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My Nautilus Hat

I am thrilled to be able to finally unveil my finished Nautilus hat! My blog series about the technique still has a few more instalments to come. However, this hat has truly been a labour of love (and occasionally hate!) as I massively underestimated the work involved it’s creation.

Edward Mann Hat 1956 - Hat Works Collection

Whilst I absolutely adore the red nautilus half-hat I saw at Stockport Hat Museum during my research trip, I didn’t want to make this style of hat.

I wanted to create a vintage inspired design, not a faithful reproduction.

However, I was inspired by the construction of this hat for my design. Rather than used a blocked foundation, I decided to do something I’ve never done before. After all, this project has been all about challenging myself!

With this design brief in mind, I decided to pick possibly my favourite hat shape, a boater. A classic shape, reminiscent of days gone by, but fabulously contemporary thanks to a revival on the race tracks of both Australia and the UK

My first task was to create the nautilus motifs. I hadn’t entirely decided how I was actually going to create the shape. The plan was to do some thinking whilst I pleated and stitched. I knew I was going to be spending a lot of time doing that!

I knew I would need a lot of nautili to fit my boater block and it took an entire weekend in the studio to complete the motifs for the brim…even with some sneaky production line techniques

Planning a Nautilus hat by Imogen's Imagination

I used my block to plan the layout of the nautili. This also allowed me to build the design from the brim upwards.

I knew I wanted to create distinct sections to the hat; brim, hat band, crown.

I decided I would use varying shapes and sizes of nautili to create these layers to that hat. I also knew I wanted to add extra embellishment, however that too was to be considered during pleating time!

The next big consideration was the foundation of the hat. I chose to replicate the wire frame of the classic 1950’s half hat. However, there was a significant amount of engineering involved. I used wire shaped around my hat black to create the frame.

This was then wrapped with tulle to add both strength and anchorage for further stitching. I also added tarlatan bias strips to all the areas that would support the next layer of the hat base.

I wasn’t so diligent at recording all the following stages of the process as by this time I was getting a little concerned about timescales. This was my work desk at the end of the second full weekend working on the hat!

Nautilus Work in Progress

Half a wire frame hat made
x2 metres of wire wrapped in tulle
x3 stabbing injuries
x5 metres of ribbon pleated
x10 new nautilus sewn
x10 6mm Swarovski pearls sewn
x16 hours of studio time
x330 2mm Swarovski pearls sewn

After a third, and final, full weekend of working on the hat I’d made good headway. I’d covered the frame with silk dupion and all the decoration was finished. I did wonder whether I should be faithful to the 1950’s construction and kept the gaps between each nautilus. However, my  pledge to avoid an attempt at reproduction won…and I also wanted the hat to be perfectly finished at whatever angle it was seen from.

wire frame for a boater hat covered with silk

The final task was to add a lining to the crown and an inner hat band.

I often joke that millinery is all about hiding your working, unlike maths! However another reason is that the first thing a milliner will do when looking at a hat is to take a peek inside.

We want to know how a design has been made, so we’re always looking for secrets. But we’re also looking to see if the same attention to detail has been lavished on the one part, that no one but the wearer sees. It’s all about the details!


Mark Howe photographing a hat by Imogen's Imagination

After my Herculean labours, I felt this hat deserved to documented for posterity. 

It also deserved to photographed by someone who could capture its intricacies as I really wasn’t the woman for the job.

A huge thank you to my fellow Yorkshire Artspace studio holder, Mark Howe, for taking on the challenge.

As you see from my rather shaky picture of Mark at work, I was absolutely right to leave this job to a professional!

So here it is, my finished Nautilus hat in all its swirly, whirly and utterly unique glory!

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put a price on this hat, nor will I ever be able to part with it. However, if you would like to own a little bit of millinery history, I have just launched a range on Nautilus brooches. You can find them in store here.

STOP PRESS: This hat will be on display as part of The X Terrace Exhibition: To the Future and Back during London Hat week in April 2020. Click here for more information.

Nautilus Boater Hat by Imogen's Imagination
Black and Cream Nautilus Hat by Imogen's Imagination
Beaded Nautilus Hat by Imogen's Imagination
My Nautilus Hat a blog by Imogen's Imagination

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