I add special hat blocks to my collection on a regular basis, but this one is particularly unique. Instead of wood, it is a biodegradable polylactic acid (PLA) that has been 3D printed by maker Randal Alan. Hello 21st century!
I searched for a vintage Russian cuff style hat block for almost two years without luck. When I spotted this one in Randal's Etsy shop I decided to give it a try. I had been curious about his blocks and knew that hands-on experience would allow me to give the best usage recommendations to my students. The prices are good and he can easily customize head size, crown height and brim width or create a custom block from a sketch.
After a few emails back and forth with Randal, I placed my order in mid-November. It took about two months to arrive and I appreciated the updates from him regarding the delay. Even at two months, this is a faster turnaround than you might see from the traditional block makers mentioned in a previous post. They are frequently at six months from order to ship date. Don't let that be a deterrent - good hat blocks are always worth waiting for!
I was a bit disappointed that my custom version of his Russian cuff block was gray instead of black as pictured in his shop, but that doesn't affect the functionality at all. I was just thinking it would look great on my studio shelves next to the black 3D printed conformer
I purchased from him in October 2020. And I love black. 🖤
I covered the PLA block with Press'n Seal wrap, steamed a fur felt hood and pulled it over. The felt blocked up beautifully and with ease. I used two blocking ropes, one at the top of the cuff and one just beneath to set the head size. Note that I always place the knots of my ropes right at center back. I also added a 1/2 inch wide elastic. This ensures the felt (or straw) that will be folded back to create the head fit is smooth and comfortable against the wearer's head. A traditional block in this style would have a third rope line here to allow you to block in a nice head fit.
I used a rectangular sand bag to weight the indent of the crown. One of the big differences between the 3D printed blocks and traditional wooden blocks is that you cannot pin into it. Not that you would need to with a simple shape like this but it's good to keep in mind if you order a more complicated shape from Randal Alan. I would recommend ordering a presser or tipper if possible.
Once the felt was dry, I removed it from the block, trimmed the excess at 1/2 inch below the lowest rope line, and added shellac stiffener.
As I was preparing the grosgrain ribbon sweatband, I realized that the hat was looking larger than expected. I measured inside of hat at 24 inches and then the head-size plate of the block. It was 60 cm (23.6 in) rather than the 59 cm (23.2 in) block size I had ordered. With a little steam and drawing felt in to meet a 23.5 inch ribbon, I was able to decrease the size, however, this trick won't get me in the average size range I had hoped to be by ordering a 59. I'll be ordering a smaller version asap and won't mind having the two sizes in the studio. I have a feeling this style will see a lot of use this year!