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'Mad hatters' cap wardrobes with color, warmth

The Hat Hautees are, from left, Karen Valentine, Amanda Goplin and Kathryn Cyr. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

You might say that three Bemidji elementary teachers have gone mad as hatters in their retirement.

Longtime friends and curling team members Amanda Goplin, Karen Valentine and Kathryn Cyr found retirement lacked creativity so they went back to the classroom.

Avid knitters, the three women went to Brainerd to take a class in the newest knitting craze - felting.

They'd seen felted mittens in the northland and hatched a simple plan.

Up north you need warm hand gear.

Felting is a process using natural yarns such as wool, mohair and alpaca. You essentially knit a huge object, then shrink it down in the washing machine.

The finished project doesn't show knitting stitches, is soft and can be molded into various shapes.

Mitten class over, the teachers with a combined 90-odd years of classroom experience went back to another seminar to learn how to make felted flowers.

Hats came next when they envisioned their flowers on chic but warm headgear for women who didn't want to look like Sheriff Marge from the movie "Fargo."

A business was born. The sassy, saucy "Hat Hautees" hatched a master plan.

Felting has taken the knitting world by storm with hats, sweaters, purses and accessories all made of shrunken wool.

It can be a tricky art, figuring out how much an object will shrink, the women say. Thus one hat may shrink more than another depending on the material.

In their fourth year, the three are confident they've mastered the art form, but they advise customers to try on several hats before buying.

One size doesn't fit all.

Each hat takes six to eight hours to knit," explained Goplin.

'Then we put them through hot and cold water washes two to four times."

Another six to eight hours are spent decorating them.

Each hat is given a woman's name because the knitters spend so much time with them, they say., Each has developed a personality of its own.

(The hats, but it could also be said of the hatters.)

"We like our girls to go to good homes," the knitters maintain, sounding like teachers looking after their schoolkids.

The hats come in four basic brim styles, a cloche, a flat brim, a basic brim for a fedora look and a longer model that can be turned up. Each costs $80.

The women are gearing up for a fall season of art and craft shows, the sales outlet they prefer. They appeared at the Forestedge Winery's annual juried show last month. They don't have a website yet but can be reached via e-mail at

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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