wood hat blocks

Why Does That Thing Cost So Much? | Modern Millinery

Millinery Operations with Kristin Silverman

It’s tax time, which means a lot of us are thinking about numbers and budgets and costs. Money is the elephant in the studio room for crafters, makers and artists. Many blogs posts have been written about the challenge of charging what you’re worth, about how many artisans undercharge for their work and the challenge of getting people to see the value in your work. This isn’t one of those posts. But I’ve had people ask me “Why is this so expensive?” or tell me “I love your hats, but I wish they didn’t cost so much.” So here is a little explanation of why.

Millinery is an extremely expensive business. I am fortunate to be in a field where I don’t have to listen to people say they could make my items themselves for $20. But if you do want to make your own hats for less, here’s what you’ll need to lay out for:

wood hat blocks
A small selection of hat blocks at Silverhill Creative Millinery

• Hat blocks: You can sometimes nab hat blocks on eBay or Etsy for not too much money. But that’s a game of luck. Order new hat blocks from one of the few hat-block-makers left, and the quality is more dependable, and you can choose whatever size and shape you want. But the price is higher, too. Oh, and you’ll need a different block for every size and every shape of hat you want to make. Price a single hat shape anywhere from $50 (if you’re lucky) to $400 and up for more complex shapes and combinations. And that’s before shipping, which is also expensive.

hat bodies
A selection of new and vintage hat bodies in straw, fur felt and wool felt.

• Hat bodies: These are the unshaped hat materials. Prices can vary wildly. Certain types of straws can be less than $10. Felts range from $14 to $100. And the most expensive straws (Montecristi Panama hat bodies) can be hundreds of dollars! And that’s just for an unshaped material, not a finished hat. If you’re very lucky, you can sometimes get deals from retiring or “destashing” milliners. Otherwise, expect to pay at least $30 for a plain fur felt.

• Trims, etc: You’ll want a sweatband (head size) ribbon. Plus you might need wire for the edge. The trims I use range from free (old silk ties that a friend gave me) to basic ribbons that are $1-$5 per yard to expensive vintage trims that are $20 or more per yard.

1920s style cloche
A 1920s-style cloche made for myself.

Here’s a cloche I made for myself, so I never priced it for retail sale. So here’s what it costs — based on raw materials, not accounting for time.

If you want to make this hat for yourself, you’ll need some hat blocks from Guy Morse-Brown in the UK. Great news for people in the U.S.! The dollar is stronger against the pound than it has been in a while. Bad news: You have to pay for overseas shipping. The blocks used to create this hat will currently cost you $234 (+shipping).

But I already have the blocks and don’t need to buy them again. If I wanted to recreate this hat for someone, here’s what it would involve:

• 1 brown cashmere felt hat body – $72
• 1 yard, vintage metal trim from the 1920s – $18
• misc. smaller supplies (thread, head-size ribbon, wire, brand label) – $5

= $95 in supplies.

And that’s before I take into account labor, shipping costs for the supplies, other random things such as sizing (stiffener), equipment (from hat blocks to scissors to wire cutters). Now, how would you price it?

There are times when I wonder why I didn’t go into a less expensive pursuit — like greeting cards or beaded earrings. But unlike other Etsy sellers, I don’t have to worry about someone seeing my work one day and opening a shop with the identical products the next day. Yes, there are copycats in millinery, but far fewer than in other art forms. And I don’t have to worry about people seeing my work and saying “Pfft! I could make that from stuff I buy at Michael’s!”

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