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Hair Velour / Real (Echter) Velour / Prime (Prima) Velour Fabrikation von Damen- und Herren- Filzhüten, Der Deustchen Hutmacher Zeitung (1933)


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Hair Velour / Real (Echter) Velour / Prime (Prima) Velour


By C.A.P. Pellaio (English Translation By ErWeSa (Wolfgang))


Fabrikation von Damen- und Herren- Filzhüten, Der Deustchen Hutmacher Zeitung (1933)


"What is wool?" - "The hair of a sheep." "What’s a sheep?" - "A sheep? An animal,of course." "So wool is animal hair?" - "Yes." "Well, then, logically wool velour is also a kind of hair velour!


I have to think of this conversation with a ladies hatter when the question of the classification of velour turns up, as it almost always concerns the same or similar events. In that case, the person has already been sued for unfair competition and was now looking for experts. Not only with logic; his moreover led out of the circle of the essential, because in the industries that process animal hair, sheep hair being wool is separated strictly from other hair. In the hat industry, the term "hair" without further addition normally distinguishes rabbit hair (tame and wild rabbit hair) from other materials. For our very hardened sinner a further argument for the freest use of the term "velour" seemed to lie in the meaning of the word itself. Velour is, he explained, just the French term for velvet finishing. The Frenchman correctly calls the Velour hat that is something special and not a mere imitation of a surface processing such as wool velour, using a particular expression, "Feutre Taupé". A differentiation between actual and imitated “plush” could also be made here (in Germany) by introducing the term “brushed hat”. These remarks are not to be accepted either. But let us leave the French example quietly aside, in Germany there is a well-defined definition of the velour hat which prevails.


There is? No, there was. With the major velour fashion especially this last winter has provided us with many a thing must confuse you. Therefore a clarification is necessary.






Moreover, this is a matter of a very interesting product of millinery, which well deserves to be considered more closely as to its becoming and its nature. The question of what hair velour, real or prime velour is will find a natural solution.


The Good Velour Hat Made of Hare Hair.


It is probably no longer possible to identify whether velour was a deliberate imitation of the effect of velvet. In any case, it tries to replicate this really nice variation of a surface treatment, and so the main target of velour fabrication is to generate an upright, evenly shorn surface rich of gloss. It is now crucial that these requirements can by no means be met within the art of hat-making by a suitable finishing; i. e. subsequent treatment of the surface. It is known and undisputed that only one single raw material, namely hare hair, has satisfactory suitability, and furthermore, that not a pure finishing production step, but only a special technique of the total manufacturing ensures the maintenance of the velour effect when worn. Hare hair is much sturdier and glossier than rabbit hair. By a suitable process, a hot water brushing procedure, it can be made even better fitting for the velvety finishing, because its natural curliness can be straightened, it can be polished and it can be kept from matting, i. e. the felting of the open fibers of the cover through the influence of air humidity, pressing of the fingers etc. Rabbit hair, and naturally the best, tends to the strongest felting, especially under the action of hot liquors. It is well clear that this different behavior of the-two materials for velour hat fabrication and for the assessment of the "hair velour" and "hare hair velour" is of crucial importance.


Whereas the first processing of the velour cone – the “Fachen” = the generation of the fabric, - the felting, the dry solidification, - the launching and milling, i. e. the wet felting of the “Labratz” as the cone is called now, basically is the same as with rabbit hair, the subsequent production steps differ significantly from each other. With hare hair, the final effect is prepared very early, i.e. during the first stages of the raw fabrication. It should again be emphasized that this long-established procedure for the production of good velour h a s to be followed, and furthermore that one can only count on satisfactory results with hare hair. A replacement for the old, laborious and expensive technique of the production of gloss by chemical means or by reinforcing the fiber has not yet been found; the means that are known cannot even roughly achieve the effect the old method can achieve.






