Friday, March 4, 2011

A Buckram Hat: Restoration, Alteration, and Reconstruction

Several weeks ago when I was at Goodwill looking for something specific, I saw two hats for sale. I bought one, which I'll write about later. The second was pretty battered, so I passed it up. Then I went back and bought it the next day. This is a post about how I fixed it, for less than five dollars. Since it's black and relatively shiny, the pictures are a little washed-out-looking.

Here is the original. The crown and underside of the brim are black velvet, and the top of the brim is black taffeta. It's trimmed with grosgrain ribbon which may have been black once, but was a sort of dulled dark grey. Once upon a time, it must have been very elegant. As you can see, the hat seems to have been crushed; the unevenness of the brim is where it's creased and rumpled.Here's another view.The first thing I did was to clean the velvet. Little puffs of dust arose as I did so. I think this hat must have been stuffed in a box of old clothing for a long time. I used a small scrubbing brush because it was handy, and I got it slightly damp and gently buffed at the velvet. It came clean quite nicely. Here are some before and after pictures. The white in the first one is dust, and afterward is the sunlight getting caught in the clean velvet. I removed the inner band, as it was caked with dust, and the ribbon trim, since it was ugly. The milliner used glue. I'm just beginning, and even I know better than to attach trim with glue. It just makes a mess of everything, can ruin the hat, and if it ever needed readjusting or a makeover... it'd just make a mess.

Here's a picture from before. I won't post one from after, because the clean velvet makes an appearance many times, below.Next, I overzealously decided to iron the hat. I did this even though I knew every hat book says it's almost never a good idea to iron hats, and even though I knew by experience that ironing velvet ruins it. I'm still not sure why I did this. Maybe because I wanted to see what would happen. The hat also started to smell weird. The lumps weren't ironing out. The hat had layers to it, and the framework was what was creased. I needed to steam it heavily, but I was afraid of scorching the fabrics. So, I detached the crown from the brim.

At this point, I discovered that it was actually a covered buckram hat. I've been wanting to learn how to make these. Buckram is a sort of roughly-woven fiber netting stiffened with glue that can be softened and shaped when heat or very slight damp is applied. It looks like a cross between cheesecloth and burlap.

Here's a picture of the three layers. I tried to iron it again, but I couldn't get quite enough steam on it, the glue in the buckram was melting all over the iron, and the fabrics were stretching because of wedging the iron in between them. The only way I would get it to reshape would be by steaming it properly.So, I took the brim the rest of the way apart. First, though, I looked up how to make bias tape online (or rather, confirmed what I knew) so that I could refinish the outer edge. I carefully undid the seam that held the brim to the wire hoop in its outer edge, and then the other stitchings that held the three layers together. I hid the wire hoop behind my bookcase so that no one would be tempted to take it away and play with it.

