What are the best hats to start feltmaking? Berets!

Start feltmaking berets –

Why is it best to start feltmaking berets? It’s much easier to design and fit a wet felted beret. Whereas, a ‘regular’ bell-shaped hat or cloche requires more careful head size measuring. And while shrinkage is a necessity for all feltmaking, it’s much more straightforward for berets. Simply put, to start feltmaking berets, you merely need two circles and ‘one hole.’

Green soccer beret shows the simple shape that makes it the best hat to start feltmaking berets.
Soccer / Football Beret seen from the back.

 

To make a felted beret, there’s a flat circle of flexible plastic, a resist or template, which the wool fibers are placed around. I use a kind of underlayment from the hardware store that normally goes under laminate flooring. Other options for a resist or template are bubble plastic, cardboard or thick plastic. When layering wool fibers around a resist, it’s better if there’s some thickness, to better feel the edge of where the resist ends. After the wool is felted, the resist allows a ‘pocket’ on the inside. Otherwise, the two sides of wool would become felted together and there wouldn’t be a hole for the head. The hollow pocket is where the head goes.

Food always helps me think and this example might be clearer: think of how a toasted pita bread puffs up to reveal a hollow center. Typically, pitas are sliced in half or along the top to insert all the yummy goodness. However, to start feltmaking berets, the hole is traditionally cut in the middle.

Pita bread demonstrates how resists are used to start feltmaking berets.

A beret is basically a circle with a smaller circle cut into it. Although, as you experiment with felting berets, you learn that where the hole goes isn’t a fixed rule. The hole can be placed towards the edge like this:

An example of an off center hole to start feltmaking berets.

An off center hole makes a felted beret that looks like this:

Orange 'turban' hat showing how this shape is versatile to start feltmaking berets.

 

Similarly, there isn’t a rule saying that the resist for felted beret needs to be a perfect circle. It can be oval or egg shaped, as long as there is enough ‘room’ to fit a head inside.  The resist can be any shape: “Hearts, Stars, and Horseshoes, Clovers, and Blue Moons! Pots of Gold and Rainbows, and me Red Balloons!” Go wild and have fun with your feltmaking; it’s magically delicious! Just make sure to round off any pointy tips. Otherwise, these tend to pop through the felted wool, like little pokers, which can leave tiny holes in your hat.

Egg shaped beret showing that the beret is the best hat to start feltmaking berets.

 

For an adult sized head, use a resist that is at least 12 inches in diameter. A larger diameter will allow more creative play and shaping — my favorite part! Make sure the hat is well felted, with the resist buckling, before cutting the hole. Usually a 5 inch diameter is a good size. Although some feltmakers use a smaller hole of 3 inches. Remember, wool will stretch;  so, a 5 inch diameter hole will accommodate a grownup’s head.

Oval resist with off center hole showing that the beret is the best hat to start feltmaking berets

If the resist is too narrow, then the head won’t fit inside. However, a too narrow resist can lead to interesting solutions. This red felted beret was made a long, long time ago, when I first started feltmaking berets. It had an elliptical resist that didn’t allow a head to fit inside. Necessity is the mother of invention — I sewed a fabric headband to the hat and solved the problem.

 

Elliptical beret with polka dots that illustrates problem solving for when a resist is too small in feltmaking berets.

I called this hat ‘Rosie the Riveter’ because of the red polka dots bandannas worn by women factory workers during WWII.

 

An image of Rosie the Riveter poster and mannequin from Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, PA, USA.

 

Did you know that there were at least TWO Rosies? This one above is from the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, and was painted by Westinghouse artist, J. Howard Miller. According to the History Center, he “created one of the most iconic images of female empowerment. In 1943, Miller used a photograph of a Michigan factory worker as inspiration for his legendary poster showing a Westinghouse Electric woman war worker rolling up her sleeves to lend muscle to the Allied war effort. Around the same time, lyrics of a song titled “Rosie the Riveter” by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb spread across the country, telling of women helping on the home front, and Norman Rockwell created his own “Rosie the Riveter” for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. The song and famous image led to widespread popularization of the iconic figure, as millions of “Rosie the Riveters” throughout the country entered the workforce for the first time, including 30,000 women working at factories and mills in Pittsburgh.” — from Heinz History Center

Here’s a picture of Rockwell’s and Miller’s paintings. Do read this link to learn more about the woman who posed for Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post painting. She doesn’t seem to be wearing a bandanna and was quite petite, in actuality!

 

Rosie the Riveter - Norman Rockwell version and J. Howard Miller's interpretation. Neither wear a felted beret.

 

During my eleven+ years of living in Norwich, UK, I learned that the term Rosie the Riveter wasn’t used there. However, Britain had the fabulous Land Girls who took up the slack in farming, when the men went off to war to become soldiers. It appears that they too, wore kerchiefs/bandannas to keep their hair out of their faces and equipment.

Well, my explanation of on how to start feltmaking berets has certainly wandered! From feltmaking to history: fun with digressions!


 

Let me know about your experiences wearing and working with berets, whether the wet felted or cut and sewn type of hats.

Cheers!