Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Trove Pattern Project: 1954 Beach Hat

Today I'm taking the Trove Pattern Project into the 1950s again, with that excellent publication, The Australian Women's Weekly. And we're embracing what's left of the summer sun (here at least) with a "Pretty Beach Hat".

My first thoughts were that it was a silly sort of pattern, just an oval with a notch taken out, but it does have a lot of positives. While it isn't going to protect the back of your neck or shoulders, it has really good sun protection for the face and shade for the eyes. From a sewing perspective, it is much easier than more complicated sewn sun hats, and was quick to make up.

The best bit, for me, is that the simple shape makes it perfect for novelty fabrics or trims. Since it only requires a small amount of fabric, you can buy something fun or use leftover fabric to make a matching beach ensemble.

I decided to embrace novelty and kitsch with open arms, by lining mine in swordfish fabric and decorating the top with felt cut out shapes. Lobsters make everything more fun, right?

Following are my comments and additions, and you can access the original article with pattern and instructions here.


  • 1/2 yd of 36 inch wide fabric. Key note here: the pattern fits on a fat quarter.
  • 1/2 yd contrasting fabric for the underlining.
  • 1/2 yd leno for interlining. Leno and buckram are these all-over-the-place terms depending when in time you are and where in the world you are too. Grrr. But essentially, a stiff material, but not crazy stiff, is what I could work out. I used something I had bought from a fabric shop labelled as "buckram" that is much lighter and not blockable like millinery buckram. It did a good job.
  • 1 large button. How exciting for button hoarders to have a project that only needs one! Lovely unmatched buttons get their time at last.
  • 2 yds bias binding.
  • Not mentioned in the pattern - ribbon or similar for the tie strings. I used one metre of ribbon.


It's a one-size-fits-all, which is nice, and the shape is quite simple. The measurements they have given aren't the best ones for drafting it, but then I'm coming from a very mathematical perspective. And the fit is irrelevant so accuracy isn't too important either I suppose!


Like most vintage patterns, and the free ones especially, instructions are a little sparse, but in this case there isn't much you could do to make it go horribly wrong.

Having said that, I did my best. I tried to skip the basting and dive straight into the machine sewing, and there were lumps and bumps all over the place. I sighed, swallowed my pride, unpicked the stitches and sat down to baste the silly thing. It was worth it.

As you can see in the photo above, a little more ironing wouldn't have been a waste either.

The basting (and sewing on the button and ribbon) was the only bit I did by hand. The rest is machine stitching. For most hats I would hand sew bias binding around an edge, but I didn't think it was worth it for this project, and their binding looks pretty wrinkly to me so I considered that approval of my methods.

They don't tell you where to attach the tie strings, but trying it on yourself or a mannequin head makes it pretty easy to pick a spot.


Once it is sewn, do up your button and tie up your strings! It's a really easy hat to wear, and if I'm honest, much cuter than I thought it would be.


My addition was the felt cut out shapes. I've seen vintage straw hats with novelty felt shapes as decoration, and I thought it would be worth having some fun here. Simply cut your shapes out of a thin felt and sew or glue them on. I used glue, but perhaps if you were planning to wear this to the beach and have it face the harsh elements, sewing would be worth the time.

What do you think? A bit silly and basic or kistch-tastic?

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Learning Ribbon Embroidery

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the big focus directions for my business at the start of 2017 was to undertake some new learning. The first that I have tackled is ribbon embroidery. I've done a bit of ribbon work, which is making flowers, leaves and other shapes out of ribbon, sewing them together with regular thread and attaching to a project when complete. Ribbon embroidery, sewing with ribbon directly onto fabric, was something I was interested in but had never tried.

Sometime last year I got myself a Craftsy class on the subject, "Embroidering with Ribbon" by tutor Mary Jo Hiney. As with many of my online classes, I had watched the introduction but hadn't gone any further or bought materials.

One of the things holding me back was not feeling confident in buying materials. I found Australian suppliers, but you really need a range of colours for each project, and I wasn't sure I would pick appropriate ones or get the right amounts. In the end, thanks to some birthday money, I splurged on the class kits from the tutor herself, and despite the cost, I'm happy that I did. It meant I had exactly what I needed, and a familiarity with the materials that sets me up well to make further local purchases. I got the kits for the first three projects, which are the ones I like the best anyway.

