Monday, June 6, 2011

Hats off to a talented Milliner.

I like to think I can make just about anything from wood. As a professional woodworker I am fortunate to get lots of opportunities to test myself against the diverse and interesting range of jobs to do for my customers. One of these customers is a very talented Milliner who creates amazing ladies hats for her international clientele. Julie Anne Lucas Millinery produces around 200 ladies hats each year - and of course no two hats are the same! While Julie lives and practices her art here in Perth, the majority of her hats are made for clients attending the three prime events on the international horse racing calendar: the Melbourne Cup, the Dubai World Cup, and Royal Ascot. I have just made my 5th hat block for Julie, and it was the most challenging yet.

Heart Shaped Block.
The previous time I'd made a hat block, Julie had presented me with a plaster cast of the shape for the wooden block she wanted me to make.

The plaster cast (damaged) and the completed wooden hat block.
From a block of Yellow Pine, I carved the required hat block based on the plaster cast. It worked well, and was a fairly straight forward project. I look forward to seeing the group of hats Julie will craft with this block. 
Recently Julie sent me a couple of pics of one of the hats made from the heart shaped block.

View from the front.
Side view.
I understand there will be a few more hats in the next collection made using the heart-shaped block. I look forward to seeing the range of art work Julie will produce.

"Top Hat" Style Block.
The most recent hat block I've made, the most challenging yet, was a far more complex project. This was going to test my problem solving skills! Julie had presented me with an existing block, with details of how she wanted the new block to be different to that one. My task was to interpret these requests and create the new block. Due to the shape,  it would have to be a "puzzle block" - able to be pulled apart in order to remove it from inside the hat once the hat has been made around it. It was an interesting task, but it worked a treat.

The completed Top Hat style Block.
Making the Block.
OK, so you want to know how I made it? Firstly, I had previously laminated up the top section of the block from several pieces of clear pine. I then screwed the bottom piece onto the block. This just happened to be a nice piece of yellow pine, and was screwed on so that it could be removed later. Measuring the base of the demo block, I calculated the position of the centres I would use to create the oval base. The block's oval shape was then cut oversize on the bandsaw.

Centres? Yes... the block would be turned on the lathe on 3 centres. The first centre position shaped the front and back ends of the block. The second centre position shaped one side, the third centre position shaped the other side, and putting the block back onto the centre position again tidied up the ends further.

View from the bottom, showing how the oval base is shaped by using 3 centres.
This turning on 3 centres is done at a my lathe's slowest speed, to prevent the lathe from dancing around the workshop floor! The final sanding of this balanced elliptical object while it rotates on the lathe is reminiscent of those alleged weight loss machines with the wide vibrating belts from the 1970's - your upper body and jowls bounce around while holding the sandpaper to the spinning block! However it nicely eased the transitions of the curves (on the block) into a nice oval shape. It had me wishing my beautiful Woodfast MC908 lathe could turn at even slower speeds! The lathe and I have done a lot of work together since I bought it in 1988. Top of the line at the time, now good lathes have electronic variable speed controllers. Can I retro-fit one to my old friend? I wondered this as every bit of flesh on my upper body wobbled and shook on the final sanding operation. Not a pretty image, eh? ...but memories of those old machines did amuse my twisted sense of humour.

With the desired hour-glass shape made flowing up from the oval base, the block was removed from the lathe. The base was screwed to a cradle, to enable the top of the block's sweeping curve to be cut on the bandsaw. The top was then sanded to the final sweeping shape. 

The shaped top of the block, which is still here screwed to the cradle.  
 With the block unscrewed from the cradle, the base was then unscrewed from the top section. To create the "puzzle block", the top section would now be cut into 5 sections on the bandsaw. The centre piece of the top block was then glued and re-screwed to the base. The 4 remaining pieces were then held in place while the holes for the joining dowels were drilled down from the underside of the base, using the drill press. The dowels were fitted and glued into place, and the pieces lightly sanded ready for finishing. To seal the pieces, I brushed on a coat of Shellac - hence the yellow appearance of the finished block.


The completed block in its 5 pieces.
The block's pieces fit around the centre quite snugly on their dowels, and it holds its shape really well. Once a hat has been built on the block, the base is removed. This also removes the centre piece, and enables the remaining 4 pieces to be removed from the hat. A nice "puzzle block" hat block, to make some very feminine top hat style hats. 

Another view of the completed hat block.
 While I enjoyed the challenge of creating this hat block, I am particularly looking forward to seeing the magic that Julie will create in her beautiful and elegant hats for women using this interesting piece of woodwork. Meanwhile, if you haven't already, checked out her website for a glimpse of what Julie can do, here it is: http://www.jalmillinery.com.au/Collection
... yep, I take my hat off to her.

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