The Machining


Thus, while the smooth or rough hair hat, apart from one or two unimportant manipulations in the raw fabrication, does not undergo any process of machining of the surface, hare hair velour is provided quite early with a hair cover which is polished (i.e. brushed), dulled (scratched) and kept uniform (clipped) in constant change. The cone is of course very loose when it is brushed early. If you brush at that moment with suitable, rather short, consequently hard bristle-brushes in energetic rotatory movements clockwise and counter-clockwise the surface will get a cover of floccus (or fluff) that is getting denser and denser. Hand brushing is done at big, polygonal tables* the surfaces of which are inclined, ending in a vat of boiling water. The head, the sides or the edge of the cones are dipped into this brushing liquor to which acids or other chemicals are added before the continuous “tours” of the brush because, as experience teaches, goods brushed very wet and hot show the most beautiful effect. High water temperature, which is associated with heavy steam development and the monotonous work in a stooping posture make the work of the Velour Brusher to a special effort. The process when brushing is not entirely clear. The most plausible theory is that it is a polish by the bristles of the brush; it (the polish) is particularly intensive as the bristle penetrates the hair cover better and thus polishes the hair on all sides in the grasping movement. Thereby, the fiber reflects the light much stronger, thus looking shinier. Anyway, the brushing increases the gloss in a way that cannot be achieved with hare hair of best quality treated with means otherwise suitable for the creation of gloss. So we state here that hare hair alone is not enough. Unbrushed hare hair does not only lack the sturdy cover which can probably be attributed to the fact that the nap, after being clipped (shorn) shorter and shorter is stretched by the brushing thus losing its natural curliness, the brushing with hot water also takes, as a plausible theory says, the barbs out of the hair which would cause felting when worn. It is certain that non-brushed hare hair velour shows shortcomings when worn that otherwise are typical for rabbit hair velour.


*Rare photo of Mayser's Velour Manual Wet Brushing (1925)







The production now continues in such a way that the pile (or nap, tuft) generated by brushing is reinforced by scratching. Brushing alone is by far not enough; mostly the velour gets “tight” only after repeated scratching. The tighter (or denser) the cover , the better is the gloss, the more beautifully the floccus (or fluff) stands and appears as “sparse” (or thin, scanty) hair allows the eye to see to the bottom. The bottom of single piece colored goods – single piece coloring is the rule today so that advantages and drawbacks of Labratz coloring shall not be treated here -mostly is slightly lighter than the hair of the cover. This creates an increased unsightly impression of a defective hair surface. It is clear that the scratching affects the goods, thus harming the felt core of too bad or too light qualities. Those “scratched up” spots become noticeable in the hue as darker, sometimes pronounced yellow-green stains and this already with minor harms; when affected more severely the result are thin spots in the felt which only yield linty (or fuzzy, nappy) hair. They particularly show up where the felt has to be lighter and thus is more extended, i.e. in the top plate part and the transition to the neck. It is also clear that the scratched out hair cannot have any gloss. So one scratches, clips (shears?) the tips and then brushes again, two or three times alternately in order to get out what is still possible. Clipping between the brushing processes is essential as the scratching tears out long, curled hair; it would be pointless to brush this as the long tips cover the shaft (or stem?) of the hair which make the upright floccus (or fluff). (The unclipped (unshorn) velour hair is called “Flamand”, in this case the hair is long, undulated, soft and glossy as it reflects a lot of light. When the tips are clipped off and the hair is ironed all around or from top to bottom one talks about “Soleil”. Most difficult is the production of upright “open” velour because in this case a particular tightness (or density?) and sturdiness of the hair is necessary and it is significantly harder to produce the same amount of gloss as where an entire, smooth surface displays.)


Scratching, a less complicated work step, is partly handwork, partly machine work. The problem of the construction of machines is less difficult as with brushing, which has already seen and rejected many models. Mechanical clipping (or shearing) has been resolved completely satisfactory. Clipping is done with a quickly rotating, horizontal sharing cylinder to which the cones that are scratched cover, mounted tightly on a metal cone, are brought close to.






The “Shearing” - . i.e. the distance between cone and blade, which then influences the length of the hair - is adjustable. It is clear that with every treatment, especially when the felt is extended i. e. loses some of its binding, young hair, new fluff hair, emerges. Thus one shears again conically after dyeing or shaping on head trimming machines or after finishing with manual clippers with electric drive as they are now used also by hairdressers


Mistakes which are due to shearing are almost only noticed by the expert. Cones are “mis-shorn”, i.e. shorn too short mostly on one side on the head part or on the edge. The defect is due to fact that the thickness of the individual cones and its relationship between head part and edge varies, whereas the machine remains fixed. So if a head part is unusually thick it gets too closely to the blade for 1 – 2 mm and is shaved almost bald. You re-scratch these spots and shear them again. As they are not brushed and the hair has to be taken out of the core they are noticed by the attentive eye. Defects which are more common – they are due to bad work with the scissors – are uneven shearing or streaks that were shorn in. (Uneven shearing must not be confused with a fuzzy/nappy cover. Uneven shearing means small differences in the length of the hair, linty fuzzy/nappy hair a complete change of the effect of shearing.) The furry, long-haired spots one sometimes finds on the extreme edge especially of clamped hats are also due to carelessness; here the screws of the shearing cone held the cone when being shorn so that these small rectangles aren’t shorn at all once or several times.


