There’s one sure-fire way into any milliner’s heart: hat blocks!
After I wrote last month about how to learn millinery someone left a comment asking where to buy hat blocks. That’s a question with a simple answer and a complicated answer. The simple answer is from one of the currently operating hat block makers — Guy Morse-Brown or Hat Blocks Australia among several others — or bid on vintage blocks on eBay.
Buying new blocks is easy but expensive. You need different blocks for every size and every shape you want to make! Hat blocks aren’t cheap to begin with, and the more sizes and styles you want, the more you’ll have to spend on blocks to do it. And every milliner I know of can never get enough! We covet new shapes and sizes. I have a private board on my Pinterest where I keep a wish list of the many, many blocks I want.
Finding blocks on eBay is fascinating to say the least. Some people clearly don’t realize the value of what they have and set too low “buy it now” prices. Those are the ones to snatch up. Other people assume that the high value of other hat blocks also applies to their damaged hat blocks. I’ve gotten hat blocks for a fraction of what I would be willing to pay … and I’ve lost out on auctions that have gone for four times my maximum bid.
The block on the left is what’s known as a puzzle block. Because it’s smaller at the bottom than it is at the middle, you need to be able to disassemble the block and remove it from inside the felt (rather than trying to pull the felt off the block, which would stretch the felt out of shape).
If you’re buying a vintage puzzle block on eBay or Etsy, make sure of two things: 1. That no pieces are missing. (I’ve seen many blocks for sale with one or two pieces missing, which makes the block useless.) 2. That the pieces still come apart. (I know of at least one milliner who bought a block online only to find out that the pieces had been permanently glued together!)
Sometimes vintage blocks — puzzle blocks especially — can be a mystery. What will the final shape look like? Sometimes you need to block a hat on it to find out! Of the vintage blocks above, I am still working on finishing my first hat from the far right block. But here are final results from the vintage puzzle block and the crown/brim from the center of the photo:
If you see wooden hat shapes in an antique shop, you might want to buy them. Give them to your favorite milliner or sell them for a profit on eBay.
I have as many hat blocks as I need. I can make cloches, fedoras, bowlers, fascinators and more. But I will probably never has as many hat blocks as I want. Whenever a milliner posts a photo of new blocks, other milliners gather around and “ooh” and “aah” like it’s a photo of a new baby!
And the upside of all of this is that even though hat blocks are a significant investment into a millinery business, they also keep their value extremely well. So you can buy them, use them and then sell them. Or just send them to me! 😉