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Millinery Hat Blocks - A milliners Tools

Posted on August 24 2014


It has been a while, but what an amazing Summer it has been. One of the Summer's highlights for me was a visit to the Fashion museum in Bath England. I will write about this in an upcoming blog post and post some of the amazing photos I managed to take of fashion through the years dating from the early eighteen hundreds to the current day.

For this blog I am going to talk about millinery hat blocks especially for those of you that would like to know more about millinery and the process behind it all. There are so many steps involved in making a handcrafted hat and blocking will be the first step to creating a piece. 

To keep it simple, hat blocks are moulds that you stretch fabric over and pin fabric into to create hats. They come in a vast array of sizes, shapes and materials (mainly wood)  and have been used in millinery for hundreds of years. I use hat blocks and moulds to create most of my handcrafted headwear. Nearly every piece I create will have been blocked on a mould in some shape or form.  Even for my my free form designs I use blocking techniques to aid me in creating sculptural shapes.

For somebody starting out new in Millinery hat blocks can be a very expensive investment, and even the old antique blocks available for sale in places like ebay and estate sales have a lot of bidders on them. When starting out it is good to invest in a few staples such as a dome crown and scull block, you can build your collection from there. 

I have been adding new pieces to my collection of hat blocks over the past few years. These blocks are my equipment just like a carpenter would use tools. I will use these hat blocks over and over again.  

We are surrounded by shapes everywhere we look and I am always on the look out for new interesting shapes to bring to life in my headpieces. Everywhere I look and go I am constantly looking at shapes. It could be a line or curve on a chair that has a nice shape. A leaf, a branch, a wave, a ripple in the water, a cloud, a bird in flight. One of the many things I love about millinery in these modern times is that any shape can be turned into a beautiful hat creation.  The sky is the limit and there are no hard and fast rules these days. As my mentor once said to me" think outside of the box but within the culture" wise words from a wise milliner. 

There are not many hat block makers in the World and most of them are known very well through millinery circles, which is a tight knit group in itself, I might add.  I have had some of my blocks made from a hat block maker located in England, but now I am living in Hong Kong i decided to try a different hat block maker located in Australia.

The name of the company is Hat Blocks By Design they are a family run business and Darryll Osbourne who runs the company and made my hat blocks was very accommodating and a pleasure to work with. Darryll will also work with his clients to create custom pieces. The the sky is the limit when it comes to creating your own special hat block. One that nobody else has. If you have an idea Darryll can turn it into a block

Here are some of the hat blocks Darryll carved for me from Balsa wood. The craftsmanship and detail is impeccable in these blocks. It is nearly a  shame to pin into them, but of course I will, they are not for decoration, they are millinery tools. 

The first one here to the left is a Beret style similar in shape to the Beret style the princess of Wales is so fond of and wears so often.

The second piece is a 3 dimensional block and can be used to create a 3D effect. This block is actually two blocks joined together but the top piece can also be used as a separate block in its right. 

This beautiful Dior style Brim will be a perfect block as these styles never go out of fashion and are very classic. Instead of pinning the fabric into this brim block  there is a grove around the bottom where you can place a blocking cord around it, pull tight and then stretch the material working on the bias.

This 4 grove block will make an interesting unique design. It can be used in numerous ways with blocking cords that can be placed inside the groves. This will give an indented look to the hat. 

This mini cap block is very chic with a boyish look to it and will help create lovely pieces that look lovely in Autumn and Winter using materials such as felt or a nice tweed or tartan. It is very versatile and can also be used as a cocktail hat for a day time glam event or it can be jazzed up for an evening look.

 This button block is a staple for creating cocktail hats. You can use straw, felt, buckram, many other materials or cover it with fabric such as silk, taffeta, linen, there are so many choices.

This ducktail hat block will be perfect for race-wear hats and other special occasions.

I wanted to included an antique hat block that I picked up in an antique shop in Maryland U.S.A, to show you what the old styles look like. This is a mans crown (bowler style)  and brim that comes in two separate pieces. it seem to be made of oak and is very hard to pin into compared to the balsa wood which is super soft and easy on the hands.  I have made  some ladies hats using the crown section from this old hat block. See below, I made the base on this hatinator  which I covered in straw cloth. I don't limit myself when it comes to design, it may have been intended for a male hat  but my hatinator certainly looks very feminine. I also hand-crafted this day time black and white hat from Sinamay straw utilising the crown from this antique  bowler but I  used a  peak brim block I had from a cloche style hat.  Mixing the old with the new makes for a nice looking hat, me thinks!!


And last but not least, I wanted to show my blocking pins in my Guinness ashtray used as a container (I am Irish after all). These are heavy duty stainless steel pins which I regularly use when blocking . I hope you gained more of an insight as to  how a hat is handcrafted.  Thanks for reading my blog and I will be posting my new designs I created using my fabulous new hat blocks very soon on my site. 








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