Millinery Tips and Techniques

All Milliners have their own techniques and ‘tricks of the trade’ and to help me in my learning, I’m keeping a record of these here – some many be useful, others not, if you have any suggestions or tips of your own please share them via the comment box. 

Blocking Tips:

  • Some Milliners prefer not to soak Sinamay to soften it, some spray their fabric to make it damp for blocking and then paint the stiffening solution onto the fabric once blocked into shape.soak sinamay in water
  • If blocking felt hoods using steam, spray a fine mist of water inside the hood to dampen it before steaming.
  • Cover blocks in cling film, plain plastic bags or foil to protect them before use.
  • If blocking velour hoods or black fabric pop some scrap fabric over the covered form before blocking.
  • Increase the size of a crown block by blocking over an old felt hood (covered in plastic). A 1/16th inch thick hood roughly adds 1cm to the head size.
  • Don’t soak fur pile hoods in water based stiffeners – block by steaming.
  • Lay rope on top of Petersham ribbon (or cling film) for shaping grooves or defining shapes in blocks.


  • Avoid damaging Sinamay by pushing blocking pins directly into the fabric – make a kind of Sinamay/ thin elastic or ribbon or cord / pin sandwich. If using elastic don’t pull it tight or the fabric will pucker.
  • Sewing Hams or rolled up towels can be useful when brim blocking to get into those curves.
  • Loosely sew a wire on a brim – steam, then pull the wire to force a curve.
  • Criss-crossing fabric fibres gives a different effect to matching fabric grains.
  • Steam is your friend! Camp kettles, wall paper steamers and even vegetable steamers can be cost effective ways of creating a stream of steam.millinery steamer

Giving Structure

  • Use strips of crinoline or corset boning inside fabric tubes to give them structure.
  • The longer side of cloche brim’s normally goes on the right hand side of a hat if you are wearing it. This is only a guide – think about their hair style and parting too!

Felt cloche with side swept brim

  •  For a more smooth round flexible edge in button blocks feed millinery wire into a crin tube tucked under the edge and secured with a zig-zag stitch. 
  • Millinery Wire – the higher the gauge number the thinner the wire. 22 gauge = 0.8mm, 18 gauge = 1.2mm.


  • Use a damp cloth and hot iron to get an idea of how much pre-stiffener a fabric contains before adding more.
  • Water based stiffener to water ratio : Felt =1:8, Sinamany 1:3 or 1: 4 – depending on weave.
  • If using solvent based stiffiner – felt stiffiner can be used on straw for a matt look. The Straw based stiffener gives a shine. Ventilate working area well for all solvent stiffeners – face mask!

Everything else!

  • Wire can be fashioned into a shape to help when marking brim curves. Mark front and back of brim, shape curve with wire from the front to back of the brim, mark, flip over the wire and place on opposite side of the brim. A flexible ruler also works well! Paper templates can also be really helpful too.
  • Join millinery petersham or gross-grain ribbon before placing it onto brim. Overstitch the edge by hand for smooth finish. Curve the ribbon for sewing in with an iron if you are joining the ribbon seam once it is stitched in.

petersham ribbon oversew

  • Catch millinery veiling through its diamonds.
  • Wrap rolled egde sinamany around  a cardboard tube for a tight neat edge – the tension held keep it in place until it dries.

wrapping sinamay around a cardboard tube

  • When attaching elastic to a hat, think in 3rd’s. Join the elastic to 2 of these points – see pin position.

think 3rds for hats

  • Kids modelling clay can be useful in testing out a block shape. Once it is sculpted, cover in plastic and freeze overnight – the pins should hold in the place  as you steam.
  • Use a heated darning needle to pop a hole through the spine of a feather – it will go through easier. Wire is useful when securing feathers to a hat – think wire spirals or a right angle bend to stop feathers shining around.


  • Acid reactive dyes are used to dye protein based fibres such as silk, wool and feathers.
  • Fibre reactive dyes are used to dye cellulose fibres such as cotton /rayon / linen.

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