At this point, I felt like I'd pretty much taken apart a watch. The thing cost less than two dollars, though, so I didn't feel too nervous taking it to pieces. I'd also examined it carefully in each stage of undoing, noting how many seams held it together. It looked straightforward enough, and turned out to be, too. I ironed the taffeta while I was waiting for the pot to boil. Then I ate this.The velvet steamed out quite nicely, of course. That's the only way I know of to fix ruined velvet, and fortunately it wasn't truly ruined, and only in one spot. It took a while, though, and I kneaded it to bring the plush back out. I like the way the swirly steam came out, in this picture.The buckram was a little trickier. I don't have a hatblock, so I didn't have anything to mold it against, but I smoothed at the spots with my fingers, and as the glue melted and the material became malleable again, I flattened it bit by bit under a textbook. I couldn't flatten the whole thing at once, of course, because it's not a flat brim- it's sort of angled. This is what I was trying to smooth out:After I was done steaming the various parts of the hat, it was time to begin reassembling it. I decided that I wanted the entire top to be velvet and to use the taffeta for the underside, especially since the latter looked a bit distressed, and overall suffered the worst from its past. I pinned the taffeta onto the buckram. It took a while, because the taffeta seemed to have stretched just a little, most likely because it had been stretched onto the framework for so many years and was now lax and flabby. I ended up trimming off a little bit of it that hung over the edge. Sewing the velvet on was easier.I retrieved the unharmed wire hoop from behind my bookcase, and whip-stitched the brim back onto it. That was a little bit tricky, and I sewed a few inches on one side and then a few on the other, to make sure that it was going back on evenly. When I first laid it out, and even as I was sewing it, it seemed much wider than the hoop, but somehow it actually fit on there. I used white thread because I was expecting to have to take it apart, and didn't want to undo the basting stitches-- but I got it on there, first try.Reattaching the brim to the crown was a little tricky, and in some places it came out less tidy than I would have liked. The buckram around the inner edge had frayed a little, as had the taffeta, making it very slightly wider than the crown. But somehow, again, it managed to all fit together. I attached some fresh new grosgrain to the inside opening of the crown, to cover up the seam in this picture.I decided to bind the outer edge with white satin, since that was what I planned to trim it with. I cut a strip the proper length on the 45-degree diagonal, ironed it in half, and attached it to the edge. This took quite a while, because even though it was cut on the bias, it still rumpled a little on the underside and made it look frumpy. So I bought a yard of braid trim and sewed that on, too, to even it out and make it lie flat. The exposure on this picture is adjusted slightly to show the trim more clearly.I scribble-sketched several pictures of how I could trim the hat, and decided to capitalise on the somewhat-lumpish look by making it appear intentional, with an elegantly rumpled band and bow. I cut a long, broad band out of satin, and gathered both ends; then I arranged it around the crown, hiding a few dents and the sloppy join. The bow had me baffled for a while, since I'm not sure how to make them aside from tying them, and didn't want to use up that much material. Finally, I had one of my brothers bend an old wire hanger into a figure-eight, flattened the ends, and covered it with gathered satin.

Here's a view from the front.And from the side.
There are a few things I might do to see if I can tidy it up a little in general, but it's pretty much finished. So far, I have been told by one person that it's creepy. Maybe one of these days I'll have someone take a picture of me modeling it.


  1. Why does the first picture look _purple_?

  2. "Buckram is a sort of roughly-woven fiber netting stiffened with glue that can be softened and shaped when heat or very slight damp is applied."
    So you can't wear it in the Summer or in rain? What good is that?

    "Then I ate this."
    You'd get along with my dad; he takes pictures of everything too.

  3. "I scribble-sketched several pictures of how I could trim the hat, and decided to capitalise on the somewhat-lumpish look by making it appear intentional..."
    I had that thought when you mentioned frumpiness. Actually, I thought, "what if a hat looked good frumpy?"

  4. The first picture looks purplish because the taffeta is really shiny and kept reflecting the light oddly. Black shiny things can be hard to take a picture of.
    Almost no women's dress hats can be worn in the rain-- you can carry an umbrella, though, if you're really bent on wearing it. I don't like to take risks; feathers can be ruined by the wet, and satin will spot. Summer sun isn't hot enough to melt the glue, unless you leave the hat on the dashboard of your car all afternoon for no apparent reason.
    Some hats do look good frumpy, but I don't wear that style myself, and it doesn't fit the effect that this hat was going for.
    As for the random picture of the toast... well, I wanted people to know that I do eat. I'm not a robot. ^_^

  5. Oh, and I rarely take pictures; my sister is the one who takes pictures of everything.

  6. "I wanted people to know that I do eat. I'm not a robot."
    Having known you as long as I have, I must admit that I am unconvinced. Maybe if you posted a video of yourself taking bites out of it and swallowing them. As it is, even random robots I don't know aren't convincing simply by posting a picture of _untouched_ toast...

  7. And then again, I could be a robot specially developed to appear to be able to eat and digest food. So you'll never know.