*author’s note: this post was intended for July, but my computer pretty much ceased functioning. After some attempts to fix it myself, and much cussing and frustration, I gave up and gave it to my boyfriend, who had his team do their thing. This was successful. Lesson learned: give the boyfriend the computer to fix in the first place.
The project: 1890s Era Hat
Materials: Fabric glue, cotton broadcloth, needle and thread, and lots of ribbon.
Difficulty Rating: Moderate. Not for the impatient! Uses basic skills, but the time element might put off someone new to the sewing arts.
Would I recommend this project? Yes…but it’s not for everyone. Modern styles are by far easier to construct, especially something smooshy like a cloche, which has very few parts and doesn’t need tons of decorating.
I Love Hats!
I have long been fascinated by hats. They’re sooo…daring. Flirty. Uncommon, in this post 1950s world. Ah, the romance of a bygone era. I always say, a lady in a hat gets noticed. She’s memorable. Which explains why I have several, because I want to be the woman who people stop and stare at and say, “Wow!” A good hat gets attention and imparts some glamour.
What started my very first hat project was the fact that my mother, since retiring from teaching, has joined a reenacters group in my hometown of Jefferson, OH. Our historical society had an entire village of historic buildings that have been deconstructed, moved, and rebuilt on a lot near our much beloved, centruy-old depot. Many of these wonderful historic sites were in danger of vanishing altogether. The historical society restored these buildings and has brought to life the world of nineteenth century Ohio. They’ve got a school, post office, store, barn, a Victorian house, and my personal favorite, an early Methodist church. I consider this mission of restoration and education to be a higher calling and being a history nerd myself, I absolutely approve. Oh, and they wear costumes. I mean, it wouldn’t be fun without costumes, right?
A hat was almost the most important thing a lady could wear. It wasn’t fashionable, nay, appropriate, to go out without one, regardless of weather or one’s preferences. Hats used to be ubiquitous. Men, women, and children wore them all the time outdoors in the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth. If you’ve been watching Downton Abbey, you’ve seen this for yourself. Ladies’ hats in particular were super-important. Nobody tanned in those days- tanned skin was for the laborers in the fields, the (gasp!) poor people, so to protect your delicate complexion you wore a hat, because it wouldn’t do to look like you, a woman of refinement, actually worked… It also showed your excellent taste and how fashionable you were. Nothing says cutting edge of fashion like wax fruit and dead birds on your head….oh, your girlfriends would be soo jealous!!
Well, ok, they weren’t all that bad. Many were tastefully done with netting, ribbons, artificial flowers and were quite pretty. Check out the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s costume gallery for some nifty examples.
So, anyway, I found a place to order a hat kit from. It was stiffened buckram with a wire frame brim and the edges were nice and finished, I just had to come up with fabric, figure out how to get it on there, and decorate the hell out of it.
Fortunately for little novice milliner me, there were directions included with the hat kit, and after some careful consideration, I got to work. I went shopping, and as per the directions, I found a nice cotton broadcloth. Cotton, you see, being a non-stretchy and natural material, has a certain advantage over virtually everything else- it takes glue really well and it doesn’t really stain from the glue. You know how in first grade you could build anything out of construction paper and glue? That’s the cotton rag content of your paper working for you. It soaks up the moisture in the glue and holds it in, which makes it great for adhesion. Virtually any hat construction involves glue somewhere, so natural fiber materials work best. The flexibility of natural fibers is also a big plus. While the skeleton of the hat, as it were, needs to be stiff, the covering needs to be able to mold around it. Hence, cotton.
The Band and Crown
The first part was easy- pattern pieces were included, so I cut out my brim pieces, the band section, and the top. So far, so good, just like garment sewing! Then, I had to attach the fabric circle for the crown and the band section to the band. Now, this is applying fabric to 3-D objects, and as anyone who works with it can tell you, fabric has to be convinced to go around curves. In this case, the bad was easy. I stitched the ends together to form a loop. I just had to wrap the loop of fabric around the stiff band, and glue the inside portion of the rim. Then I cut little V shaped slits all across the top and bottom and folded the fabric over it, into the glue inside. The slits are to help with the inevitable stretching and bunching that will happen when you go around in circle. It reduces the bulkiness and helps it lay flat.
Then the crown, or top of the hat. The flat circle of the crown was similar, I had to cut little triangular notches into my fabric to reduce the bulkiness that I would get from trying to bunch flat fabric around a curve. This is the exact same thing you do with round necklines- the directions in your sewing patterns say “Clip curves” usually. It just means you’re cutting little triangles at the roundest part of your curves to get the fabric to bend- sort of like creating a tiny elbow or hinges that can bend. If you don’t, you get weird wrinkles and the whole thing bunches up horribly. Yeah, that’s experience talking, there.