The Finishing


The trimming of the velour which is always preceded by careful extension / pulling – the cover must always keep its grain so that there are as few worn spots as possible – requires special care. In former times velour wasn’t stiffened with shellac but with tragacanth* or similar means to keep the hat quite soft. One seems to have refrained from this practice in general as shellac is more wearable, on the other hand it makes (the hats) brittle. The use of wooden models which leave the velour much softer than metal is no longer unwritten law. Because of the general deterioration of quality the work of the finisher whose task is to finish the cover off evenly, to make the finished felt smooth yet soft, hasn’t become easier.


*A white or reddish plant gum used in the food, textile, and pharmaceutical industries.






The most essential thing is working through the pile (tuft/nap), which is moistened and brushed with soft finishing scratching-cats or brushes with the grain to get the hairs into one direction, ironed for gloss and finally erected by hand by touring* or, even better, by circular brushing. There mustn’t remain any clusters, the pile (nap/tuft) must be worked through completely. New hair mustn’t be torn out either, the shape mustn’t suffer and the stiffening of the rim must be regulated. One helps oneself as well as possible by ironing, touring*, brushing beating and polishing in order not only to conserve the goods but to improve them. The known chemical means are, however, only useful for a temporary deception. Only a well prepared cone, i.e. densely milled, well brushed, neatly shorn quality can be finished well.


What about the Fulling (of which, as we know, the wearabilty of the hats depends in general? Does not what we have said about the raw material and the strongly affecting finishing speak against the probability that velour can be worn properly? Here we can state: on the one hand the necessary high weight of the velour is a certain guarantee for sufficient performance of the felt in the completed condition. Furthermore a milling process begins after every scratching, when brushing or in a separate working process which tightens the loosened fabric over and over again. In former times this went to such lengths that one tightened the cones to their size almost exclusively during brushing by exerting special pressure when operating the brush. But the machine roller of today sufficiently guarantees dense felt provided the material is suitable and the working method good. The strength of the felt sometimes expends to such a measure, particularly because of the nature of the work, that the cones are like leather and can make difficulties when drawn on the templates/models. In former times there was an additional factor: velour was categorically not dyed through; the core was not to be “burnt”, so it was not affected by boiling. The stain of chromium dyeing or the formation of varnish in wood dyeing contributed to making the felt tough. When such a hat then was nailed up (for the stretched-in Clamp) twice which was only possible on wooden models/templates it resisted all influences for years on end. Today dyeing through is essential because of the trimmed edges; varnish has long been replaced by acid dyes. Yet the Fulling can and has to be as dense as possible as the formation of fuzzy/nappy hair cannot be avoided when finishing the product.


*The hat is put on a block an then rotated so that the brushes can be applied to it.








Since hare hair is pretty sturdy, it breaks more easily than rabbit hair, particularly at the center of the head part, which is bent repeatedly during brushing and milling. There also velour made from the best materials often have a break, a "notch". A brushing and milling defect which is due to inferior qualities on the other hand is breakage, breaks in different places due to lacking felting abilities i.e. lacking elasticity.


Quality Differences in Hare Hair


The most precious hair stems from the back. Depending on its dimension it is classified into Blumenrück / Flowers Back(very rare) , Kronenrück / Crowns Back(rare), Schwarzrück / Black Back or Reinrück / Purely Back . If we leave white and blue sides or even the underside at the back, i. e. if we process the whole fur, significant differences in quality will be the result. The qualities also depend on the countries of origin. Saxony e.g. can boast good hare, while the Nordic and Russian white hare cannot be used. This is surprising, because the effects of temperature, i.e. the coldness of each winter play an important role in the natural selection of the animals and the quality of the hides. The season is so important that a particularly poor quality is called “summer back” (the fur of the back of a hare killed in the summer). Only the final product allows the best assessment; especially the gloss is an excellent feature for the quality of the raw material. Thus the term "hare hair" alone doesn’t mean anything; hair from the tail of the hare e.g. is the most inferior quality you can think of, and yet the untrimmed hare stomach is only about one-third of the value of a normal Schwarzrück / Black Back. So only a velour hat which has a certain quality level can be called well wearable, notwithstanding that an inferior brushed velour must be more expensive than a clean or smooth hair hat.


