From Fess Parker's "Davy Crockett" to "Dances With Wolves," our cultural perspectives of the iconic North American mountain man and his headgear have evolved through the decades. Whatever real mountain men wear on their heads, lowlanders can get the look of the icons with a little skill and patience. Full pelts or fur scraps---and yes, raccoon tails---can be purchased online or, if you have an actual furrier in your city (most are focused on cleaning and storage), you may be able to assemble a hat from leftovers that are essentially worthless to the furrier.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- Measuring tape
- Butcher paper or opened paper grocery bag
- Scissors for paper and fabric
- 1/2 yard quilted coat lining, canvas or cotton
- Needle and thread or sewing machine
- Snug-fitting brimless cap or elastic headband
- Tanned fur pelt or scraps
- Permanent-ink marker
- Razor-type craft knife
- Office bulldog clips
- Glover's needles
- Button-and-carpet thread
- Leatherworking thimble
Put a simple cap or headband on your mountain man so it fits snugly from low on the forehead to the nape of the neck.
Set the full pelt over the cap, with the face well down on the forehead (which also looks more fierce). Reach under with a permanent marker and make X marks in as many places as possible, on both the skin side of the pelt and the cap, for where the two touch.
Remove pelt and cap, and one by one rematch your marked contact points (work one at a time so you can stretch the cap or band from one point to another and maintain its snug fit). Use an office binder clip or two to hold the two together, and stitch firmly using a glover's needle and button-and-carpet thread. The needles have three-sided points that cut holes in the skin of the pelt; take care not to make them too close together.
Try on the finished hat and adjust as necessary. For an especially heavy pelt or an especially small mountain man, you may need to resort to supporting some of the weight by tacking on ties to slip over the wearer's shoulders.
Measure your mountain man's head by wrapping the tape measure around it, approximately level with the floor. From the top of the head, measure straight across the widest part and the length of the head, taking into account the way most heads slope out from the crown in back.
Draw intersecting lines on the paper the length of your top measurements, and sketch an oval around them. Draw another line the length of the circumference measurement, and another line 6 to 8 inches away and parallel to it. Close off the ends of these parallel lines to make a rectangle. Cut out both pieces of your pattern and roughly wrap the rectangle around the oval to see that they will fit. Re-measure and cut if the fit is far off, or note on the pattern how much larger one piece or the other needs to be. Double-check by wrapping the rectangle around the mountain man's head at the point where you hope the hat will rest.
Use the paper pattern to cut out pieces for a lining from coat quilting or other fabric. Cut 1/2 inch away from the paper on all sides for seam allowance, but cut the rectangle only half-width. Assemble the lining like a pillbox hat and try it on for fit.
Trace the paper pattern, with all necessary adjustments, onto the skin side of your pelt.
Cut through just the skin of the pelt, again leaving a seam allowance around your tracings, using the razor knife on a flat, safe surface. Straight lines can be cut swiftly against a steel ruler or carpenter's square. The curves of the oval top of the hat will need to be scratched carefully, freehand. Try not to cut clear through, so that the fur parts naturally when you separate the pieces after cutting the skin.
Assemble the hat by first sewing the center back seam of the rectangle, then fit the rectangle to the oval. Work both these seam's' fur sides together. Clamp the whole straight seam using office bulldog clips, and sew gradually along it using a glover's needle and button-and-carpet thread in a blanket stitch that loops over the edge. Stitches should be close, but not so close that the three-sided point of the needle tears the skin between holes. There's no going between fibres when you're working with skins. The curved seam will need to be clamped and worked a bit at a time.
Fit the prepared lining into the fur hat, wrong sides together, and turn up the edge of the fur rectangle piece to cover the edge of the lining. Tack the fur to the lining securely.
Tack the tail, whether fabricated or natural, to the center back seam of the fur hat, sticking up from just where you can feel the lining meeting the fur on the inside.
Turn up the folded edge of the rectangle piece to form a cuff around the hat, just below where it meets the lining. The tail should now fall down from inside the cuff.
Tips and warnings
- In August 2010, fur scrap is priced online at as little as £16 for 1.81 Kilogram of raccoon, or "collar strips" at £1.30 each, but some dealers place minimums on orders that can leave you with more fur than you can use. Muskrat is also inexpensive and looks good in the coonskin style.
- Many local businesses advertised as "furriers" provide primarily cleaning and storage services, or at best repair, and will not have scraps to sell.
- Be sure the pelts you buy are properly tanned (they shouldn't smell, and they should be supple) and, especially if caught in the wild, from species that aren't endangered or restricted.
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