The world is full of straw hats. They are almost never the size and shape you’d like them to be. (That’s a known effect of the Law of Universal Irony, along with how the thread already in the needle is never a color that will work for your current purposes.) Fortunately, reblocking a straw hat is pretty gosh darned simple. You will need:
- a straw hat
- a bowl of warm water
- a head block
- your hands
- optional: pins, T pins, tape measure, craft foam, and hat sizing/matte sealant spray
My boss at the college theater has been pretty great about telling me I can use any work I do there as blog fodder. Unfortunately, I’m not to great about Getting Around To Things(tm). These photos are of the process I used last spring to make the hats for the two female bluebirds in The City Mouse and the Country Mouse. You’ll want to do some basic prep on your hat first. If it has a band sewn into the inside, remove it. Ditto on price tags, decorative elements, etc. Be careful about anything hot-glued on – the glue likes to take chunks of the hat with it when removed, unless you’ve got a very light hand with a razor knife.
There’s a couple more things you should know about working with straws. Firstly, it’s really really amazingly super important, not to mention crucial, to have keep the straw at the right shade of damp. If it’s too wet, it’s a bother to work with. Let it dry out too much, and it cracks. I re-dunk the hats in water periodically – sometimes the whole hat, sometimes just the bit I’m currently fussing with.
Secondly, there’s a zen to straw hats. They are, by design, entirely woven on the bias. That’s how they work – just like with a bias cut of fabric, if you pull it will get longer and thinner. It you squoosh it neatly, it will get shorter and tighter. (Remember those silly little woven tubes called Chinese handcuffs? Your father might have conned you into sticking one finger from each hand in, then laughed when you tried to pull your fingers out and couldn’t because the thing git tighter the more you pulled, and maybe after a while your mother got tired of the crying and made him show you that you get them off by pushing, not pulling? I mean, not that I speak from experience or anything…. But if I did, I would tell you that straw hats are just like that.) There are some situations where you will find that no amount of coaxing will make the brim on your sacrificial hat small enough to work for the brim you want to have. (Avoid this situation if at all possible.) If that happens, you need to fold the straw sharply where you want the brim to end. The kicker, here, is that you don’t want to break the straw, so be gentle, but firm. As you do this, the straw will tend to want to flare, so you’ll have to keep working to enforce the shape. You can use binder clips (and a little craft foam to avoid marks on the straw) to hold the fold in the edge. Once the hat is well and truly dry, you’re going to sew the edge, and 1/4″ from the fold, to hold the straw in place. Then you can trim the straw about 1/4″ from the stitches. But really, honestly, you never want to do this. It’s really quite annoying, persnickety, and generally promotes foul language.
Thirdly, if you need to pad out a styrofoam head, you should use a tape measure and check the size of your own head (or the target head for the finished hat) and make sure that you pad the form out to that size. (Hey, thanks, Captain Obvious!) I mention this primarily because I find it impossible to eyeball this process, and I’m generally pretty good at that. Also, if you’re padding the head out anyway, you can insert something to give shape to the crown – like the top of one of those cheapy plastic hats you get at party stores. Oh, right, and if you’re making a hat for yourself, feel free to block it on your own head. After all, it’s just the size you need, and you probably don’t have to go searching through a cupboard to find it. You might look a little goofy, wandering around with a wet hat on your head, but I’ve done it several times and ended up with perfectly good results.
Finally, I’d like to caution you against doing this with those crazy old 60′s straw hats with the straw that’s sort of puffy-chunky. (I realize that’s a weird description, and there’s probably a technical name for what I’m talking about, but the truth is that if you ever see one you’ll be like, “Hey! It’s puffy-chunky! I get it now!”) The substance used to make those guys is weird, and I’m not sure it’s entirely natural. It utterly collapses when wet, and doesn’t completely recover it’s former puffy-chunky glory. There will be some straws that just won’t reblock. Straw is (supposed to be) a natural fiber. It’s grass. Too many years of neglect, dry air, and temperature extremes can cause it to splinter apart. There’s no salvation once that happens. (Although, you know, on the right character….. I’m not saying you should never throw garbage away, because I firmly believe in routinely culling the crap, but, you know, sometimes a broken down hat is the best starting point for a character that’s supposed to look disreputable or just plain poor.)
So, I hope this inspires at least a few people to refuse to accept bland, mass produced straw hat shapes, and try making something fun!