Bell-bottomed Blues

A Chance Encounter

Last year, in my first trip to Kazakhstan to celebrate my sister’s wedding, our family got to stay in a big house with a sauna attached. I’ve been to saunas before but it was my first time being in a Russian-style sauna. You wore bell-shaped hats inside and you would lie down on my stomach and your friend would use brooms fashioned out of leaves to hit you all over. It was a fun and quirky tradition that I really liked.

The one thing that stood out to me after that day was the sauna hat.

Example of a Russian Sauna Hat you can find on Ebay. The curved profile that looks like a bell on your head.

I remembered examining it when I was there – it was a simple construction. It was made of a wool-like material that retained its shape, very similar to felt. It was made from four to five different panels sewn together and since the material does not fray, there was no need for overlocking or a finishing within. The construction was straight-forward after I have gotten a better look at it, yet I found the shape of the hat so enticing. Though I did not have my phone with me to take pictures, I could vividly remember deconstructing it and taking a mental photo of the hat.

I liked how the curves of the hat near the end props the ‘brim’ outwards and does not obstruct your eyes. Yet this ‘brim’ or bill’ was also malleable – you could fold it upwards or downwards. I was intrigued and I liked how the curved portion was a breath of fresh air that was different from the angular and blockish bucket hat.

Digging Deeper

The thought of the sauna hat visited me every now and then since I got back. Like many things, it too slowly receded into the crevices of my mind, marinating and awaiting the right and ripe time to present itself: a few weeks back.

I was revisited by the memory of the sauna hat. I still really like the shape of the hat but I wondered why people were not wearing them more frequently. They were not as commonplace as the bucket hat and I asked myself why.

Was it because its shape was more feminine with its curves? Or was it because the bucket hat has just been trending over the past few years?

As I started digging deeper, I came across Mutsu’s Suna hat. It bore the same shape of the sauna hat and its construction was very similar. It did not hold its shape as well as the sauna hat probably because of the material used, but it looked a lot more comfortable to have on your head if you are wearing it for a long time.

Digging further, I hit gold. I realised that the sauna hat resembled another famous hat – the tulip hat.

Roots

From what I could gather, tulip hats have commonly been known to have come from the Netherlands, a country widely known its tulips. They were not likely called tulip hats back then, but were likely influenced by their existing bonnets and headpieces. Way back in the 17th century, as people started obsessing over the flower, the demand for tulips skyrocketed and resulted in tulip mania. The tulip hat also sprouted from that phenomenon and it was adorned by nobles and aristocrats as a symbol of wealth. And similar to the sauna hat, it used to be made of felt (and straw).

However, the decline of the Dutch economy in later years was one of the primary reasons why the hat lost its popularity.

Incorporation

Many people have given their spin on the tulip hat and tonnes of patterns are available online. However, most of them still have a long brim, almost akin to a sunhat. The curves on most of them were also too pronounced for my liking – it made it look too traditional and distinct.

After looking at some online resources, I felt it was time to experiment and draft my own pattern to fit what I wanted, which was a cross between a tulip hat and a skull cap.

I took two measurements – my ear-to-ear measurement and the diameter of the thickest part of my head, before proceeding to come up with my desired pattern.

Gathering the different fabrics and the cut out pattern piece.

Readying the sewing machine and pattern pieces.

The hat was to be assembled from six panels – that meant that the diameter of my head had to be divided by six, while also giving room for seam allowance.

The hat also had two curved parts, one from the top of the head to the side of the skull and another from the base that curves out to shield the eyes. The convexity of the former and the concavity of the latter determines the shape of the hat, this is especially so for the latter since the first curve cannot vary too much to avoid looking like a banana on my head. In general, the less concave or convex a curve, the less it sinks in or sticks out.

After drafting out the pattern, I then proceeded to patch working the fabrics together into the panels of the tulip hat, securing them with sashiko thread in a chiku chiku pattern.

Hand stitching sashiko lines to secure the seams.

Reverse side showing the different panels sewn together.

At this point in time, I also realised that the tulip hat, contrary to its name, does not really look like a tulip. The way it curved out to cover the eyes was not reminiscent of the flower. I thought it looked more like a bellflower than a tulip, and the name stuck with me there after. I will be referring to it as a bellflower hat from here on.

I cut up an old semi-formal shirt and used that as lining material. I also chose not to go with an interfacing or any backing or batting as I wanted the hat to better fit the shape of the head.

I hand stitched the brims together to finish the hat.

And alas, the first iteration of the Oddball Kind Bellflower Hat was done. But not without breaking a sewing machine needle in the process. *Note to self – no matter how strong a sewing machine needle might be, it cannot match the compressed molecules of thick blotches of acrylic paint.

Also, the bellflower hat ended up being too big for me.

Closing Thoughts

On closer examination, I probably gave too much excess during the drafting stage. Since each panel had a little excess, that excess when multiplied by six (because of the six panels) ended up creating a hat that was a few centimetres off- talk about small steps making big changes.

Also, the brim ended up being too short and the concavity of the second curve could be a little more pronounced.

Nonetheless, I liked how it ended up looking and will stick to this pattern shape and make some amendments in measurements.

Looking at the hat, I came to realise that the construction was similar to another modern head dress – the six-panel cap.

Throughout this journey, I find it interesting how the evolution of ideas and incorporation of different motifs or themes all seem to stem from somewhere. Whether conscious or not, we draw our ideas from a well that comes in many different shapes and forms, whether that is past innovations, constructs of nature or simply harnessing from different disciplines. It is a timely reminder that this world is all connected and that there is still so much we can learn.

P.S. The making of the Oddball Kind Bellflower Hat is documented on video on Instagram here. You can also hear how a sewing machine needle breaking sounds like.

– The Kind Oddball, 優しく個性的な人

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