1 block (n.)
This is a seasoned wooden block in the shape of a particular type and size of hat. Most milliners try to work from vintage blocks, but they’re getting increasingly hard to find—they’re often “puzzle blocks,” made in sections, so the felt can be taken off without being wrecked. While blocks are made in specific sizes, a hatmaker can stretch or tighten a hat half an inch either way to make it bigger or smaller.
2 crown (n.)
The crown is the part of the hat above the ears; the part that protrudes is the brim. If you live in the city, you have to scale down—but at the beach, it’s a big brim!
3 tipper (n.)
In hat styles, such as the fedora, that have a crease at the top, the indentation is known as the tipper, as is the part of the block from which the hat is made. I love a fedora—for me a fedora on a woman is the sexiest thing.
4 felt (n.)
Felt is both one of the materials hats are made of (I use one-sided velour felt, which is spectacular) and the basic, unblocked form it comes in—either a flare or a hood, though in the old days hatmakers often used flat felt to do “cut-and-sewn” hats. A hood looks like a bucket, and a flare looks like the floppy JLo-type brimmed hat. First you steam a felt; then you pull it onto the block.
5 rope (n./v.)
Once you’ve pulled your steamed felt onto the block, you rope the crown and the brim edge. The rope is more like a nylon cord with a core; it’s white, doesn’t take color and has to be very strong. Many of us have cracked our ribs when blocking—you have to hold the block to your body and pull the rope tight. They say felt has a memory, so wherever it dries it will stay that shape (roping straw, however, is a slightly different process, since straw, not surprisingly, has a slightly different dynamic).
6 rounding (v.)
This is the process of cutting the excess felt away when you determine the size of a brim. My edges are always pinked—I cut them with zigzag-blade pinking shears.
7 welt (n.)
The welt is the rounded edge of the brim, which is sewn down and sometimes covered with grosgrain ribbon (see below). The ribbon along the edge of bowler hats is called an English welt. I often edge my hats with a pick stitch (an overstitch like a blanket stitch).
8 grosgrain or petersham ribbon (n.)
This style of ribbon looks as if it’s ridged. Unlike an ordinary woven ribbon, it’s made from a continuous looped edge, which allows you to steam (or swirl) the ribbon in a curve or arc so it will follow the curve of a hat nicely.
9 HDSZ (n.)
An abbreviation of “head size,” HDSZ designates a hat’s size, which in the U.S. is measured in inches. The standard women’s size is 22 1/2 inches; the men’s is 23 inches.
10 trim (n.)
The trim is the fun part, where you can add whatever you want to decorate a hat. The one I’m wearing right now is trimmed with vintage gold-backed mirror appliqués, with a vintage plaited cord.
Linda Ashton used to be a movie and TV producer; after divorcing her husband (who thought she looked foolish in hats) she moved to New York City, working in rock music production and advertising. After she was laid off from her job, she began making hats and was invited by Ann Arbrizio, the grande dame of American millinery to train under her at the Fashion Institute of Technology; she has been a hatmaker ever since and is now president of the Milliners Guild, which promotes handmade hats.