The more you know about how something is created, the more you can appreciate the craftsmanship. This applies to not only garments, but also hats. Recently, members of Plano ASG along with members of the Dallas Millinery Society toured the HatCo Stetson/Resistol factory in Garland, TX. John Stetson first marketed the iconic cowboy hat over 150 years ago. The Stetson company grew to become one of the largest producers of men’s and women’s hats in the country. However, since the 1960’s, hats have fallen out of mainstream fashion. Today RHE Hatco Inc. is headquartered in Garland, is a division of Pro Equine Inc (also based in Texas). The company owns both the Stetson and the Resistol brands. And they have added a wide variety of products to the traditional hat line. The Resistol company was formed Texas in 1927. They were the first hat company to own their own felting plant. The plant is in Longview, TX still is the source for the fur felt hats for both the Resitol and the Stetson brand felt hats. The plant we toured was originally a Resitol manufacturing plant, but now is the single manufacturing plant for both hat lines. To read more about the history of the creation of the cowboy hat and the Stetson company, check out this article in the Fort Worth Star Telegram for Stetson’s 150 anniversary. http://www.star-telegram.com/living/article18589206.html
Here is a short video collage of our trip.
The factory makes 2 kinds of hats: Straw and Fur Felt. The straw hats are woven straw or paper. The quality of the hat depends on the fineness and type of straw, and the quality of the weave. Straw hats can take from 2 days to weeks to weave. A true “Panama” hat, which is actually woven in Ecuador, can take up to 3 weeks to be created by a master weaver. Many straw hats today are actually made from Toyo, which is a paper straw made in Japan. The felt fur hat begins its production life at the Longview, TX plant, where a specific formula of wool and animal furs (beaver, rabbit, nutrina) Different hat lines have different formulas. Any of you who have felted, whether on purpose or accidentally, know that with heat and agitation the fibers bond together and shrink. In the hat’s case, this is done over a cone shape and to a specific finished depth and color.
Both hats go through a similar construction process. The final crown shape and size is created by molding the hat blank with lots of steam and a specific amount of stiffener (a shellac product). The brim also is shaped and formed with steam, stabilized and the edges finished. We watched as skilled operators quickly trimmed the edges of brims with scary sharp tools. The specialized molding, drying and sewing machines were amazingly operated by both men and women, many of whom have been working at Stetson for years. Their craftsmanship and skill is something that amazed all of us on the tour. For example to sew in the hat bands, the operator has to sew “blind” as the machine sews at an angle.
There is one other type of hat, and that is one that is created from braid. The braid can be made of natural or man made materials. The short video clip of the woman sewing shows how quickly she can line up this narrow braid, sewing in a small circle for the crown of the hat then wider for the brim. I makes me want a braid sewing machine! Not that I would ever be able to sew that accurately or that fast! Adding the sweatband, the logo and the lining were also interesting processes. A fur hat may have specialized finishes, one includes applying a flame to smooth out the fibers. Each step of the process requires specialized skill and machinery. And the quality assurance step is not forgotten.
Part of our tour was to the “dead” hat mold graveyard and the engineering building. These production machines need a team to keep them in tip top shape, as many of them are the same type that have been in use for years in the hat making industry.
I have been taking millinery classes, learning how to finish both fur felt and straw ladies hats. In the factory the hats are molded onto metal blocks using steam and pressure. The difference in couture or hand made millinery is that this molding process is done on wooden hat blocks with the hat maker’s hands. Steam is used in both. Maybe, if I live long enough I can acquire some of the skills of the Stetson workforce, in the meantime, I just bought me a Stetson!
Want to take your own tour? HatCo is located at 601 Marion Drive Garland. Call to schedule your tour 972 494-0511. Psst…. The tours begin at the Stetson/Resistol outlet store, don’t forget your credit card!
A big thanks to Claudia Medina, a Stetson hat designer who arranged and conducted our tour.