Another of my "catch-up" posts, put together from a pile of loose leaf notes and scribbled thoughts (I didn't date them all, so they're not going to be in strictly chronological order to when we actually did things).
While we were making the black hats, we were also covering workshops in class of various materials and techniques (at something of a pace, which was good - no space to get bored!).
In no particular order, the topics we covered were:
Wire and wiring.
Blocking with silk.
Working with leathers.
We covered all the basic foundation materials - buckram, dior net (aka Paris net / blocking net), sinamay (using it as an under-layer), etc, etc. And in my own work at home, I've used linen buckram (very different from modern millinery buckram, but used in historical hats). We also covered secondary blocking materials like tarletan, domet and icewool.
My thoughts on foundations... I like buckram (the proper millinery type). Yes, it's messy, and the glue does go all over your hands, but I like the stiffness of the final hat. Obviously, I'm talking about the pre-stiffened type here.
I like sinamay as a foundation, too - I used quite a bit of sinamay over summer as a foundation, while practising. I didn't have any buckram at home, so used offcuts of sinamay instead, and it worked well as a base under silk and even under leather.
I'm not that keen on dior net, although I can see its usefulness if you're making a hat that doesn't need a massively stiff base, like a turban or similar. I also think it could be good for trimmings, like making big silk bows, maybe, that still need to have some movement to them, but need more structure than a simple stiffening.
I like the linen buckram I've used at home, although it doesn't behave in the same way as cotton buckram, as it's basically a loose-ish weave canvas, so it's more a cut and sew thing than a blocking thing. But it does work well for that.
Of the others, I really like the fusible domet - it gives a nice smooth finish. The tarletan does likewise, although obviously it's for a different set of materials, and it doesn't iron on. I really like the ice wool a lot too - it's much easier to apply, as it stretches massively in almost every direction.
Wires and wiring.
I've done some experimenting in general. I found it really helpful to consider what shapes you could make with wire, and how you can support them. I like the softer wire as much as the stiffer, although clearly you use it for different things. I used soft wire in the brim of the straw cloche I made last year, precisely because I wanted to be able to shape the brim, and to allow it to be re-shapeable.
I don't think that the wire we use at college for headbands is quite heavy enough - it tends to bend a little when you put on the headband, and doesn't fully hold the shape you give it, meaning that the headpiece is not as secure as it could be. I've used it as the base for a feather structure, and it works well for that.
I've been looking a gauges of wire (and I've talked to a friend who uses wire in her historical work (she makes hooks and eyes, among other things)), and I *think that the French covered wire from MacCulloch and Wallis is the one to go for - it's a little more expensive, but that's logical, as the wire is heavier, therefore there's obviously more metal in it. Another one I plan to try is the covered wire from Farthingales in Canada. Farthingales were my standard source for different weights of spiral steel boning for quite a few years, when it was next-to-impossible to get in the UK.
Blocking with silk.
I already had some experience of blocking with silk, because I lined the brim of the top hat I made last year with silk. I just stretched that over the brim, and tacked it in place, and it worked well. I also made a little button beret shape, over sinamay, for practise last year.
I like blocking with silk a lot - and I like the new materials we were shown, like the ice wool, and the domet, which covers the roughness of the blocking material, and the seams on the base. I've also used quilt wadding - the American cotton stuff, which gives a nice finish that's somewhere in between the domet and the icewool. Obviously, you would have to be careful with the weight of wadding that you used if it were a full hat, because the person wearing it may bake slightly (unless it were a winter hat, and that were the plan).
I've also had a go at the less 'smooth' blocking - the sort of pleated, bias work done by people like Rachel Trevor-Morgan, and Gina Foster, and although I haven't yet got a result with which I'm happy, I may use it in my final collection, and in future pieces.
Working with leathers.
I've done some leather blocking before, for my summer collection last year. I'd done that with no training, basically (other than the experience I have of using leather more generally). I hadn't blocked it before. when we actually did the blocking workshop, we were given a selection of different types of leather, from the nice stretchy, soft, fine stuff, which is the best to use for blocking, because of the stretch, right up to a much heavier leather, that Sharon had brought in as an example of being not the best leather to use for blocking. we were allowed to use whichever we wanted to, to practise with, and I decided to use the heavier piece to experiment with, because I'd already used softer leather, and wanted to try something new. I think using a heavier leather, (provided there's still some flexibility, and the piece isn't going to be so big that the weight of the headpiece / hat will be in the realms of a medieval helmet (i.e. neck-straining)), can be quite an interesting way to go (much as I love smooth, butter-soft gloving leathers). The piece clearly has to be quite simple, and not have too complex a shape, or any intricacy, but I rather like breaking the rules :)
I also like the fact that you're legitimately allowed to use glue (because there is no way to conceal the stitching with leather, unless it's very thick and you can do a skin stitch or butt stitch).