Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Who wants to be a milliner?

I've spent quite a lot of time thinking about hats recently, so I thought I'd write a quick blog post about it.

This hat, which I recently spotted on the Independent's web site, had me suffering from hat envy.

A few weeks ago, Sure Start librarian Jan Nicholson got in touch to tell me that she was trying to make a replica of the double-pointed hat that illustrator Poly Bernatene had shown Priscilla the pig wearing in our picture book  The Princess of the Pig. The hat and the book were to be a birthday present for a colleague, who was also called Priscilla.

Jan was planning to make the hat out of paper and was hoping that, as a paper-engineer, I might be able to give her a bit of advice on how to go about it. The hat is made up of two intersecting cones, so I sent her this diagram with some basic instructions to get her started.

After a lot of trial and error Jan managed to make the rather marvellous piece of millinery that the real life Priscilla can be seen sporting below.

The real life Priscilla in her new hat!

At the same time as Jan was putting the finishing touches to her Priscilla hat, I was making my own replica hat inspired by another picture book I'd done with Poly Bernatene. My hat was to be a copy of Captain Cut-throat's hat from Here be Monsters.

The villainous Captain Cut-Throat in his pirate hat

I'd already made a version of the Captain's hat for the book's trailer, but that one was made out of paper and I needed something that was more durable that I could fold up and pack into a bag for school and library visits.

I made a paper Captain Cut-Throat hat for the book's trailer.

After googling around for a bit, I came across milliner Claire Strickland's website which had a page of useful advice on how to make hats out of plastazote foam, an ideal material for my pirate hat. 

I started off by making a paper version of the hat to get the right shape and size to fit my head. Then I used this as a template to cut out a piece of 3mm thick black plastazote.

Although plastazote is quite tough, I was worried it might tear with continued use, so I stitched some sewing tape around the hat's opening to reinforce it.

Rather than paint the skull and cutlass symbol onto the foam, I cut it and the edging strip out of white plastazote and glued it in place with contact adhesive. To give the hat a little shape I also cut and glued a small pleat in the crown.

Then I folded the hat in half and glued the edges together to make a cornish pasty like shape. I used a couple of heavy books to keep the edges pressed together while they dried.

The hat was finished …

… but when I tried it on I was a little disappointed with the overall effect. I didn't look quite as piratey as I wanted to. There was something missing. I decided that I really needed a swashbuckling moustache as well.

So I used the plastazote offcuts to make a selection of moustaches.

And when the hat had its first outing, for my Here be Monsters events on National Libraries Day, I let the audience vote for which moustache I should wear.

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