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Making an Eco-Friendly Hat / Hat of the Day – 1920s purple cloche with daisies

April 2, 2010

I thought I would write a bit about how I go about making a hat “eco-friendly.”  First, I try to use as many natural fibers as I can – cotton and wool are my most common options.  Now, I know that the process of growing non-organic cotton is not eco-friendly, particularly the quantities of pesticides used to grown regular cotton.  But I’ve discovered that being eco-friendly in general means you usually have to make many lesser-of-two-evils choices.  That being said, I still believe that choosing natural fibers is preferable to synthetic fibers, even fibers like rayon and modal that are both derived from cellulose fibers, because they still require a lot of energy to produce and have their own chemical by-products.  Also, synthetic fibers don’t breathe like natural fibers and, for those who believe in body energy or chi, synthetic fibers apparently don’t jive very well with our natural energies.

Second, I try to use organic fabrics whenever possible.  Both Hancock Fabrics and JoAnn Fabrics carried some organic cotton solids last year, but they didn’t replenish their stock once they sold out and I don’t know yet if they plan to carry it this year.  The price point is discouraging to most people so it’s not profitable for stores to carry organic fabrics.  I’ve got some organic cottons that I bought online but I’ve been burned a couple of times ordering fabric online.  Without being able to feel the hand of the fabric and the exact color, it’s very hard ordering the right fabric, so I’ve mostly stopped ordering any fabric online.  It’s also very difficult finding organic fabrics in good prints for headwear; most organic cotton is in solid colors, not prints.

Hemp is another option that I’d like to try but not only is it hard to find in stores, it’s also very expensive.  I’ve seen hemp at over $100/yard and when the average hat takes at least 1/2 a yard (or more for big brimmed hats), that’s just not a price point I can manage.

So that brings us to recycled/reclaimed/upcycled/repurposed fabrics.  These are clothes or other recycled fabrics that I wash and cut up to make into hats.  I use a lot of reclaimed fabric because I have more options than the first two  choices above.  With recycled fabrics, I have a much wider selection of prints and can use synthetics without buying new and encouraging production of synthetic fabrics.  (I know the synthetics aren’t as good for us energetically and I do try to limit how often I use them, but sometimes that’s the best option for the style of hat I’m making.)

The down side to repurposing fabric is the time investment.  It takes about four times more labor to make a hat out of reclaimed clothing than new fabric.  I have to get very creative laying out the pattern pieces and I frequently have to divide the pattern in two or more pieces and stitch them together just to have enough to complete the hat.  I normally get 1-2 hats out of each piece of clothing, though my reversible hats take at least 2 items of clothing per hat because each side must be presentable as its own hat, and I try to coordinate the sides with the band which will show no matter which side faces out.

Between working around seams, imperfections, and cutting on the bias when necessary (which always takes more fabric), reclaimed hats can be cheaper on the supply side of things (though not always) and they’re a greater time investment.  But they reduce waste by reusing existing material rather than buying new.  I also try to reuse the scraps by stuffing them into bags and storing them inside some styles of my hats to keep the shape of the hat intact.

I try my best to make at least one component of each hat eco-friendly.  Whenever I use new fabric on the outside of the hat, I will line it with new organic cotton or reclaimed fabric.  Sometimes I use eco-friendly options for the trim.  About the only time I don’t use organic or reclaimed fabric is with some winter hats which have been 100% fleece out of necessity.  Winter hats often require synthetic fibers to fend off cold, especially since some people are allergic to wool.  But whenever I can introduce a “green” element, I do.  Even though making my hats eco-friendly means I put a lot of restrictions on myself that other milliners don’t have, I feel it is the right thing for me to do and it reaffirms my commitment to improving the environment.  I can sleep better at night knowing I’m being true to myself.  Now if I could only stop dreaming about making hats….


Hat of the Day Sketch

Today’s HOTD is a simple little purple cloche with white daisies on it from a fashion plate ca. 1920-1924.  I think it’s timeless and would be perfect for spring in a lightweight parasisal straw.

As always, feel free to comment on this blog post in the comments section below.

purple daisy cloche, ca. 1920-1924

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