HAT MAKING IN PIONEER DAYS
The art of hat making in pioneer days meant a great deal to the industrious women then as do other modern arts at this time. Pioneer women were as eager to look their best and enjoy a change of style, as well as apparel, as are the women of our age, and although materials were not easily obtained, ways and means were contrived to possess those which could be procured.
These materials which consisted of straw for summer headgear for men, women and children and most any kind of soft cloth such as velvet, felt, silk, or wool goods was necessary for winter hats.
Trimmings for the smart summer hat were mostly all made from straw, braided into fancy lace and various shape and sized ornaments.
Chicken feathers dyed in many hues formed the popular winter hat trimmings.
Much painstaking and tedious labor was required in the making of straw hats in particular.
First the straw was gathered from the grain stocks, then trimmed down to uniform length, each straw opened down one side, spread out and scraped with the back of a small scissors. A cot was always used on the thumb, during this process, to prevent that member from being injured. Next the straw was placed in a straw splitter which would divide it into from five to seven strips or strands. Seven strands were used in braiding the braids then sewed, washed, bleached, starched or sugared for stiffening and then blocked for both men's and ladies' hats. These strands were used in the making of straw lace and trimmings.
Winter hats were made by placing two or three layers of the selected material tightly over a block, made for this purpose for crowns, then covered with paste made from starch, and set aside to dry. When dry the form was removed from the block; edges trimmed neatly, and wired to desired shape. Brims were made by the same process.
Lastly, these shapes were covered with velvet, silk or whatever was at hand and trimmed to suit the designers' fancy with the home made accessories.
Those engaged in these activities were: Miss Marie Jacobsen, Mrs. Ida C. Larsen, Mrs. M.F.C. Morrison.
Mrs. Louise Aldrich did much in the straw line making and teaching the girls to braid the straw and make the trimming. I, Mrs. Wilhelmina H. M. Ericksen was one of the girls that took the training so I know and can tell of these activities in the early seventies. (1870's)
(written by Wilhelmina H. M. Ericksen)