fiber art, John C. Campbell Folk School

Weaving hats

bulrush derby

I guess it’s time for me to write about the woven hats, huh?

There’s not a whole lot to say. I loved making them. It was easy and relaxing. A bit stinky, but I’ve never been one to care about that much. After a few days of soaking, the cattails and bulrush smelled sort of like a cross between a barn and a swamp. The instructors were easy-going and fun to listen and talk to. Everyone in the class, which was only five students and two teachers, was laid back. We got a lot of personal attention and a lot of insights into life around Brasstown and Murphy, North Carolina.

weaving a cattail hatFirst, I made a wide-brimmed garden hat entirely out of cattail leaves. We used hat forms. They were useful in pinning the weaving close together and keeping the size and shape intact while the hat dried. The cattails separated a lot when they dried.

The next hat was a bowler (derby) hat made entirely out of bulrush. This was soft and pliable to work with, and allowed a tighter, more controlled weave.

In the meantime, I was working on a five-strand raffia braid to sew into a raffia hat. As badly as I wanted to make a fedora, my fingers had a different opinion. I needed 8-10 yards of braid for the hat. I had an awkward time with the braiding and on Thursday morning I woke up with numb hands.

So I decided to give up the raffia hat and make another hat, this time out of cattails and bulrush, with a flat top and short brim. I also decided to weave an inkle band, so that I could switch off to a different activity when my body told me that it had had enough. I’ve woven inkle bands for several years, so I was more interested in learning the basketry techniques. However, it was good to get a refresher on the inkle loom since it has been a while, and I enjoyed weaving on the porch of Keith House late Thursday afternoon. Part of the appeal of the inkle loom is its portability. The design was based on the colors I brought and a walk on a path between a road and a meadow with wild mustard and white and purple violets.

My classmates wove the two hats in the front of this photo. My final hat is drying in the back. More photos later.

woven hats

Update, July 13, 2010, in response to comments:

I do not have any books or recommendations for books on woven hats. But my hats are basically plaited basketry with an extended rim. Twining is used in the areas that turn corners for strength. I used hat forms and pins and let the hats dry on the forms. You can buy hat forms at and there are a few books on hatmaking there as well, but I have not looked at them. I know that Chad Alice Hagen is a fun funky artist if you are interested in felt. Jan Stansell taught the class that I took at JCFS.

I harvest my own cattail from ditches on my mother’s farm, but I ordered bulrush from these guys. I don’t see it on their list anymore but they have cattail and something called Portuguese cattail that looks similar to bulrush.:

I haven’t made any hats lately because I have medical issues with my hands. I miss it – it was a fun messy thing to do on a hot summer day.

4 thoughts on “Weaving hats”

    1. Teaching is not one of my talents, I’m afraid. I didn’t weave enough of these to feel proficient. However, taking a basketry class on plaited and twined techniques would give you the skills to do this.


    1. These were probably about three feet long, although the strength is more important. When harvesting, cut them as close to the bottom as you can. That’s where the pith is that gives the fiber more strength.


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