Making Straw Hats - Information
numerous types of straws used to make hats. These straws range from rush straw & sisal straw to panama straw & buntal straw. [For a list of some straw types please view Types of Straw]
While many straw hats are woven in Central and South America, an increasing amount comprising of the majority of straw hat bodies are woven in Asia. (Mostly in mainland China) China also weaves Shantung straw, which is
actually a high performance paper yarn. [For more information about Shantung Straw, please view Shantung Hats]
All natural straw materials are from plants that are grown and cultivated at the proper time. The straws need to be prepared properly before
the weaving process begins. Some process include stripping, washing, cooking, dyeing, and drying.
After the skilled workers selects the proper plant, it is cut and stripped to the desired width of straws. Many times, the stripping process
either includes using a piece of wood to bang and split the raw material straw to its desired width or simply use a blade to cut and strip it. Afterwards, the straw needs to be cleaned to rid it of any dirt or bacteria.
This step may include washing with a mild detergent, cooking in hot water, and bleaching. These steps help rid the straw of any impurity spots and help yield a uniform color. After the cleaning process, the straws are
spread out and laid out for the sun to dry. Some straws are quite delicate and any extreme heating to speed the drying process may make the straws too brittle to use. Natural drying is the most common way in this process.
If dyeing is desired, it is usually done after bleaching. This will help secure a more uniform color throughout the straws. Natural straws have been dyed to all colors to make hats. Some colors include black, pink, blue,
red, lime green, purple etc.
After all or a combination of the above preparation steps are complete, the straws are sent to weavers in bundles. There are straw hats weavers
all throughout the globe. Some straw hat weavers range from Southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Ecuador on through to the Philippine Island, Vietnam to China. Straw hat weaving techniques throughout all regions vary slightly, and all are
unique to each region. Some regions use wooden block/cone molds to help the straw hat weaving process in keeping the size and shape of the crown. Other regions simply weave the straw hat by "free-hand" or by "air." This simply means they weave
using no molds to help guide them. It takes years and years of hat weaving and practicing to master the techniques of weaving a straw hat. Extra skilled weavers throughout the world are becoming more and more scarce as nations
progress and the younger generations lose interest in straw hat weaving. The length of time it takes to weave a straw hat may range from a few hours on a very economical wide-straw hat to several months for an expensive extra-fine straw hat.
When the weaving process is completed the straw hat bodies are collected by a broker or it is sold directly to a large factory. The hat bodies are
then sold to a manufacturing company mainly in bales of 25 dozens or sometimes by pieces. Many weaving countries weave the straw hat bodies with the intent to export to another country. (Many are shipped to North American
countries where it is blocked, stiffened and trimmed into a completed hat.)
When the straw hat bodies arrive at the hat manufacturing company, they are opened and separated according to size.
Any straw hat bodies with excessive knots, pinholes or are poorly woven (which were missed during the weaving company's quality control center) are separated to be made into second quality hats. After the
separation process, the same hat bodies need to be stretched around the brim area in order to be flattened out. Next, a series of pressing (blocking), lacquering, and drying begins. The amount of times
the straw hat is dipped into the lacquer and the amount of PSI that is used to press the straw hat is the secret and uniqueness of each individual company. Many companies use pre-manufactured lacquers
which works fine, but many times chemical companies use a mixture of less expensive solvents and chemicals to keep a cheaper price. This usually yields a hat that looks nice from afar yet hazy from close.
(The chemical does not dry transparent because of "impurities" in the pre-manufactured lacquer.) It is when a company has their own secret formula and has strict quality control on what types of chemicals
and solvents are mixed to make the hat lacquer, do they yield the best looking finish. When I visited the Summit Hats factory in Houston, Texas on 5/12/2001, I was able to see their hat lacquer.
They had a few different types of solvents (all pure and not pre-manufactured) and different chemicals in powder form. Ken, the Vice-president of Summit Hats, Inc. guaranteed that they made their own hat
lacquer from a formula that has been tested and perfected for years. Ken allowed me to pick up a straw hat and splash it and soak it under water. With their specially formulated hat lacquer, amazingly nothing
happened to the straw hat. The water beaded up (like water on a freshly waxed car) and rolled off. After the straw hat dried, the hat was as good as new. Ken stated, "This is what a good hat lacquer should
yield, a good-looking, shiny, and protecting finish."
Next, the brim needs to be cut down to the desired size and a special wire placed and sewed into the brim. This wire helps to
keep the straw hat's shape. The sweat band needs to be measured individually (for best fit), cut and sewed onto the inside of the crown. Hat trimmings are then added and hatbands sewed with a tacking machine.
All sewing machines used for making hats are old and not in production anymore. Therefore, they are repaired numerous times a year and changing parts when necessary. Thus, making new hatters who want to enter
the hat manufacturing business more difficult with each passing year
Cowboy Hat Info is the leading source of historical and comtemporary hat
information. The wealth of straw hat and felt hat knowledge has been
gathered through generations of hatters. From Stetson Hats to Summit
Hats and making straw hats to making felt hats, Cowboy Hat Info covers it all.
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