CNCHnet . . . The Textile Arts Webzine of the Conference of Northern California Handweavers

A Cowgirl Hat, Fiber Arts, and my Equestrian Collection

Yee Haw! The Duke, Quigly, Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy, Hoss, The Lone Ranger, and Roy Rogers…bet you can all conjure up an image of the hat that they wore.
Each year, in the dead of winter, folks from around the west and the world gather in Elko, Nevada for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. This year, a workshop with Roy Jackson, of Jaxonbilt Hat Company, caught my eye. A chance to craft my own fur felt cowboy hat under the supervision of a master hatter was something I couldn’t pass up.

raw hat

raw hat

For three days, seventeen students gathered around Roy, his partner Bernice Coombs, and former apprentice, Chaz Mitchell, to steam our fur felts and work them over sizing blocks, using puller downs,  runner downs, spinners, and slip knives. Then we pounced, used flanging cloths, and trimmed. Next came the tedious work of sewing in the sweatband by placing little tiny stitches over and over again. Then a glimmer, a light, a chance to sew on my very own hat band that I had carefully woven at home on my inkle loom.

hat with Kathleen's inkle band

hat with Kathleen’s inkle band

The turquoise colors of the tencel band were a sharp contrast against the beautiful brown fur.
Alas, I thought I was ready to complete the hat with my final steam and shaping of the crown and brim. I had originally chosen to leave the brim edge raw, uncovered, no binding….until I walked by two young cowboys in the workshop who were painstakingly and patiently making tiny little stitches, securing the little ribbon, to bind the edge of the brim for a polished look to their creations. I would not be bested by these young men of the Nevada desert, and so I stitched…tiny little stitches all the way around the brim securing a turquoise ribbon to enhance my woven band.

hat with finished brim

hat with finished brim

The workshop was grand. We laughed, encouraged each other, shared stories, gathered for dinner, and tipped our hats to each other as we passed in the many venues of the gathering for the rest of the week.
Fiber Arts can sometimes be found in unexpected places. This year, the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering hosted hat making from fur felts, weaving mohair saddle cinches, and other cowboy arts. Many of the artists are young. Their craftsmanship is outstanding, and their skills are time honored traditions passed from masters to apprentices.

Hats off! to the teachers who mentored me and encouraged my love of fiber arts from the time I saddled up as a child, threw my saddle over a woven blanket, snugged up a mohair cinch, gathered up my mecate, rope reins made of mohair, and pulled down my felt hat to hit the trail.

Cowgirl Kathleen and new cowboy friends

Cowgirl Kathleen and new cowboy friends

Hats off to my Aunt Marc who sent me news clippings and books on Navajo weaving for years. Hats off to Nancy Harvey who started me on  my journey toward learning Navajo textile traditions, while splayed out on her garage floor.  My ropes, or mecates, are a result of years of fine spinning lessons from Stephenie Gaustad, and rope making with Alden Amos. Pop Wagner “roped” me into cinch making workshops. Hats off to Roy Jackson, Bernice Coombs, and Chaz Mitchell for showing me how to top off my “Equestrian Collection” with my fine fur felt hat.

Kathleen in her new hat

Kathleen in her new hat

Hats Off and Happy Fiber Trails!

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