Heritage Crafts

Bowed felt hat making

The making of functional, hardwearing felt hats from raw materials (wool or fur) using a pre-industrial felt making process that is specific to the felt hat making trade. See also hat making, millinery and feltmaking.
Craft category
Historic area of significance
Britain was once globally recognised for its high quality (bowed-felt) felt hats, but this process was also practised throughout Western Europe and the Americas.
Area practiced currently
Origin in the UK
16th Century
Current No. of professionals (Main income)
Current No. of professionals (Side income)
Current No. of trainees
Current total No. of serious amateur makers
Current No. of leisure makers


This particular process of felt hat making is believed to have been introduced by immigrant Hatters from the continent in the C16th. Bowed felt making ceased for 150 years in the UK but has been redeveloped by Rachel Frost using historical records.


The main fibre processing is done with a Hatter’s Bow-carder. This is a seven foot long wooden tool resembling a giant fiddle bow, with a heavy gut string stretched along its length. The bow, being hung horizontally from the ceiling hovers over a table with the wool or fur fibres placed upon it. The bow string is plucked into the fibres, causing them to fly into the air. In this way the fibres are cleaned, fluffed up and arranged in a suitable shape and thickness in readiness for felting. Initial felting takes place on a hot-plate with steam and agitation.

Further felting is done by immersing in hot water and repeat rolling until a dense smooth felt is produced. At this stage the felt may be dyed (natural/plant dyes). It is then steamed and blocked to the desired shape and it may be stiffened and sculpted by hand depending on the requirements. It can then be dressed with a lining, sweat band and trim etc.


  • Feltmaking – Most feltmakers today make hats use a different process which, although facilitates great creative freedom in both design and colour, does not produce the dense, smooth felt traditionally associated with functional hats.
  • Felt hood making – Felt hoods are not made commercially in the UK. Machine made felt hoods for hat making are manufactured all over the world including the United States, Czech Republic, Poland, Portugal and China.

Issues affecting the viability

  • Lack of awareness of its existence, potential and therefore lack of demand for the product
  • Availability of tools and specialist materials
  • Lack of both living craftsmen and written instructions to learn from.
  • The high labour investment and therefore lack of finacial viabilty on a commercial scale

Support organisations

Training organisations


Craftspeople currently known

Individual craftspeople:

Other information

Bowed felt for hat making appears to be the only historical method of making felt in Britain. Unlike many other countries, Britain appears to have no tradition (prior to the 1960’s) of making hand-made felt, other than for the purpose of making hats. (previously extinct but has been rediscovered)


There are no contemporary publications about the practical aspect of this craft. However there are academic papers about the trade and other references that touch on the subject. Stockport Hatworks has good documentation of the post-industrial process with limited information and artefacts relating to the craft prior to that.

National Lottery Heritage Fund
Swire Charitable Trust
The Royal Mint
Pilgrim Trust
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
William Grant Foundation

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