A Short History of Hat Blocks

Waltraud Reiner talks hat blocks - Part 1

Waltraud Reiner talks hat blocks - Part 2

In millinery, 'blocking' is the process of shaping material onto a mould to form the body of the hat. Hat blocks are the moulds used in this process. They are usually carved from wood, but you can also find aluminium and poly blocks.

Hat blocks have been used in men's hat-making for over 200 years.

Early hat blocks were made from wood turned on a lathe, making them perfectly round, which was fine if the hat was to be placed over a wig. However, this changed in the early 1800s when wigs began to fall out of fashion. Hats now needed to fit to the true shape of their wearers' heads, so block-makers began carving their hat blocks by hand in a more oval shape.

This opened up new possibilities for the shaping of hats. Soon there were many different styles in use, which changed and developed over the years.

Hat blocks can be made from a single wood block or from several separate pieces which can be assembled in various ways to achieve different effects. These are sometimes known as 'puzzle blocks'.

A milliner might use a single standard block to create a classic hat - for example, a trilby - or put together a separate brim block and a crown block to create a unique shape.

Aluminium blocks, or 'hot blocks', were introduced in the 1940s. These blocks would be attached to an electric power source and heated in order to shape the hat.

Traditional wood blocks should not be heated. First, the block is covered with a layer of fabric or plastic. Then the material (most commonly felt or straw) would be pulled over the block and secured using pins or blocking cord. The material would then be steamed or coated with chemical stiffener to mould it into shape.

European hat blocks are generally made from soft woods. In Australia, hard woods are more commonly used.

The New Zealand Kauri tree produces high quality, long-lasting wood which is ideal for hat blocks. This wood is less common today, and Kauri hat blocks are prized for their quality.

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