I have finished my first hat for my husband. I think he looks very handsome in it and you know…. Interesting people wear hats. This hat is a midnight blue fur felt trilby with a simple leather band trim.
Here are some photos of the process… at this point he wasn’t too sure about this whole hat thing.
He is still uneasy about were things are going
The brim is being blocked using a brim block that I carved last summer in Jane Smith’s block carving class at Morley College.
Jeff is tall and my original crown shape had a fairly deep crevice in the top which made the hat sit high on his head. The combination would have made riding the London Tube a little difficult. I didn’t want to carve a new crown block so it was time to do some hand shaping. I was able to combine steam from my kitchen kettle with an egg iron in a stand (thank you Susie Hopkins), a head block, along with some tips from a great video on hand shaping a hat by Kevin from Pork Pie Hatters. It took some time but looks much better.
The hat is getting closer and Jeff is starting to believe that it might actually be wearable in public. There was still a significant amount of cutting, brushing, sanding and stitching to go, but I was getting excited to see the finished hat on Jeffrey.
He wore his new hat to the Hidden London Underground tour we took last weekend at the Charing Cross Tube station. It was a good tour and he looked so handsome in his fur felt trilby, despite the high vis vest.
Hatting Happiness is both of us wearing hats I’ve made. I love my green velvet 8 piece cap with hand dyed silk lining.
I have dozens of things to write about from my Hattin’ Around adventures. Blocks, feather dyeing, new shops and vintage hats.
This post is about my vintage Bowler Block from Victoria Grant. My repair efforts were a total success! See what repairs I made in a previous post, New Old Bowler Block Repair. I am completely in love with this new block. I sprained my left thumb and got minor steam burns on my hands trying to block with it and it took me three tries to get it done satisfactorily, but isn’t she pretty.
Tips curtesy of the Bowler Block
Wood glue and filler really does work to repair a block. It held surprisingly well.
Cover the block in two pieces of plastic. One for the gully between the crown and the brim and another to cover the hole thing, then cut the gully open. This is important to protect the block from the moisture and stiffener as well as protecting the felt from discoloration.
Make sure a wool felt is really wet before blocking. I first tried just a good steam, but the felt that I had previously stiffened was not flexible enough. Then I gave it a good soaking, wrapped it in a tea towel put the bundle in a plastic bag and put the bag in the refrigerator for several days. Then steamed the felt until dripping and blocked it. It still was not easy, but it was do able.
Pin down the crown first. I tried doing the overall piece first, pinning under the brim, thinking I could then just press the gully into place. It did not work. But pinning the crown first with a piece of torn cloth twisted, pressed and pinned into the valley worked very well.
Caution: rust risk between white felt and metal pins. Pins these days are not what they use to be and my first attempt left me with a few rust marks. Use fresh pins and set the felt to dry immediately after blocking. I do not have a drying cupboard, so I used the oven on its lowest setting, turning it on & off with the convection setting on to circulate the air. The oven door left open a bit to release moisture and not get too hot. Whew! no rust. The rusty pin hole on the excess felt from my 1st attempt was cut off. No one will every know.
Brushing makes a difference. Brush the felt and scrape a pin over the pin holes to rough up the felt fibers. It is beautiful and I haven’t even trimmed my new bowler hat yet.
I have recently discovered the joy of museum collections. No, it wasn’t the my first time to a museum. It was my first time to see behind the scenes at a museum. I did not realize that museums had people who can show you items that are in their collections but not on display. I owe a huge Thank You to my Morley College hat friends for showing me how it is done on a recent trip to the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum of Childhood to view small straw hats and bonnets.
Recently, I was in California, to watch my youngest son graduate from university. I reached out to Marla Novo a the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH). I asked to see hats in their collection. She was very cooperative and I was able to book an appointment to view many hats. Not all museums are this receptive. Some museums require that you are studying in a particular field or have an interest in a specific item.
Many museums have the pieces in their collection available in online catalogues which is a great way to see lots of vintage hats. The Santa Cruz MAH does not yet have their catalog online, but it is a project they are currently working on. Since I wasn’t able to pre-select the hats from an online catalog, I was presented with a binder with paper sheets, known as Composite Object Condition Forms (COC), with a photo and brief description of each hat.
It was a daunting task to choose from what looked to me like a hundred possible hats. I had about an hour and a half of Marla’s valuable time and I am not good with decision making.
I had done a little research to see if there were any “Must See” hats in the collection. I had discovered they had a few Kate Handley pieces. She was a milliner in the early 1900’s with a shop on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz. I am hoping to create a future post about her, however this post is about a mysterious little black felt hat.
