Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Raising the hat bar. And Pushiness.

I recently managed to score a visit with a couple of incredibly knowledgeable and informative hat people: Richard  from Lamode hat blocks and his wife Roni, who had her own line of really lovely dressage hats (made on her husband's blocks).  I called and asked if I could invite myself over (pushy much?) and ask them questions about how I can improve my hats. After a couple of persistent calls and emails, I received the OK to come over. I brought a bunch of my blocks, and hats in various stages or completion, and asked Roni what she thought, and how I could improve.

She began with "They look great to me." Which was lovely and encouraging, but not what I was hoping for, since her work looks much more finished and professional than mine. I gently pressed for more specific information, and the advice started to flow.

She recommended that I not trim or wire the brim untill all the sizing was finished, and that I think of the pulling as an almost preliminary step - with the "real" pull being the one that comes after the sizing has dried, in order to get the most clean shapes. (Yay - this is more like it!)

I asked how she keeps the top of her top hats so flat, since mine eventually curve up a little, even if I've sized them to death. She said that she glues an oval of foamcore board into the tip before she lines the hat. They stay perfectly flat, and very sturdy that way.  (Um - YEAH. That's a pretty FABULOUS idea! Weighs nothing and won't warp with moisture - yep. DOING that from now on - I can cover one side of the oval with fabric before I glue it in for hats I'm not planning on lining.

Which brough us to linings. She gave me her lining source - which I never would have found online. She gave me an old order form of hers so that I could see what she ordered, with notes like "leave the cards in, please." (Cards? ok - that's news. I thought hat linings were just fabric -  but hers looked beautiful:
 so - cards it is.)
Trouble with her lining source, they will probably want a large order, so for starters, I ordered a dozen or so from HatsByLeko. Also ordered "reeded"leather sweatbands from Leko- since if I'm lining them, they really need a sweatband, which they actually needed anyway.  She gave me her sweatband source too -but those things are PRICEY - so I figured I'd try this out with a few and see what I think before I order a gross of them from somewhere with my logo on it :)

I asked how she got her long-haired top hats to shine like that:
And she said "Vaseline." I blinked - that's news too. And kinda scary news. But it looked awesome, so, I'll try it.

What else did she say....She talked some about the sewing in of the leather sweatband, and how that does require a special machine, which I have since found on eBay for $2,300 for just the machine head - no table or engine. :| She said she spent several years sewing them in by hand - sounds like an excellent plan!

As I was leaving (I sensed that it was time to go) she said "Well, I doubt I was much help to you -I  hope this was worth your trip." (My trip was 12 minutes long.)  I listed off the tips she'd given me and thanked her profusely - then got out of their day.

So - I have now applied several of her tips on a long haired beaver blank (that I bought from her husband this summer - so I know it's the same kind she used), and thought I'd share the results.

Vaseline: Hm....not loving it. Although definitely shiny, it looks and feels totally like a hat that has been....smeared with Vaseline.

Except for the tip - which looks perfect.

The Leko hat lining went in very smoothly. Pretty happy with that bit.

 The leather sweatband was another story, though. The product is fine - it arrives curved, and I expected it to go smootholy into the crowns of my rather cone-shaped hats. Apparently the pitch of my blocks is a little slanty-er than  the standard pitch, so I had real trouble getting the band the right size and shape to lie smoothly. Try number one looks pretty ok for a first try:

Though I do have a bump at the back that I simply could not get rid of.

But the custom order I want to put it into (lavendar hat with white feathers - you know who you are) was too slanted for it to go into even this smoothly, and I'm not putting it in there if it isn't gonna rawk. I tried to reshape the curve just with my iron, but that didn't work as well as I'd hoped. (like - not at all)

So - and I should totally grab a picture of this - I've got the band cut and stitched together at the back, and I'm stretching it to the right shape on the block I pulled the hat on. I wetted down the leather and have stretched and pinned the bottom of the leather band to the block. I will probably try rubbing alcohol rather than water for a quicker stretch and faster dry next time.

I'm 100% positive that this will work, but MAN it adds time. Lots of it. But they LOOK so NICE with hatbands and linings in them! Right? *sigh* The bar has been raised. Nothing for it but to figure out how to make it work in the most efficient and affordable way possible.

My initial thought is that I might offer two finish levels of my hats - the current unlined, un-sweatbanded ones (to keep them affordable)- and the Top Shelf" style - with bells, whistles, linings, leather bands and a sweet little bow at the back :)



I highly reccommend doing the pushy-asking-for-help thing, for whatever it is you do, art or otherwise. Go find the experts and gently and persistently request their expertise.

 Wow - that was a big post.


Now - what EVER am I going to do with this brown vaselined beaver hat?


  1. WRT to using the Vaseline: Are you using it at full viscosity or thinning it out? That's probably going to be what makes the difference between something that provides sheen, and something that feels like it's been smeared with Non-edible Petroleum Product :-/


    1. I used it straight - and liberally, cause that's what she said to do. But I agree with you - thinner would have been better.

    2. I presume there's also a difference in viscosity depending on the tool used to apply: smearing it on with a cloth versus, say, combing it on?

  2. I wonder if brushing & brushing the vaselined hat with a natural fiber bristled brush- I sometimes use shoe-polish brushes for hats cause they're a good stiffness & easy to get- would absorb some of the excess vaseline.
    I think 2 levels of finish is a fine idea. It keeps the hats accessible to the thrifty, but makes a really good quality durable hat available to those who understand the value of those things. Thanks for posting your learning!!

  3. I did try the brush idea - and it helped. (the photo is after brushing with a stiff brush.) It definitely helped.

    Actually, I think it's the feel of the hat rather than the look that bothers me. Slimy.

    I improved both look and feel yet again by ironing it with a press cloth. (also before the photo)

  4. A Vaselined hat - intriguing! Wonder if it's as weatherproof as it sounds?

  5. on the sweatband... all you have to do is change the angle of the ends but do not decrease the top headsize. then sew them together. :) gigi

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  6. Yay! You're back! And trying weird tricks with vaseline -- excellent!