The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Hat block making

 

The making of the blocks, either in wood or metal, on which hats are made.

 

Status Critically endangered
Craft category  Wood / Metal
Historic area of significance
Area currently practised
Origin in the UK
Minimum no. of craftspeople required 1-5
Current no. of trainees 1-5
Current no. of skilled craftspeople 1-5
Current total no. of craftspeople 1-5 (in two businesses)

 

History

Hat block makingA hat block is used to shape and stiffen hat forms. Each block is created to form a style and size. Some hats require a block for the brim and a block for the crown, dependent on the style of hat being formed. Some brims are designed with large holes in the centre, enabling one to try on the hat. For one’s without, the viewer will have to use more imagination to picture what the hat would look like whilst worn. Crowns have measured holes in the bottom, these are for hat stands which makes the hat easier to be shaped when they are blocked and to enable newly formed hats to be pulled of the block with greater ease.

The types of wood used to make the hat blocks often depends on the country of their origin, though it is more convenient to use soft woods. Aluminium is sometimes substituted for wood. In the process of forming a hat block, measurements must be carefully taken, ensuring that all of the pieces align. Some blocks are divided into sections, commonly five. This allows the different pieces to be taken apart and assembled back together and allows the block to be removed without deforming the hat.

Metal tooling enables hat manufacturers to supply the high street, and wooden hat blocks are essential for milliners to make hats. Traditionally, metal blocks were used for men’s hats, which tended to be of a fairly standard shape, whereas wooden blocks were used for women’s hat due to the greater variety in design.

Carving a wooden hat block. Photo: Steve Lane

 

Techniques

 

Local forms

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Market issues: China is flooding the market with cheap imported hats making hat manufacturers unable to spend effectively on UK and handmade products
  • Problems with decent wood supplies
  • Problems with any skilled employee doing any job in the factory

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

  • Boon & Lane Ltd. – based in Luton, Bedfordshire. The only manufacturers to make both wooden and metal hat blocks.
  • Guy Morse Brown – based in Chippenham, Wiltshire.

 

Other information

 

References