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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Theatre Hats (aka Where I Disappeared To)

I've been slacking on the social media front lately. (Exception: My blog post "The C-Word" on the site Mr. X Stitch where I'm now a monthly guest blogger.)

So where the hell have I been? Where I usually am when I'm not working on hats: working on theatre. This time it was the musical Curtains, which is one part murder mystery, one part pastiche of Oklahoma! and overall a hilarious love letter to musical theatre. 

The show-within-a-show is a Western, which means cowboy hats. The theatre was a community theatre, which means hats that have been used and abused for who knows how many shows. Theatre is rough on hats! They're battered on stage and often stored in less-than-ideal, cramped conditions. One of our male leads had this hat:

Poor, beaten-up costume hat.

I couldn't let this pathetic thing appear on stage. There was no other hat he could use, since this was the only one that fit him. I wasn't the costumer; it wasn't technically my job. But this stained, misshapen cowboy hat was an affront to my senses as a milliner. So I took it home to fix it.

The hat in the show.

First, I tried to spot clean it ... and it developed weird peach blotches (I'm guessing from someone previously using bleach to try to clean it). There were also odd mint green blotches. Oops! That's what happens with an old hat of indeterminate fiber content (assuming wool, though), years of sweat, and previous cleaning attempts. But I was able to get the worst of the staining out.

Next, I added sizing to the the inside of the crown and portions of the brim. I don't have blocks for this shape/size, so I steamed it and reshaped it by hand. It looked much better.

Finally, I used dye lightly brushed on to even out the tone and cover the worst of the pale splotches. The overall effect was a mottled look, but it still looked pretty good.

I removed the narrow trim and replaced it with brown grosgrain and a small pheasant feather.

Sadly, I didn't get a really great photo of the hat in natural lighting. The "after" photo is an iPhone snapshot in the weird lighting of the greenroom — and after the hat had been battered about and sweated on for 12 rehearsals and shows.

When I brought the hat to the first dress rehearsal, no one could believe it was the same hat. That was my goal. I didn't get any pay or credit in the program for rehabilitating the cowboy hat, but it was worth it anyway. My work was pretty good for a crappy hat and the wrong blocks.

Oh, and I wore it in the show, too! My character stole it a few times in a dance and wore it for a few seconds. (Unfortunately, I had put it on backwards in this one instance that was photographed.)

"Thataway" from Curtains. (Photo by Adam Silverman Photography.)


  1. I once spent a season "scrubbing and fluffing" theatrical hats, so you have my admiration. I just discovered your blog and hope that you haven't completely dropped off the blogosphere ... though it does look like you were having fun on-stage.

    1. Thank you, Sophie.

      I haven't completely dropped off the blogosphere. I hope to make new posts on this blog soon. In the meantime, I'm a featured blogger on "Millinery Operations" on the site Mr. X Stitch, posting the 3rd Thursday of each month. My latest post there: http://www.mrxstitch.com/hat-style-and-wearability/