Dreams of Millinery

I have always been a researcher. As far back as I can remember, I would read and study in great detail any topic that struck me. Birds, mythology, web design. You name it, I’ve been obsessed with it.

It should come as no surprise, then, that my Snow Queen hat-making adventure comes after seven years of periods of intense research, acquiring appropriate supplies and working myself up to actually making a hat. “Obsessed” is probably the nicest word I can use to describe my approach.

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While there are a lot of resources for purchasing ready-made buckram hat forms, I opted to make my own. Drafting a pattern was definitely a consideration but I decide, instead, to use a Victorian Riding Hat pattern by Lynn McMasters. I liked the idea of having a solid starting point so I could focus more on the technique of making the hat rather than the trial-and-error exercise that drafting a pattern for an unfamiliar object can be.

The pattern was a bit of a leap of faith. I found really no reviews online. I had previously used another LM pattern to make a Regency-era bonnet, so I figured I would at least end up with a usable product. I was right but having plenty of sewing experience under my belt — plus all that research — really came in handy since some of the pattern instructions could have been a little more clear.

If you have ever been tempted to make a real, honest-to-goodness top hat, then you should know that 99 percent of the sewing is done by hand. Through buckram. I used a curved upholstery needle for most of it with a metal thimble and a pair of needle-nose pliers on standby. No joke. I only drew blood two or three times, which is less than the amount I bled on my first corset. (Hey, I’ll celebrate any victory!)

The crown and brim are edged in millinery wire and I wish I’d picked up some shrink tube plastic to finish the ends of the wires. I also wish I’d done a better job of snipping the ends. There’s one spot in particular that’s a little bulky because the wire overlaps. I don’t think it will be noticeable while I’m wearing it but I still know it’s there.

The biggest mistake I made was sewing the crown fabric to the fabric on the sides of the hat. You’re supposed to stitch by hand through all the fabric and the buckram just below the wire at the edge of the crown. I decided to cut corners and sew it on the machine, then slip it over the hat. In theory, it seemed like a good idea. The reality, however, is less pretty. The millinery wire really affects the shape  so it’s nearly impossible to get the seam to meet right on the edge of the crown. And oh my bulky seam allowances! If I’d had more fabric, I would have re-cut those pieces and done it the right way. I also think I should have used narrower binding.

I still have more embellishing to do and need to decide if I’m going to add some ribbons inside to use for anchoring the hat to my wig (a frothy blonde concoction that weirds out my husband), but that can wait.