Brenda Quinones, textile artist, has been making custom hats for about four years out of her home in Calhan, where she also raises alpacas and makes products from alpaca fleece.
After reading an article about Tom Hirt, a master hatter, she wanted to learn how to make hats. She took her first class from Hirt in 2020, and has continued learning from him ever since. Hirt has been making hats for 43 years and has made them for movies such as “Conagher” and “Tombstone” and well-known customers, including Sam Elliot, Burt Reynolds, Ronald Reagan and Sharon Stone.
At first, Quinones said she started cleaning and restoring hats when she found her dad’s Stetson hat crumpled up in the back of an alpaca trailer. “I pulled it out, took it apart, washed it and reshaped it to my size, and now I wear it in his memory,” she said. “That’s what got me started and then all of a sudden everybody showed up with a hat. Friends would text me and ask if I could clean their hat.”
Quinones said the process of cleaning and reshaping is simple, but it takes two to three days. “Total restorations involve replacing the hat liner and sweat band, and then re-blocking and reshaping the hat,” she said. “A good quality hat made of 100% beaver felt can stick around for 20 to 30 years if you take good care of it,” Quinones said.
She starts with a raw hat body made from 100% beaver fur felt or beaver-rabbit fur blends. She purchases the raw hat bodies from suppliers in the U.S. and also imports from Ukraine, Portugal and South America. She custom forms each hat body to the buyer’s head size and shape after an in-person fitting. The process to steam, shape and hand sew a liner and sweat band takes about a week. She then meets with the customer to ensure a good fit and shapes it as they request.
Quinones can make a variety of hat styles, including western designs to fedoras. “I’ve been getting some requests for the pork pie hats, which is the one that Walter White wore in ‘Breaking Bad,’” she said.
As Quinones’ hat-making skills grew, so did her new business. She launched St. Clement Custom Hats & Luxury Clothing in September of this year after having made and sold over 300 hats since attending her first class in 2020. “Hats have taken on a life of their own. I have known different people for 25 years, and we never discussed hats. Now it is a whole new world of conversation. It’s amazing the demand for hats,” she said.
Prior to making hats, Quinones had been making products from alpaca fleece such as scarves, shawls, blankets and towels — and continues to do so. Weaving is a family affair. Her adult children are artists who help with the business. “My children, husband and mom are absolutely supportive. I couldn’t have gone this far without their support.”
Quinones moved to Colorado 30 years ago from San Antonio, Texas. She and her husband have lived in Colorado Springs, Palmer Lake; and, since 2016, on a ranch in Calhan. They have three children, one grandchild and 31 alpacas.