Helena Travels to Paris - Part 1

Day 1 - Millinery Workshop with Estelle Ramousse 

I anxiously hopped off the train that morning and walked out onto the street. This was my first time meeting Estelle.There she was! I immediately spotted her, waiting across the road for me talking with a friend. She was wearing heels, Dressed head to toe in Denim. Denim pants,denim jacket. I thought to myself, interesting! DENIM on DENIM, That's Bold! I would never.....but before I finished that thought, as I got closer, I realized how trendy and confident she looked! 

There she was in her denim ensemble, heels and her red hair, not to mention the big grin on her face and bag of pastries in her hand.

Helena! she called out, waving at me. Kiss, Kiss (Greeting friends with an exchange of kisses is perhaps the most essential French gesture) and off we went walking down to her studio. Did I mention CONFIDENT??!!??!  She looked so fun and well.....Like a true artist! I always believed how people chose to dress was a true reflection of their personality. My first impression of Estelle.....outgoing, funny, kind and very welcoming. Lets just say, I liked her already!!

I soon discovered she truly was all those things and more!

The view from our apartment, Père Lachaise

The view from our apartment, Père Lachaise

As we walked down to her shop she asked me about my time in Paris and what neighborhood I was staying in. I told her about my beautiful flat in Pere Lachaise and how I loved the area so much as it was quiet and full of locals. With plenty of parks, bakeries and little coffee shops near by, the area was a perfect place to experience the full Parisian lifestyle.

 *Side Note: When travelling, Air BNB has been an amazing experience. If you are ever in need of an apartment in Paris I highly recommend Frédérique Et Jeff. They are remarkable hosts and their apartment was incredible!

Estelle told me about how her neighborhood was also very friendly and small and how everyone knew one another. I soon discovered that Estelle's shop and studio was located on a block that hosts a number of other artists! How brilliant to be surrounded by other creative souls......how could you not love the area and be inspired!!

I could not believe how lucky I was to learn millinery in Paris with the very talented Estelle Ramousse. Spending two whole days with Estelle taught me so much about the Millinery world, the creative Industry as well as the struggles and lifestyle of an artist. The time spent with Estelle was a huge eye opener for me. I discovered just how much hard work and dedication I would need to invest into my craft if I wanted even the slightest chance of success. However this did not discourage me, instead it ignited my burning desire to keep fighting for my place in this Millinery world. 

Estelle Ramousse's Studio/Shop - November,2015

Estelle Ramousse's Studio/Shop - November,2015

Estelle Ramousse's Studio/Shop, November 2015

Estelle Ramousse's Studio/Shop, November 2015

During the time we spent together we had so much fun. Sharing stories, talking about sewing, millinery, teaching, living in Paris and how she discovered her love for hat making. I asked Estelle many questions such as how she finds clients, how many hours go into making a hat, how she decides on a price for her hats and how long she has been making hats.

I loved Estelle's story about how she discovered her love for hat making. She told me how when she was young she had a party to go to and she needed a hat. So she decided to make her own however she spent the whole night making the hat, lost track of time and ended up missing the party!!!.....20 years later she is still making hats and loves it. This story made me laugh and I felt I could relate on such a personal level. When designing and making hats, I am in my own world, so deep in thought and creativity that nothing else matters, working for hours on end and paying no attention to the time. 

.   .   .

On the first day I was taught how to use a wooden hat block (pillbox shape), make a base from scratch and create the pattern to start covering the hat base with pretty material.

Until now I have always designed my hats without blocks so this was all very new to me. To create the shape I wanted in the past, would take me hours of cutting, sewing and layering and my background in pattern making did help to some extent. I would use sinamay, wadding and wire....whatever it took really... to achieve the desired base or shape that I needed. I now realise why it was always so hard....most likely spending unnecessary hours just on the foundation! Discovering how to hat block felt like a revolution.....all this time not knowing how to hat block was like cooking without the right utensils, peeling potatoes without a peeler; grating cheese without a grater!!!.....boy did I wish I had mastered this skill earlier in my journey! I felt as if I had been making hats a little backwards! Two years in and I had no idea how to hat block...ha! Better late than never right? Time to rewind and learn the basics.

With this discovery you can't help but think "has everything I have made before this moment, been a waste of time or incorrect?"  NO.

In my opinion the beauty of art, designing and creativity is that nothing is ever a waste of time; but simply an investment, nothing is wrong; but simply another experiment to test ones talent, dedication and curiosity and most importantly nothing is perfect; as there will always be a better technique or way to do something. In regards to my hat making journey I decided I was still very proud of all the pieces I had created, even if to some, they may not be considered as true millinery.


