millinery being an expensive business to start up – since you’d need a variety of head size blocks (in a variety of styles: domed, flat, shaped, etc), and a variety of brims, in a variety of sizes and shapes. I started out using one of the blocks kind of backwards, but it was becoming very tedious and ineffective, so instead I started steaming and hand-shaping the brim instead. I had a feeling that I’d need further work on it and the chance to wire the brim before I could do much more, so I paused at that point to let the hat cool, and started on my second felt hood.
Green felt hat
This hood is much shorter – just a hood, not a capeline, which means there’s a lot less fabric to work with. But, it’s the softest, smoothest, high pile felt, and it’s just gorgeous to touch. The colour isn’t anything I would normally wear, but when my hair is red, it will be super pretty I think. I started thinking about playing with the one-piece cloche block, but after my less-than-satisfying experience with the straw cloche, I changed my mind before getting too far along. From there I asked the instructor for ideas, and she suggested… cloche.
Instead I settled with a fedora-like crown with a tipper to get a really interesting shape in the top. I steamed and set the tip, but that is as far as I got in class, and the hat is still very much a work-in-progress. Since we only have one more class, I will have a lot to work on in order to get things done when I no longer have access to the blocks!