The Making of a Milliner: Hat-Making Projects

The Making of a Milliner: Hat-Making Projects

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The Making of a Milliner: Hat-Making Projects by Jenny Pfanenstiel

"A great introduction for those interested in millinery, with easy to understand instructions and a variety of patterns for constructing different types of hats." — Jefferson-Madison Regional Library System
Design the hat of your dreams with the guidance of an expert milliner. Jenny Pfanenstiel presents beautifully rendered, full-color tutorials that explain the basics of hat-making, from material selection to stitching and finishing. Seven designs, suitable for beginners as well as experienced hat makers, include cloche, cowboy, and straw-brimmed hats, as well as a variety of fascinators.
Helpful suggestions range from how to measure your head and how to choose the style that best complements your face, to selecting feather flowers, hat pins, and other embellishments. Other tips cover setting up your work area and taking care of your hat. Loaded with hat trivia and anecdotes, The Making of a Milliner is also an excellent gift for craft enthusiasts, who are certain to delight in the process, tools, and fabrics of hat making.
Jenny Pfanenstiel founded her company, Louisville, Kentucky's Formé Millinery, in 2007, and has designed hats for Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Barbara Corcoran, and Regina Taylor. Jenny's work has been featured in Vogue, Tatler, Country Living, Vigore, and Belle Armoire. She is the winner of the 2012 FGI Rising Star and both the 2009 and 2012 Hatty Awards.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486793474
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 11/18/2015
Edition description: First Edition, First
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 266,599
Product dimensions: 8.20(w) x 10.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Jenny Pfanenstiel has a degree in Fashion Design from the Art Institute of Colorado. She founded her company, Formé Millinery, in 2007, and has designed hats for Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Barbara Corcoran, and Regina Taylor. Her work has been featured in Vogue, Tatler, Country Living, Vigore, and Belle Armoire.

Read an Excerpt

The Making of a Milliner

Hat-Making Projects

By Jenny Pfanenstiel, David Green, Fielden Willmott, Steve Squall

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2015 Jenny Pfanenstiel
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-80899-4


What is a Milliner?

Milliner (mil-uh-ner) n.

A person who makes and sells women's hats.

The word "milliner" has a rich history and has changed over the decades. It originated in the sixteenth century and came from merchants who came from Milan, Italy, to England to sell goods such as textile fabrics, lace, gloves, straw, and ribbon. The English often referred to these merchants as Milaner, denoting the place where they came from, but was pronounced "mil-uh-ner." Eventually the name stuck, and the spelling changed to "milliner."

In the 1800s and 1900s, a milliner became known as a shop owner who made and sold specialty clothing and hats from imported fabrics. Customers would often go to a milliner to buy clothing for the whole family, who were looking to stay on the cutting-edge of fashion trends. Today, a milliner is a person who has mastered the art of hat making. It is a highly respected profession in which the skilled milliner creates handmade hats from scratch using the age-old tradition and techniques of blocking material over hat blocks. Many of these blocks are very old and reflect styles of the period in history in which a hat became popular. Milliners often make custom hats for a specific clientele by working closely with their clients; measuring their heads, choosing specific materials and creating special hats just for them. A milliner today must incorporate a fashion-forward blend of raw talent, imagination, and modern technology.

The making of hats is a craft I have come to admire, respect, and for which I have a true passion. I take great pride in capturing the time-honored traditions in my work; however, I am also an experimenter. I love working with a material (perhaps even in a nontraditional way) and coming up with new ways in which to create something. Through the knowledge that I have gained over the years, I have been able to take what I have learned and make it my own through my interpretations of what I have found works best in making hats through trial and error as a modern day milliner. It is the drive to succeed and the ability to weather the ups and downs of a specialty business that has carried most modern American milliners to where they are today. Milliners come together with one common thread, and that is the love of hat making and the desire to continue a tradition that is by no means forgotten.

I encourage you, too, to create hats and make them your own. Through these hat projects from this book and others, you will be on your way to "The Making of a Milliner".

