Waaaaay back in my 20s I did a two day short course on raffia hatmaking. I remember the first class was all about the braiding, with the teacher constantly urging us to “weave tighter!”. She told us to keep braiding our stash of raffia at home, and the next week we used hat forms to sew the braids into hat shapes.
I particularly remember I wound up with double the amount of braid than I needed and very sore hands.
So after my hands had healed I decided to see if I could make another hat. Since I didn’t have a hat form I made a boater-style hat – straight sided so no need to get the dome shape right. It came out a bit tight, unfortunately, so I figured I’d give it away.
It never found a head that fit and wanted it. The hat from the class did fit and I wore it quite a bit. But recently I put it on and realised it had shrunk. So I decided to unpick and resew the braid a bit looser, and completely resew the boater hat.
Then followed a long, boring and fruitless search for suitable raffia. In the end I gave up and used some waxed linen thread I’d bought for coiled baskets. It worked fine.
First I tackled the braid from the boater hat. It took a lot of unsewing and resewing, but eventually I got a shape I liked that fit. Then I unpicked the braid of the class hat back to a row before the brim and resewed it a little looser, reusing the raffia it had been originally stitched with. I ran the raffia across some beeswax I used to use for bookbinding thread, and that made it much easier to stitch with.
They’re not as tightly sewn as they were the first time, but I figure the few gaps are air-conditioning. I should get plenty more wear out of the class hat, and I love the shape of the new one, so it’s finally going to get some use.
I have to say, though. I’d be happy if another 20 years passed before I made another raffia hat.