Craft Focus: “The Core Materials in Millinery”

Craft Focus: “The Core Materials in Millinery”


Craft Focus: Short n sweet snippets about the craft used in millinery and what the different materials & techniques used are. New features regularly, just change the topic above for more articles!

So how are hats made?

What are the core materials used in millinery and how do they work?

The core materials are buckram, straw, felt, flat fabrics & sinamay. (*to name a few)

Lately there have also been a couple of new wildcards, as more materials get developed & experimented with, such as thermoplastics. Thermoplastics are really exciting, as they react to heat to be moulded & are just fun to use, but these five are the main members of the family.

Most of the materials are blocked, which means they are moulded over hat blocks, to end up with whatever the shape of the block is. The materials are stretched and pinned in place, until they dry and then wired to hold that shape.

Buckram is generally used to make a structure that is then covered with fabric, so it’s like a foundation material, but mostly won't be seen, as are thermoplastics. It is made flat & is mesh like, but has a coating on it that acts as a stiffener. So when you wet it and stretch it over a hat block, the stiffener enables the shape to dry in that shape & stay that shape.

Birds eye view photo of four hats in various stages, showing the materials and layers used. How a hat is made, the hat block, wire and layers of materials in the finished hat.

With buckram you can use flat patterning quite a bit too so there's even more possibilities. Such as the french hood below, made for a costume hire company for an English Heritage venue.. Buckram is used loads in theatrical millinery, which is prob why I use it more than sinamay as I trained as a theatrical milliner not a fashion milliner & well it's one of the very first materials that I used! So i've got a soft spot for it.

Side view of a tudor french hood hat and the inside layer of buckram on a display mannequin headSide view of tudor french hood with the velvet and cotton layer before final trim.Side view of finished Tudor French Hood made in black velvet with pearl beading and trim

For the french hood, a tudor style of hat, the main two shapes were cut flat, then wired and covered in black velvet & black cotton, before being stitched together and trimmed with beading. Each piece was made from two layers and they were also ironed together before wiring, compressing and using that stiffener to bond to each other. (nb: I made two hoods, so there's multiple pieces in the pics!)

The flat pieces of a tudor french hood before bending them into shapeThe inner shape of the coif part of a tudor hat before outer fabrics

But it's the particular shape that it's cut to originally, that makes the 3D shape once wired and bent to that shape! Below is laid flat and then how it stands and curls off the table, when the wire is bent just to the right amount, to create the right angle.

One of the pieces of buckram of a tudor hood laid flatOne of the pieces of a tudor hood once wired

The same piece below from the side! Sometimes I think I like pattern-cutting more than blocking.. which is why you will see caps so much for sale! As I'm a bit addicted to patterning them & figuring out the jigsaw of new shapes..

Side view of a piece of the french hood when stood up, to see the angle.Comparison pic a french hood headpiece before beading

Buckram can also be used to make hat blocks and create many more fun shapes & it doesn't need to be a wooden block that is used to block on.. Such as the top hat below that was blocked on a glass candle holder and one of my button hats that I had already blocked & turned upside and butchered for the brim! But that's a story for another day! Oh yeah buckram also comes in black and different thicknesses too.

The stages of a mini top hat and the finished city burlesque photoshoot @jenlevetmillinery

City Burlesque Bridal Photoshoot, London, August 2016.

Dress & Cloak: Felicity Westmacott
Makeup: Charlotte Light
Photography: Jessica Jill Photo
Model: Vanessa Azare
Hat: Jen Levet Millinery

Prob can't forget this one either! The pink hat below is also made using buckram, and the curl is too. Which will be featured soon!

Pink curl couture hat available made to order @jenlevetmillinery

Photo credits:

Photography: Kirsten Platt Photography
Model: Hannah Baggs
Location: Victoria Baths
Amazing pink fabric: Broadwick Silks
Hat: Jen Levet Millinery
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