Repairing a Victorian hat-fitting Conformateur with 3D printed parts

A followup to yesterday's post about the Conformateur, a 19th century hat-fitting device acquired by Tricia Roush to aid in her millnery. Here is a post from La Bricoleuse, another proud Conformateur owner, whose gizmo needed some TLC to get into good running shape: specifically, it needed new parts that were output from a 3D printer.

As a member of TechShop RDU, i had originally planned to draft the part there using Autodesk Inventor, then use their Dimension rapid prototyper to print the feet. Unfortunately, the machine was damaged and down for the count until it could be repaired. I had my draft but no way to print it.

Enter Dara McGinn of Li Sashay, and RepRap, an open-source 3D printer concept which you can basically make yourself. Dara hosts a weekly Etsy meetup, and it was just my luck that last week she invited engineer and maker Luis Freeman to bring his RepRaps and demonstrate them for attendees. Exciting!

Luis was able to take my foot design and help me convert it to a format the RepRap could process and produce. We used a plastic called PLA (polylactic acid) to print our 3D shapes.

The printing of the foot involved a learning curve. The shape of the first attempt involved some instability in the design and resulted in a weird "poop" of plastic at the top peg. The second attempt, we misjudged the correct height of the foot and it was too tall. It also developed stability problems in the peg, because the small surface area did not provide enough time between levels of printing for the PLA material to solidify. The peg looked like a Slinky when you stand it on end but then poke the side with a finger, so it's askew. On the third try, Luis realized that if we were to print two simultaneously, the issue with the peg stability would be resolved in the time it took to shift position from one peg to another.

1844 meets 2012: Conformateur repair with a 3D printer (Thanks, Beanolini!)


  1. Repairing a victorian hat-fitting machine with 3D printed parts is probably the most Boing Boing headline, ever.

    1. We just need a video of a kitteh playing with the repaired machine.
      To the sound of “Yakety Sax”.

    1.  No, we didn’t 3D print a dowel. If i needed a dowel, i’d have cut one down and just used that. The diameter and shape of the foot changes where it enters the base of the conformateur.

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