- Hatter Eldrick Jacobs repairs a tattered 70-year-old hat that has been passed down three generations.
- Repair includes cleaning the felt, re-blocking, trimming the brim and re-crowning the hat.
- The client chose to keep a hole in the hat, preserving the memory of its previous wearers.
Eldric: My name is Eldrick Jacobs. I have been making and repairing hats for about three plus years. Today I am going to repair a hat that is about 70 years old and older while still retaining its character.
First, I’ll deconstruct the hat. We use a seam ripper and then we use boots. The felt is in really great condition, but we have to be very careful to make sure we don’t poke holes in the felt or rip something that doesn’t need to be ripped. This hat belonged to my client’s grandfather. And when he passed, he passed it to his father. We will retain the character and patina of the cap and hole. The client would like to preserve the hole to maintain continuity from generation to generation. The hat has a story, and he wants to tell that story as he wears it.
Next, I will clean the felt. I use a little alcohol and a little water. And then we use a hat brush to remove any debris that may be on the surface of the felt. So, alcohol does two things. It dissolves some of the bioretin inside the felt, making it a little more flexible and easier to work with, and then gets rid of any bacteria that may be on the surface of the felt and likewise any mold that may be present. And then we use the sponge to get a little deeper into the felt.
For the hatband, we spray it again with alcohol and this allows me to go over it with another sponge to really clean the hatband and loose threads. We are really working to keep it in its original condition. We want it, like the felt, to retain the character it has acquired over the years of wear and tear. After doing this, we take boots and cut any loose threads.
We then turn our attention to blocking the felt again. Reblocking is the most critical part of rebuilding a hat. We take the felt and heat it with a little steam and then stretch it into a block. We select a block that will give us the circumference of the client’s head. What we’re doing here is creating the basic shape we want to give the hat, called an open crown. And then once we stretch it over the block, we’re going to grab a hat knot and a pusher, which is the tool we use to get the hat knot to the bottom of the hat block. Here we create the 90 degree break angle between the crown and the felt. The hat would be beyond repair if the felt itself began to disintegrate, particularly around the break line. This would create a problem for re-blocking the hat.
I use a cutting edge and it allows us to decide how wide or short we want the brim. This lip should be adjusted by half an inch. The overall shape will remain the same, but we make sure the hat frames my client’s face nicely.
And then I’ll use a fine grit sandpaper to really refine the edge. In the process of cutting the brim, you don’t always get the cleanest edge, so the sandpaper allows us to create really sharp edges on the hat.
And finally, we will create a sweat. We cannot reuse old sweat. All we have left is the rod. And so we have to replace the sweat with a new piece of skin. Sweat is extremely important in maintaining the integrity of the hat. It really holds the hat. But more importantly, it allows a barrier between the wearer’s forehead and the felt itself. Hatters can do many things, but sweating out of felt is quite a feat.
And then, finally, we shape the crown of the hat. We use steam again. The steam really allows the felt fibers to open up. There are two material components that make up felt: there are the individual fur fibers and then there is the bioretin. The felt without the bioretin would be too weak and not have much structure. We actually open it up and soften it a bit to get the desired shape.
I’m excited about this particular restoration and I think my customer will be over the moon and delighted to have a hat that looks and feels like his grandfather’s hat and also has the patina and character that comes with a 70-plus – years hat. The only reason this hat should be returned to our store is if we need to do hat maintenance, especially with sweat. Overall, this hat will last as long as my customer wants to wear it.