How to Measure Your Head

Measuring Head with Tape Measure In order to purchase the right hat, you must know your own head measurement. If you go to a milliner to have a custom hat made, they will measure your head for you. To measure your own head, get a tape measure and locate the bump on the back of your head. Some bumps are more pronounced than others. Place the tape measure underneath the bump and wrap it above your ears and finish approximately one inch above your eyebrows. The tape measure should fit comfortably as you would like your hat to fit. The average size head is 22.5", but this can vary depending on how much or how little hair you have. If you change your hairstyle often, this may affect the fit of your hat.

Now that you know your head size, you know the size "crown" to use with the following projects. If you plan to make a hat for someone else, you will need to know their head size and use that size crown accordingly.

Choosing a Hat

A hat is a wonderful and fashionable accessory. It should be a reflection of you as a person. There is no right or wrong time to wear a hat. If you feel like wearing a hat to the grocery store or to the opera, let your personality shine through your hat.

Yes, everyone can wear a hat! It is simply a matter of finding the shape that best suits your face shape and hairstyle. The position of a hat on the head should be adjusted for the most flattering effect. A hat can look completely different when worn on the back of the head than if worn on the front of the head with a slight tilt to the side. Just that little tweak can make a world of a difference. I always recommend a slight tilt to every hat.

Face Shapes

Most importantly, you want to choose a hat that fits appropriately. If it is too small, you will probably end up with a headache; too big, and it will slip over your eyes. A hat should fit comfortably with no pain or discomfort.

I have included some face shapes below. Find the shape that best matches yours. I have listed some of the more popular hat shapes and the face shapes that tend to work best with each. However, I do recommend experimenting with different shapes, to determine which hat shape works best for you.


Large Brim. A traditional shape for the horse races and useful in summer to block the sun. This hat looks great on a longer face shape, such as the heart, oval, and triangle. This hat also looks great on people with longer hair and who have some height.

Flipped-Up Brim. This hat is a good choice for someone who wants a large brim hat, but may get swallowed under it. This hat looks great on round and square face shapes. It also suits people with shorter hair because the hat allows the hair to show more on the one side.

Fedora. Most face shapes and hair lengths can wear this hat. Fedoras can come in various brim widths, but most are flat and stick straight out in the front or have a very slight bend, so the brim doesn't cover the face. Worn with a slight tilt, this hat is a superb everyday look.

Fascinator. This hat is a dramatic look for most face shapes and hair lengths. If you are looking to add height to your appearance, this is a great choice. The fascinator is the perfect statement piece for any event.

Cloche. A classic piece. The cloche brim can come in many variations. It can face straight down as shown, or it can flip up in the front and/or back. The brim can be designed and worn so that this hat can look great on anyone. A brim facing straight down looks great on faces that are more oval or triangle-shaped, with hair that is a bit longer. Brims that are flipped up in the front look great on round or square faces and with long or short hair. A longer face such as a heart or oval looks best when the brim is flipped up in the back.

Hat Blocks

Hat Block (blok) n.

A mold or form in which wood has been carved into a shape of a hat for the purpose of molding material to make a hat.

Antique wooden hat blocks can be hard to find. Many were burned in World War II by people trying to keep warm in the cold winters. In addition, milliners burned their hat blocks after each season, so others would not be able to copy their work. Since the decline of millinery in the United States, there are fewer hat block makers, but you can still find master block makers overseas who have been creating beautiful wooden blocks for decades.

Though most hat blocks are made of different types of wood, you will also find them made with aluminum, styrofoam, or polyurethane. In the different projects that follow, you will work with styles of blocks that can be purchased at block-making supply houses throughout the world. If you don't have the exact hat block that is called for in the instructions, you can apply the same technique to most shapes. If you do not want to invest in hat blocks right away, common materials found in your own kitchen such as bowls, saucers, and plates, can also be used. Some of the projects use a wooden bowl, so you can see how this process works. Your local thrift store can also be a good place to search for inexpensive bowls or other appropriate items to use.

When investing in your first hat block, it is best to start with a simple shape. Once you have measured your head, you will know the correct size crown to purchase. The next common block to purchase is a brim. They are oval and can come in a solid piece of wood, or with a hole in the center.

