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I am going to be making a cowboy hat for my niece out of cotton yarn. The pattern I am using is a simple working in rounds i.e. making a bowl shape. The "cowboy" comes from using starch to make the brim and shape the top. It also seems a bunch of the patterns I run into use this same mentality. Rely on starch for shape.

I actually have no real need to own starch so I wonder if there are other options for helping the hat hold its shape reliably over time besides starch. Or is that the only realistic option?

Below is what the hat looks like once the pattern is done and the completed work. From the designer

Tip: To help retain the shape, it’s a good idea to starch the hat.

Cowboy hat flat and formed

Image adapted from projectarian.com

  • To clarify, are you asking about clothing projects in general, or just hats? – walrus Sep 13 '18 at 14:19
  • @walrus Added minor detail to title. I am specifically asking about this hat. If the question is too broad other wise I will add that specifically to the title. – Matt Sep 13 '18 at 14:27
  • OK, if you're just asking about the hat then yes, please specify a bit more. A picture would also probably come in handy (millinery isn't my specialty, so I'm not sure what else is useful/necessary for a good answer). – walrus Sep 13 '18 at 14:32
  • @walrus. updated more. I had to google millinery... those are some weird hats. – Matt Sep 13 '18 at 14:40
  • That looks good to me - I don't have an answer for you, but I expect someone who knows what they're doing will. – walrus Sep 13 '18 at 14:44
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My experience with starching is neither extensive nor with crochet items, but in the hopes that it will be helpful:

I would try dilute white glue (school glue/Elmer's/PVA glue). I stiffened acrylic felt with it, and the felt remained flexible, but was definitely better able to keep its shape.

Unfortunately, I don't have a specific dilution to recommend. I found a blog post about crochet snowflakes which says a 50-50 glue-water mixture will make crochet rock hard, so stay well below that. When I did the felt, I used just enough glue to make the water opaque - it was not a true white, just couldn't be seen through. That wasn't enough! I was able to do a second round of stiffening, though, so it's a forgiving method.

If I were doing this I would use enough glue to make the water true white, soak the hat in it (folded like in the last instructional photo of the pattern), and press out the excess. You could use towels if you immediately rinse them out afterward.

I'd want it dry enough to shape and stand it immediately like it is in the finished photo, with plastic wrap under it. A couple of times while it's drying I'd rub my fingers on the parts that are in contact with the plastic wrap - my felt showed some shiny spots on the side that was touching the plastic. Not having a drenched piece will help with that, but I'd want to remove or work in any potential glue on the surface as well.

Some side notes to close: If you're finding a lot of interesting patterns that need starching, buying a commercial stiffening product might be worthwhile - they're designed to be easier! People also use Epsom salts (supposed to make the pieces a little sparkly), sugar (similar to Epsom salts, but I wouldn't use this because it seems like a bug magnet), and hairspray (easy for a gentle hold, if you don't mind the risk of a lingering smell).

And just to say again - this is untested, but it's how I would approach it!

  • I have used this method for several smaller scale knitted and knotted items and seen it used on many more. Usual for a hard but not solid shape is 1 glue in 10 of water, but your results may vary depending on the materials you have used. (You can do a test piece if you made a size swatch.) – Willeke Sep 23 '18 at 17:29

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