The first hat I choose from the binder catalog was a lovely black fur felt topper but it was the second hat that this post is about. What caught my attention in the COC was the shape of the piece in the photo, somewhat of a more angular crowned cloche. It had a basic description, “HAT, WOOL, BLACK, with Grosgrain Ribbon and Bow.” I read the COC in more detail. The “LABELS, INSCRIPTIONS” field intrigued me. It said, “ unreadable label inside”.
I had hoped that perhaps I would be able to recognized the label or make out some details and thus return some value to the woman and the museum which had gifted me this time and opportunity.
But alas when the hat was on the viewing table and the white gloves were on my hands, I would add little to their sparse information. Other than the “Grograin” ribbon was “Petersham” ribbon. Many hats were to follow with little thought to this little black hat.
The following day as I waited for the glass to be replace on my phone. This was my 1st broken phone. I was irritated at myself, the time and expense, but dragging my finger across broken glass was not going to be tolerable for very long.
While I was waiting for my phone to be repaired, I had the opportunity to haunt a Santa Cruz antiques shop on Pacific Avenue, called Goodies. I was looking for anything related to hats; hat stands, hat pins, hat blocks, and actual hats. Off in a corner they had two hats that caught my eye. One in particular had a pleasing shape. I took it from the rack and observed the sequins and velvet ribbon. It gave me a feeling of familiarity. I turned it over to see the inside. It had the stamp. It was a sister to the one at Santa Cruz MAH! A very similar shape, but trimmed differently, as the one the previous day. Except I could read this one. Glenover, Henry Pollak, New York.
I needed a picture! I needed my phone back! I scurried off to pick it up from its repair and promptly returned to Goodies. With the shop keepers permission, I took photos of the hat and excitedly emailed them to Marla at the museum.
I felt like I had just found a clue to an important mystery. I don’t know why hats give me such a buzz and this was another new exciting type of hat buzz.
Now, who was Henry Pollak, where were these hats made, and when? Why were there two hats of a similar shape from the same designer from New York in the fairly small city of Santa Cruz?
My following research is not extensive or exhaustive and most of my questions remain unanswered. I found various bits of information but no complete story.
The first millinery reference I found of Henry Pollak relating to the millinery trade was in a 1916 journal called the Illustrated Milliner and the last reference I have found is a dissolution of Henry Pollak, Inc in 1990. I am sure there are many stories during the 74 years of hatting and millinery associated with the Henry Pollak name. I have but a few nuggets gathered.
I observed that Henry Pollack hats appear to be fairly common on Etsy and Ebay with estimated dates of the 1930’s through the 1960’s.
There were several variations of Henry Pollak 100% wool hat bodies with additional branding of Glenover, Glenover Fawn Tra Felt, Belvedere, Flamand and Ritz.
1948 – The Trademark I recognized was registered in New York.
1959 – Reading Eagle Newspaper, pg 28 in an article about the Union buy out of the Merrimac Hat Factory in Amesbury Massachusetts quotes Henry Pollak. He was described as a sales agent in New York.
1970 – Halston, the American fashion designer and milliner with Henry Pollack Inc., established Halston International, ready-to-wear.
1970 – Legal filing between Henry Pollak, Inc. (the Plaintiff) and the Secretary of the US treasury (the Defendant), related to trade tariffs.
I have enjoyed looking into Henry Pollak and wished I could have found more about the man and the business, but with so many hats to make and other milliners to learn about, I will stop here. My Hattin Around quest continues, but a Henry Pollak hat will forever catch my attention.
50 Hats That Changed The World
by Design Museum, published in 2011
HA3 – 50 Hats is 10:41 in length, scroll down to see some text and images that go with this podcast.
I really enjoyed this book. It was a great combination of lovely pictures and short paragraphs packed with information. The writing is accessible but also requires a bit of a stretch for my vocabulary.
Hats have three possible purposes, protection, symbolic and aesthetic. I like how the books finds a balance between these three factors. It highlights how a hat is often meshed with the wearers identity. This may be on of the reasons for the decline in hat wearing after WWII combined with a general trend toward informality. I don’t know if Philip Treacy, Stephen Jones, or Noel Stewart were influential in this book, but they all got a rather prominent shout out early on.
There was an interesting quote from the book, “Everything around us is designed.” This quote seems appropriated as the book is written by the “Design” Museum, but personally I think most things more often evolve.
