Trent Johnson explains step by step how he builds his world famous felt hats at his Denver-based Greeley Hat Works.
1. The Conformateur
The process to make a custom felt hat take about six hours. The time is spread over several days due to the heating and cooling processes. We begin with the ‘Conformateur,’ an antique head measuring device that was invented in 1843 in Paris. The one we use was built around 1909. The conformateur is placed on the customer’s head and gives a paper pattern the exact shape of the individual’s head.
2. The Famillion
The paper pattern is then placed into the ‘Famillion,’ the sister piece of the conformateur. The famillion makes the pattern life size to create
a cast of the client’s head. The pattern is cut out of cedar and the template remains with the hat throughout the process.
3. Block and Hood
Once the colour, quality and style of the hat have been chosen the appropriate block (a wooden form) and hood (hat body) are picked. The hoods are made of different blends of European hare and beaver here at Greeley HatWorks. The hat block that we choose is close in size to the customer’s head. The taper of the block as well as the height of the block are also taken into consideration.
4. Steam and Soak
The hat body is then steamed and pulled over the hat block. After it has cooled it is hand sanded to take the nap (hair) down and its silky texture is brought to life.
5. Iron and Press
Next, we press (iron) the brim of the hat to make sure it is flat and level before the next step can take place. The hat is ironed in a flange (brim board) and then placed under a sand bag press. The hat is then laid out on the flange to cool and dry. This can take up to two days.
6. Cut and Sand
Next the hat is taken to have the brim cut to size using a rounding jack. The top and bottom of the brim are then sanded and lured (luring is the process of putting natural oils back into the hair of the hat).While all of this is taking place the hand reeded leather sweatband is cut to the customer’s head pattern. The sweatband is then printed with the appropriate markings.
7. Finishing Touches
The back bow and sweatband are then sewn in. The head pattern is then steamed into the hat and re-pressed to the shape of the client’s head in the sand bag press. In most cases, the hat band is made from the excess felt cut off the brim. A buckle is added and a sating line is put in
the hat. The hat is now ready to be hand creased to the customer’s liking.