Tuesday, 15 March 2016

How I restored a crushed and battered vintage 1950s hat

If you see a pathetic vintage hat and think it is past hope – don't despair! While there may be some cases that are usable only for study or for remnants, I think most are better able to be rescued than you would think.

I have heard too many people tell me about the vintage hats they threw away because they were in a bad condition. So I wanted to really see what could be done.

When I saw this hat for sale online, I knew I had to have it. It was perfect. Just what I was looking for. It had promise, but was in such bad shape that I didn't have to feel too nervous or guilty about setting my inexperienced hands to work. So I bought it.

And I'm so glad I did.

I hope I can inspire you to look twice at the truly sad cases too. With that aim in mind, I'm going to share the steps I took to bring this beauty back to life. Each hat is different, of course, and this is not necessarily the best method, or exactly what I would do again - I learned a lot from this experiment!

The Process

1. I removed the attached hat pins and the trim they were holding on. Then I unpicked the stitching to remove the petersham ribbon and the velvet covering. It was at this point that the hat's foundation started to reveal some of its secrets. There was clearly an edge on one side, as shown by a crease that was too regular to just be crushing damage. This was also where the separate strip of velvet had been. So I decided that this might actually be the front of the hat.

2. I worked on straightening the waves and kinks in the wire, and it became apparent as I worked which had been intentional bends, and which were damage, leaving me with an even clearer image of the original hat.

3. As I got the wire into shape, I also pushed the buckram out and started to see that shape emerge.

4. Placing the hat on a block (a Styrofoam head would have worked too) covered in cling film, I started to stuff newspaper under the cling film to fill out the hat shape to what I thought it had once been. I continued to shape the wire and the buckram during this process, and also pinned the buckram down at a few key points as I worked.

5. Once I had a shape I was happy with, I got some fabric stiffener (just the water-based kind you can get at craft shops, watered down as well) and painted it all over the buckram. (This is why it was important that the cling wrap was between the hat and the newspaper and block, or else they would all end up stuck together.)

6. When it was dry (I left it until the next day) I removed the hat and peeled off the cling wrap that was stuck to the underside.

7. Trying the hat on, I adjusted the wire again so that it would actually fit and stay on my head.

8. I chose to bind the wired edge with bias binding. This is something I do with new hats, and I thought it would help keep the fraying edges of the buckram from poking through the velvet, creating a nice smooth edge, as well as being a back-up for holding the wire in place (although to be honest that stitching was still in excellent shape).

9. The velvet was a bit crushed and dusty, and thin in some places, but mostly still fine. I brushed it down with a clothes brush, and steamed it with the iron, but didn't press.

10. I reattached the velvet covering fabric, pinning it in place with a lot of pins to get it just right before proceeding.

11. Stitching the velvet in place, I was able to use the bias binding to secure my stitches in some places (another benefit of that step) which meant I was often able to keep the stitches on the underside and invisible from the outside.

12. Then I cleaned up the petersham ribbon (hand-washed and ironed) and sewed it back into place.

13. Deciding where to attach the trim was tricky, since they were not attached when I bought it, just pinned on with the hat pins in an apparently random location. So I played around with it occasionally (for a few months) then asked an ex millinery teacher for her advice, and followed it.

14. To clean up the hat pins, I scrubbed the pin section with a dish-washing scouring sponge (this is how we used to clean fencing foils, so I figured it would work) and brushed the ends.

What excites me most about this project is that the end result is better than I imagined in my most optimistic frame of mind. I imagined this hat becoming a tolerable but plain little cap, and instead it is a really pretty piece with a charming shape and gorgeous features. Not only that, but it is quite sturdy and ready to be worn and loved again.


  1. Wow! What a rescue! You are so talented to have worked all this out from the pathetic rags that you had to begin with. It is a gorgeous little hat now.

  2. It looks like new! You did such an amazing job restoring it, I really can't believe it. The finished product looks beautiful, and it's even more lovely knowing the sad shape it was in before.

    1. Aww thank you! I know I appreciate the result much more knowing the start!

  3. Oh wow, lady, you are too clever! I envy your mad skills... I have turned down so many hats over the years because they look sad :(

    1. Thank you Ellen. Next time you see sad hats, send them my way :)

  4. Absolutely marvelous work! I can't help but feel that this hat embodies the past all the more now, because you "made do and mend" in the sense of breathing new life into an old piece, instead of taking the (more common) 21st century route and just buying a new topper. I love how that general approach is so prevalent in the vintage world, don't you?

    Big hugs & joyful start of fall wishes,
    ♥ Jessica

    1. I very much agree Jessica! While there is an important place for new items (and I like making them myself!) it is also so critical that we do what we can to save what we already have.

  5. Oh Tanith, you are a mind reader! I just came into a large collection of late 50s hats and many of them need repair and I had no idea where to start. SO happy you posted this! If I get stuck, may I call on you for help? I'll happily send you any one you want to work on yourself, too!

    1. Definitely! Send me an email and I'll help in any way I can :)

  6. What a beautiful restoration job! The hat is beautiful :)

  7. Goodness me, you've done a wonderful job restoring this hat Tanith, well done! Now I need to learn your secrets so that I can fix wounded birds and add them to my collection... ;) ❤

    bonita of Lavender & Twill

    1. Well feel free to ask me any questions if you get yourself a "project" hat!


Blogger Template Created by pipdig