- Hatter Eldrick Jacobs repairs a tattered, 70 year old hat that’s been passed down three generations.
- The repair includes cleaning the felt, re-blocking, trimming the brim, and re-crowning the hat.
- The client opted for a hole in the hat to be preserved, keeping memory of its previous wearers.
Eldrick: My name is Eldrick Jacobs. I’ve been making and repairing hats for about three-plus years. Today I’ll be repairing a hat that is approximately 70-plus years old while maintaining its character.
First, I’m going to deconstruct the hat. We use a seam ripper, and then we use snippers. The felt is in really great condition, but we have to be very careful to make sure that we don’t poke any holes into the felt or rip something that needn’t be ripped. This hat belonged to my client’s grandfather. And when he passed, he passed it down to his father. We’re going to maintain the character and patina of the hat and the hole. The client would like to keep the hole to maintain the continuity from generation to generation. The hat has a story, and he wants to tell that story as he wears it.
Next, I’m going to clean the felt. I use a little bit of alcohol and a little bit of water. And then we use a hat brush to brush away any debris that may be present on the surface of the felt. So, the alcohol does two things. It dissolves a little bit of the bioresin that’s inside of the felt, making it a little bit more pliable and more easy to work with, and then it gets rid of any bacteria that may be present on the surface of the felt and, likewise, any mold that may be present. And then we use the sponge to get a little bit deeper into the felt.
For the hat band, we spray it with alcohol again, and this allows me to go over it with another sponge to really sort of clean up the hat band and the loose threads. We really work to keep it in its original condition. We want it, like the felt, to maintain the character that it has gained over those years of wear. After we do that, we take snippers and we snip any loose threads.
Then we turn our attention to reblocking the felt. Reblocking is the most crucial part of remaking a hat. We take the felt and we heat it up with some steam, and then we stretch it over a block. We are choosing a block that’ll give us the circumference of the client’s head. What we’re doing here is creating the basic shape that we want to give the hat, called an open crown. And then once we have it stretched over the block, we’ll grab a hatter’s knot and a pusher downer, which is the tool that we use to take the hatter’s knot to the bottom of the hat block. Here is where we are creating the 90-degree break angle between the crown and the felt. The hat would be irreparable if the felt itself was starting to disintegrate, particularly around the break line. That would create an issue for reblocking the hat.
I’m using a brim cutter, and it allows for us to decide how wide or how short we want the brim. This brim has to be regulated down a half an inch. The general shape will stay the same, but we are making sure that the hat frames my client’s face nicely.
And then I’ll use a fine-grit sandpaper to really refine the edge. In the brim-cutting process, you don’t always get the cleanest edge, so the sandpaper allows for us to really create sharp edges on the hat.
And finally, we will create a sweatband. We cannot reuse the old sweatband. All we have left is the reed. And so we have to replace the sweatband with a new piece of leather. The sweatband is critically important to maintaining the integrity of the hat. It really holds the hat together. But more importantly, it allows for a barrier between the wearer’s forehead and the felt itself. Hatters can do a lot of things, but getting sweat out of felt is quite a difficult feat.
And then, finally, we shape the crown of the hat. We use steam again. Steam really allows for the felt fibers to open up. There are two material components that make up the felt: there’s the individual fur fibers, and then there is the bioresin. Felt without the bioresin would be very flimsy and not have very much structure to it. We are really opening that up and softening it a bit so that we can get the desired shape.
I’m excited about this particular restoration, and I think that my client will be over the moon and overjoyed that he has a hat that looks and feels like his grandfather’s hat and also has the patina and the character that comes with a 70-plus-year-old hat. The only reason this hat would need to be brought back into our shop is if we need to do hat maintenance, particularly with the sweatband. In general, this hat will last as long as my client wants to wear the ha.