Friday, June 3, 2011

Balzo beginnings

I really love hats. I love wearing them. My mom has very few pictures of me as a child without a hat of some kind on. I am often identified at events as "the Lady in the giant hat." I also really enjoy making them. If my SCA heraldry ever passes it will be a hatter's bow, a tool used for carding wool and more often fur used in the manufacture of hats. I'm also a felting fool and wool fanatic. Basically that's all the long way 'round to say I've been excited to start working on the balzo.

I taught a class back in March on the making of a basic felt hat shape. We used a resist form to layer wool roving on and make a basic "hood" or body. Its a felted and lightly fulled base that can be blocked and finished to make a variety of hat shapes. The ugly duckling I'm wearing on my head is the demo piece from the class. Its oversized and wonky and uneven. I think its going to be perfect for the balzo project-- eventually.

First up is a bit of fulling to make it smaller and to firm up the felt. Its going well so far. I'll be trimming it to a small crown shape soon.

I looked for some articles on the creation of balzos, but didn't find exactly what I was looking for. This one is fascinating, but the construction techniques are more suited for hat styles larger than the type Camilla is wearing. I want the red and green dress from a painting by Lorenzo Lotto, however, just so I can make and wear the hat. Fluffy, curly. and oversized, its a lot of fun. It isn't the sort of hat in my portrait, however. My hat is quite a bit tamer. It really seems more like a shaped crown with a padded roll. My choice to not do a cane or vine frame may be a bias from my preference for working in felt, so I'm certainly not sure. Again, I'm stumped and at a bit of a loss since this really isn't my area of research and I'm having to skim the surface. Looking around for views of sides and back of balzos turned up a couple of rather helpful paintings though. The most interesting to me is "The Giusti Family of Verona," by Antonio da Vendri. Its dated about 1520, so its early for me, but the hats seem about the right size. A full back view and some side views. There are a couple of others that have side views of very definite padded rolls on a hat crown. Oonagh's hats are of this type and she has some great portrait examples. Camilla's is really similar, with the tapering roll, but there seems to be a bit more smoothness, more of a transition between the crown and roll. It could just be the way its painted, however. For that matter, with as close as the color match is between Camilla's hair and the hat, it could actually be an elaborate form of hair taping with a netted caul or something. I'm going with a hat, though.

My plan is to attach a felt roll integral to the hat and then cover the entire hat so the shape is smoothed out a bit. I'm hoping that proper shaping and blocking will keep the hat in place. I've found with past hat projects that balancing the hat and proper fit makes things you wouldn't think would stay on do quite well.
This picture is after a really long day that included me nursing babies, picking kids up and taking my hat off and putting it back on. There are no pins or anything else holding this hat on. Its just well balanced. Huge and silly, but balanced. Despite the size and weight its actually really comfortable to wear. Hair prep is a big deal too. A couple of weeks later I tried to wear a hat I hadn't quite finished. It was really back heavy and the base wasn't well fit. I also was in a hurry and my hair not as tightly braided and secured as I usually wear it. It was a disaster and my hat sat on a table rather than my head for most of the day. I joked with my husband that I will never leave the house with a new hat not tested for aerodynamics.

So, that's the challenge. I need to figure out how to get a really good fit on the balzo. I'm pretty certain that's why there's so much visible hat flat to the head in the portrait. Its a counterbalance to the back heavy roll. If the fit is snug enough it should work in concert with the backstop provided by the ridge of hair formed by either hairtaping or wrapped braids to keep the hat securely in place. We'll see how it goes.


  1. Oooo! I too love the hat in the Lorenzo Lotto painting. Every so often I consider trying to replicate her far, my best idea for what those curliques are made out of is wood shavings. What do you think?

    (Hmmm...maybe straw?...)

    Make it! Make it! Pretty please? I want to see!

  2. It really reminds me of the raffia doll hair you can buy at craft stores Basically anything will form those curly sproingy (is that a word?) corkscrews if you can wind it around sticks and bake it for a little while. Or woodshavings would already be curly, I'd just be afraid they'd break. I can already see making Italian dresses is like eating potato chips. You can't have just one.

  3. At some point I'm determined to make a hair balzo. I got a costume piece at one point and I've decided it's a Balzo as it fits the general shape - and I put a plastic headband inside the net casing that was sewn on and it stays on really easy. Kaeleigh was going to wear it for the kids play at Mystery event but then opted to not wear it - but I think there's a picture of it, if so I'll share it with you. Not necessarily a period under-structure but at the same time it's a start.