Hatblocks – Tools? Works of Art?
To make things is a part of human nature. Whether it’s a simple tool or a huge construction project, something that has been made speaks more than words and gives a satisfaction to the maker that cannot be gained elsewhere. It could be pushing a beautifully sharpened chisel through a perfect piece of wood, or perhaps trimming a hat with a rare vintage ribbon, whatever it is, there is immense pleasure in being part of something that has gone on ever since things needed making. And then, there is the finished object – for us, seeing a hat made on one of our blocks, or for you, seeing it on your customers head along with all their finery, it is a fundamental experience that changes your outlook on life, a discovery of what is true, original and genuine.
From the raw wood through to an exquisite hand made hat, the process has many different parts and processes. As block makers we are only one part of that journey but nonetheless it is a very important one. Hat blocks can vary from one that must be exactly the shape and design of the finished hat, through to more generic shapes from which can be made a huge variety of hats. However, the starting point must always be right; good timber, good tools, a thorough knowledge of design, proportion and style, a high degree of skill in carving wood, and very importantly an understanding and experience of the blocking techniques that will be used on the block. All of these are endless subjects of course, but here at Guy Morse-Brown we are dedicated to increasing our knowledge and skill on a daily basis. Our aim is to bring you the best hat blocks that you can buy, and we are confident that your hats will be so much the better for having been made on a Guy Morse-Brown Hat Block. You can be a highly skilled milliner but if your block, which is your starting point for the shape, is not right then you’ll be struggling from the beginning. After all, just like the tools we use to make the blocks, your hat block is more than a beautiful object, it is a tool itself. Experience has taught us that it is always worth investing in the best tools money can buy, and the difference in performance is tangible. In the same way, choosing our blocks will not only make your job easier and more pleasurable but the difference in your hats will be plain to see.
Your Passion is our Inspiration
We take our inspiration from many sources but one of the greatest sources is you! Our conversations with you inspire new ideas and new shapes, collectively we come up with more possibilities and even ways and means to bring back old forgotton styles, methods and techniques. This is one of the reasons that we don’t have online ordering – we want to chat with you (email is fine) to help you get your choices right. We want to know the kind of styles you’re interested in, the materials you will work with, the techniques you use, but equally if you don’t know any of these, we want to offer you as much advice as you need.
We also love to look at history, whether it is in images of past fashions, or old blocks themselves whose very presence evokes a bygone age when hats were worn ubiquitously, where the pace of life was slower, and where pride was taken in a well done job, regardless of the time, cost and effort needed.
Guy Morse-Brown established this internationally renowned business in 1995 having already spent many years crafting exquisite things from wood. His background in specialist design and manufacturing was passed onto his son, Owen who established his own business making stringed musical instruments that are played all over the world (see www.owenmorse-brown.com). In 2008 Guy was awarded an MBE for services to millinery and skills training and also during that year a new purpose built workshop was set up by Owen & Catherine, who now direct the business. Catherine is in the office answering your emails, writing newsletters, keeping the accounts etc and Owen is in the workshop as head block maker. Both are on hand for all the advice you need, help choosing blocks, blocking, techniques etc. As demand for our blocks has increased the business has moved into bigger workshops in the summer of 2014.
Guy Morse-Brown Hat Blocks is recognised for its fast and flexible service for both the standard range of blocks and blocks to client’s own designs. The blocks continue to be met with a delighted response from milliners worldwide, and some of the millinery world’s most prestigious designers are regular clients.
Guy’s MBE also recognised his contribution to skills training and it was the Wombourne School of Millinery that was the platform for this. Hundreds of students passed through its doors enrolled on anything from a one-day tiara course to a one-to-one week long course in advanced millinery techniques. Indeed, many of the students have now gone on to set up their own businesses, helped along by Guy & Ann, and are now producing fantastic hats for their clients.
Although as Ann & Guy retired, the Wombourne School of Millinery closed in 2007, over its 7-year life much time was spent documenting classes and utilising the wide experience and expertise of the tutors to produce an extensive range of ebooks for How2hats and launching millinery e-magazine HATalk.
Herritage Crafts Association Award – Maker of the Year 2015.
In May 2015 Owen was awarded the Herritage Crafts Association Maker of the Year Award ‘in recognition of outstanding craftsmanship and for contributing to Britain’s rich craft heritage in doing so’.
The Herritage Crafts Awards were presented at the annual conference hosted by the V&A Museum in London. The theme for this year’s annual conference was A Place for Craft and a number of speakers shared a wealth of insights, knowledge, and experience.
We knew that Owen had been shortlisted for the award a few months beforehand and we were invited to attend the conference on the 9th May. ‘Sitting on the front row was a little nerve-racking as the nominations and biographies were read out and it was a great thrill to be announced as this years winner. With my father having received an MBE for services to millinery and skills training in 2008, I feel very honoured to be following lightly in his footsteps!’
You can see more about the event and other aspects of the Heritage Crafts Association here.
Being associated with the Heritage Crafts Association that year and also having our craft placed on the ‘critically endangered list’ bought quite a lot of media attention. We received national and local press coverage, were filmed for the BBC with Niki Chapman, and were asked to partake in a number of studies looking into the future of endangered crafts and how they can be preserved for future generations. We feel privelaged to be part of a movement that is taking seriously the possibility that many crafts and skills could be lost if they are not protected and nurtured.
In 2019 we became accredited members of Business Against Poverty after hearing a passionate call for small businesses to get involved. We are now part of a growing community of businesses in the UK who through their engagement with projects support the reduction of international poverty and have a desire to change the lives of others. We support organisations, through our chosen charity People against Poverty and Business against Poverty, emphasizing on community and children’s initiatives that benefit the communities in which poverty is rife. Guy Morse-Brown Hat Blocks focuses its funding on programmes that relate to our strategic direction and reflect our core values of integrity, authenticity, and total customer satisfaction.
A few other snaps from the workshop….