When can a Velour Hat be Called "Real"?


This brings us back to our starting point. We have determined what is required from the hare hair hat; further that you can expect all that just from brushed hare hair hat. Thus a velour hat is "real” when the preconditions are made for it so that the desired velvet effect is really permanent.


At the present state of the art only such kinds of hare hair can meet the commercial requirements, which can withstand the necessary hot water brushing process without a damage of the structure of the felt. A hare hair hat that is made from the most inferior hare hair and has barely been brushed has not to be considered as real velour. Good hare hair quality that only aims at gloss, and thus does not meet the requirements of a well wearable cover, can likewise not be called real velour, because the gloss of real velour, which has, by the way, a “life” typical only for velour, is at the same time the guarantee for the mechanical finishing of the fiber which eliminates the tendency to felting.






"Real(Echter) Velour", which cannot be said clearly enough, is just a collective term for the many quality grades that are possible within the designated frame, i.e. above the lowest permissible gradation.

There is no ultimate guarantee for quality in this term, but only for the use of a material and a working method that differs significantly from all the other attempts to generate the same effect. Only the term "Prima (Prime) Velour" which includes the concept of "real" velour, because otherwise crafted goods simply cannot be "Prima", guarantees a certain level of quality. Hallmarks of good quality, which can be better demonstrated than edited, refer to the structure of the felt, i.e. its solidity, evenness, smoothness, softness, then to the kind of finishing in particular, namely the dense, short and evenly shorn cover made of burly high-gloss hair while maintaining full color purity. It is essential that these effects do not suffer when worn. It is, on the contrary, a common experience that real velour undergoes strikingly positive changes under the influence of humidity. The long pile/tuft/nap (not close cropped) which one often sees today is an obvious defect, which is due to unsatisfactory prices. A long cover is shinier and is more opaque than a short one made of the same material (which would be neither shiny nor opaque). But this hair is soft and will soon look like a poodle’s coat and become unsightly. "Prima (Prime)" velour must also be at a certain level what concerns its ingredients. This and other general requirements – such as the fact that the dyeing (dye penetration?) must be flawless so that also black can’t bleed or the like – does no longer belong to our special theme of "silk velour". A more imaginative name for the effect good merchandise can well create does not exist; this term is misleading and should disappear. The frequent "hair velour", too is just an auxiliary term, which in truth distinguishes an imitated effect – scratched velour on hair – from the wool hat with a cover similar to velour and which shall leave the public in the mistaken idea that it was about real velour. Thus scratched velour is everything that is produced out of rabbit hair, rabbit hair/hare hair blend or hare hair just by scratching and shearing without, however, hot water brushing. Such goods have been on the German market only for a short while.






It is recognizable by the tendency of the cover to be dull and to curl, a certain overly firm grip of the felt core and - an outward feature which is not always, but almost always there - by the restriction of the color scale on dark and medium tones. Hare hair, which is used for the fabrication of the "Real(Echter)" velour, is light beige colored, which allows light shades without making the hat more expensive. Tame rabbit which shall produce cheap velour has a grey and dull hue; pastel colors require lighter material which is considerably more expensive, thus they require mark-ups. Hare hair without hot water brushing (which after all increases the price), is rarely used, these goods would come much too close to real Velour. The entire industry has been producing such qualities in all possible combinations for the English market for many years.In everybody’s interest we should, however, try to preserve the clear distinction between "Real(Echter)", brushed, and imitated (scratched) velour.


Sometimes the qualities that can be seen in real velour are magnificent. Only those who know the details of the fabrication can appreciate the extraordinary effort hidden in this most noble part of the art of hat making. And when we consider that we owe almost anything, the idea, the working principle and many details of the operation, to anonymous individuals of times bygone the demarcation towards all cheap - in the double sense of the word - imitations also seems to be an act of loyalty to the Masters. "Don’t insult the masters!" - this saying goes with the chapter on velour, about the “Real(Echter)” when they are “Prime(Prima)"



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