In the days when hat stores were as common as coffee shops today, most hatters reserved a part of the store for renovating and shaping hats. While ninety percent of customers could walk out the door with a pre-blocked hat, the remainder needed extra shaping. Heads can range from slightly wide or long to potato-shaped.
The shape of the hat does not come from the crown. It is actually the brim that holds the shape. For example, when we steam a hat into a long oval, we smooth out the ripple that forms from deforming the shape of the brim.
The device used to modify a hat is called a conformitor. It is made up of two parts: the conformitor and the formillion. The conformitor sits atop the head, one quarter inch deeper than where the hat would sit. This pushes the keys out in accordance with the variations of the head, which moves the pins at the top.
A piece of paper called the conform is placed at the top and pushed onto the pins. Think of the paper as a negative. When removed, it is cut just barely outside the perforated ring. Then the formillion sits atop the paper conform. Each key is loosened and pushed inward till it just touches the edge of the paper. When all the keys are in place, the thumbscrews are tightened.
The formillion is placed inside of the hat after the brim has been warmed. Warming the felt softens the felt and makes it pliable.
Once inside, a device called a tolliker is used to push at the upper side of the brim. This smoothes out the brim, which then holds the crown shape.
The conformitor atop Will Morgan’s head.
Slipping the paper into place. The cork frame then is pressed down to get the conform.
Close-up of the conformitor with paper. The impression is called the conform.
Paper conform trimmed around the perforation made by the conformitor’s pins
Formillion keys aligned with the conform.
Formillion and conformitor
Conforms of various head shapes, taken from the book, “Scientific Hat Finishing and Renovating” by Henry L. Ermatinger, 1919. Many head shapes are uneven.