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The secrets of felt and the Borsalino Masters

Hat enthusiasts say of Giuseppe Borsalino: "His were the most skilled hatter's hands ever seen."


The uniqueness of the Borsalino product lies in its production process: made of fine fur felt (rabbit or hare) it passes through around fifty production phases and it takes an average of seven weeks' work to finish every hat. This long-established process has been passed down from generation to generation and its secret lies in the rigorous sequence of stages alternated with machines and hand-working stages which determine the quality and control of the finished product.

With the exception of the "preparation" of the fur which long ago used to take place in the internal "cutting" department, today the hats undergo two processing phases: the "white work" (that is, the preparation of the blanks) for creating the felt shape and the "black work" for finishing and dressing the hat.

The "White" and "Black" processes

"White work", that is work on the "blanks", starts with blowing air through the fur, mixing and blowing again in a special blower then on to the basting machine which draws up the hairs as they fall and, using warm water, interlocks them around a cone giving life to a first felt "cloche" or hood. This first hood is then checked by hand for any defects and then sized through the processes of steeping and fulling. After drying, the hoods are assembled and divided by quality and colour then finished with lac; they are then dyed and proceed to the first blocking stage: Setting the hoods in the aluminium shapers gives the hats their almost final shape. The "black work" determines the quality and end characteristics of the hats, either by the surface treatment of the felt starting with the pumicing (the first smoothing) using special machines and emery papers, and the second blocking which gives the hoods their finished shape before moving on to the finishing operations: the addition of the trims (sewing the lining, morocco-leather bands, ribbons), pressing, and the careful inspection, always by hand, of every piece. Now, the hat is ready to be packed and shipped to various international markets.

The production processes leading to the creation of a felt hat

Blowing: This is the start of the production of the real Borsalino which defines the quality of the melange and consequently that of the future hat. The hats are made from different qualities of fur: rabbit or hare. The fur is mixed and blown in a special machine called, appropriately, a blower.

Basting: The second stage is the basting using "basting" machines. Using a suction process, the falling hairs attach to the cone which rotates inside a bell and set by a jet of hot water.

Pre-fulling: Once the felt hood is formed, a first strengthening is carried out using the "gheise" and "rollettine", that is, the "steam rollers". These mechanical movements of these machines allow the fibres to adhere more effectively to each other and results in a more compact felt.

Inspection: In this phase, each hood is carefully checked for any fault. Those that do not meet the strict quality criteria are discarded and not re-used.

Steeping: This is the first treatment to reduce the size of the hood by steeping.

Fulling: The hoods are reduced further and reach the desired size after passing through three different machines. (For particularly heavy felts, a special machine called a hammer fuller is used which combines all the fulling stages in one single operation).

Hood Assembly: After drying, the felts are moved to the "Blanks Store" where they are assembled and divided by quality and colour.

Dying: The felts are now dyed in machines at atmospheric pressure and at boiling temperature for between 90 and 240 minutes depending on the weight of the felts.

Shrinking – Stiffening – First Blocking: After dyeing, the felts enter another phase to reduce their sizes further using a process similar to that of steeping. The sizing stage follows using a natural substance (lac) and the so-called first blocking.

Scotti Blocking: Here the felt is given its shape and measure required using aluminium moulds positioned in a steam and compressed air machine.

Pumicing – Second Blocking: These stages gives the hat the superior quality which distinguishes a Borsalino from other hats. During the pumicing stage, the surface of the felt is worked by special machines using special emery papers (in some cases even shark skin is used). In the second shaping, the hood is given its final shape.

Inspection: Here the felt is submitted to a further careful check for any faults which may have gone unnoticed earlier.

Flanging: The flanging prepares the felt, using a special machine, to take on the final shape of the inside rim.

Finishing: This is the final phase which includes the last stages: trimming, sewing the lining, hat band and the grosgrain, application of any other accessories requested by the client, pressing, further checking, final inspection, packaging and dispatching.

This whole production cycle takes around seven weeks.

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