Of hat making class of ten, only one participant is local
Valley Campus / August 7, 2019 / by Margaret Sanderson
Folks travel long distances for the opportunity to train at Trinidad State with master hat maker, Tom Hirt, who is nationally known for his fine handmade beaver felt hats. Years ago, President Ronald Regan personally called Hirt requesting two hats. He has crafted hats for many movies and recently was asked to make some for an upcoming Civil War series starring Ethan Hawke.
In a class of ten, which allows for a lot of one-on-one, the only local participant was Carol Keller from Monte Vista. She had heard about the class and was already interested, but when she read an ad about it while waiting for her husband, Charles, at a bank in Walsenburg, she sealed the deal in her mind and announced to him, “I’m going to take that class.” During class, she pointed to her husband’s well-worn felt hat on the table near the two she was making for him and said, “I sew everything, but I’ve never made a hat. I’ve been waiting since January for this day to come!” Both sides of the family are ranchers and she said felt hats are the only type husband will wear.
Two husband and wife teams joined the workshop, from New Mexico and California.
Looking for something a little different after taking several gun making classes in Trinidad at the college, Rick Glitz and his wife, Marie, drove from Tijeras, New Mexico to take the class together. Marie said she wanted in on the fun this time. Rick, a retired colonel, flew fighters while in the Air Force, worked at the Pentagon doing air and missile defense work and is now an Air Force civilian currently working in the nuclear weapons’ center at Kirtland Air Force base in Albuquerque as Director of Engineering. “And now I’m making a hat,” he said as he looked up, smiled, and sewed another stitch in the crown of his hat to attach the hat band. “He’s (Hirt) great,” said Marie. “He’s fun and we’re all enjoying each other. Half the fun is who you’re taking the class with.”
It took Elizabeth and Christopher Callahan 27 hours to drive with their dog to Alamosa from Santa Rosa, California, where Elizabeth and her mom operate a hat business together. After her mom’s vintage hat collection topped 5,000 (she had been collecting since she was 17), her husband said, “No more!” Now she makes, buys, and sells hats with her daughter and displays the “Crown Jewels” of her collection at their store. The duo travels the world “to purchase all manner of hats and hat making materials, vintage and new,” said Elizabeth. “We often travel for millinery/hat making classes. Most recently we attended Hat Week in London. This was a wonderful experience. We both love couture (high or elegant fashion) hats and clothing and appreciate the craftsmanship in these designs. We enjoy making all types of hats and what we learn during our travels influences the designs we sell.” Their production team blocks each hat by hand or in one of their presses and they trim each hat by hand. They are considering adding handmade felt hats to their repertoire. Elizabeth said her mother knows the best hat makers. She had registered for the class with the intention of attending with her daughter. When she was unable to come, Christopher came instead.
A Google search brought KayCee Alameda to the class from Saratoga, Wyoming. This former editor, who was raised on a ranch, now writes poetry. “I was attracted to the handmade aspect of the hats,” she said. She is making one for herself and one for her husband and is considering making them for sale.
Three generations of ranchers from Walden, Colorado, were scheduled to take the hat class together until “Grandma” got sick. So Waylan joined his dad Regin Fletcher and his brother, Balyden. They too found the class through a Google search. Regin’s dad had bought some hats and they didn’t like how they fit so they decided to make their own. Regin, who was raised on a ranch, has opened a mobile coffee shop with his wife. Soon they will move into a building in town while their son, Balyden, continues to operate the mobile shop – all while they continue ranching and wearing their felt hats!
Rancher Jim Mackey from Sedan, New Mexico, saw Valerie Beard’s Facebook post with a picture of herself wearing a felt hat she had made at last summer’s hat making workshop in Trinidad. Mackey wanted to do that too. The Trinidad class was already full, so he registered for the Alamosa one. Mackey prefers quality custom western wear like boots, saddles and hats and has worked to save his money to be able to buy those items. “Making my own hat makes me appreciate good hats more,” said Mackey. “I learned what I wanted to know.” Mackey hopes Hirt will offer an advanced class in the future so he can learn more. He wants to know how to clean and shape old hats too. He said others in the class expressed their interest in an advanced class as well. Last year Hirt helped one participant clean and reshape a hat her father had worn for 36 years. “It’s just as good today as it was then,” said Hirt. Considering six out of the ten workshop participants have a history with ranching, the importance of a hat that looks good, holds up well, and protects in all kinds of weather is imperative.
The week-long summer workshop was offered for the third year on the Valley Campus in Alamosa and for the fifth year on the Trinidad campus in June. “Its popularity is growing. It’s amazing how quickly the class fills up and where they all come from,” said Dean of Instruction, Jack Wiley. “We may have to consider adding another class.” Tom Hirt is ready, “Your imagination is my limitation,” he says, after many decades of making high-quality beaver felt hats by hand.