The Intersection of Hat Blocks and Millinery: Exploring Tradition and Etymology

Cowboy Hat Holder Wooden Table Top Craft Hat Stand Display Millinery Vintage 1960s

Cowboy Hat Holder Wooden Table Top Craft Hat Stand Display Millinery Vintage 1960s

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In the world of fashion, where every stitch and curve tells a story of tradition and innovation, the humble hat stands as a testament to both craft and creativity. At the heart of hat-making lies the essential tool: the hat block. But what exactly is a hat block, and who wielded its power to shape the landscape of millinery? Delve into the rich history and intricate artistry of hat blocks and millinery as we uncover their intertwined journey through time.

Embark on a journey through the corridors of time, where the clatter of hat blocks mingles with the whispers of millinery secrets. Discover how these seemingly simple tools became the architects of elegance, shaping the very essence of style for centuries. From the bustling streets of Milan to the ateliers of Paris, witness the evolution of millinery unfold before your eyes. Unravel the mysteries behind the etymology of "millinery," tracing its roots to distant lands and weaving a narrative that celebrates craftsmanship and tradition. Prepare to be captivated by the allure of hat blocks and the enchanting world of millinery.

A selection of hat blocks in the workshop of Australia's 'Blocks by Design'
Image: A selection of hat blocks in the workshop of Australia's 'Blocks by Design'.
Source: By Aussie oz - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22838734

What is hat block? By whom and for what was it used for?

A hat block is a wooden mold used in hat-making to shape and form the material (like felt, straw, or fabric) into a specific hat design. The block is often shaped like a head or a specific part of a hat (such as a crown or a brim) and is used by milliners to create hats of various styles and sizes.

Hat block making is an art that requires precision and skill in woodworking to create these molds accurately. It is an endangered craft in the United Kingdom.

The number of hat block making businesses have reduced over the years due to changes in fashion, technology, and manufacturing methods. The number of remaining hat block making businesses in operation in 2022 is a limited number. As of the last update in early 2022, there were only a few hat block making businesses remaining in the UK.

The origins of millinery. What is the meaning of millinery?

Millinery refers to the art and craft of designing, making, and selling hats and other headwear. The term "millinery" comes from the word "milener," which initially referred to goods coming from Milan, Italy, known for its high-quality goods and fabrics, including hats, during the 16th century. Over time, the term evolved to specifically denote hats and headwear.

Second floor, millinery department, Lion Store, downtown Toledo, Ohio, 1900s
Image: Second floor, millinery department, Lion Store, downtown Toledo, Ohio, 1900s.
Source: Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Milliners were skilled artisans who crafted these headpieces, using various materials like straw, felt, silk, and feathers. Famous milliners from the 20th century are for example Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli.

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