With a broad stroke overview, the book is heavily weighted in the 1900’s by deferring several shapes into the 1900’s, such as the bicorne which was a hat commonly worn by captains and pirates. However the first hat was an impressive crown from 1300’s, but it then skips ahead 400 years to 1789 and Marie Antoinette’s milliner. Nine well known hat shapes were highlighted for the 1800’s and a whooping 32 of the 50 hats were allocated into the 1900’s. Reasonably only 7 hats were saved for 2000’s.
It must have been a rather daunting task to try to distill the entire history of hats into just 50 and also how to order them to be relevant and interesting. In general I think the book is fantastic, but bringing some of the older hat styles into the current times is misleading, such as the tweed flat cap has been around for 400+ years but doesn’t get a mention until the year 2000.
Areas that I really did like were the discussion about the Bowler, introduced in 1848. I was particularly thrilled to learn it was originally made by James Lock & Co.. It was commissioned by Edward Coke for his gamekeepers to protect their heads from low branches and was designed by Thomas and William Bowler. This was exciting for me because for London Hat Week in 2014, I went on a tour of James Lock and Co. on St. James Street in London. If you get a chance, it is a lovely store. The people were delightful and the hats and history are unmatched. The ladies hats are upstairs and designed by Sylvia Fletcher. I’ve not met Ms. Fletcher but one of the ladies that works there, Claire Strickland, is a really talented milliner. I met her last year at London Hat Week. Take a look at some of her amazing creativity at http://www.clairestrickland.com.
There is a lot of history involved with the bowler, which is called a Derby in the USA. One element I learned about while in college, which is hat the Bolivian women wear a bowler as part of their traditional clothes.
The Balaclava was a term I’d heard, but it was nice to see a picture and be able to see the spelling for the hat that I’d always referred to as a ski mask. Luckily my ski gear is all over the house right now, so I was able to do a “selfie” of my balaclava.
The Victorian Bonnet is fascinating with a huge amount of variation in shape, style and trimming. It was validating that it was mentioned as I’ve been working on making a strip straw Victorian bonnet for several weeks now. It is slow going, but I hope to have photos for the blog soon.
I didn’t like the mesh floppy hat by Maria Blaisse for Issey Miyake. I thought is was just a piece of sinamay that was tied with a string on a wooden head. The only redeeming element of this entry was that this may have represented the introduction of sinamay as a new material in the millinery world. Sinamay was introduced to Australia in 1990, so perhaps the 1987 introduction of the “Mesh Floppy Hat” was a big deal based off materials no necessarily its design. Sinamay is a straw type fibre from the Abaca tree, a member the banana palm family and it is pervasive in the world of millinery.
One of the great things about this books was that I learned about people I’d never heard of, such as Alice O’Reilly, who was the milliner for Cecil Beaton, who designed the hats for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady.
And Lindy Hemmings who designed the large black hat, worn by Andie McDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral. That wide brimmed hat was made by Herald and Heart in London, here is a short video about this famous hat.
In addition to learning about new people, I also learned more about people that I have heard of such as Philip Sommerville. The Millinery community was saddened last November (2014) with the passing of Philip Sommerville. I knew he was a very well accomplished milliner and that many current London based milliners apprenticed with him, but I didn’t know he’d made hats for Diana, Princess of Wales. All of this made me excited all over again with a new (to me) hat block that was from Philip Sommerville’s collection at one time. I have a beautiful beret that is 1/2 done, waiting for the trimming, that I made from his old block.
I adored the second to last hat. I was Aretha Franklin’s grey felt, that she wore for the inauguration of Barack Obama. It was lovely, but I am not sure it qualifies as one of the 50 Hats that Changed the World. But it certainly was a momentous day for many people as the US inaugurated it’s first black president.
Noel Stewart finishes off the hat line up, but it is his quote that caught my attention, “People often draw parallels with sculpture and fashion, but in the case of millinery, it’s a genuine love match.” I like it.
I borrowed my book from the library, but I wish I’d bought it as an easy reference.
This post was originally planned to be posted in conjunction with the movie release of 50 Shades of Grey, as I thought the similarity between the 50 shades and the 50 hats was funny. However our family had a last minute opportunity to go skiing in the French Alps for a few days, and I’ll admit that I dropped everything to dust off the ski gear for a chance for a skiing adventure. Thus it is a week later than planned.
The book was better than I expected. It was interesting and informative with plenty of eye candy.
Three new words for me.
“Leitmotif of the queens style” – recurring musical idea which is associated with a particular idea, character or place.
“the classic Ska uniform” – music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950’s.
