I love vintage hats - especially ones from the 20s to 40s. I recently became interested in hat making or millinery. And I was looking into buying some fur felt to make a hat. But, the local stores don't sell it and online it sells for more than I'm willing to spend at this point. So I started to think about the hats I have around my home, collecting dust - and realized I could transform them into something new. Most of the vintage hats I do have I bought at the Salvation Army thrift store for 59 cents and haven't worn them because most are too small and others are not my style. Doesn't make sense that they're sitting around with no use - so it's time to re-purpose them! The second problem I realized was that I didn't want to spend $100 to $200 on a hat block. This problem will also be cheap and easy to solve! So let's get started!
Step 1: Materials Needed
- Vintage Felt Hat
- Styrofoam Mannequin Head
- I bought one at Hobby Lobby for about $6
- Please note: at Hobby Lobby they had ones with different head sizes - so bring measuring tape & try to get one that is about 1/2 inch bigger than your head size
- If you need to sew through the felt, you'll need a special thread that is glazed but millinery thread is hard to find (you can get it online)
- Or, I found at Hobby Lobby in the leather tooling section that they sold glazed or coated thread there - and that is what I used
Step 2: A Word About Felts
Before we begin, I just wanted to share some information about felts. Felt is one of the most traditional hat making materials. Many of the old vintage hats are made from some type of felt. Felt is composed of loose fibers of wool or fur which is flattened and matted together under pressure. When wet, it can stretch in any direction and can be reshaped and molded to make a new style of a hat. Common types of fur felt are from beaver, raccoon and rabbits.
Many of the old hats I have are not clear as to what type of felt they are. And from my online research people tend to say that wool felt is not the best to have and that it doesn't reshape well. But, the brown hat in my photos here is 100% wool felt and I think it worked pretty well. Other things I've read about wool felt is that it shrinks quite a bit - and I did find this to be true. But, I made a snug-fitting cloche style hat so I didn't mind that I had a lack of material. It held the shapes which I molded it into and the sides which were almost like ruffles very well. So I am happy with how it turned out! I recommend using what you have.
So, this Instructable will show you how to make a close-fitting hat with a foam hat block and vintage felt. If you wanted to make a cowboy hat style - this will not work unless you have a hat block that you make or buy to create that shape.
*The image in this step is an image of a basic felt hood. These are sold online and can be used with a hat block to shape it into whatever your heart desires. Prices vary online - anything from $20-60 per hood. Pricey!
Step 3: Preparing the Hat & Block for Re-blocking
If you're re-blocking and transforming a vintage hat - you'll first need to remove any ribbons or other materials on it. It is common to find that glue was used to secure the old ribbon in place. And they had some pretty amazing glue years ago because it's tough to get it off. You can use a razor or razor cutting tool (please be careful) to carefully scrape off the top layer of glue. Be careful!!! Do not cut yourself or cut deep into the material or you'll create a hole. I also cut off the wire brim which was on my hat because I didn't like how it looked and wanted the hat much closer to the head and snug-fitting. So, I cut it off and set it aside.
Now take your hat block or foam mannequin head. Before using it for this project, you may want to treat it in some way to make it more stable and able to take the pressure of your shaping and also pinning. I personally used some modge podge (which is like elmers glue watered down) and did a couple layers over the foam head and let it dry overnight. This worked well enough. But the base of the neck of the mannequin cracked the next day - so you may want to take some duck tape and go around it with it.
Step 4: Reblocking Your Vintage Felt Hat
Next, cover the foam head first with aluminum foil and then on top of that, with plastic wrap. Secure it down below with some heavy duty tape. I used a steamer at first to steam it so it could be re-shaped but it didn't work as well as I'd hoped for. So, I ran the felt under hot tape water and wrung it out just a little bit before returning to the foam hat block.
Have pins ready for use with the hat block. Return to the hat block with your wet felt (which should be warm/hot from the water) and pull it over the hat block as tight as possible. Pull it down and pin it so it holds its shape and doesn't shrink up. Once you pin it in a few places, I recommend using a band (ie: shoelace or strong string) to tie around the hat to help it hold its shape further. Keep an eye on how much you're pulling and stretching it so you don't overdo it - it is possible. In the area where I removed the glue - I accidently cut a little deep and I almost had a hole in the felt there.
If you see some of the photos in this step - you'll see my hat with a grey band around it on a hat display. That was after I blocked it once and I didn't like the fit and it was too small still. So I put it back on the hat block and worked it again until I liked it.
When pinning, you do not need to pin all the way through the felt - as just the tips of the needles work fine. If you see one image I've shared I have a ton of needles sticking out. I was attempting a free-form style of hat shaping where you create interesting shapes with the material. I ended up scrapping it and reshaping it - but it was fun to see the results (I needed to reshape it and get rid of the glue residue). It takes a lot of practice to make something that style that turns out well. But it can be done and look amazing!
Step 5: Finishing Touches
Try the hat on and if you don't like the shape in areas - re-wet it and you can use your own head to block it a bit. Then I recommend putting it back on the block if possible to let it dry and retain its shape.
If you want to add a ribbon - loosely pin it in place how you like it and hand-stitch it on. I like how mine turned out in the end - looks vintage but has hopefully a little updated look - but not much! :) I have received a lot of compliments on it - which is nice. I don't love the color of this hat - but for my first attempt I really like it and can't wait to make another one with black or navy blue.
If you have questions, please ask. I will update this Instructable with some more tips - especially on sewing with the felt but must save that for later!