I'm about halfway through the class, and for the remaining projects I'll be changing them up or just learning the techniques and applying them to a different design.

I also picked up some ribbon embroidery design books at a local op shop, for about 50 cents each, so I have more designs to experiment with as well.

So far, I'm really enjoying ribbon embroidery. It's a restful, calming sort of craft to do, especially in the evenings after Teacup has gone to bed, or over a morning cup of tea before she wakes. It has taken me a while to accept the looseness and freedom that the stitches require, being more used to functional sewing where security of stitches is important. Having embraced that, however, it is fun and it is a lot more artistic and open to interpretation than the sewing I'm used to. I like that individual stitches can turn out badly but the overall effect can still work.

As for the class, I highly recommend it. I don't warm to all teachers and tutors, and can be a bit critical, to be honest, but I like Mary Jo. She answers all the questions asked on the platform, and in a warm, friendly and encouraging way. The same manner is present in the videos. She's a bit goofy and funny too. One thing that is a little odd is that the stitch types are gone through in detail on the videos, but the projects themselves are not, you work through those based on the printed materials that are part of the class. That worked out fine for me, but it did seem a unusual and maybe wouldn't suit everyone's learning style. Occasionally some regular embroidery term was used and it seemed like the assumption was that you are already familiar with embroidery, but it wasn't enough to be a problem.

I have ideas but no specific plans for how I will apply my new skill. I think a nice fabric cloche hat covered in flowers would be lovely, and, on a more personal project, a little on the collar of a small girl's blouse would be cute.

Have you ever tried ribbon work or ribbon embroidery? If so, what kind of projects have you tried?

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

On finally finishing and fixing the "not quite there" hats

I started the new year with 3 big directions to focus on in my business, while keeping in mind that this focus would be pretty much gone after the first few months.

One of these directions is preparing to add hat sewing patterns to my business. I've only briefly mentioned this before, but it's been a big part of my thinking for the last year or more. Most of that work will go on in the background until much later in the year, when you'll hear all about it, rest assured.

The second direction is learning. It's been 3 years since my last formal training in any area of millinery, and I was feeling a bit stale. I've started a few online courses to add new skills and techniques to my arsenal, and you'll start hearing about that very soon. I feel rejuvenated already and I'm so happy that I've taken steps to move my skills forward again.

The third is clearing out my work space and finishing up the loose ends it is filled with. Listing hats on Etsy. Photographing finished hats so I can share them (and list them). Finishing nearly finished hats. Fixing ones that didn't quite go to plan. Picking up the false starts and getting on with them, or scrapping them!

It's been a rewarding journey so far, but one of those ones that makes you wonder why you didn't do it earlier. As I finish, I've been describing these projects as having taking 2 years and 20 minutes.

For example, this vintage reproduction hat. It has a sad story actually. This was a custom order that didn't quite work out the way the client wanted. I wasn't 100% happy with it either, as it wasn't quite like the original, but I did the best I could at the time. I never even liked it, and it's been sitting in my work room ever since.

So finally I tackled it again and made it look more like the original, which took about 20 minutes, and made a world of difference. And I really started to like it.

Once I started taking these photos on a shoot with my friend Ruanne, I was absolutely in love with it.

That was a worthwhile 20 minutes.

This blue boater was more than 20 minutes, but perhaps only 40, and again, the difference was worth it. On my first attempt, the brim outline was a very wonky oval, but I couldn't bring myself to unpick it the edge and start again! Sometimes I just need time and emotional distance, because it was actually easy and very satisfying to do. And now it looks much better.

The rest of these photos are vintage hats, which I didn't think I could be bothered to sell on Etsy, because of the effort of writing listings and taking good photos.

I should have had this photoshoot long ago! But it's done now.

I can't pretend that these represent the end of the unfinished pieces I have here, and you are bound to see more as I work my way through them. Are you the same, with hidden abandoned works-in-progress all over the place, or do you see things through to the end without these long pauses?

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Big events and business plans

Fedoras are one of those styles that have dipped their toes into both men's and women's fashion. They started as a women's hat, became more of a male style, and now sit fairly comfortably in both camps. Likewise the colour blue has a longer history of being associated with little girls than little boys. Probably, however, a blue fedora is more likely to suggest masculine vibes to most people, and it does so to me.