“Vivienne Westwood’s elective oevure” – the body of work of a painter, composer, or author.
It was autumn 2013 and I was surprised with an invite to join Edwina Ibbotson and another apprentice, Mee on a field trip up to Luton to visit three millinery suppliers. Boon & Lane the block makers, Baxter, Hart & Abraham suppliers of felt, straw, and petersham, and Randall Ribbons suppliers of feathers, flowers, an endless array of sinamay colors and much more.
We drove to Luton in Edwina’s light blue vintage Mercedes. That is an experience unto itself. It takes me about 10 minutes to figure out how to do the old seat belts. It is an odd hook and magnet device. The journey to Luton is about 40 miles through London and takes over an hour and 45 minutes, but we arrive mid morning at our first destination, Boon & Lane.
Boon and Lane are the block makers. This was an experience to remember. There were two men working in the block factory that was filled with wood and sawdust on one half and different types of sand on the other. They make both wood and aluminium (also spelled aluminum in the USA, so the reason we pronounce this word differently is that it actually spelled differently in the UK vs US) blocks. The aluminium blocks are used for more industrial use, where they are attached to a heating device and there is a top and bottom piece that clamps together to form the hat shape all at once.
Alan Davies and Steve Lane make everything. When I was there, Alan was working on wood blocks while Steve handled the sand packing in preparation for the molten aluminium. They were welcoming and generous with their time. Explaining what they were doing, the stages of making a hat block and showing us the various pieces of equipment.
Thus far in my hat career, I’d done very little blocking, but I was completely seduced by being there. As you are sure to have guessed, today would be my first custom made block purchase. I choose a large downward flat 45 degree brim block and an oval head shaped flat topped crown block with slightly rounded edges, to contrast the domed oval crown block I had in my very limited collection. It took a couple of months for the blocks to be made. Shortly before Christmas, Edwina came back one day with her new blocks along with my freshly varnished crown and brim blocks. They were beautiful shiny golden yellow with my name and the year stamped into them. The excitement was only dimmed a bit as I tried to figure out how I was going to get this massive brim block home on my bike. Alas, I could only manage the crown block that day on the bike, I’d have to wait and bring it home on the bus a couple days later. The journey was made easier by using my very large linen furoshiki
Next stop –Baxter, Hart & Abraham, suppliers to the millinery trade. This place of tidy and well organized. The textile junkie in me thrilled to touch the various different felts. Wool felt, fur felt, and the really furry felts called Melusine. Then there was the colors. My shopping strategy goes, walking around and gather everything I want. Then doing a mental subtotal of how much it will cost. Then feeling anxious about how much I have, then putting back some of my treasures, until I don’t feel the sense of financial panic. I bought several wool felts to practice on without too much financial impact, but my prize purchases were a yummy small (cone) cognac (gold) and a beautiful large (capeline) grey fur felt. It was glorious and I was so nervous at messing up the fur felts. I envisioned a gray (grey) large brimmed hat with a fairly simple crown that I could wear all winter. However, it wasn’t going to be that winter that I’d get to wear it.
Last stop- Randall Ribbons, the makers of all things feathers and flowers. They had a minimum order. Their website says a minimum order of £30. I did not spend anything at Randall Ribbons. I think I was a bit overwhelmed by this point. I had placed a rather sizable order at the block makers, and purchased enough felt at the millinery suppliers to keep me busy for a while. And honestly I just could not envision how I would trim these new hats of mine. I would have bought a simple hat pin or something, but with a minimum order, I left with nothing. I cannot say the same for Edwina or Mee.
We only went to three places, but it was such a full day. Many thanks to Edwina for the tour of Luton and Mee for being a newbie like me. It was nice to be able to listen to someone else’s questions.
Since the field trip to Luton, I’ve heard the name mentioned several time in relation to the hat making and millinery industry. In this country they have been making things for a very long time. Thankfully there are others who love doing to research and writing of the history and I get to read the fruits of their labour. It was oddly relevant as I have just begun taking a strip straw class at Morley College with Jane Smith.
Stay tuned for future episodes about Luton History and my Strip Straw Saga.
My first attempt at a podcast and its about my first felt hat shape which is a cloche.
The Cloche was my first felt hat. I learned so much from this one little hat. It has been altered at least three times. My husband had to scouch down and look up under the hat to see me. I had to reduce the crown height as it was so tall than it could come down around my eyes. I also reduced the brim length especially at the back. It is perfect now, a bit worse for wear as I’ve knocked it around a bit but still comfortable and looks great with my burgundy boots and black wool coat.