"In this style, 10/6d"

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David H Smith
Costume Afflicted
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Joined: Tue Nov 22, 2011 1:20 am
Location: England

"In this style, 10/6d"

Postby David H Smith » Sun Sep 30, 2012 5:18 am

Hello everyone, I thought I would share with you my technique for making a classic Top Hat. It was one of the things that brought my wife (Susan - smt22) and me together after I saw her photographs of a couple of her outfits! A few of you have asked about the Top Hats in my photos, well this is how they are made:

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To begin with, you have to construct a wooden hat block. Begin by acquiring a large section of a softwood tree trunk, and cut it to the height of the hat you want to make. Next shape the sides to the desired concave curve. Next you must cut down vertically, dividing the block into 5 pieces, this will enable you to draw out the middle section and collapse the mold when the hat has been formed.

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You must then cut fusible interfacing into strips at least long enough to go round the circumference of the crown, and more to go across the top and down the sides, with extra length to form the brim. Trace around the top of the crown onto a piece of cardboard, this makes the top of your hat (you can put your maker's mark onto the underside at this point). Place this face down on the top of your block. Use one large piece of interfacing first of all, wound around the circumference of the block with the glue side facing outwards (so it doesn't stick to the block). You can tie the centre with a thread to follow the curves of the block. Then start to laminate your strips around and over the block, using a hot iron. Layer the laminates alternately, going across the top and down the sides, and then around the circumference. Leave tabs at the bottom of the block (as in the picture) to form the brim.

After about 3 complete laminations take a piece of wire (I use piano wire) and shape it to the circumference of the brim (about 2 inches wider than the crown). Curl a few of your tabs around the wire and iron in place. Then you must bend the wire into the curved shape of the brim. When you have the desired shape, continue laminating, but now taking the strips over the brim and fixing to the underside until all gaps are closed with interfacing. You should have about 5 complete laminations on the main body of the hat.

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At this stage the centre of the block can be pulled out and the sides of the block collapsed and drawn out of the hat. You can then fold and iron the brim tabs to the inside of the hat, reinforcing the join.

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Next stage is to apply shellac liberally to the formed hat and allow to harden. Often two applications are necessary. Do not worry if the laminations seem to bubble, as you can iron them flat when the shellac has hardened (TIP: I use a plumber's iron for this job, as a domestic one could be ruined by the melted shellac).

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The final stage is covering your hat in your chosen fabric. Firstly cut the crown and glue to the top of the hat, leaving tabs to fold down the sides. The top of the brim must be fitted next. The sides are the most difficult to cover - you need to stretch and tease the fabric until it lays smoothly over the curved sides, then sew up the back seam, also turn the top edge down and slip stitch around the crown. Then the underside of the brim is glued on, with 1" tabs going up inside the hat. Stitch hatband made of petersham or leather around the inside, and bind the edge of the brim with bias binding.

Make a ribbon hatband for the outside, with a flat bow on the left side for men, right side for women.

You can choose to line the hat, but I prefer not to, as any future dents/damage to the hat can always be smoothed out with a hot iron from the inside.

I've developed this technique from reading about traditional hatmaking in Victorian London. It took me a few tries to get it right, but I have made many hats using this technique now. So good luck, and if anyone has a go at following these instructions, let me know how you get on! :D

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MaryGode
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Location: Eastern Iowa

Re: "In this style, 10/6d"

Postby MaryGode » Sun Sep 30, 2012 5:41 am

What a nifty technique using shellacked interfacing. I must try this! But I have questions! You say to shape the block. How? A lathe was the first thing that came to mind. Also, what sort of glue do you use for the under brim fabric that wont seep through?
Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society. ~MarkTwain
David H Smith
Costume Afflicted
Posts: 29
Joined: Tue Nov 22, 2011 1:20 am
Location: England

Re: "In this style, 10/6d"

Postby David H Smith » Sun Sep 30, 2012 6:11 am

Well Mary, to shape the sides of the block, I used a traditional 'spoke shave plane', rather a laborious job. That was why I used a softwood for the block. Oak or Beech would have given me a great deal of blisters!
As regards the adhesive, I use 'Copydex', but as you say, apply it too liberally, and it seepes through the fabric. I presume in Victorian times they used hot 'bone' glue, as that was about all they had. I suppose they applied it quickly to the hat very thinly with a stippling brush, then let it 'chill' just enough to still be 'tacky' and apply the fabric fast!
Iris
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Location: Kalamazoo, MI

Re: "In this style, 10/6d"

Postby Iris » Sun Sep 30, 2012 10:38 am

Brilliant.
smt22
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Location: London

Re: "In this style, 10/6d"

Postby smt22 » Wed Oct 03, 2012 1:28 am

You can see why I had to marry this guy! :D
Susan T
"Dear me, let us be elegant or die!" - Little Women
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elensari
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Re: "In this style, 10/6d"

Postby elensari » Wed Oct 03, 2012 6:05 am

Absolutely, Susan! What a treasure. Mine makes swords, but top hats... -sigh-

:lol:
~Kelly
Elegance is a good taste, plus a dash of daring -C.Snow
http://www.waistedefforts.com
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David H Smith
Costume Afflicted
Posts: 29
Joined: Tue Nov 22, 2011 1:20 am
Location: England

Re: "In this style, 10/6d"

Postby David H Smith » Thu Oct 04, 2012 1:31 am

The only other Top hat maker I heard of in London was about 80, so I was probably the better candidate! xx

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