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Brimming With Creativity

Joey Newell
Portrait by Christopher Smith
Portrait by Christopher Smith

Joey Newell’s handmade hats are really taking off

Frustrated that he could never find a hat that fit properly, Joey Newell decided to take matters into this own hands — literally. He apprenticed at local hatmaker D Bar J and, before long, the professional photographer was making hats for himself. Today, he’s an expert who uses vintage methods from the days of the Wild West to create custom, handmade hats for a growing roster of clients.

It’s a complex process. After the customer selects from among 40 styles and 31 colors, Newell blasts rabbit or beaver felt with steam, and pulls the material over one of 12 different head blocks. Then he irons and presses the brim, sands the felt, and sprays it with an alcohol solution to solidify the design.

The final step is dramatic: He sets the hat on fire for a distressed look. To finish, he sews in the sweatband and lining, which is often a client’s vintage T-shirt or a fabric swatch of their choice. The band is usually velvet or grosgrain sourced from France, but clients frequently give Newell items like a relative’s tie or necklace to personalize the hat. The result: a truly one-of-a-kind lid. Check out more of his work at

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