So what does a very small blue fedora suggest to you?

If you thought "Tanith's having a baby boy!", you are correct.

We are back in pregnancy mode. Once again, I have survived the awful first trimester of nausea and exhaustion, and entered the second trimester of not fitting into your clothes and less exhaustion.

Having a child and being her primary carer has resulted in a lot of soul searching regarding my desire for my own business. There were times when it just seemed impossible, and others when I knew I needed it so much. I know that having two children in my care is going to be even harder and I don't yet know what that means for my business. I will obviously be taking a break, but what kind of pace I keep up after that remains to be seen. I have ideas and plans to make it work, but in the end there could have to be a lot of pauses that I don't plan for. I do intend to keep it up in the long run in some form, even if it takes years to really get back into the swing.

Regarding the fedora, I don't have a small fedora block, so I blocked it with a regular crown on my toddler-sized block, then hand-shaped the pinched fedora look into place. I'm not sure how well it will last but I'm pretty pleased with the look. Plus, it's just adorable, right?

Oh and the new addition, whose social media nickname has already been chosen at T-Rex, is due in early May. Teacup has been told she is getting a little brother, and says that there is "a baby growing in there" but how much of this she really grasps we shall have to wait and find out!

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Sisterhood of the Travelling Hat: Rhiannon

Can you just say that every stop in a journey is a special one? It feels like I've been doing a lot of that. But this one is, it really is! Adelaide has been visiting my sister, Rhiannon.

Which also means she is so close, so close, to coming home to me!

Rhiannon chose to try Adelaide with a few different outfits, with vintage and modern twists. This is a more modern one. I love all the blues together!

Pop on over the Rhiannon's blog, Parlour Duck Crafts, to see the rest of the outfits. Meanwhile, I'd better get on with planning my own!

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Blocking without a hat block

A standard dome hat block is one of the most useful tools I can imagine in the millinery world. As much as I love special shapes of block, the dome is unbeatable for versatility and usefulness. But if you are just starting out in millinery or just having a bit of fun with it, even one block is a big investment.

There are hat-making methods other than blocking, like making flat pattern hats from fabric or on a buckram foundation, but blocking really is fabulous. It is fun and creative and opens up all kinds of possibilities.

It is true that if you want to block a hat with a nice round crown that fits closely to your head, like a cloche for example, a hat block is going to be pretty necessary. But there are many other shapes of hats out there, especially when it comes to tilt hats.

I do believe it would be easier to learn how to block straw, felt, sinamay or buckram on a proper hat block first, then start to experiment, but it is not at all necessary. And if you learned on someone else's block, in a class for example, then didn't want to buy your own right away, you should consider some other options.

Let me share with you some examples of my own where I've used alternatives to proper hat blocks.

Found objects

First, random objects totally unrelated to millinery. Once you start looking at objects as possible blocks, it will be hard to stop.

Make sure you consider whether the material of the object can take the pressure of blocking, and how you will hold your blocking material in place. Can you pin into the object? Tie string or rubber bands around it? Blocking felt in particular can take a lot of force, so fragility is a consideration. Also how susceptible might it be to steam or moisture, and how well can you cover it (usually with plastic wrap) to protect it?

I did block this felt on a glass vase, it's true. In hindsight I am not sure I would try that again. I used string to hold the rings in place around the bumps of the vase, and everything turned out alright. In my defence, it is a very sturdy vase.

This one was, I believe, a flower pot. But I'm not sure. It could have been a cookie tin. Much sturdier than glass, anyway. Since I couldn't use pins here either, rubber bands held the shape in place.

Not that you can see much of the shape here under the fluff, but the foundation for this hat was blocked on a large wooden bowl. I was able to use pins, which is good because the size might have made elastic more tricky to use. I always keep an eye out in op shops for wooden serving dishes and other bits and pieces. I have a lovely little pineapple blocked and waiting to be finished!

Photograph courtesy of @anneliesvanoverbeek

For this reproduction of a hat from Funny Face, the crown was blocked on a shape I made out of cardboard. I originally had the cardboard over a flower pot for added strength, but as I worked and changed the size, it became a cardboard-only block. Since the straw is a very good quality and blocks easily, the strength was still enough.

