10 Techniques Used for Making A Comfortable Hat

Asian Hat Collection Donated by Barbara Park

How do you make a hat? Where is the origin of the techniques? Nature provided us with precious materials and ideas, by studying the natural growth of plants at different seasons, our ancestors imagined how things might work. Plants are pliable when fresh, become hard when dried. Fibres are tangled and layered in the trunk, and vines intertwined itself into a net. Over time, these observations developed into know-how and techniques. Through trading and communications, these craft techniques travelled and exchanged, with some being universal.

The chosen material is paired up with techniques that will create a comfortable hat that serves its purpose: may it be protection from the sun and rain and falling objects or its decorative use.

Cocos nucifera Blanco (1880/1883) by Francisco Manuel Blanco (O.S.A.)China National Silk Museum

1. Plaited Frond

Palms have large, evergreen leaves that are either palmately ("fan-leaved") or pinnately ("feather-leaved") compound and spirally arranged at the top of the stem. Pinnate fronds, like the coconut, gave birth to the method “Plaited Frond”.

Palm frond plaited hat (2003)China National Silk Museum

The pinnate leaflets, grow from both sides of a rachis to become a frond. The frond is split along the rachis into two halves, and this is cut to the desired length and bound into a circle. 

The leaflets naturally become a radial arrangement where they can be interlaced to form a hat or basket. The tapering leaf blade becomes a natural fringe.

Coiled hat from Bontoc Tribe (2002)China National Silk Museum

2. Coiling

Coiling stitches can be open or closed, or a combination. Stitch variation gives a textured effect to the surface.

Craftsman demonstrating two colour stitching the coiling technique, New Mexico State, USA (1992) by Laurie Minor-PenlandChina National Silk Museum

Long and pliable material is being coiled to become the foundation of the structure; the binding fibre is fine and flexible, used as stitching to bind the coiled material into the desired form. In this process, various coiling stitches and colour elements create decorative effects. The coiling technique is naturally suited for making round forms like hats and baskets.

Koru Unfurling (2005) by Jon RadoffChina National Silk Museum

In nature, ferns, seedlings and leaves are in coiled up before they start unfurling to grow.

Artisan Making Baskets (1874/1875) by Adolf-Nikolay Erazmovich BoiarskiiChina National Silk Museum

3. Framed Willow weave

On a shaped mold, pliable and cushy willow reeds are lined up side by side like warp threads on a weaving loom, a strong string is woven tightly as the weft to make a densely packed surface. 

Frame woven willow hardhat with inside harness (1988)China National Silk Museum

A bamboo frame secures the moulded woven piece, with the surplus material trimmed off.  The final product is a lightweight, yet sturdy and durable.

A view of bamboo basket making (2011) by Thamizhpparithi MaariChina National Silk Museum

4. Biaxial Plaiting

Though the finished effect resembles a woven cloth, the term “plaited” is used as opposed to “woven”. In fabric making, the warp is stretched on a frame and remain stable, with the weft as the moving element. In plaiting, both parts are moving together, as in making a hair braid. 

Biaxial Plaited hat with Herringbone pattern and chain as chin strap. (2002)China National Silk Museum

This technique has much structural plasticity, so a lot of forms are possible.

Biaxial Plaited hat with pattern (1991)China National Silk Museum

Like weaving, plaited patterns are created according to the interlacing pattern (plain, twill, herringbone),  coloured materials provide another dimension.

A bamboo basket making (2012) by Thamizhpparithi MaariChina National Silk Museum

5. Stake and Strand

In Stake and Strand construction technique, one set elements is rigid and passive, providing strength and framework; the flexible set known as strands and are manipulated in and out of the stakes to control the form.

Hard hat made of bamboo with Stake and Strand technique (2000)China National Silk Museum

This technique is particularly suited for load-bearing baskets, making it an everyday object in villages.

