Saturday, December 10, 2011

Customer Question: A Bit About Blocks

I was recently asked about my hat shapes by a customer, who noticed that my mine are different from other hats they've seen on the market. There's a good reason for that: mine are different, and here's why.

Except for a few hand-draped pieces, all of my hats are made using hat blocks. A hat block is a mold made of wood that you stretch felt over to create the shape of the hat. If you'd like a better idea of how this works, see this great video made at the Stephen Jones Millinery workshop. They are using two layers of fabric material instead of felt, but otherwise it's a very similar process to how I use my blocks.

I like this video because, although the process has been edited down from many hours to just a few minutes for illustration, in watching it you can get an idea of all the laborious hand work that goes into making a single hat.

As you can see in the video, the resulting hat is the exact size and shape of the blocks. So, except in the case of draped hats (in which the felt is sculpted by hand like clay, instead of stretched over a block for shaping), a separate block is required for each shape and size to be made. For example, in order to offer a full range of adult sizes for sized hats, as many as eight (or more) blocks are needed in different sizes but an identical shape, and that only creates that one style. More styles require further sets of blocks. In practice, most hats require two blocks for each size, one for the crown (the top of the hat), and another for the brim. As you can imagine, this adds up, and if you're inclined to collect them, blocks can easily take up a lot of storage space and tools budget. But because I want to offer my customers unique styles that cannot be purchased from other hat makers, I've made collecting carefully designed, skillfully made unique blocks a priority for my business.

Over the past few years I've amassed an extensive collection of blocks. Although most of the blocks available on the market are standard, rather generic shapes available to any hat maker, with very few exceptions, all of the block shapes I use are one-of-a-kind and not to be found elsewhere. A few of my blocks are unusual, hand-carved antiques that I've found here and there, and therefore unique because of their scarcity, but most were custom made exclusively for me by Guy Morse Brown Hat Blocks in the UK. Their ever-expanding catalog of standard styles has many interesting shapes, and their quality and craftsmanship is top-notch. Over the past few years, I've commissioned many original block designs from GMB, they do an incredible job of bringing my ideas to life, I can't recommend them highly enough to anyone interested in buying blocks from their catalog or as custom pieces.

1 comment:

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