The tilt hat in my Nora Finds collaboration collection, was blocked on an improvised combination of two small wooden objects. I think one of them was the turned wooden lid of a glass jar, and one was the base of some kind of stand. I placed them together the way I wanted and wrapped them up tight in aluminium foil. With the freehand swirling on top, the exact shape didn't matter too much, but it gave me the right base I was trying to achieve.

Home-made hat blocks

I was lucky enough at one point to have some round hat blocks turned for me on a lathe, but you don't need access to those skills or tools to create a hat block. If you do have some woodworking tools available, simple cut-out shapes using a band saw or similar are very easy. I made my round and heart-shaped pillbox blocks using a band saw and some scrap wood.

Pillbox shapes are a great one to make yourself, and such a useful block to have as well. You can achieve the same result (at least with fabric covered hats) using a flat pattern, but this is quicker, as well as allowing you to work with felt too.

Both styles of pillbox have been used many times by me!

There are also options for carving blocks out of foam (I have done a class on this but haven't tried it since and I know it has to be the right type of foam) and I'm sure many more possibilities. Not all of these are going to last as long, and possibly aren't ideal choices for a beginner anyway!

Augmented hat blocks

So technically this isn't without a block, but I have also heard beginner milliner's with only a dome block complaining of needing more shapes and more options. I can't fault anyone for coveting more blocks, but there is so much more you can do with the ones you have!

I added a small sweets tin to the top of a dome to create this felt hat. I covered the hat block, taped on the tin, and covered both together, then blocked. Easy peasy!

The block for this cone hat (made for the lovely Kate at Retro Rover) was technically built from cardboard, but I did use a sloped brim block beneath it to add strength. I'm not sure if that was necessary, so this could potentially be one you could do from scratch. Keep in mind, though, that the right materials are key. Stretching a normal capeline to this shape may have been a nightmare, but I got advice from my supplier and used a buntal mat instead, which has a less rounded shape. It was perfect and a dream to work with.

If you've been on the fence about trying blocking, or putting off getting back into it because of the cost, consider seeing what else you have around the house, or can find cheaply, that could make a nice little hat shape.

Did any of these examples surprise you? I like to think they hide their secrets well!

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Blocking a sewn fabric hat for better fit

Isn't the human brain a great thing? I love that I can read or hear something once, and remember it later when it is finally relevant to me. Of course, at other times, I forget to bring my wallet to the shops or forget doctor's appointments, but nevertheless I am in general pleased with my memory and the hints and tips it comes up with for me as I work.

Although I can't remember which book or books I read this trick in, it appeared when I needed it, which is what matters.

I do a lot of blocked hats, that are steamed or wet and shaped over a hat block, usually out of felt or straw. Sometimes I make sewn hats too, but they are usually berets or other styles that don't follow the shape of the head. So it was only when working on a couple of toddler hats, with a self-drafted and not that great pattern, that I remembered that you can also block these hats, after sewing.

Basically, after sewing together the pieces of a sectional crown, like on this sun hat, you wet the fabric (or steam it, whichever is appropriate for the fabric) pull it down over a hat block, and leave it to dry (keeping in place with an elastic band if necessary). It helps smooth out any issues with an imperfect pattern, and gives a really rounded look to the end product. Depending on your fabric type, the results will vary.

The first hat I tried it on was this pink fleece pig hat (photo courtesy of @herohappymail on Instagram - a great project, by the way, supporting kids that are having a rough time for various reasons). I've improved my pattern since then, but the fleece was so stretchy and obliging that I managed a really round crown despite any issues in the shape as originally sewn.

When I went to regular cotton, the fabric was not so forgiving. It was actually a great way to work on the pattern though, because the blocking really showed exactly where the lines needed to be changed. I ended up using the first version as the lining and the adjusted pattern to make the outside crown.

So you do need something to block on, and I don't recommend using your own head unless you want to wear a wet hat all day. Hat blocks are of course great, but foam display heads are a possibility (although they are often quite small).

No cameras! I'm covered in risotto!

I'm really glad I remembered, and finally tried, this little trick, and I'm sure I'll find ways to use it again. Maybe it will stick in your brain until you one day need it too!