Bamboo sheath hat made by Cut and Assemble method (1991)China National Silk Museum

6. Cut and Assemble

The dried giant bamboo sheath in Myanmar are like soft cardboards that could be cut with scissors and knives.

They are cut to size, assembled and stitched to bamboo rings to form the hat. The smooth flat surface is perfect for painting and cuts out fancy borders are often featured.

Classic Open Triaxial plaited hat for Hong Kong’s Tanka boat people (1990)China National Silk Museum

7. Hexagonal plaiting/ triaxial plaiting

The maker interlaces three strips to create a surface that forms hexagonal patterns; hence both “triaxial plaiting” and “ hexagonal plaiting” are often used to describe this technique. 

Triaxial tight plaited conical hatChina National Silk Museum

Plaiting with three axes have four times the tear resistance of biaxial construction, and resist spreading (runs).

Open Triaxial plaited hat with decorated detailsChina National Silk Museum

Plaiting can make tight or with open spaces. As an open weave, it is an economical use of materials to produce a lightweight yet sturdy container, especially for transporting livestock and agriculture products that require ventilation to stay fresh.

Machine stitched straw braid hat (2008)China National Silk Museum

8. Machine Stitched Braiding

Making hats in the traditional basketry method requires practised skills and negotiation with materials. Plaited straw braids is a much simpler cottage industry, where the braids are sold to hat makers to stitch new hats according to fashion.

Since the 17th Century, straw braiding for hats has been an important trade in the Luton district of Bedfordshire, United Kingdom. By the late 19th century, vast quantities of plaits were exported to England from Canton (Guangdong), China, and in the United States most of the straw plait was imported, unknown as “Canton Braids”.

Basket making in Hainan by Anna FrodesiakChina National Silk Museum

9. Bamboo split

Bamboo can be split into various thickness according to its application.

Unfinished hat made of one piece of split bamboo (2006)China National Silk Museum

This unusual unfinished hat kept the whole original bamboo as its finial, then the Stake and Strand technique is used to secure its form. Extra leaves and lining would have been added on the underside to complete the hat.

Stake and Twisted strand conical hat (1990)China National Silk Museum

10. Stake and Twisted strand

This hat is a variation of the Stake and strand technique; the strand used has a width that will not lay flat while weaving the circular form.

To make it work, strands work in pairs; twisted along each other to create an unusual texture while curving along with the circular shape.

The hat collection gives us an excellent opportunity to review how plant resources around us affect our lives. Today, in a world over-supplied with colourful manufactured items, these hats, made of perishable materials, might look primitive and outdated. Through these humble hats, let us ponder again, how humans take reference from nature, and how our evolution depends on working with nature.

Credits: Story

Co-curators: ZHOU Yang, CHEUNG Sai May Edith 
Exhibition advisor: ZHAO Feng
Exhibition assistance: JIA Liling
Exhibition design: DONG Feiyan, WANG Jueying
Catalogue design: ZHANG Yuyan
Exhibits management: ZHANG Guowei, MO Senyao
Exhibit photography: LI Yongjia

The Barbara Park Asian Hat Collection of 128 items was donated to the China National Silk Museum in 2016, to enable in-depth study of crafts and appreciation of the diversity of the natural world and cultures in the region. 
Barbara is an Australian entrepreneur who has lived and worked in Hong Kong for over fifty years. Her parents and grandparents have all been keen gardeners and craftspeople, so her appreciation of nature is firmly in her blood. Her favourite colour is green. For twenty-five years she had a landscaping business throughout Asia, during which the collection of hats was amassed. She also collects a variety of Asian crafts including porcelain, wood carvings, baskets and textiles.
She is a Life Member of many cultural associations, including the Hong Kong Museum of Art, the Friends of the Museum, Chinese University, the Friends of the Hong Kong University Museum, The Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Gardening Society. So many handcrafts are disappearing in Barbara's lifetime that she felt dutybound to collect and is delighted that the hats can be shared with so many visitors from Hangzhou, China, and visitors from around the world.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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