Designing Collections: don’t you love a bumpy hat?

Designing collections of felted millinery —

I’ve been designing collections for the past year or so since learning that customers and shops respond better to a cohesive look.


Designing Collections to Make Cohesive Look - seven themes for 2015


When designing collections one is supposed to have 10-12 items. Or so they say. However, I find that to be a challenge with my felted hats for two reasons. Firstly, there are all those good ideas that keep popping up. These ideas go into my ever growing queue on Google Keep, a very handy tool for helping keep track of ideas. And while each FeltHappiness hat in a collection is unique, one wonders if the unity causes the hats to become indistinguishable. Too much of the same thing, no?  Secondly, perhaps it’s just my somewhat constrained attention span that doesn’t work well with bigger collections. I get a bit bored and feel less inspired after making several -of-a-theme. Hence, in designing my collections I go for mini-series of 4-6 hats.


Themes lend themselves to production

Designing collections is common in the fashion industry which uses teams in factories to sew garments. However, production work is also common in smaller craft-type business. Some ceramicists pour clay into molds or ‘throw’ on potters wheels. However, production methods are not often used with wet felting.  I suppose the somewhat serendipitous nature of felt-making appeals to makers whose personalities appreciate the uniqueness of each piece. There is the idea of what will be made and then there is what happens when soapy water and friction are applied to wool and result in shrinkage. And while one can sample wool to calculate shrinkage, feltmaking is a craft where absolute control is rare. I love the serendipitous nature of it!

And unless there is 3D printing involved in the wool layout, there are limited methods to mechanize the production of felt in the layout stage. {Here is a 3D printer that does this for clay. I bet 3D printing could be used for wool by an engineering minded felter.} After the wool is laid out there are ways to speed things up. Some feltmakers use machines to first needle felt before wet felting. Other feltmakers use electric sanders to speed up the felting process. While other feltmakers use rolling machines or even household dryers to reduce the hands-on time spent fulling (shrinking the wool). I’ve used the dryer method, with no heat. It does speed the rolling stage up. But, one needs to keep an eye on it and hang out beside the dryer. No matter how felt is made, wet felting still takes time and resists ‘the factory treatment.’ Enough digression, now back to the topic.


What comprises a theme?

In designing collections, a theme can be based on subject, color, materials, shapes, patterns or techniques. Some of my past collection themes have literally been based on actual subjects, such as cats for the FE-Line Collection, or new roots on plants, for the Spring will Come series.

Designing Collections- Spring Will Come Series of Fascinators

Other FeltHappiness collections have been based on colors, such as the goes-with-everything black hats.

Designing Collections - Textured Black Felted Hats


Technique as a design theme

But then there are items that one makes, that are not quite collections. Instead, they are cohesive because of technique. One technique that I’m repeatedly drawn to is that of making ‘bumpy hats.’  You can see this demonstrated above in the black hat series: the second one from the left is a lovely example of bumpiness. The third one uses a different technique to create a similar, bumpy texture.

Not surprisingly, I’ve been investigating the bumpy hat theme for a while. This blue felted hat was made in January 2014, when I lived in Norwich (UK). It now lives in Seattle. Can you believe that I used golf balls to create those bumps? That and boiling!

Designing Collections - a bumpy themed blue hat


This past fall in Pennsylvania, I made a green bumpy hat with a different technique. It’s part of the Holly Leaf Elf Hat collection.

Designing Collections - a green bumpy textured wet felted hat


In fact, I like bumpy hats so much that I made one for myself. I made it in blue to ‘match’ my red coat. This bumpy blue hat is felted using the same technique as the green hat above. The bumps are solid wool and are fun to squeeze. Oh! I need to make a red one for Valentines. Better put that in the Things to Make Queue. It’s going to have to jump to the front in order to get done in time for the holiday.