I once read a saying "The only person you should try to be better than, is the person you were yesterday" This reminded me that all those little experiments, all those attempts and all those pieces that I created are the reason I am here today. Trying to seek more information, more guidance and gain more skills to become a better milliner, not for the world but for myself. 

I am finding all the new skills I am learning so fascinating and I now look at the creation of hats so differently than before. I want to explore traditional millinery techniques over the next two years and this workshop was only the beginning of something greater. The long road ahead is exciting and I look forward to sharing my design journey with you all. 

After only the first day into the world of Millinery with Estelle, I felt I had so much to learn and discover. 


Some of the things I learnt on my first day.

·       Buckram is awesome!

·       Hats are even more work than I already knew when making from scratch. (Classic techniques - True Millinery Style)

·       Water is a Milliners best friend

·       ALWAYS cut fabrics on a bias

·       Good quality fabrics are vital

·       A well made hat can last up to 25 years if not more (CRAZY right ?!?!) 

·       Iron on interfacing is a lifesaver

·       The type of wire used is so important

·       I need to invest in a thimble

·       Hand stitching - Blood, Sweat and Tears LITERALLY

·       This passion requires patience, to have patience you must have passion

·       Some hats can take 300 + hours

·       I need to invest in a hat block...or 2...or 3....and that's how the collection begins!


Estelle was kind enough to let me document the process of the hat. Below are the steps completed on Day 1. 

I have tried to be as clear as I can but sometimes I was to busy making the hat to take enough pictures or notes. 



(Click on images for larger view)


MATERIALS (not all are pictured)  

1.      Wooden Hat Block (always cover with cling wrap otherwise buckram will stick to the block.)

2.      Ruler

3.      Scissors

4.      Pencil/Chalk

5.      Buckram

6.      Weight to hold down materials

7.      Pins

8.      Hammer

9.      Thread

10.    Millinery Sewing needles

11.    Bowl of water with a cloth

12.    Iron

13.    Elastic

14.    Bamboo Stick

15.    Interfacing

16.    Millinery Wire (Covered in cotton)

This is Buckram. Buckram is a stiff cloth, made of cotton, and still occasionally linen. Millinery Buckram is impregnated with a starch, which allows it to be softened in water, pulled over a hat block, and left to dry into a hard shape. White buckram is most commonly used in hatmaking, though black is available as well. Millinery buckram comes in three weights: baby buckram (often used for children's and dolls' hats), single-ply buckram, and double buckram (also known as "theatrical crown")

Step 1. Cut a strip wide and long enough to stretch around the hat block. ALWAYS cut on bias. 
Draw a line on the bias of the buckram the length of the circumference of the block. Measure the width of the block and then draw a parallel line beside the first line to create a strip. Cut along the lines.

Step 2. Cut another piece big enough to cover the top of the block. Use the block as a guide. Now you have two pieces ready to block.

Step 3. Using the bowl/bucket of water and cloth wet the long piece of buckram. Dont wet to much just enough to spread all the glue and soften the buckram.

Step 4. Now take the strip of buckram and wrap around the block. Start to stretch as much as you can occasionally using water to help stretch further and to eliminate any bubbles. WE HATE BUBBLES - as Estelle would tell me. NO bubbles Helen. 0 bubbles. Sooo......it is very important!

Step 5. Hammer in special blocking pins where necessary to help hold down the buckram as you stretch it around the block. 

Step 6. Once you have finished stretching the piece tie a piece of elastic around the bottom edge to hold it in place. Also hammer in a few pins into the elastic for extra support.

Step 7. Now using an iron press over the sides working your way around the block. Move the iron in a quick circular motion. Do not hold the iron in one place as it will burn through due to the glue on the buckram. Occasionally use water to dab on as you iron to help eliminate any bubbles. 

Step 8. Now that the sides are free of bubbles and the buckram has set around the block use the iron to work on the top edges and groove. Remember to still move the iron in a quick circular motion so it will not burn through the buckram. Occasionally use water to dab on as you iron to help eliminate any creases or bubbles. Use your fingers to also mould the buckram so it takes the shape of the block well

Step 9. Now cut the excess buckram off the top edge

Step 10. Lightly dampen the second piece of Buckram and stretch over the top of the block. Use pins to hold down.

Step 11. Insert a piece of bamboo to help the buckram mould around the groove of the block well. Also use pins and hammer down to hold everything in place.

Step 12. Cut the excess buckram leaving about 1.5cm/2cm from the bamboo. Using the iron and water press down the loose edge and mould it into place. This will also connect the top of the hat to the bottom and smooth off all the edges.

First layer of the block is complete!!! All bubbles and edges smoothed out with iron. Buckram has taken the shape of the block very nicely.

