By guest blogger JenniferJennifer's Etsy Store
I generally make spring and summer hats from parisisal straw which I shape by hand and on the rare occasion starch and shape on a wooden hat block. I much prefer the organic, free-style approach to hat-making - a pleat here, a tuck there, a prodigious amount of steam, and sometimes wire to hold a particular shape, instead of formal blocking. In either case, however, parisisal is key to my operation.
The word parisisal is made up of two words that describe the straw: pari, the name of a particular weave structure, and sisal, the type of fiber used. This straw is very fine, indeed. Beautiful, supple, durable, and is found in a wide spectrum of factory dyed colors. Parisisal comes to the milliner as either a hood (used to make small brimmed hats) or capeline (used for large brimmed hats) both generally referred to as "hat bodies". They are not hats. They hold the potential to become hats.
Parissal hoods in colors
Parisisal hat bodies are mostly made in China. The stunning fact about them is that they are made entirely by hand. It takes a skilled weaver about 25 hours to make one hood. This does not include the additional 4 hours to prepare the straw prior to weaving. Work begins at the "button" or center and many thousands of strands of sisal are used to weave the hood. The finished edge is tightly woven to prevent raveling. At this point the hood is sent to the factory for finishing.
I appreciate deeply that I can begin my own work with what is already a wonderous work of art! I often think about the ladies, the homeworkers, who spend their days manufacturing these amazing hoods that require so much skill and focus.
A parisisal hood is ironed to make a hat
There is only one straw hood factory in the world now, and it is in China. The culture there is changing rapidly and weavers are leaving their profession to take better paying jobs doing other things.
A parisisal hood is wired to make a hat
Parisisal hoods are becoming very exclusive.
A parisisal capeline is starched and shaped on a vintage wooden block to make a hat
One day, like many things in millinery, parisisal hoods will disappear and that will be a sad day. But as happens with hatmaking, milliners are spurred on by lack and search for new materials that will shape their imaginations - new vehicles for their inspiration, wit and skill. Life is never dull for a milliner, there are always new frontiers to explore and new hats to make.