Last week, two homeschoolers and their mothers came into our store determined to make hats. They asked smart, sophisticated questions and ultimately chose the perfect shade of short fiber merino for show-stopping accouterments.
When I asked why they were inspired to decorate their heads so beautifully, they gave me the most exciting answer I’ve heard in a long time: they plan to attend a fairy festival and were making costumes.
Excuse me, a FAIRY FESTIVAL? Since when did that amazing event take place, and why am I just now hearing about it? I love hearing about customers’ projects. It’s my favorite part of the job. (Well, that and writing fascinating blog posts.)
The day after the fairy-hopefuls visited, an adorable grandmother/grandson pair came in for some hat supplies. Then they came in the next day for some hat supplies to fix the problems that came up the first day! I thought maybe some hat advice could be useful!
Christine White, our owner and founder, writes in her book Uniquely Felt, “Felt has been used to make hats for many centuries– and no wonder, because felt and hats are a perfect match. Distinctive and protective wool hats have been worn by warriors, members of craftsmen’s guilds, government officials, and ordinary people just trying to stay warm, all testament to the timelessness of this medium.” There is a whole section about hatmaking on page 169 in Uniquely Felt, the “felting Bible.” Of course, that means that it takes a long time to really perfect the art form, but that said, Christine had some words of wisdom to pass along to interested readers.
When hatmaking, you are shaping and shrinking at the same time. This is both fun and challenging, because the steps will differ depending on the style you want to make. When she thinks of hats, Christine thinks of “sculpted” hats and “unsculpted” hats. Choosing the appropriate kind of wool depends on what project you’re looking to make. For a floppier artistic thin hat or beret, use softer wool like our combed top roving. If you want a hat meant to keep its shape over time, use our C-1 or our C-1/Pelsull blend. Shaping hats means different things to different people. It can be just working it in your hands or it can be working it aggressively with steam and shaping tools. Christine even uses pliers sometimes to shape!
It definitely takes practice to lay out your wool evenly, and Christine suggests covering any thin areas with embellishments, such as yarn or locks. You can needle felt them into the problem areas or even sew them on. This allows your final product to appear uniform and professional.
The one thing every hat has in common is that you need to bring the “dome” in right away. The trickiest part of hat making is sizing and shaping which are done at the same time. It’s a bit too complicated of a process to describe in detail here, but basically you want to preferentially full the hat in places that will bring in the crown so it sits on your head without slipping down. Imagine a wide-brimmed sun hat. You have the top “dome” and then the brim with a sharp right angle between them. When you first start shaping a felted hat, you have to create this area where the right angle is or else it will look like you have a loose mushroom on your head! You can read all about these steps in the hat making chapter of UF where there are photos.
It is a very organic process, and it’s all about trying it on as you go and continuing to roll and stretch while you shape. You really can’t go wrong!
When sculpting a hat, you are applying certain techniques to literally change the memory of the wool, which is not the same thing as shaping wool with clips and letting it dry. The stretching that’s done during fulling can be accomplished by steam (use an iron!). Keep your hands out of the way, and put the steamer part of the iron right on the place you want to stretch. When you steam wool it totally relaxes, so you’re actually taking the shape all away. Right away after you steamed it, full it—you’ve worked it when it was really open, so the fibers are more ready to entangle completely and it will hold the shape a lot more. For more professional shaping projects, a wallpaper steamer is useful.
And a word about hat blocks: people think that hats are shaped on hatblocks, but this is not true! Hat blocks are used to set shapes. Shrink the hat done until you have to work to stretch it over a hat block. Don’t just take a loose hat, put it on a hat block and iron it. In fact, ironing or steaming felt relaxes it and doesn’t shrink it at all.
Keep in mind that any folds or layering you put in a hat uses up a lot of felt. If you like the idea of a tiered hat, by the time it’s said and done, you’ll probably get two or three folds and not the six or eight you expected. The more shaped the hat is, the more wool it takes up. And not everyone is a fan, but Christine loves to cut and alter hats and then reconstruct them. This is hard to do if you’ve just spent a lot of time making it, but it’s worth it. Check out Uniquely Felt for instructions and pictures to get you moving in the right direction!
We look forward to seeing all you’ve created!