Comment est fabriqué un chapeau

How is a felt hat made?

The manufacture of a felt hat requires 7 weeks even in large factories because the design of a hat of this type remains purely handmade.

What is the difference between felt and other fabrics?

Many people are mistaken about felt: they think it is a fabric like any other. They are mistaken, fabric and felt do not require the same manufacturing processes at all.

The manufacture of a felt hat differs from all other fabrics because it requires a myriad of short animal fibers, which are difficult to work with because of their natural tendency to "crawl" and because of their ability to twist when handled in hot water or hot steam. Felt is known to be a strong fabric because its constituent fibres are bonded in all directions with other fibres. Other fabrics are made of fibres, twisted into yarns and woven by hand or machine. Because they are woven either at an angle or in parallel lines, they are vulnerable and can tear along the lines.

What is felt made of?

Felt hats can be made from wool felt (inexpensive) or hair felt (medium to high price depending on the pile). Rabbit fur is used in the majority of fur hats. Hare fur is of better quality and is often more or less mixed with rabbit fur to produce hats in a more affordable price range. Beaver and coypu are synonymous with a better quality felt hat. Muskrat fur is also a raw material used.

Fur" refers to the down under the fur of these animals, not the long, frizzy hairs commonly known as fur. It is only this underfur, with its fibres locked together, that guarantees the strength of the felt hat.

How is the fur used to make felt harvested?

To harvest the down, the long hairs are plucked or sheared. The remaining underfur is then chemically treated to remove microscopic beards, the felt is then of better quality. The felt is then removed from the skin or, to be more precise, the skin is removed from the felt. To remove this skin, a machine removes it and cuts it off with knives. The extracted fur retains the shape of the skin, the quality of which varies depending on where it is cut: cheeks, flanks, ribs, etc.. It is then packed in paper bags and stored. This fur is called "stock long", while the trim fur is called "shortstock".

How is the fur refined?

The fur bag is delivered to the hat manufacturer. It then goes through several stages of mixing and refining before it is ready to be used in the manufacture of the hat. After mixing, the fur takes on a mottled grey colour, the original colour is barely visible.

The fur thus mixed is then "blown", meaning that the coagulated fur, air and dirt are removed. The material then looks like a thin sheet of grey cotton, soft, light and fluffy.

What are the steps in the manufacture of a felt hat?

There are two main stages in the manufacture of a felt hat.

First, the fur is worked into a large loose cone, the cone is shrunk and incorporated into the finished hat. The formation of the cone is the key to a successful felt hat. This process is carried out in a special machine. Imagine a vertical, cylindrical compartment, and inside this compartment, upstairs, a copper cone about 3 feet high, pointing upwards. This cone rotates slowly. It is perforated, and an exhaust fan underneath sucks air and loose fur from the chamber into the cone.

After being previously weighed, the fur is sucked down by the fan and settles on the bearing cone. The fibres are deposited in fragile layers: they can be brushed off with a finger. The operator carefully wraps these fibres around the cone and immerses them for a short period in a tank of hot water. This is when felting begins: the hot water slightly shrinks the fibres, which are knitted into a thin layer of felt.

The layer of felt is removed from the cone, so it is much larger than the finished hat. It is so delicate that it must be handled with extreme care. Then begins the shrinking of the felt.

The body is bent, soaked in hot water, and rolled with pressure. From time to time, it is opened, checked, and if everything goes well, the process is repeated. Under the combined action of hot water and pressure, the fibres shrink, tighten into each other until the body reaches the final size. It is so tightly felted that a strong man cannot separate it.

This work is hard and laborious, especially since it must be done quickly for fear of causing the felt to fade and deteriorate. This work can be done by machines, but most of the time it is done by hand, especially during the critical early stages when the cone is large and delicate. The machines used are similar to "roller" machines such as large washing spinners. The manual rolling is simulated mechanically: the bodies are wrapped in sheets and led through the rollers soaked in hot water.

In addition to the beard or felting locking technique, there are several other interlacing and plastic techniques. According to the interlacing theory, the fibres are constrained together due to mechanical handling. The plastic theory holds that the fur becomes temporarily plastic at higher temperatures, and represents the greater known ease of felting in acidic solutions and the need to use hot water as well. Probably no felting theory represents all the facts.

A blank is obtained by stretching, i.e. the finished shape by blocking the crown and edge trim. Stretching of the crown is done on a machine on which the cone is placed, and stretched by metal fingers. The finger "massages" the tip of the cone, and pushes the felt into the frame.

The shape of the felt cap is printed by wetting it and pulling it over a block of wood. The final shape is solidified with steam and an iron. The wood for the blocks comes from American poplar, chosen because it has no hard grain or streaks. When the cone is pressed on the wood it does not imprint the texture of the wood.

The original block is made by hand and then copied by machines. The hat maker must have not only a set of blocks for each style of hat, but also blocks for each texture.

The adjustment of the visor of the hat is called flanger. The edges are ironed flat and cut to the desired width. They are then curled, placed on a wooden flange, ironed again, and finally dried and pressed while remaining on the flange.

Between the time the body is made and the final shape of the hat, the felt hat receives several treatments. It is dyed, this meticulous work is usually done in the early stages of felting. The brim is impregnated with just the right amount of shellac stiffener to hold it in place. Finally, the entire felt hat is rubbed with sandpaper several times depending on the desired fineness.

Finally, the felt hat is carefully cut, lined and sewn with leather on the band.

The production of a felt hat is therefore a slow and meticulous process that requires about 50 steps. This is why it takes an average of seven weeks to make a hat. This manufacturing process is passed on by hatters from generation to generation in the greatest secrecy, with the right amount of machine and hand work determining the quality of the finished product.