Types of Straw – Millinery Materials

Millinery Operations with Kristin Silverman

It’s summer (in the Northern Hemisphere, that is). And that means straw hats. But there are so many types! So here’s a brief overview.

Felts range in price from moderate (wool), to pretty expensive (velour or melousine/long-nap rabbit fur felts), to most expensive (cashmere or beaver fur). But I generally say that felts fall into a somewhat general area — from around $15 (U.S.) for wool to around $90 for more expensive styles. And that’s just for the supply. It’s not a finished hat.

But straws are an entirely different story: They can range from a mere $2 to hundreds of dollars!

There are three basic styles: Flat straw or straw fabric. Woven straw hoods or capelines. And straw braid.

Flat straw is exactly what it sounds like. It’s flat and sold by the yard/meter. Sinamay is the most common, and it comes in a huge variety of colors. It also comes in different qualities or grades. A closer, denser weave is better than a looser or more uneven weave. Here’s a great visual from milliner Cristina de Prada:


Here’s a nice example of a sinamay hat trimmed with silk abaca (another type of flat straw):


Woven straw hoods or capelines are the most similar to how felt hats are made. It’s a vaguely-hattish shape that is formed over blocks to become a final shape. This is where the huge variation is! Seagrass and paper straws can be very inexpensive. Here’s a fedora I recently made out of paper toyo (basically twisted paper that is coated with resin to make it strong):


Parasisal is equivalent in price to mid-range felts. It’s a natural fiber that can be bought in pre-dyed shades or custom dyed by the milliner. I love the work Milli Starr does with parasisal, and here’s a cool look at how she blocked and worked with a vintage-style shape recently:


At the very top of the line are … Montecristi Panama hats. This is the softest, finest straw you can buy. It’s like fabric but better. Depending on how fine the weave is, it can be several hundred dollars (or more!) just for the unblocked body. So the price for a finished hat can be hundreds or even thousands of dollars!


And last up is braid straw. Straw braid comes in a variety of widths and styles from natural fibers to shiny synthetic material. Working with straw braid requires an entirely different skill set than working with flat straw or woven straw hat bodies. Basically, it’s sewn in a spiral, either by hand or with a straw braid sewing machine. Here’s a picture of the process:


Ignatius Hats does amazing work with straw braid:


There are more types of straw than just the ones I’ve mentioned here, but these are a good overview. What types of straws do you like? Has anybody reading this invested in a Montecristi? I’ve never owned or made one, so I’d love to hear about your Montecristi.




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