Friday, June 07, 2013

Free form felt helmet

I've always been a bit wary of trying free form or hand blocking felt. Having CF has gradually stopped me doing many of the things that have defined my life.  I can no longer play the flute or sing as the deep breathing aggravates my lungs and starts them bleeding-nice! This means no more orchestras, bands, choirs or singing in shows.  I can't dance anymore for the same reason, so there goes teaching lindy and dancing four or five times a week and going away to lindy events.  I can't work as a wardrobe mistress anymore as I am just not strong enough and yet again my lungs cant take it, and my increased IV treatment means meeting deadlines for shows is impossible and even meeting wedding deadlines is very hard.  All this has meant that I have lost so many things that I love doing, that I defined my life with, because my stupid body simply can't cope with them, and I really, really, really hate this.  One of the few things that I still have left is sewing and particularly hat making.  So if I had tried free form blocking a hat and been rubbish at it I would have been so annoyed, as I need to still be able to do something creative and hopefully be good at it, or I would probably just go totally mad.  Fortunately, I think I managed pretty well at my first go...  phew!

Free form hat making is unlike normal hat blocking because you do not use a wooden block in the shape of the desired hat.  Instead, you use a head shaped block or stand and having steamed the felt you pull it into shape over the block then pull and pinch and twist it into whatever shape you want. I bought a malleable head block ages ago, but have only just steeled myself to finally try out free form blocking.  Technically, my head is a malleable block for making wigs on, but it works just as well as a more traditional balsa wood head shape, it was also less than half the price of a carved balsa head...  I used my kettle to utterly steam the blue felt cone, then pulled it over the head and off I went with the pins.  I found that you have to work really quickly as the felt soon cools and stops being so pliable and stretchy.  To begin with you can take the hood of the block and re-steam it on the kettle spout, but once it got lots of pins in it to keep the felt malleable I held the whole thing in the steam jet and also used a wet tea cloth and a normal steam iron to press the steam into the felt and keep it soft.  You've got to be really careful whilst doing this as not only is it very easy to steam your fingers but I even managed to get a face full of steam on a couple of occasions-not good!
The first few pleats and pins
More pleats, more pins...
Pretty much all the pins!
It is a very organic and rather mad process, as you do find yourself just making it up as you go along. When I started I had an idea inspired by a 1920's cloche that had a line of pleats running over the head from front to back, but as I pinned it sort of morphed into the pleats curing right round the head! It is also very difficult to stop and I did find myself wanting to just carry on adding more and more pleats and tucks until I ran out of felt! Once it was all pinned up I left it to dry completely, before gentle removing it from the block and painting the inside with hat size and repining it onto the block to dry again.  The size makes the felt far more firm and stops it loosing all the shapes you've made.  To further hold the shape in, I carefully sewed all the pleats into the hat. The good thing about felt is that its fairly easy to hide tiny stitches under the pile of the fabric.

The finished hat on my dolly head.
The sewn in pleats.
From the side.
I am rather pleased with how it turned out, and I am definitely trying free form blocking again.  I was rather amused however when bot my parents independently described it as a helmet for an alien in Dr Who! So it's got dubbed the blue helmet in my head now!  For once, I've actually done a couple of those daft self portraits of me wearing it, by holding my IPhone at arms length!  I did try some without my glasses on, but I'm that short sighted I really could not get it to focus properly!
Hat accessorized with the latest port needle and dressing...

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