Monday 28 August 2017

Fabulous hand-felted Fedora

Left: inspiration- a computer generated image of a Fedora found on the internet. Right: the hand-felted reality (made by L, a 12 year old student)
I love working with kids; I love their ambition and enthusiasm; and there’s no where quite like a Special School to find young people (with Autism) who are determined to complete their vision.

While working as textiles teacher at Brantwood Specialist School, Sheffield (Mar 2015-Nov 2016) I had the privilege of working with a broad range of students with various special needs including Autism and PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance) and guiding them through various, completely unique, textiles projects.

The Felted Fedora made by L, a fairly new student to the school, was completed in my last few weeks at Brantwood. L (aged 12) had spotted the felted top-hat which had been made by one of the senior students at the school and he decided that he too would like to make his own felted hat. The major difference was that the older student was a fairly experienced felter and L had no previous experience of felting at all. But it is pretty impossible to say no to a student who is determined on a project and so, even though I knew that I only had a few weeks left at the school, I let him go ahead with his project.

We used two colours of Norwegian wool fibres, sky blue and lavender, to make L’s Fedora. Norwegian Wool is really suitable for; felted hats, slippers and handbags because it results in a firmer felt and is less prone to pilling than Merino wool fibres.

The first step in making a made-to-measure felted hat is to measure the circumference of the wearer’s head. Other measurements of importance are; the depth/ height of the crown and the width of the brim. You also need to know how much shrinkage to expect during the felting process. I phoned Maggy at to check my shrinkage and then got my pencil and calculator out to work out these measurements (see photo below).

L wasn’t very involved at this stage partly because of his special needs and also partly because I knew we had a very limited amount of time left until my leaving date.
However he was involved with every other stage in the process and was very focussed on his project. 

I then drew out the bell shaped template on a piece of paper and cut out a resist from stiff builders' plastic. 
L also watched several videos on YouTube which explained the need for a Hat Block. I let him research suppliers and costs of hat blocks and then explained how we could economise by making out own hat block. Give a student a saw and a block of polystyrene and they are obviously going to enjoy the (messy) practicality of this wet-felted hat project! 

The first layer of the 'laying-out' process
Building up the layers until there were five layers of wool fibres on each side of the plastic resist
Flipping the wool/ plastic 'sandwich' over and rubbing to felt the wool fibres together.

After rubbing, rolling in a bamboo at is another method of tangling the wool fibres together.
L cutting through the felted layers to remove the plastic resist.

Tossing the wet and soapy and fedora. This tumbling action is yet another method of continuing the shrinking process.
Still some work to do! 
Over the next few textiles sessions L progressed through his wet felted Fedora project. He seemed to enjoy all the stages but especially the process of shrinking the the fedora onto his own bespoke hat block and the finer detail of the shaping of the top of the crown and the curve of the hat brim.

Marking and cutting the brim to size.  

Rinsing the soap out.  

L worked to get the achieve the traditional Fedora shape.

L made design decisions as his project progressed. He decided to finish the edge with bias binding made from fabric that he had found in the textiles store cupboard at the start of the project. 
Adding a red gem to the front of the crown was the finishing touch. 

L was incredibly proud of his hat (and quite rightly so!) He went on to wear it at school and at home every day for almost a year. This was also an excellent experience for me as his teacher- it was so good to see a young student's confidence blossom. I was lucky that my head teacher gave me the freedom to run projects which were bespoke to each student as this enabled me to achieve so much more success with students in this Special School. 


Elena Djelil said...

A very interesting post Kirsty - I had no idea how this was done and enjoyed reading about it. Huge congratulations to your student (and you!) - I too love seeing yound people fulfill their potential !!

Zed said...

That is brilliant! I've made a couple of Fedora style hats and it isn't easy even with years of experience, so he should rightly be proud of making such an epic one :)