Wednesday, November 28, 2012


To start with, lets clarify a few things.
*Rabbit fur is a byproduct of people eating rabbit meat. Just like leather is a byproduct of eating cows and pigs. Rabbits are not killed for their fur. Millions of people around the wold eat rabbit which happens to be one of the healthiest meats available.

*Rabbit Fur felt hats can have different "finishs" like "Salome" (has a heather finish),  "Velour" (has a plush upper body and flat under body), "SUEDE" (the nap is intentionally raised and then tightly trimmed back), "Peluche"(hardly trimmed and very furry), "Velvet" in between Peluche and Suede.
Finishes involve "pouncing" the fur felt by sanding down the surface to a lustrous finish. There are also many other finishes created by blending rabbit fur with other hair like beaver, cashmere (peach finish).
Yes, you can also blend in your cat or dog hair to personalize your felted hat.

* Some hat sellers will point out the XXXX sweatband stamp, as a Golden quality standard. The XXXX connotes absolutely nothing, as there is no regularity body to over see the quality attributed to the number of X's one can use.

Unlike the wool felting process, where the wool is felted into thin cobwebs and built up in layers around a solid cone,  the rabbit hairs are fed into a machine which has a perforated metal cone. The cone has perforations through which the hot, damp air is sucked. As the cone rotates the rabbit hair is matted/felted around the cone. Rabbit hair felts together much closer than sheeps wool, so rabbit fur hats are naturally water repellant.
Rabbit fur is much more expensive then sheeps wool so the exact amount of hair needed is carefully measured before being added to the machine.
In this video we see the felted hood being removed from the perforated cone. The worker is wearing a mask as you can see some little rabbit hairs floating around from the process.

Once the cone is removed, the process is the same as seen in the wool felting blog. Check that the hood as no holes/weak spots.
 Go through the shrinking steps.
 Go through the sizing process.

Here are some top hats after being blocked and waiting for additional sizing.

Here we have a worker using a hot cloth to smooth/pounce the fur and bring a silky, shiny finish to a Top Hat.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Pingyao is a gem of a city once you can get over the very high levels of pollution, caused by the burning of coal for local industry as well as domestic heating and cooking. Most stores will have a little pot belly stove for heating hot water with a pipe spewing smoke out the side building. You will see no little anywhere but the city is coated in coal dust which will irritate your eyes and throat. I would certainly recommend a face mask. The city does not see too many western visitors. The weekend we were there, I saw maximum 24 other western visitors. In fact, we became part of the sigh-seeing with many local tourist asking for permission to have their photos taken with us.

The city walls have a total length of six kilometers (about four miles), the city wall is about 12 meters (about 40 ft) tall and 3 to 6 meters (about 10-20 ft) wide on top. 

The wall is of compacted earth covered by bricks and stones.

 From a bird's eye view the rectangular wall resembles a tortoise. There are six city gates, 
one each on the North and south walls, and two each on the west and east walls. The South gate is the head of the tortoise, the two wells outside being the two eyes of tortoise.

 The north gate, the lowest place of the city, is the tail of tortoise. Traditionally the tortoise was considered a symbol of longevity, so through ancient times the hopes were that Pingyao Ancient City would be permanently secure. There are 72 watchtowers on the top of city wall and 3,000 external battlements.

 It is said that the 72 watchtowers represent 72 people of great wisdom, the 3,000 battlements the 3,000 disciples of Confucius.
Some statues and seating areas have been added to the walkways.

You get a super birds eye view of the house roofs from the walls, as well as being able to peep into people courtyards.

Little boys everywhere play at defending castles or playing Ninja turtles. These little lads do not have to pretend to defend the castle walls, they will within them daily.

Like most of China the colors are grey accented with red. There is little vegetation.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


When most people think of hat making they only think of the end process. The milliner, hand blocking the felt hood in a fashionable shape, garnished with a classic grosgrain or pretty flower. That is like thinking that yards of silk magically appear to be cut by the seamstress into a shirt and not realizing that the whole process stars with silk worms. The same applies to wool felt hats. The process starts with sheep, flocks of sheep, that need to grow nice wooly coats before being sheared and passing it on to us.

Saint Clement, is the patron saint of felt makers. The story goes that he was on a pilgrimage and his wooden clogs were rubbing agains his raw ankles. Not having a band-aid back then, he picked some sheep's fleece from a bush and stuck it in the back of his clog for added comfort. Off he went and when he got to the end of his pilgrimage, the heat, friction and sweat from his ankles rubbing agains the clog, had made the wool into felt. Ergo, the secret to felt making is ample heat, hot water and friction.

So here we go on a magical mystery tour of making a wool felt body. After this you may ask yourself, "How on earth can anybody sell a hat for under $100"!!!

Bales of tightly packed sheared sheep's wool shows up at the facility. The workers sort through it for discolorations, twigs etc.

The wool is dipped into acid wash to kill any vermin that might have hitched a ride.
The wool is then ready for a good washing.

And it comes out the other side looking like white puffy clouds.
The cleaned raw wool is then fed into a machine where it is felted into sheer sheets of cobweb like felt.

The thin cobweb sheets are fed around a cone shaped block to a pre-decided thickness.
You may notice from the picture that there is a lot of steam and heat involved.

The tick wool cones are weighed to make sure they have a uniform weight.
The cones at this stage are quite massive but they go through more heat pressing and hand patting to make them thinner and stronger.

The cones are put back into drums of scalding water where they are pounded and tumbled into thin felt hoods.

Then the workers recheck the hoods for thin spots (thin spots will rip in the blocking process, so are not acceptable) by looking at a light source through the felt body.

The thin spots are reinforced with more felt and the process starts over again.

Here, with the help of the light source we can see the thin spots that need to be reinforced.

Now the bodies are ready to be dyed to the customers pantone color. Small batches are used to check for the correct color.
The dyeing room reminded me of the witches scene from Macbeth, so I could not resist reciting a few lines.

Here are some dyed hoods.

To make 'mix" color felts, multi color sheeps wool is needed.

At this stage we have a hood that can make a hat shape with a small brim, like a cloche but if we need a hood with a brim to make a fedora or safari shape, we use this machine to create what we call a capeline.
It is then time to add sizing to the felt, this will help keep the shape in the later blocking.

The brim will need more sizing than the crown in order to hold the shape.

We can also add water proofing at this stage.

I loved the artisanal roof in this department.

This whole process is not workable without a massive furness to create all the steam and hot water.

The sky was a beautiful color blue.

And the workers relaxed by tending their vegetable garden.

Remember, that at this stage, we still do not have a hat. It now needs to be blocked into a shape and trimmed.