Blocks can be carved right side up or upside down. A hat block that is made right side up, clearly shows what the final hat will look like. However, with an upside down block, you have to flip the image in your mind to picture what the final hat will look like.

Not every hat uses separate crown and brim blocks. Some use a "one block," which consists of a brim and crown in one piece. Some just use crowns, like the pillbox, or most cloche blocks. The Plastic Fantastic Cloche on page 35 is an example of a hat that uses a cloche block with the crown and brim together.

Wool and straw have different requirements when blocking them. Each material requires different pressure to be used when stretching and manipulating it. Pull too hard and you can create a hole, pull too little and bubbles or waves can occur in the finished product. They are two different animals, and you will eventually learn the possibilities and limitations of both. This is why I encourage you to use the projects in this book to create hats from both straw and wool.


Crown Block. The part of the hat that covers the head. It is important to know the head size of the person who will be wearing the hat, in order to choose the appropriate size crown. Here are some examples of different crown shapes:

Low Dome; short crown

High Dome; tall crown

Pill; flat crown

Fedora; crown with an indentation in the middle

Brim Block. The brim is the part of the hat that extends outward from the crown.

Rope Lines vs. No Rope Lines. A rope line is a groove that has been made in the brim block for a rope to sit in to help keep the material stretched and in place. Any rope 1/4-inch thick or less that fits in the groove, including common clothesline, can be used. When using blocks that do not have rope lines, nail or tack down the material to hold it in place and keep its shape during the blocking and drying process. Millinery tacks can be purchased for this purpose. Thin nails that measure at least 2 inches long can also be used.

To use a rope line, first measure how much rope you will need. Wrap the rope around the area where you will use it. Add an extra 5 to 8 inches of rope and cut it. Next, make a slipknot in the rope. This will allow you to easily tighten and loosen the rope as you use it. If you were ever in Girl or Boy Scouts, you learned this knot. To make a slipknot, take both ends of the rope (tails) and face them upwards. Take one of the ends and tie a loose knot ending with the tail facing up. Now, slide the other tail through the loose knot, so both tails are facing up. Tighten the knot around the loop, and you have a slipknot. Pull the unknotted tail to tighten the loop and pull on the loop to make it larger. This is how you will be using this rope when blocking.

One Blocks. The crown and brim are combined in a single block and used together to make a hat.

Cloche Block; a block used to make a style of hat that became popular in the 1920s.

Upside Down Block; an inverted hat that is created literally upside down.

Fascinator/Cocktail Block. This block is typically small. It can come in many different shapes including circles, ovals, cones, hearts, and mini top hats. The fascinator sits on top of the head rather than covering the head like a hat. It is held on with a headband, elastic, or comb.

Disk Block. Disk blocks can come small or large. Commonly used as a block to make a fascinator or hatinator — a fascinator and hat in one — it sits on your head like a fascinator, but it's large like a hat.

Most disk blocks are upside down or inverted blocks, which means you are making the hat upside down, opposed to right side up.

Puzzle Block. This block consists of multiple pieces (typically five) that create the shape of the hat. This allows the hat maker to easily remove the material from the block without ruining the blocked shape. The puzzle block is flipped upside down and pieces are removed until the blocked material slides off easily.

Puzzle blocks are rare and expensive. If you come across one, I highly recommend buying it. It can even make a great showpiece on your mantel.

Kitchen Block. A wooden bowl found in your kitchen. Examples can include small salad bowls, or saucers.

Hat Stand or Block Spinner. A hat stand is used to prop up a crown block when working on it. Most crown hat blocks have three holes on the bottom of them. The two holes on each end are used to hold the block with your fingers in order to remove the blocked material. The hole in the middle is used to place the block on a hat stand when blocking, so you can reach underneath the hat. It is also used to spin the hat around when working on different angles of the hat without having to pick it up and turn it. Hat stands are also used during the drying process in order to prop up the crown, so air can get under the block.

Dummy Head. A wooden or canvas head that is primarily used when sculpting a hat by hand. The material can be pinned into the canvas of the dummy head to keep it in place when working with it.