January Hat Attack

I’m wearing my bumpy blue hat as part of StyleCrone’s January Hat Attack. For this month, Judith is elegantly wearing a vintage black and ivory hat. I certainly need a Daniel in my life to photograph me (and my hats). What a faff it is running back and forth to shoot selfies. At least there is the tripod and timer – I’d be lost without them!


designing collections - Juliane wearing her own bumpy blue wet felted hat


Last thoughts on designing a collection

If a collection is intended to create work that looks cohesive, then returning to a technique over and over also adds to making one’s work ‘look like a recognizable brand.’ Ideally, a FeltHappiness hat is recognizable. Sort of akin to the famous Alessi Teapot designed by Michael Graves?

Micheal Graves' Alessi Teapot with blue handle and red bird

What do you think? Do you like the idea of designing collections along a unifying theme? Or do you prefer that each creation be truly out-of-this-world, one-of-a-kind? You’re welcome to comment below.

Please, I’d love to learn more!


6 Responses

  1. Carol-Ann

    Personally I like the idea of collections along a unifying theme or color way but that’s not to say one can’t shoot off on a tangent and try something else should the mood strike 🙂

    • jgorman

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting Carol-Ann. Sorry about the delay in responding. It seems that the notifications are going to my husband, who migrated my original website from the Drupal platform to WordPress. Need to fix something soon – yikes!

      The creative part of me totally agrees Carol-Ann. I’m self-employed so I should be able to do what I please, in theory. I certainly worked this way for the first few years. It was so very exciting to create anything I liked. My head felt like pop corn with all those ideas!

      It was only after reading more on running a small business that I can see that, in addition to presenting cohesive lines to customers, there is the ‘economy of scale’ of making groupings based on a theme or color. It’s easier to plan. Usually, I pull many colors of wool roving and hold them in a large market-type bag. And if I do dyeing of coordinating fabric, then I can guesstimate better on how much might be used. It’s a bit more efficient, or as efficient as I can be. It probably makes my studio more cluttered, because I know that this or that color/material is going to be used for the next hat. Hence, I don’t tidy up the way that one could with individual projects.

      To think that in the UK I used to do my felting on the drainboard of the kitchen sink! The mess had to be corralled at the end of every workday! Even so, there were incidents of pink wool being found in our dinner!

  2. The Style Crone

    It’s so interesting to read about your design process and your bumpy hats. I have my eye on the light blue trilby in your Etsy shop. Perfect color and shape for me. Thank you so much for sharing with Hat Attack!

    • jgorman

      Hello Style Crone,

      So great of you to come by and comment. Sorry to have missed your exciting message. Need to change something behind the scenes on WordPress so that doesn’t happen again. Glad that you’ve enjoyed reading about my design process.

      The light blue trilby is a petite hat which will suit your delicate features! It would be super exciting to have one of my hats live within your lovely hat collection! Thank you so much for this compliment!

  3. Teri Berry

    What a thought-provoking post, I keep reading how I should develop my own artistic style and stick to it but I love the serendipity that felt making generates and can’t imagine just sticking with one style, technique or colour combination. For me variety is the spice of life and that means endless experimentation!

    The 3D printers are fascinating and we are only just scratching the surface of what they can do, I’m not sure we will ever be able to use them for wet felting but there may be possibilities for synthetic textiles, perhaps even acrylic felt.

    I’m still a bit old world with managing my ideas, I expect you encounter the same, where you go through periods of intense creativity, with each new idea sparking two more and so on. I still use sketchbooks, I’ve yet to find an electronic device that will allow me to draw and colour adequately.

    Lovely hats, keep up the great work!

  4. jgorman

    Teri, I’m so glad that you’ve stopped by, read and commented!

    Yes, I think that feltmaking draws those of us who like serendipity and change. And in making what pleases our hearts, we develop our artistic style. When I’ve tried to make what I think others will like, the results have not been as good in the hat or the reaction. But looking over a ‘retrospective’ of what one has made, one can see patterns, make connections and see how the disparate creations fit together. So, don’t feel constrained. Picasso tried so many things – should we call each of his periods, a collection? 😉

    That’s neat how you use a sketchbook to dream and plan. I scrawl/sketch on a lined notebook with a pen. I probably ~should~ try drawing again. (I wanted to be an illustrator as a teen). However, since everything seems to take so long…at least for me, I tend to jump in and get started. (I’m not keen on making samples either – except for custom orders).