Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Making a felted hat

As part of my attempt to upgrade my wardrobe, I've mentioned I've been pinning a lot of items to my Pinterest "style" page. I found Amy Ward's millinery via the Martha Stewart's 2013 'Made in America' design awards, and in particular I really like (and pinned) this little number (in her spring/summer collection):

I wanted a hat from her, but I wanted something for fall. I got in touch with her to see if she made autumn/winter hats. She politely declined, saying she only really likes working with straw.

But now I really wanted a hat! It occurred to me that I could make my own. What's my go-to method? Knitting, of course. I sewed some hats many years ago, but I felt they came out homemade-looking. A felted hat, though: That can look really sharp!

I've done several felting projects in the past. I've made felted animals, mostly, but also shoes and a Dallas Cowboys potholder (a gift for a friend). And felting is FUN! There are several methods, but the way I've done it is to knit an item in an enlarged size, then wash it in a little soap and very hot water. You need to keep agitating it for a long time, several cycles on a typical washing machine, so a home machine is more convenient than a quarter-fed one. But I've done it in the laundry room of my apartment building before I had my own.

I found a good pattern on Ravelry, the Vivian hat by Lisa Cruse. The yarn I spun from Icelandic lamb and alpaca fiber that I carded together. (It took forever to card the amount I spun for this project and there was still a lot left. I sent the rest off to a mill that handles small amounts to card for me, as I just couldn't face trying to complete it myself.) Sadly, I ran out of yarn once I passed the crown of the hat ... but it's black! So I pulled some other worsted yarn out of my stash and finished with that. It took two days to knit - these go fast because the needles are so big (10-1/2's). Here's the floppy completed knit, prior to felting:

The different blacks are pretty obvious here, but I suspect they will be less detectable once it's felted.

I threw it in the washer with a little Eucalan (though Dove dishwashing detergent is mild enough and works very well too) and ran it for about 30 minutes. When you do this, you will take it out and look at it and it will have done nothing for about 22 of those minutes. Then suddenly it starts to contract and thicken. At this point it's important to check it more often, to make sure it doesn't go too far. I have read claims of stretching out a shrunken wool sweater, but I don't believe them. Once wool has felted, there's no going back.

Once I got it shrunk to what I think is enough (it wasn't like I could try it on since it was wet), I took it out and blocked it. Finding the right object to put inside it to block it was hard, too. Many real milliners carve their own blocks! For this pattern, which has a slight Mad Hatter quality to it (wider at the top than around the head), you can't use a straight cylinder; you need an upside down conical shape. I finally found a trash can that was wider at the top than at the base and put the hat on it. I worked the shape of it into how I wanted it, and then I left it alone in the sink to dry.
[This was very hard to capture in a photo, since the hat is so black, and even flash didn't really bring out much detail. In the picture on the left, I upped the brightness in "postprocessing" (i.e., using iPhoto), which makes it look like the hat is floating in a sea of white. In the one on the right, you can just see the bottom of the can that is supporting the hat.]

Something interesting is how furry it is now. The felting process seems to have affected the fibers in the yarn differently. I don't know if the alpaca felted more than the Icelandic or vice versa? Another possibility is that there are lots of very short fibers in the yarn and those may be what are standing out. There's a definite fuzzy quality to the hat now. Adam asked how I planned to get rid of the furriness, and I said "shave it," mostly in jest but sort of, maybe, considering doing it. I'd be happy to hear any suggestions you may have about how to deal with the fuzz. Otherwise I will need a big fur coat and some platform shoes to go with the hat.

Next up is a trip to M&A Trimming to get the perfect ribbon to adorn it.

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