Protecting Your Block. Before using your hat block, cover it to protect it from water, dyes from the materials, and other damage that can result from wear and tear. Depending on what the hat block is made of, changes in temperature and humidity can affect it. It can be covered with tinfoil and plastic bags. I have found that Glad(r) brand Press'n Seal® plastic wrap works best, and I use it on all my hat blocks. When laying the plastic wrap over the hat block, don't worry about it being completely smooth. Small pleats and folds won't interfere in the blocking process.

Millinery Materials


Wool can be purchased in many colors and finishes and can also come in different faux prints. Wool can also be dyed using boiling water, and either acid or natural dyes.

There are many different types of wool. In the millinery industry, we use millinery grade 100% wool; a nonwoven material with compressed fibers. It can be combined with rabbit and beaver fur strands, or velour fibers.

Wool for hat making comes in different forms, called hoods and capelines. These are pieces that have been roughly molded by the manufacturer as a starting point for the milliner. Hoods are small cone shapes, which are used for smaller hats such as crowns, pillboxes, and cloches. The capeline is essentially a larger hood that has a brim. This is used for bigger hats that include a crown and brim together. Another option is flat felt wool. This comes flat like fabric and is sold by the yard or meter. Flat felt is commonly used for wool sculpted hats, pattern hats, or blocked hats where you want to block only the brim and not the crown with it.


Sinamay. Sinamay is made from banana plant fibers and has a more open weave than parasisal and other straws. Sinamay can come in different weaves including crocheted, basket, knotted, cobweb, mesh, and more. It comes in many different colors and prints and can also be dyed.

Sinamay is bought by the yard or meter, just like fabric. It can sometimes be found as a hood or capeline, but most sinamay is made flat. It is best used to create larger brims, or disk-block shaped hats. Sinamay is also a great material for free form sculpting, allowing you to explore new hat shapes and embellishments by manipulating the sinamay with your hands.

Parasisal. Parasisal is a fine, high quality, natural straw that is woven from the fibers of the sisal plant. Typically a very tight weave depending on the grade of the parasisal, it is also easily dyed.

Parasisal is available in the form of hoods or capelines. Just like wool hoods or capelines, the hoods are best used for various crowns, small cloche blocks, and hats without brims like pillboxes. Parasisal capelines are best used when blocking a crown and brim together. Parasisal can also be used to hand sculpt hats into beautiful shapes.


Horsehair, also called crinoline, is a synthetic material commonly used to make fascinators. You do not block horsehair, but instead sculpt it to create beautiful embellishments; it can also be used for the edge of a brim, or veiling.

Horsehair is a fun and versatile material to work with because it can be manipulated in many ways to create a variety of effects like bubbles; and the ends can be frayed, or tied off to create a smooth finish. The possibilities with horsehair are endless.

Horsehair comes in many widths from 1/2" wide to 8". It can be flat or tubular. It comes plain, in color or clear, and stiffened or non-stiffened, and decorative with beauty marks (small dots throughout the horsehair), pleated, striped, tubular, and printed with leopard spots or other patterns.


Veiling is traditionally used for bridal headpieces. It can fall behind the head covering the hair, also called a train, and be very long. A birdcage veil can lie gently in front of the face covering just the eyes, or it can fall over the entire face. Veiling comes in different decorative patterns. The veilings shown are examples of Russian veiling, honeycomb veiling, diamond veiling, and merry widow veiling with and without pearls.

Veiling is sold by the yard and comes in 9" and 18" widths.


Excerpted from The Making of a Milliner by Jenny Pfanenstiel, David Green, Fielden Willmott, Steve Squall. Copyright © 2015 Jenny Pfanenstiel. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


What is a Milliner?,
How to Measure Your Head,
Choosing a Hat,
Hat Blocks,
Millinery Materials,
Wool Cowboy Hat,
Plastic Fantastic Cloche,
Straw Brim Hat,
Fascinator Disk,
Bridal Fascinator,
Horsehair Fascinator,
Jinsin Fascinator,
Making a Feather Flower,
How to Care for Your Hat,
Setting Up Your Hat Studio Workspace,
About the Author,

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