Hat blocks are a big part of millinery and hat making, but it can be daunting buying hat blocks your first time. Here are some pointers to relieve some of that anxiety.
Do I need a hat block?
It’s possible to make hats your whole life and not use a block, but it would limit possible styles. Sculptural pieces are beautiful, though you’ll most times have to attach them to a base. You can buy a pre-blocked base or use other fastenings like combs and headbands. But it can be hard to make a custom piece when you’re limited to what’s available for sale. Having hat blocks makes it easier to use the materials you want.
A blocked hat often looks neater and more refined; they have smooth curves and crisp edges. You can shape a fedora without a hat block, but it will look different than a blocked one. You need to be aware of that when you consider what you’re going to make.
Who are you making hats for?
There are myriad hat styles, as there are neverending potential wearers. Yet, the more you can break both groups down, the easier your job will be. For instance, if you only make hats for yourself, then you only have one viewpoint to look at a hat. You can go for what you like most. So, when you’re making hats for others, you will have to think about who is wearing the hat. A businesswoman travelling to appointments is likely to have very different needs from a folk musician. You can consider these needs on a customer by customer basis, or you can specialise in a type of look or style. The latter, while scarier, is the better way to go in the long run. Limiting potential customers means you can cater to the wearer’s needs and values. Of course, you can make hats for people who don’t fit your niche, but your primary focus can be on your chosen tribe.
One block, many hats
Contrary to what you may think, you can use a hat block for more than one shape hat—some more than others. If you want more bang for your buck, then try and think about how you might use your hat block for other shapes. For example, turn a dome block upside-down, and you have a boater crown. Use that same dome crown to make a fedora with some hand shaping. If you’re into making more traditional hats then my suggestion is a dome in your size (or a 22 ½” – 57cm for ‘average’ head size). There is a lot you can do with a dome. After that, I’d look at a sloping cartwheel brim. If fascinators are more your thing, a dome block can is useful too, but look at some more specialised blocks. Remember, the more specialised the block, the less useful it is for other shapes.
How much do you want to spend? Is second hand ok?
Buying a quality new hat block is not cheap. Luckily, second-hand hat blocks can be as good as new ones. As long as they are not severely damaged, a block has a considerable lifespan. Many people build an entire collection without ever purchasing a ‘new’ block. Second-hand does not mean it will be cheap; some are more expensive than new. But if you are going to buy a cheap hat block, second-hand is an excellent place to start. Better to buy a cheap but well made second-hand block than a cheap, amateur, new one. If you’re on a budget, my advice is to look at every channel you can think of for buying hat blocks. You need to be patient and keep looking.
There’s nothing like a shiny, new hat block to inspire you. Hat blocks are a good investment and should last for a long time and many hats. But, beware; not all blocks are equal. Just as millinery is an acquired skill that takes much practise to master, so is block making. Anyone with the right tools and equipment can make a hat; it’s the same with a block. Woodworkers, carpenters, or a handy person may make you a block, but they are often less than satisfactory. Paying half the price most times gets you half the quality. Sometimes, the block is not right for a head shape (good blocks are rarely round). Other times the finish might be uneven or crooked. When you’re making a hat to sell, you want to be offering your customers a top-notch product. You can’t do that when you start with an unsatisfactory block.
Where to buy hat blocks
There are many hat block makers. In Australia, we recommend Hat Blocks Australia. They make quality hat blocks for milliners and hatters alike.
Look for second-hand blocks look on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree, millinery groups, and millinery suppliers.
Your local millinery supplier is likely to know of a good blockmaker accessible to your area.
Want to know how to use your new block?
So, you know all about buying hat blocks, you have your first block, and you’re rearing to go, but you don’t know what you’re doing? Blocking is a vital skill in millinery and hat making. Getting instruction can save you a lot of time and misery working it out yourself. Millinery Hub teaches blocking in many hat-making workshops. Let our experienced milliners show you the tricks of the trade.