LAYER TWO. Pretty much repeating all steps 1-12 but with a different fabric. This was Estelles favourite fabric !! Here she was showing me just how stretchy it is. It also has a thin layer of adhesive and works in a very similar way to buckram however it is much thinner and you need to apply the iron even faster as it melts so quickly! 

Step 13. Cut another strip to stretch around block.

Step 14. Now using an iron press over the sides working your way around the block. Move the iron in a quick circular motion. Do not hold the iron in one place as it will burn through due to the glue and this fabric is very thin. Occasionally use water to dab on as you iron to help eliminate any bubbles and allow the fabric to take the shape of the block.

Step 15. Now that the sides have been ironed down remove the bamboo and pins as you go.

Step 16. Using the iron again press down on the top edges and groove. Still moving the iron in a quick circular motion so it will not burn through the buckram. Occasionally use water to dab on as you iron to help eliminate any creases or bubbles. Use your fingers to also help mould the fabric and push it into the grooves, as you move the iron along smoothing out any creases. 

Step 17. Add another piece on the top of the block, Stretch into place and Using the iron again press down on the top edges and groove. Still Moving the iron in a quick circular motion so it will not burn through the buckram. Occasionally use water to dab on as you iron to help eliminate any creases or bubbles. Use your fingers to also help mold the fabric and push it into the grooves, as you move the iron along smoothing out any creases. 

LAYER TWO COMPLETE. Repeat a second time.

THIRD LAYER - Repeat steps 13,14, 16 and 17. You can do as many layers as you like of this fabric. The more layers the more stability the hat will have. For stage hats 4-6 layers are recommended. For this hat we decided to do 2. (This is not including the Buckram layer)

Step 18. LAYER 4 - We decided to add one more layer this time using fusible Interfacing. This extra layer will give your finished hat base extra support and a soft smooth finish. Repeating steps 13,14,16 and 17.

Step 19. Using a marker, draw a dotted line to indicate the centre of the hat. Draw a second line to indicate the depth you would like. Draw the line all the way around the hat as this will be your cutting line.

Step 20. Cut along the marked line you have drawn around the block. 

Step 21. Separate your hat base from your hat block. Trim the edge again to tidy up if not a smoothly cut.

TA DA !!! Hat base complete made from scratch using a wooden hat block!!! It is our first time so we are a little excited...Can you tell??  

Step 22. Using the Millinery Wire cut a piece long enough to sit along the hem of the hat all the way around with 2.5cm extra on either side which will overlap at centre back.

Step 23. Hand stitch the wire to the edge. Making sure the wire sits directly above the edge not to the side. Hand stitching should be tight enough so there is no space left between the wire and the edge of the hat.

WIRE COMPLETE around edge

Step 24. Cut a strip (approx 3 cm on the bias) of the Mesh fabric used for the second and third layer to cover the wire. Place along the edge of the hat, 1.5cm on either side of the wire to create a casing and clip in place.

Step 25. Hand stitch the casing in place.

LUNCH. Estelle made us a beautiful and yummy lunch!! Spaghetti with mushrooms and a type of bacon plus some yummy cheeses and bread! 

Step 26. Now to create the pattern for the outside layer of the hat. Using calico cut a piece large enough to cover the top of the hat. Pin down and stretch into place with no puckering.

Step 27. Using a piece of elastic mark the center line. Pin down the elastic and then mark a dotted line beside it.

28. Draw the shape you would like for the first pattern piece onto the calico (top of the hat).

29. Remove all the pins and fold the piece of calico along the dotted line (centre line you marked earlier).

30. Cut along the pattern shape that you have drawn. Pattern piece 1 complete.

31. Cut another piece of calico big enough to cover the bottom half of the block. Draw a dotted line as a guide of the shape required. This will become your cutting line. Fold any excess fabric into a dart to pivot out.

32. Cut out the second pattern piece. You would then normally cut out the fabric of choice out of the pattern pieces to cover the hat. In this instance Estelle and I decided to cover the hat directly (drape the fabric) with no patterns required. This is simply a personal preference and both methods will give you the same result. The type of fabric you choose can also be a factor. As the fabric I had chosen frayed very quickly and easily not using the pattern seemed like a more suitable option.

33. Cut a square piece (from the fabric of choice) large enough to cover the top of the hat base and pin down in place.

34. Use the first pattern piece as a guide to hand stitch the fabric down, stitching inside the groove and around like an egg shape. Hand stitching needs to be invisible, very very small stitches and very neat. 

35. Once you have stitched the inside line down all the way around. Repeat the step stitching a second egg shape on the very edge on the top of the hat. Refer to the stitching guide Image.  IMAGE #3 - Stitching guide

I highly recommend this course! Click here to book a workshop with Estelle.