Susan Jordan steps into her tiny Carbondale studio on a cool late-autumn morning. Wooden hat blocks line its walls, and a hefty sewing machine sits ready to stitch near the door. Measuring equipment and all manner of hand tools lay sunlit by windows on the counter. Spools of rich velvet ribbon and leather cord are stacked like little luxuries in a corner, and rows of felt hat bodies—made with fine genuine beaver, rabbit, and nutria fur—impart a faint sweetness in the air. Here, in her shop, Jordan makes real what is arguably the greatest symbol of Western mystique: the wide-brimmed hat.
“A hat, or more specifically a Western hat, conjures up feelings of connection to a place: open spaces, the wild, and to our past and present,” she says. “Those of us who live in Colorado now, we’re not all out driving cattle and riding horses like in the movies. But to have a good hat, that’s real and handmade by a real person, can give you a small piece of that ‘dream’ of the West.”
On this particular day, Jordan herself is sporting a handsome specimen of her own handiwork as she moves about the studio. The wide, dove gray dress-weight fedora sitting atop her silver curls is trimmed with a band of raw silk ribbons. Her creation is a work of wearable art, and you’d never guess it was only a few years ago that Jordan signed up to take her very first hatmaking class.
“It was August 2019, when my interest really started developing,” Jordan recalls. “I started seeing hats on social media, and discovered several female hatters who were inspiring. I dove into learning very fast; the whole process of hatmaking intrigued me.”
Finding someone to teach her was no easy feat, however.
“It’s interesting because there is a lot of secrecy in this business. People don’t always want to share their techniques or where they source their materials,” she says. “It’s a very old craft, taught from person to person.”
Jordan did end up finding and completing a few multi-day workshops. After that, she was hooked. Soon she was experimenting on her own and making hats for friends at cost. She officially launched her business, Mariposa Hats. And suddenly she had her hands full.
Hands: two necessary tools for making a proper hat. And, for Jordan, a very important part of her entire professional life.
“Just as I started up Mariposa Hats, I was winding down my previous career as a massage therapist,” she says. “I love working with my hands and also working with people. Hatmaking allows me to continue in the same manner, working with my hands, from blocking the hats to sanding, sewing, and shaping the hat.”
Watching Jordan’s fingers work with delicate dexterity as she forms new creases into the steamed crown of some lucky customer’s hat, it is clear that this transition was a natural one. And those customers are quite pleased with the results.
“I love serving my community, nothing makes me happier than making a hat for a local,” she says. “I love seeing the excitement in their eyes as we talk about the whole process: choosing the color, the weight, and style. I think we all have stories and connections to the West; a hat symbolizes this. It allows us to be a part of that history.”
Every one of Jordan’s hats are custom fit and custom designed in an age-old collaboration between maker and wearer. Her creations are durable, heirloom-quality pieces intended to stay with their people for years—the very antithesis of everything we’re accustomed to in our modern fast fashion-saturated wardrobes.
And here is where the hatter finds her greatest satisfaction: bringing someone together with a belonging of true character, one worthy of its fabled stature in Western mythology.
“I think we’re in the midst of a shift, where people are wanting to invest in things that last, and to support artists by purchasing something made to last,” Jordan reveals. “That’s been a wonderful thing to be a part of.”
In 2022, the hatter is looking forward to expanding her small business, offering hat parties, and introducing a brand-new website at MariposaHats.com. You can also find her on Instagram at @MariposaHats.