Gene Baldwin makes premium custom hats in Sisters. photo by Joseph Duerrmeyer
Gene Baldwin makes premium custom hats in Sisters. photo by Joseph Duerrmeyer
Looking for that perfect hat can be a challenge, even if you have a head shape that conforms to the ideal of Stetson or one of the other mainstream manufacturers.

A custom hat could be your solution. Fortunately, there is a custom hat maker in Sisters. Gene Baldwin on Fadjur Lane is one of only 35 or so custom hat makers in the USA. From Baldwin, you can get that perfect hat you have always wanted for a price that will surprise you.

From cowboy hats to dress hats, the choices are yours. Debra Baldwin teams up with her husband and does all of the sewing for the hats, sweat bands, liners, trim and everything else that needs to be done that requires a sewing machine.

Much of the hat-making equipment that Baldwin uses was manufactured in the 1800s. He has located the equipment from such sources as eBay, garage sales and specialty manufacturers. One of the key challenges Baldwin has faced is to bring the equipment up to modern, usable standards. For example, one of his presses was steam powered and he had to convert it to electricity. Some equipment he has had to have handcrafted, using only old drawings and photos as a guide.

Baldwin's hats are made from fur felt. They are available in 100 percent hare, 50-50 hare and beaver or 100 percent beaver felt. The hats are guaranteed for their quality and fur content, unlike most premium manufactured hats which dropped their fur content guarantees years ago.

Beaver felt is highly resistant to moisture; for the person who spends considerable time in the snow or rain, it is by far the best choice.

"In early times the beaver furs that were worn by the Indians were sold for premium prices, as the guard hairs were worn away and the fur had not only the oil from the beaver but human oils as well. Those pelts made real premium hats and brought the highest prices," Baldwin said.

Hatters ran out of beaver in Europe, and they could not get enough of the beaver pelts from the New World to satisfy the needs, almost destroying the beaver population of the New World to satisfy the demand.

The process of ordering a hat is completely painless other than the decision making; having complete freedom as to style, color and quality can be overwhelming the first time all the options are presented. The first step is deciding the quality of the fur felt to be used; each has its advantage which Baldwin is quick to explain. Then, the color is decided and nearly anything is possible, including camouflage.

Next is the process of measuring, where the head is measured not only for size but also for shape. Baldwin makes a conformer which is patterned to your exact head shape and size. The hat is built around this conformer, so the fit is guaranteed.

Last comes setting your style. You can have an oversized brim, which is not an option at any price from the mainstream manufacturers. Would you like a Gus crown, cattleman, pronghorn or telescope? Perhaps even a Gus with a mule kick in the back. The choices are bewildering to the custom hat greenhorn.

When the hat is delivered, there is no breaking in process, no tweaking to make it right. The hat just fits like it grew there.

The hat will become an extension of your personality. Baldwin also has a large selection of custom hat bands with Indian bead work, porcupine quills and horsehair.

For more information call 548-5476.