Thursday, April 20, 2017

Mortem's Tricks or Treats: The Hat Atop My Batty Head

Well folks, here I am again.

It occurred to me while writing a reply in my previous post that the pillbox hat kind of deserved more than a little footnote to the work spent on the final look for my gothy Easter ensemble.

Ok, so the process of making the pillbox hat was slightly more than what I initially made it seem like. Yes, the pillbox shape was easy to draft; it is just a circle and a band that matches the diameter.
However, there were certain and important factors that I considered heavily before construction on this "little" project.

First, I was going to use cardboard... but throwing back to the coffin purse I made for myself (here's a completed view) a few years back, as wonderful as it was the cardboard I used for the front and back pieces inevitably collapsed. Cardboard is intrinsically temporary-- lesson firmly reiterated. As an aside, this purse still outlasted any store bought purse I own; every month it feels like I'm patching up anything from Kreepsville.

Sorry not sorry if you love Kreepsville. Small rant over.

Anyway, buckram is what any milliner would recommend... though I am not a real milliner (I'd like to think I'm still capable, though) so it's not like I had the best on hand, but I am a sewist which does afford me better substitutes than mere cardboard.

I used notions in my stash that were otherwise much more niche than other items, like my 72F Peltex ultra firm double sided fusible interfacing by Pellon, which is what I used as the foundation-- I reserved this primarily for the bottom of bags, but served no other purpose to me... until I discovered it made a great foundation for my fascinators.

Fused the stiffened material to the peltex, 
and cut it out with pinking shears to prevent fraying.
 This peltex is firm, but not buckram firm. I grabbed some of those pesky muslin scraps and first tried to starch them using Mary Ellen's Best Press; ordinarily I swear by this stuff for making the knifiest of knife pleats, or crispest of the crispest folds and hems... but as a solid, almost crusty (probably not the best description) starch, I found it did not meet my expectations.

While checking out at the craft shop where I would normally breeze past the impulse buy shelves, I caught a glance of Aleene's Stiffen-quik and decided to give it a whirl. It turned out not to be a half bad impulse buy hahah. So now we were buckram stiff.

Well, first iterations were not keeping their shape as nicely as one hoped, and after doing some research found out that buckram although stiff, still also needs stabilizers which come in the form and recommendation of milliner's wire or hat wire. I've never personally come into contact with milliner's wire, but from the looks of it, it looked a hell of a lot like thread covered wire-- seemed to me that stem wire would make a great substitute.

The only problem was that stem wire did not seem to come in spools where I tried shopping for it, but rather... well... stems of 18 inches, heh. I had to use two pieces overlapping of this wire on both the top and bottom of this hat in order to cover the diameter.

Next, and I don't know how viable long term these are but, I used a light coating of fabric basting spray to adhere the first top portion of the hat to prevent bubbling of the material while I stitched it down to the sides. I feel it worked wonderfully and is as tight as a snare drum.

I did not use the spray for the side however because I needed to make a very small and invisible stitch and sprays do gum up fine needles, regardless of their no-gumming claims; so I used a fusible tape, because I have never had a needle gum up with them yet. I think a fusible sticky tape may have been better, but I didn't own any nor did I think of it till later to buy it. But the normal fusible tape also worked very well, with a little dexterity.

I also used copious amounts of Fray-Check on my fashion fabrics, because not one piece ever saw the plate of my machines-- I didn't want to risk too much warping and tugging of the material.

When I got the top and band on, it came time for the best part of any project-- decorating and embellishing!
As with the embellishments on the dress, I made many little fabric yoyos using clover's templates.

I have a bunch of tins with random beads I cut off from old garments and projects lying about with the explicit purpose of doing something like this-- reusing them-- the very beads I used to top the yoyos on my dress. I also took some fabric glue and rhinestones and meticulously laid out my quasi-random splay. It's not so easy to make random look so undeliberate.

I think the most challenging predicament, at least for someone who is an amateur milliner at best was lining the damn thing. In all my books and all my searches, there were barely mentions of how to line a pillbox hat. I went instead to look at actual photos of vintage pillbox hats to see if I could solve the mystery through my visual deduction. Indeed, it very much helped-- it was so simple it hurt and the answer was literally right in front of me.

In the same way you make a fabric yoyo, this beautiful lining is made by taking a piece of lining cut from the band pattern piece and basting a long stitch along one side and then pulling it tight-- it will naturally collapse into a circle, very similar to the fabric yoyo. I then put some permanent fabric glue along the inner edge and dabbed the center and placed this lining piece in. BINGO mutha-heller!

Later I did discover someone mentioning this technique-- I am quite proud that I arrived at it organically, though.

Next was figuring out how to mask the raw edges of the lining-- I thought about glue and some bias tape, but that sounded awful messy and unprofessional looking. Glue is always visible on a band with no movement, folks... especially on premade bias tapes.

I dug through more of my niche notions and uncovered iron-on hem tape. It must have been an impulse buy for I don't remember what in the hell I would ever use iron hem tape on; this stuff is buckram firm too, and at that point why not just use horsehair... it's much easier to mask on a garment than this stuff...

Odd that I had it, but fairly serendipitous in the end. It looks pretty great, and works pretty great! I stitched round elastic onto it before fusing it and thus completing my hat.

The irony to all this is that it is probably cheaper on paper to buy buckram and hat wire than all the items I used to make these seem more like buckram and hat wire, hahah... it's just that I had these (except the stiffen-quik) on hand and not the others that guided my hand.

On a final note, I'd like to mention that flicking this hat is very satisfying because it is very stiff and taut; the sound it makes is so professional...

That's not weird at all. Some people flick vegetables for their sound...

Do you like hats? What kind of hats are your favorite?


  1. Wow, you did it again mari, what a fantastic craft. All I think is how much it looks a gothic version of something Jackie Kenndy would have worn.

  2. This is so cool! Thanks for sharing. :)

  3. Such a pretty hat! Thank you for the detailed step-by-step.
    I love hats. My favorites are cloches and enormous Victorian touring hats.

  4. Lovely! I've created an Easter-monster :D


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