Millinery wire is used for providing shape and definition to a hat brim edge or crown, to reinforce wide brims or to construct skeleton hat frames. Our millinery wire is rayon covered in black or white and available in five gauges – #16, #18, #19, #21 and #23 – the lower number is the heavier gauge. We sell the wire in 20 yard or 60 yard coils (#16 is in 30yd coils). Gauge #19 and #21 can also be purchased by-the-yard. Wire comes in a coiled roll and tied together with small wires or twisties. Because of being stored in the tight coil, millinery wire has a natural curve and will spring open if given half a chance. Don’t let your wire get away from you. Handle it firmly and gently to avoid a jumbled mass of tangled and kinked wire.
TIP: Covered wire comes only in black and white and hats are many colors. The fastest way to change the white wire to another color is: a piece of sponge and small jar of acrylic paint. Put a dab of paint on the sponge and run it along the wire. Presto! The color has changed quickly and permanently. Magic markers or water color pencils can also be used to obtain a color that will blend with your hat material.
WIRE, WIRE, EVERYWHERE! That is what you will have if not careful when opening a coil of wire. To open a coil of millinery wire and begin using it first, hold the coil firmly in one hand. Keep in mind that it is wound like a spring and you need to release the tension in the coil before you use it. With a needle-nose pliers, open and remove the small ties that keep the coil bundled together. Continue to keep hold of the wire coil with one hand while you do this so it won’t spring apart into a twisted mess. Once you have removed the restraining ties, slowly and gently ease up on your grip (but do NOT let go) and allow the wire to relax and open in a controlled manner in your hands becoming a looser circle of wire.
Always begin using the wire from the outside end of the coil, never from the inside end. When not using the wire, hang the coil on a peg. You may want to gently retie the wire in it’s looser coil to help it hold together and not tangle. Storing the coil of wire safely will make your task easier the next time you want to find and use it.
Wire will not stretch, so care must be taken to measure accurately. There are a couple of ways to join the ends of your wire. My favorite method is wrapping the ends with thread. Allow 2 inches overlap for this method. Using strong millinery thread, begin at one end of the overlapped wires and wrap tightly towards the other end of overlap. Add a dab of clear glue to each open end of wire at the overlaps. The most common stitches for securing wire to the edge of a brim are a buttonhole stitch for hand sewing and a wide zig-zag stitch when using a sewing machine. It is important to sew the wire to the edge, not on top or under the brim edge. The stitch width should be only the depth of the wire. If the stitch is too deep, the wire will slip away from the edge and can cause an uneven looking finish to the brim. See our FAQ section for more in depth instruction.
Some milliners prefer straightening the wire length they plan to use as it can twist inside the hat if not handled properly, creating a distorted shape. There will be places on a hat where you will need straight pieces of wire, but as a general rule, do not straighten out the wire. Since wire already has a gentle curve it is ready for use. It is advantageous to avoid working against the natural curve in the wire whenever possible. If you need a larger arc than you find in the wire naturally or wish to straighten a section, use your hand to relax the curve in the wire by running the wire through your fingers while your thumb gently presses it into a broader arc. Do this slowly, applying firm even pressure, because doing this too fast will heat the rayon cover causing minor burns to your finger tips and kinks in the wire. Make sure your hands are clean before you begin to manipulate wire. Even though it will eventually be covered, you want to keep the wire as clean as possible.
Joining wire ends
Wire will not stretch, so care must be taken to measure accurately. There are a couple of ways to join the ends of your wire. My favorite method is wrapping the ends with thread. Using strong millinery thread, begin at one end of the overlapped wires and wrap tightly. Allow 2 inches overlap if you plan to bind with the thread method. Add a dab of clear glue to each open end of wire at the overlaps.
A second popular means of securing the ends of a wire is with a joiner. Joiners are also called ferrules, connectors or clasps and nowadays they are hard to find. Hat wire connectors are tiny tubes into which you can slide the cut ends of the wire to create a circle.
If using a galvanized steel joiner when connecting the two ends of millinery wire together, place a wire end into the joiner from either side and pinch joiner closed using a crimping tool or needle-nose pliers. For either the thread wrap or metal joiner techniques we suggest a dab of clear glue to give additional security. Brass joiners will not rust but are a softer metal which can snap over time.
To use the plastic joiner, insert wire ends into the joiner and overlap one inch. Apply heat from heat gun or flame, joiner will shrink to grip wire. Do not place directly into flame. Allow to cool before handling.
Spring wire is strong, uncovered tempered stainless steel wire and is used for the edge wire of very large hats and also for making medium-sized and large hats with brims in which no brace wires are used. It comes in a one pound coil (approximately 60yds.) and has a silicone coating to help prevent or slow down the process of rusting.
Spring wire is used in packable hats that make a twisted figure eight folding shape for storage because it has memory and will spring back into shape when opened. TIP: wipe excess silicone coating from wire when ready to use and coat with clear nail polish instead.
Another type of support wire is the clear nylon monofilament, much like a heavier fishing line. It has a memory, is washable, and will not rust. It is also known as Brimlock or Brimreed. It will retain its shape if set under heat. Because of its memory aspect and being washable the nylon wire is perfect for cloth hats, or anywhere you want a slight definition to the shape. The clear nylon monofilament that has memory and acts like spring wire in that respect. Most manufactured straws and felts use it now. It works great for soft hats and flat pattern hats by giving definition to the brim or crown. The same for crochet or knit hats. Brimlock can be twisted in a figure eight and can be used in packable hats. The ends can be overlapped and wrapped with thread to hold, or use one of the joiner methods.
For best results, setting should be done in the final blocking, with a temperature of approximately 275 degrees Fahrenheit (135 degrees Celsius). The hat should be kept at this temperature for 60 seconds. The 1.35mm is comparable to the #21 gauge and the 1.50mm would be comparable to #19 gauge wire. A heat gun can be used for this purpose.
Attaching Wire to the Hat
The most common stitches for securing wire to the edge of a brim are a buttonhole stitch for hand sewing and a wide zig-zag stitch when using a sewing machine. It is important to sew the wire to the edge, not on top or under the brim edge. The stitch width should be only the depth of the wire. If the stitch is too deep, the wire will slip away from the edge and can cause an uneven looking finish to the brim.
Book titles with excellent information on millinery wire uses:
- Basic Millinery For The Stage by Tim Dial
- From The Neck Up by Denise Dreher
- Hats: Design and Construction by Stella V Remiasz