Making a Pillbox Hat Using Worbla Mesh Art

Worbla Meshed Art with Heat GubI’m very excited to be writing my first blog post about experimenting with Worbla Mesh ArtWorbla’s Mesh Art is a thermoplastic which when heated  to 90 degrees Celsius becomes flexible (and tacky) so it can be easily moulded – it’s often used to create amazing Cosplay costumes. Worbla Mesh Art is smooth and shiny on the ‘right’ side (shown in the photo) and reinforced with a flexible mesh on the other side to makes it less easy to tear.

This post is about my first experience of using a thermoplastic product (and a heat gun!), many thanks to Cast4Art for the sample.  I must admit I was pretty nervous about working with this new product, I looked at the sheet for days before summoning up the courage to have a go. There are probably lots of different (and better) ways of working with this product that I’ve yet to find out about – I would love to hear about your thermoplastic experience. For any ‘wanna be’ Worbla users, I would recommend checking out the tutorials and how to guides on the Worbla website before you get started.

Are you ready to see the making of my thermoplastic Pillbox Hat?

Step 1: Preparing the mould and cutting the Mesh Art.

Worbla Mesh Art was easy to cut with scissors – for any milliners out there it felt like I was cutting through 3 layers of Sinamay. For a hat block I used an upturned 1970’s wooden bowl on top of a small cup. The bowl / block was covered in aluminium foil which made it easier to separate the Mesh Art from the block once the shape was created.

cutting Worbla Meshed Art with Household Kitchen Scissors

Hat Block Mould from Wooden Bowl and cup

Hat block covered in kitchen foil

Step 2: Heating the Worbla Mesh Art

When Mesh Art is heated it become sticky and pliable and the heat gun gets hot – you will need to mindful of yourself and the work surface you are using. Remember to check out the health and safety advice on the Worbla website. I initially heated the Worbla Mesh Art with my heat gun on its lowest setting until it was soft and pliable. I moved the heat gun in a circular hair dryer type action. Once the Worbla Mesh Art became mouldable I popped it on top of my hat block and pushed the sides down. In a couple of places there were some ridges/fingers marks which a  wet / damp sponge were able to smooth out.

Worbla Meshed Art over Hat block

smoothing out Worbla with damp sponge

Step 3: Moulding the rest of the shape.

Once I was happy with the appearance of the top of the Worbla Mesh Art, I reheated the side of the Worbla (whilst its was on the mould) and pressed and smoothed the lumps and bumps out with the wet / damp sponge. I concentrated on a section at a time until the sides were lovely and smooth. Once the Worbla Mesh Art was completed cool (after about 10 minutes) I removed it from the hat block and trimmed the bottom.

Smoothing the sides of Worbla

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Hat base made from Worbla Meshed Art

Step 4. Adding the fabric covering.

Once the base was trimmed to shape, I popped it back onto the mould and reheated the top so that it became tacky. I then popped the fabric over the top and trimmed the sides so there was a small overhang.Adding Fabric to Worbla Meshed Art

Trimming the Hat Fabric

Step 5: Adding Hat Elastic.

As I was making a Pillbox Hat, I had to figure out the best way to keep it on my head, with normal millinery materials you would catch the elastic and fabric with a few stitches.  My ‘work-around’ involved heating a thick wool needle and using it to puncture two holes in each side of the hat band. Thread was then bound between the holes to create an anchorage point I could slip the elastic behind. The two photos below capture the idea.

creating anchorage points for hat elastic

creating anchorage points in Worbla for hat elastic

Step 6: Covering the side of the hat in fabric.

For this I used more of a traditional ‘tip and side’ band millinery technique. As the fabric was quite thick I found that I needed to add some interfacing behind the fabric to stop a side ridge forming (the first photo is without interfacing so you can see the ridge). I left the side band fabric longer than the hat base to give me something to sew the Petersham ribbon to. Excess fabric was then trimmed off and the Petersham ribbon tucked under to give a neat finish. The inner sideband was heated until it was ‘just tacky’ so I could press the fabric into it. I used a tiny bit of UHU glue in one place where it didn’t stick.Adding Fabric covering to side of hat

Adding Petersham ribbon

inside of Hat showing petersham ribbon

Step 7: The final part was adding the Hat’s trimmings – I went for a fabric covered button and some curled pheasant feathers.

Worbla Meshed Art Pillbox Hat

So, what did I think of Worbla Mesh Art as a millinery material?

Worbla Mesh Art can be used to create a pillbox base very easily. There are no seams to join and no wiring which makes base forming  a much quick – virtually one step –  process. Mesh Art’s self-adhesive properties can also be utilised for fabric sticking – this is best done whilst the thermoplastic is still on its mould, otherwise too much heat and it will loose its shape.  Although I’ve yet to test it, Mesh Art should be pretty resistant to rain, unlike traditional millinery products such as buckram / sinamany / felt etc.

However, as Worbla Mesh Art is a thermoplastic it is difficult to stitch through  – it is also more rigid than traditional millinery materials. Although it worked fine for this small Pillbox hat, it is less suitable for creating larger hats. Nonetheless, Worbla Mesh Art is fast and great fun to work with and defintely lends itself to some amazing sculptural pieces.

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