- Hatter Eldrick Jacobs repairs a tattered 70-year-old hat that has been passed down three generations.
- The repair includes cleaning the felt, reblocking, trimming the brim and crowning the hat.
- The client opted for a hole in the hat to be kept, keeping the memory of its former wearers alive.
Eldrick: My name is Eldrick Jacobs. I have been making and repairing hats for over three years. Today I’m going to fix a hat that’s around 70+ years old while still retaining its character.
First, I’m going to deconstruct the hat. We use a seam ripper, then we use shears. The felt is in great condition, but we have to be very careful to make sure we don’t poke holes in the felt or rip anything that doesn’t need to be ripped. This hat belonged to my client’s grandfather. And when he died, he passed it on to his father. We will retain the character and patina of the cap and the hole. The client wants to keep the hole to maintain continuity from generation to generation. The hat has a story, and it wants to tell that story the way it is worn.
Then 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 bioresin that is inside the felt, making it a little softer and easier to work with, 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 sink a little deeper into the felt.
For the hat band, we spray it again with alcohol, allowing me to go over it with another sponge to really clean up the hat band and loose threads. We really work to keep it in its original state. We want it to retain, like felt, the character it has acquired over the years of wear. After that, we take snipers and we cut all the loose threads.
Next, we turn our attention to reblocking the felt. Relocking is the most crucial part of redesigning a hat. We take the felt and heat it with steam, then we stretch it on a block. We choose 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 the hat to have, called an open crown. And then once we’ve stretched it over the block, we’ll take a hatter’s knot and a pusher, which is the tool we use to bring the hatter’s knot to the bottom of the hat block. This is where 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, especially around the break line. This would create a problem to relock the hat.
I use an edge cutter, and it allows us to decide how wide or how long the edge should be. This edge should be set to half an inch. The overall shape will stay the same, but we make sure the hat frames my client’s face well.
And then I’ll use a fine grit sandpaper to really refine the edge. In the brim trimming process, you don’t always get the cleanest edge, so sandpaper allows us to create really clean edges on the hat.
And finally, we’re going to create a sweatband. We cannot reuse the old sweatband. We only have the reed left. And so we have to replace the headband with a new piece of leather. The headband is critically important to maintaining the integrity of the hat. It really holds the hat together. But more importantly, it allows a barrier between the wearer’s forehead and the felt itself. Hatters can do a lot of things, but extracting sweat from felt is quite a difficult 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 bioresin. The felt without the bioresin would be very brittle and would not have much structure. We really open it up and soften it up a bit to get the shape we want.
I’m excited about this particular restoration, and I think my client will be ecstatic and thrilled 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 -year-old hat. The only reason this hat should be brought back to our store is if we have to do maintenance on the hat, especially with the sweatband. In general, this hat will last as long as my client wants to wear the ha.