When the wind’s howling, and the temperature dips below zero, there’s nothing better than a gorgeous Russian hat to look stylish and keep warm. It’s a fur hat that provides great coverage and has ear flaps that can be worn down or tied up on the crown. These hats are also known as Ushanka hats, and were worn by the military for protection agains the brutal cold of the Russian winter. Fast forward a few decades and Russian hats are now a great fashion accessory.
I learned how to make Russian hats when I took a course on Cold Weather Hats at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Little did I know that it would be the beginning of a love affair with fur. I have always loved wearing fur and I knew that as a milliner, I wanted to learn how to work with it. Real fur is luxurious. It’s soft to the touch and offers a level of warmth that is unparalleled. Fox, sable, mink, coyote, Persian lamb, it all appealed to me. I discovered where to source it, and learned the basics about stretching, cutting and sewing different types of furs. It’s similar to leather in some respects, but has unique aspects that need to be understood.
I gained additional expertise making Russian hats when a client wanted a Russian hat in Blue Iris Mink. At first, I had never even heard of Blue Iris Mink. Honestly, to my untrained eye, it looked like beaver. Fortunately the furrier that I use, gave me a crash course in Blue Iris Mink. I needed to learn about size, color, coverage and density. (Made me think about the 4 Cs of diamonds.) Male minks are larger than female minks, but the female is lighter weight. Blue Iris Mink needed to have a clear blue color and a shade ranging from light medium to medium dark color. The nap of the fur as measured by the hair per square inch, and the depth of the underwool, had to be densely thick. Ideally the pelts should come from the same bundle since they would be pre-matched.
Once I had the pelts, I created the pattern for the Russian hat, and made a muslin. This allowed me to check the fit of the Russian hat on the client prior to cutting thousands of dollars worth of mink. It’s much easier to adjust a hat to ensure a perfect fit when it’s made from muslin. Once the pattern was perfect, the mink was ready to cut. From there, hours were spent sewing the mink together until finally it was ready. I can only describe it as a magical moment when it all comes together and the hat emerges.