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This week I received the following question by my new-found sister, Darlene: So, tell me about your “hats”. I notice you almost always are wearing a hat So begins our saga of getting to know one another. I referred her to my post Hats Make a Statement, which would answer her question.
Although I am kind of late (I had the date wrong…) I am posting the following in celebration of National Hat Day, which was January 15, 2011.
HOW TO MAKE A BEAVER FUR HAT
From about 1550 until 1850, felt hats were fashionable in much of Europe… European gentlemen wanted fine hats. Quality hats demanded the best felting material available. Beaver fur was an excellent raw material. Beaver fur is tight yet supple and will hold its shape far better under rough wear and successive wettings than felt made from wool or other types of fur…. By the late 1500’s, the beaver was extinct in western Europe and was close to extinction in Scandinavia and Russia…the felt hat industry became the driving force behind the fur trade. The North American fur trade became a new source and kept the fashion going for another 200 years.*
Hats made from Beaver felt saw a marked decline in the mid-1800s. (However, they were quite popular during the time my novel’s main character, French émigré Louis des Isles, would have traveled the Nemacolin Indian Trail enroute to the Scioto settlement in Ohio). They were gradually replaced by the silk hat, followed by fur felt hats and wool felt hats.
HOW TO MAKE A BEAVER HAT
Obtain a beaver pelt.
- Pluck the coarse guard hairs from the beaver pelt—place the pelt on a knee and, with thumb and a large knife (or tweezers), pull the guard hairs from the pelt, leaving only the beaver wool on the skin.
- Carrotting process: brush the beaver hairs with a solution of nitrate of mercury (this raises the scales on the fur shafts so they become firmly locked together) in a well-ventilated room (to prevent the mercury fumes from damaging the brain) NOTE: Another source said: One reason beaver fur was preferred over other furs was that beaver fur had natural serrated edges that made carrotting unnecessary…but the cost and scarcity of beaver meant that other furs had to be used.
- Dry the pelt
- Cut/shave the wool from the fibres using a semi-circular knife
- Place the fibres on a hurdle (a square table with many evenly spaced parallel slots)
- Vibrate the bow above the hurdle, enabling the vibrations to separate the fibres and become evenly distributed and formed into a batt (a thick but loosely structured mat)
- Shape several bats into a cone
- Repeatedly immerse the batt in a boiling solution of dilute sulfuric acid, beer-grounds, and wine sediments.
- Roll to create a firm dense felt called a hood.
- Block by forcing the hood onto a wood block which acts as a mold, roughly creating the desired style and size of the hat.
Once the hat is dry:
- Place on another block to prepare for dyeing.
- Place the “hat” in a dyer’s copper, filled with a dye made of “logwood, verdigris, copperas and alder-bark” and boil for about an hour.
- Remove the hat from the dyer’s copper and cool.
- Repeat the process of dying and cooling about a dozen times, or until the hat becomes the desired color.
- Stiffen the felt by brushing a solution of “gum Arabic, common gum and Flaunder’s glue” (dissolved in water) or by rubbing a ball of “rosin, bee’s wax and mutton suet” on the underside of the hat (to prevent the mixture from ruining the outside appearance of the hatSteaming, Ironing and Brushing
The hat is now ready for a few last minute finishing touches.
- Apply steam to make the hat pliable
- Return the hat to the block
- Disguise any seams, and make minor alterations in shape
- Iron and brush to produce a smooth and glossy surface
- Turn the brim up slightly
- Trim the brim with ribbon
- Sew in a lining
- Add a leather band on the inside lower edge
- Stamp the hat, on the leather headband, with the company’s trademark.
The hat is now finished. Wear it, enjoy it.
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