Hat Making Materials Questions
- What's the difference between Wool, Fur Felt and Beaver?
- What's the difference between "blends" and "100%"?
- What are the materials actually made of to create a hat, and where do they come from?
- What is "Dress Weight" and "Western Weight"
- You use a material called "Grosgrain" on many of your hat bands. What is "Grosgrain"?
- Can a hat you make in Fur Felt be made in leather, or visa versa?
- If I don't want a hat made of animal products can you make a hat in something else and if so, what do you use?
Q: What's the difference between Wool, Fur Felt and Beaver?
A. Many people think of felt as a kind of cloth, smoother and tougher than cotton or woolen fabric, but cloth nevertheless. The fact is that there is no likeness whatever in the principles of production between felted fabric and woven fabric.
Felt differs from every other fabric in that it is made of a myriad of short, single animal fibers which are interlocked by their natural tendency to “crawl” and twist when kneaded and manipulated in hot water and steam. Felt is the strongest fabric known because every fiber is interlocked in every direction with a number of other fibers. All other fabrics are made of fibers which are first twisted into threads and then woven by hand or machine. As these threads are always woven either in right angle or parallel lines, the woven fabric may be torn apart along a straight line.
Felt can be made into the smoothest fabric known, once again because it is made of tiny single fibers interlocking in every direction rather than groups of twisted fibers woven in a straight line. Felt is the lightest fabric known, in relation to its tensile strength, because a minimum of fibers are required to make the requisite toughness. Felt is the most resilient of fabrics, for the same reason. Felt is the more impervious to water than any other fabric, because of the close interlocking of its fibers and because the animal fibers themselves do not soak up moisture.
Wool felt is indeed a fur from sheep but it is sheared. Accordingly, while it is serviceable for a while it is not nearly as durable as Fur Felt and Beaver, with a much shorter lifespan.
Fur felt is not sheared. The animal pelts are handled so the fur may be removed. In fur, the fibers are matted on a special machine which removes clotted fur, air and dirt.
Fur felt hats are chiefly made of rabbit fur. Some hare fur is used to make better hats, and is often mixed with rabbit fur to produce hats in various medium price grades.
Beaver, the finest fur, is usually used in the best hats.
By “fur” is meant the downy under-fur of these animals, not the long, coarse hair that is commonly called fur. Only this under-fur has on the surface of each fiber the barb-like projections which will lock the fibers together to make a strong felt.
Fur felt hats are superior in lightness of weight, mellowness to the touch, and ability to keep their shape and withstand weather and renovating.
A good fur blend is a proper combination of large and small fibers to produce the texture wanted. So much long stock is needed to give a good rate and quality of felting and so much short stock to fill the interstices, thus imparting smoothness and compactness. As many as eight different types of grades of fur may enter into a single fur mixture, depending on the price of the hat, the color to which it is to be dyed, etc.
Fur Felt is made from Rabbit, and Beaver is actually made from wild Beaver pelts. In both cases, the fur is shaved to the undercoat, which is then also sanded or shaved to a desired smoothness. Because of the natural oils in both animals, the Rabbit and Beaver have different qualities. Since Beavers spend so much time in the water, they have much higher oil content, thus their furs are more “luxurious”, water resistant, and soft to the touch. Both furs, especially when used at 100% content (and not blends) are excellent materials for hats. The difference has more to do with look and feel than durability, though the Beaver does keep its “sheen” longer. When making hats for Motion Pictures, the Beaver is more desirable, since the oils in the fur also catch the light, and bring out the hat more dramatically.
Q: What's the difference between "blends" and "100%"?
A. 100% is the pure fur with nothing added, whereas, blends are 50% Beaver and Rabbit combined.
What are the materials actually made of to create a hat, and where do they come from?
A. At Baron, we get the majority of our hat bodies from Winchester Hat Company (no relation to the Winchester rifle), in Tennessee (located in the same county as the famous Jack Daniels distillery). Winchester is one of the best fur processing companies in the world. They take the fur pelts, and turn them into what we call “bodies”, which are ready for final work and blocking after being made into various size circles of material. They are graded at Winchester for quality and material.
Q: What is "Dress Weight" and "Western Weight"?
A. This has to do with the weight of the “bodies”. Dress Weight is lighter and usually used for classic styles like Fedoras or Homburgs, thus the name “Dress Weight”. It is usually approximately four ounces. Western Weight is a thicker body, usually used for western style hats, thus the name.
Q: What is the difference between "long fur" and "short fur" when you order a Beaver hat?
A. Long fur has a “satin look”. Most hats could be made of long fur and hand-brushed and oiled to a satin finish. It actually takes some effort to make long fur look and feel right (thus the expression “hand brushed”), so sometimes they cost more.
Q: You say that your Beaver hats are 200XXX. What does that number mean?
A. The use of “X” on hats (like Stetson uses) is not a universal code. The X on a hat is a form of grading that each individual hat company uses to grade their own hats. The company that supplies us with our bodies uses their own grading. For them, the 200XXX is the ultimate top of the line, highest quality Beaver that they sell. That’s the only fur we will use!
Q: I notice that many of your hats are made from the "original blocks". What exactly is a "block"?
A. A hat is not formed into a shape like a sculptor does.
Hat bodies must be pressed and shaped around a wooden form that is called a Hat Block.
When we refer to “original blocks” these are the blocks that were originally made for the famous hat, and that we have in our vast collection.
Having your hat formed with such a block insures that you are truly getting an exact replica!
Q: You use a material called "Grosgrain" on many of your hat bands. What is "Grosgrain"?
A. It’s simply the same of a kind of ribbon, which is used extensively for the hatbands, and bindings of hats. It comes in many colors and widths.
Q: Some of the brims of your hats have "binding". What exactly is that?
A. Binding is a narrow piece of Grosgrain Ribbon that is sewn over the edge of the brim.
In most cases the binding matches the color and material of the hatband.
Q: Can a hat you make in Fur Felt be made in leather, or visa versa?
A. Most hats that are made in Fur Felt can also be made in leather, and visa versa. It depends on the shaping and the blocking. You can easily request the hat in any material you want, and we can tell you right away if we can make it in that material, and how much extra it would cost.
Q: What if I don't want a hat made of animal products? Can you make a hat in something else and if so, what do you use?
A. We can make a hat from many fabrics, including wool (most animal activists have no problem with wool since it does not harm the animal), or non-animal fabrics like buckram, and even plant fibers like bamboo, and, of course, straw.