Monday, October 29, 2012

HAT BLOCKS, wood and aluminum, things of beauty

To the factory worker a hat block is a simple tool but to me it is  a thing of beauty. A three dimensional sculpture, that has been lovingly carved or molded to create further things of beauty.
A hat block (wooden) or hat mold (aluminum) is a shape over which a warm dampened felt or straw body is pulled. The felt or straw body is then put in an oven to dry, where it conforms to the shape of the block.
Hat blocks were originally made from carved wood but later industrial molds are made from aluminum.
The center paper covered shape is not a hat block but a wig block.
Bespoke milliners and hatters use wood blocks to lovingly coax the felt to conform to the shape of the block while using brute strength to stretch the felt and trying to avoid burning their fingers on the hot damp felt.
Fedoras, safaris and cowboy hats are made a combination of 2 blocks. The crown is blocked first and is then inserted into the brim which is then blocked. Rope is used to tie off where the crown meets the brim (the neck) and also around the brim edge (the flange).
Cloche shapes are either made in 1 piece for classic shapes but a 4  piece block is needed for cushion brim. A cushion brim is not cut at the edge but folds back onto itself for a smother finished edge.
An ascot shape requires a 3 piece mold. After the felt is oven dried the center piece is first pulled out and then the back and front sections. This avoids stretching the shape.

Industrial blocks are made from aluminum and operate a little differently.
Basically the brim has a negative and positive brim. The felt/straw is sandwiched in between the top and bottom molds, as the molds are self heated, there is no need to dry in an oven, so the whole process is speeded up for mass production.
Here are 2 fedora aluminum  molds where the brim has a straw body being shaped.
Every variation on a shape needs its own distinct mold. Here we see the top and bottom mold. The top can be attached to the machine and will press down on the bottom during the blocking process.
Every head-size  size need its own mold.
The positive mold sits over a flame. the moistened felt/straw is placed over the mold and the operator pushes a button to lower the negative top mold (under pressure) to meet the bottom. This mold is used to make a fedora.
This beautiful old aluminum mold is used to make this gorgeous Callanana millinery cloche.
The first mold will make a fedora cloche. The second will make a beehive cloche. The third is a classic cloche shape.
This is definitely an "off to the derby" mold.
A worker is using this bowler shape as a key tray.
A group of top hats, after being blocked, are waiting their turn to go into the oven. Note the white rope used at the brim edge (flange). The top hat is a very difficult shape to make.
Each top hat head size needs its own block.
Some old ascot cap molds gathering dust.
A selection of wood, aluminum and plastic molds.
Waste not want not. Felt bodies are expensive, so often the excess flange, the felt from the rope tie to the outer brim edge, is used as hat trim. Here is a selection of ladies die trims.
Die cut leaves are always popular.
If you would like to order your very own aluminum hat mold, contact Ruud Fiegen from  Hatblocks Holland.
r.fiegen@home.nl

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