So, I mashed my fabric into my glue and used some of my heavy-duty paper clips (the ones with the two arms you can pinch and open to hold lots of papers together) and used them to hold the fabric down.
While it dried, I got to work on the brim.
This is where it got complicated.
The brim was two fabric pieces that had to be stitched to the brim’s frame, and then they had to have their raw edges covered up with bias tape. For those not in the know, bias tape is pretty much just a long strip of fabric, cut diagonally, or, on the bias. It’s used as semi-stretchy binding to cover raw edges and reinforce stressed areas, and is great for making armholes in sleeveless garments more comfortable.
I didn’t have bias tape that matched, so I had to make some. I was scared, but since I had extra yardage, I closed my eyes and went for it! (Ok, I had to open my eyes to do it, but you know what I mean.) First, I measured out a square of fabric. Then, I took my trusty cork-backed ruler and drew straight lines across it at even, regular intervals with some chalk. You fold the fabric into a smaller square using two triangles at each corner, to match up your lines. Except you want your lines to be slightly off. You want your top line not to match up on both sides; you want one end of your top line to match up with the second line on the other side. You then stitch them together like that, marrying your two diagonal edges, making sure that your lines are off-kilter so your top line goes out into space somewhere and your bottom line does, too, but all the middle lines match up. Confused? Yes, me too. I matched them all perfectly, stitched it, and cut…only to find instead of one continuous ribbon, I had four small loops. Not helpful. It needed to be long enough to go around the brim’s edge. I got it right on the second attempt when I made sure things didn’t match up at top and bottom, stitched it, and then cut.
Now we’re cooking!
Ok, next step was to press the bias tape into a lengthwise fold in half. I used pins to hold it together until I got the crease ironed in. The it had to be folded inside again, the edges meeting into the middle. More pinning, more pressing. And a final press to sandwich them in the middle. Done. Thank Heaven.
For the less brave, you can purchase bias tape, too, the only drawback is…you’re limited to whatever colors the store has.
The Brim, continued.
The two fabric pieces for my brim were pinned in place and stitched by machine to the brim form. They had to be stretched tight as they could go to get that smooth look all over. I did the bottom first, since I could mess it up and it wouldn’t be obvious. Then I did the top of the brim. Two sets of stitches- around the inner circle, where the cut out is for your head, and the outer circle, the edge of the brim, carefully avoiding the wire that lets the brim hold its shape. It wouldn’t be good to shatter your needle on this bit of steel. Safety glasses are advised while doing this portion.
Time to stitch on the bias tape. I slid the raw edges of the brim inside my bias tape fold and slowly and carefully stitched it on, partly with the machine and then I had to finish it by hand at the rear seam where the ends of the tape joined.
Then I cut out the hole in the center where the head should go through the brim.
Woo hoo! It was starting to look like something! Sort of like a greenish doughnut, actually.
Now for the hand sewing, which is why this hat took me literally all day to make. I settled in front of the tv and got out a needle and some indoor-outdoor thread and laboriously stitched small, nearly invisible stitches to attach the crown and band together once they were dry. Then, I had to stitch the brim and band together. I could have glued it, but I was unhappy with the initial results, so I went back to the needlework. I watched almost two whole movies doing this.
Now, The FUN Part!
I love ribbons and trims. So did the Victorians. There are many fine examples of hats heaped with bows perhaps larger than the head of the woman under the hat. They liked flowers, birds, and whatever else they could fit on there. Now, in the interest of keeping it appropriate, I had to make this hat somewhat modest by Victorian standards, because your average schoolteacher in rural 19th century Ohio doesn’t have a flashy hat. So, no birds. No flowers, either, because artificial flowers might have been beyond her means. So, I turned to grosgrain ribbon and lots of it! I layered my ribbons to build up the wonderful colors and they worked so well together, the tan and brown with the seafoam. It would work with both of her outfits. I happily used fabric glue (not handstitching!) to attach the wide tan ribbon and then the brown ribbon over the middle. I glued the remaining ribbon yardages together and then used my bow making skills to create four small bows, which I then stitched to the back of the hat.
But something was missing. To cover the section where the band the brim connected, I decided to make some pleats. I hemmed a long strip of fabric and glued these little pleats on there, on at a time. I used my clips to hold them down until the glue dried. It was tedious, but I think it really makes the hat.