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Donning a Derby

I have a vintage bowler hat that actually fits me (I think it might be a kids’ hat), and I had the perfect excuse to wear it on Sunday night!

My vintage bowler (or derby) hat.

The inside crown label says it was made by Dunn & Co. in Great Britain.  There are other things like “Lightweight” and “Piccadilly Circus – London” stamped on the leather band around the inside edge.

The inside of the hat.
It might be a size 6 ¾ if the label “634” translates into a fraction
(which would make since according to my head measurement).

My church has a wonderful Fine Arts/Concert Series organized by our Organist & Director of Worship Benjamin Kolodziej (ko-LO-jee).  Sunday night’s concert was a special treat – a silent movie with live pipe organ accompaniment!  (Yes, my little church has a real pipe organ!)

The film shown was The General from 1926 starring Buster Keaton accompanied with an original score by Mr. Kolodziej.  It is a fantastic comedy with crazy stunt work and a huge number of extras.  It was quite impressive from a moviemaking point-of-view.  What made it magic was that there was no “magic” trickery like there is in modern movies; they set up a camera, performed amazingly dangerous stunts involving stream-powered locomotives, and coordinated hoards of people & horses to play Civil War soldiers – all often in single takes!

It was so much fun to see the film in such an authentic style with live music and to hear the children in the audience laughing just as much as the adults!  It’s a great piece of cinematic history – I highly recommend renting it from Netflix if you have an account.

Benjamin never misses a chance to wear a fun hat, so I knew I’d have a chance to get a photo of us both wearing our bowlers afterwards.

Two authentic derby hats. (That’s the church’s harpsichord on the far left.)

Bad lighting + cell phone camera = not so great picture.  However, it’s infinitely better when you can use fun photo editing effects like “Aged Newspaper”.

To improve the bad quality, I chose “aged 80 years” and added a border.

But my favorite version of the picture is the cropped and oval framed version of Benjamin by himself:

Perfect for a period-authentic concert program bio!

In May, there’s going to be a concert titled “Titanic at 101: Music of the Edwardian Age” – perhaps I should plan on a Downton Abbey inspired outfit…

Restoring a Vintage Ring Hat

I know I’ve stated that I do not do alterations or repairs, however, every once in a while I am given the opportunity to restore something vintage – the type of project that usually offers me a fun challenge.

Julie, a friend of a friend, enjoys collecting and wearing hats (I really wish everyone still wore hats!) and she found an old olive-green velvet ring hat at an estate sale. It was in surprisingly good condition, but it had a sad feather placed oddly across the front. The feather needed to be replaced – the shaft was broken and the end was bent.

The vintage ring hat before restoration.

Side views of ring hat before restoration.

When the hat arrived for repairs, I was a little confused by the Robin Hood-like feather – it just didn’t match the hat!

The feather was just thrown straight across the front of the ring.

I had a feeling the feather was not original, so I did a little research and confirmed my suspicions. I discovered that ring hats were popular in the 1950s and into the 1960s. They came in a variety of colors but all the trimmings (including face veil) invariably matched the color of the hat itself. I found a couple of good examples in my friend Ken’s vintage shop at

Vintage ’50s ring hat of black velvet with flower decoration (veil no longer attached).

Vintage ’50s ring hat in brown velvet with matching veil & mink trim.

I suspected that Julie’s hat once had a veil of matching olive-green millinery net that had probably torn, and whoever removed it had decided to add the feather instead of replacing the veil. I started the restoration by taking off the feather, and sure enough, there were pieces of matching net underneath!

Someone had just glued the feather right on top of the original veil and then cut off the netting around the feather.

Sadly, the feather enthusiast had just slapped it on with hot-glue. No matter how carefully I tried to steam and re-melt the glue off, I couldn’t remove it all from the hat without damaging the velvet. So I picked off what I could and planned my design in order to cover up what I could not remove of the awful glue-job.

I decided that flowers of a matching olive-green would be the most authentic. I already happened to have some wool felt in the perfect shade of green, which led me to experiment with making felt roses like I talked about in this previous post.

I think I’ve finally perfected my rose-making abilities!

After a failed attempt to dye some store-bought net the correct color, I ordered some out-of-production millinery veiling in the right shade of olive-green and made a classic birdcage veil. Then I discreetly tacked the veil to the hat with a few tiny stitches and placed my handmade felt roses where they covered the old glue spots. Once everything was hand-sewn onto the hat (no more icky glue added to this vintage hat!), I had a drastically different hat:

The vintage ring hat restored to its former glory!

Side views of the finished hat.

Each felt rose was made using individually shaped petals that were then stitched together by hand. The rolled felt stem that I made for one of the rosebuds was perfect for hiding the old line of glue across the top.

Top view of hat and close-up of the back of felt rose.

The back of the hat had a little circle of velvet that was probably part of original trim decoration and might have been the point of origin for the face veil. The little circle was a slightly frayed, so I hand-stitched around it to make its presence look intentional.

Back of hat before and after.

And here I am modeling the hat so that you can see the effect of the veil on a real person. The veil ends just below the nose.

I like how the hat and veil color match my eyes.

I think my favorite thing about this project was how much my husband wrinkled his nose at the hat when he first saw it with the feather, and then once I was finished, he wanted me to keep it he loved it so much! I may have to be on the lookout for another vintage olive-green ring hat – or at least make myself a hat with millinery veiling someday.

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