I find the art form of hat blocks fascinating in itself. There seem to be only a handful of hat block makers worldwide. And while the majority of milliners seem to be women, the majority of hat block makers seem to be - and have historically been so, due to the woodworking skill involved - men.
As a novice hatmaker/milliner I'm finding the acquisition of blocks to be an intimidating task, due to the cost of blocks. Plus there's the size issue. It seems that many milliners buy vintage/antique blocks; but many of those were made when people had smaller heads. So if you're a modern milliner and you're creating an entire line of hats around a 20 inch head size...that limits your potential customer range. I'm not a very large person and I need a 23 inch block. So maybe all those people who say they can't wear hats...really just can't wear any of the hats being made for tiny heads.
Padding out too-small blocks is the way forward. I've not tried this myself because i'm lucky to have a standard block that fits my head, but I've read that this is what you do for bigger head sizes. The alternative is to invest in a hat stretcher.
My two brim blocks are a 16 inch (38 cm) round pizza pan and a 13 (32 cm) X 16 meat platter. If you buy those clamp paperclips that are meant to hold 10's of sheets of paper together, you can use anything that is the shape you want for a brim block.
I know how challenging it can be as I was buying them when I had 4 small children. The Govt TAFE College said you can teach Millinery as long as you supply the blocks. I gradually built up a collection. The Brim & Crown I suggest is a good start and you will be surprised what you can create from these. Put them on your Christmas Wish List!!
Even today I add on to blocks or I block on one Brim then block on another Brim to make the final style. Look out in home decor stores for wooden items you can mould on. As you sell a few hats you can find $$ to buy another style. For second hand blocks put an add in local paper and someone may have them in attic and happy to pass them on to you because of your love of hats.
Yes, I'm doing just what you suggest in your second paragraph. I'm looking at anything wood that looks like I could stretch some sinamay or buckram over it and make a hat. It's actually a rather fun treasure hunt. There's an antique center about 5 blocks from my house. I went there this weekend and told them what I was looking for. They said that whenever they have blocks, they go fast. So I'll keep checking back. Several sellers did have vintage wood bowls of various sizes, so I may pick up a few of those. I did manage to win an auction for one balsa dome shaped crown (in my size!) block on eBay earlier this week. Oddly enough no one else was bidding on it. So I'm quite excited for when that arrives in the mail.
I've also been teaching myself woodworking over the past 4 years. Thus far everything I've managed to make was limited to straight sides, and I have been trying to figure out how to make items with curves. Hat blocks are the perfect challenge for that. So we'll see what I come up with.
Dremmel with a sander attachment...unless you can afford something more heavy duty. Google hat block making and you'll see how they do it in the workshops. :)
For those who live near Melbourne Australia (and I don't unfortunately - being in Adelaide) a supply company, Torb and Reiner, have a block hire service. You can take your fabric/felt etc. to their store, block it, and pick it up the next day. For a small charge, they'll even do the blocking for you. I think this is a brilliant idea.
I've also wondered if an on-line share system could be organised, where people could photograph/list the blocks they have and others, for the cost of return postage and insurance, could 'borrow' them. It would need co-ordination of course, but in Australia at least, the millinery community is small, close and supportive, and I think it could work. Love to hear others' ideas on this.
Plus Terra Cotta pots !!
What about heading down to the local woodworking club in your region and asking one of the fellows there to make a few for you? If you had just one as a demo piece I would think that they could copy it fairly easily?
Elaine can you explain a bit more about the blocks being made form Australian Rainforest timber?? I do hope they are not cutting the rainforest down for hat blocks!!! Although the wood sounds ideal. Rain forests are much more important!!!
Although this timber naturally grows in Rainforests it is grown in privately developed forests for commercial purposes.(can't spell it will ask the block maker) Our Govt regulates the timber industries very strictly especially rain forests for sake of balance in the environment. I have one brim block made from Red Cedar which was harvested years ago in Nth Qld Forests but banned now. My husband will not let me use it and put tacks into it as it polishes up beautifully - will be a clock one day!!