By Fuch’s Hats
Shopping for the perfect black hat is relatively simple: you walk into the store, pick out a few you like, try them on and finally pick the one you like the best for purchase. There. In no time at all, you are the proud owner of a perfect-for-you black hat.
But have you ever stopped to wonder how that hat was created? How do rolls of felt transform into the stylish, crisp, elegant chapeau you so proudly display on your head?
“The process is quite involved and complicated,” Yonah Fuchs, founder of Fuchs Hats, tells Bizness Magazine, “even machine-made hats require concurrent manual labor to create the final product.”
First Thing’s First: The Material
Most hats today are made of either fur or wool felt. Felt is the number one choice in hat production because it is supremely strong, smooth, lightweight and water resistant.
Medium to higher priced felt hats can be made of fur felt (rabbit, hare, beaver, nutria and muskrat or a combination thereof), whereas lower priced hats are formed from wool felt.
“Fur felt hats are superior in terms of being lightweight and soft to the touch,” says Yonah, “additionally, they keep their shape, withstand harsh weather conditions and they are easier to restore than those made of other materials”.
Step 1: Preparing the Fur
Unprocessed bagged fur is delivered to the hat manufacturer and undergoes several refining processes before it is ready to be formed into hat bodies.
“Mixed fur is then “blown,” a process which removes clotted fur, air and dirt. Fur coming out of this process looks like a large sheet of gray absorbent cotton; light and downy,” explains Reb Yonah.
The fur is then fed into a machine that turns it into a large, fragile, cone. This loose cone will be shaped into the finished hat. Sometimes during the preparation process, the fur is dyed, and that’s a difficult, technical job.
Step 2: Forming the Cone
Forming the cone is really the key to felt hat making. It is done in a forming machine. The fur for one hat is weighed out and pulled into the top of the forming chamber. The felt is sucked downward by the exhaust fan, and then settles on a revolving metal cone. The fibers from the felt are now deeply tangled and twisted into a layer of fur.
Next, the operator wraps damp burlap cloth around the cone and then submerges it for a short time in hot water. That’s when the felting starts. The hot water shrinks the fibers just enough to knit them into a delicate layer of felt.
The layer of felt, which is several times the height of the finished hat, is carefully removed from the cone.
Step 3: Shrinking the Cone
Next, the cone is folded, dipped in hot water, and rolled with pressure over and over until the fibers shrink and their barbs interlock to give the material its proper size and superior strength
“This is meticulous work that is often done by hand,” says Reb Yonah. “It must be done quickly, or the felt will cool off, leaving the end result looking a little sloppy.”
Step 4: Shaping the Felt
A rough shape of the hat is obtained by stretching the material to form the crown. This is done on a machine, which has a frame over which the cone is placed, and above this, metal flanges massage the tip of the cone, pressing the felt between the ribs of the frame.
Finally, the hat maker moistens it and pulls it over a wooden block shape. There are different kinds of blocks for different styles of hats. Blocking a hat to its final size is done with steam and an iron.
To form the brim, a similar stretcher grips the material with metal fingers and works on the same principle.
Setting the brim is called flanging. First, the brim is ironed flat and cut to the specified width. Then it is curled and laid flat on a wooden flange, ironed again, and finally dried and pressed while still on the flange. The brim is then saturated with stiffening shellac to make it hold up.
Step 5: The Finishing Touches
Once the hat is completely shaped, it is buffed with sandpaper many times to get the desired degree of smoothness.
Lastly, it is expertly trimmed. The leather, lining and the band are sewn on and your hat is ready to travel across the world to help you achieve an elegant and heimishe look.
Visit Fuch’s Hats at the following locations:
Chagai 16, Jerusalem: 02-5002930
Rashi 12, Bnai Brak: 03-5790970
Sdei Hemed 29, Modiin Ilit: 08-9477305
Nahal Sorek 31, Ramat Beit Shemesh A: 02-5699974