Joži Košak Straw Hat Making

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Joži Košak comes from Ihan near Domžale. When she was a child, her mother used to plait straw and the children would help. She would take these plaits to the Univerzale straw hat factory that used to buy them from the locals, even though they had already started to import them because the supply of domestic plaits could not keep up with demand. At the age of 14 she started working in the factory herself, where the older workers taught her how to make straw hats. She stayed at Univerzale until 1998, and after 37 years of service she says that she could make a straw hat blindfolded.
When the factory went bankrupt in 2003 the Municipality of Domžale started to collect the heritage of straw making and set up a museum collection, because even before the inception of the Univerzale factory many craftsmen and plants in the vicinity of Domžale were in the business of straw hat making.

“It’s simple — you just have to know how to wear it. If it fits the head, a straw hat looks good on everyone.”

In 2012, the Franc Bernik Culture House Domžale in cooperation with the Municipality of Domžale opened the Straw Hat Museum Domžale, which is credited for having preserved several sewing machines, materials as well as tools and accessories necessary to make straw hats. Nowadays, Joži Košak passes on her knowledge of straw hat making to younger generations who come to the museum. She and Milka Breznik, who plaits straw, demonstrate the process involved in making a straw hat, and since 2015 Joži has been running straw hat sewing courses. It makes her very happy to see young people attending the classes, including those who have started to make straw hats professionally and are already developing their own products. One day, she hopes, they will continue to pass on the craft.
Straw hat making in the Domžale area was registered as intangible cultural heritage in 2015, and Joži Košak is one of the key actors in the project.

Joži Košak uses wheat straw plait for her straw hats. Plaits differ in width, number of straws and the plait pattern. Straw for plaiting must be long, but nowadays straw is shorter and too rough, so today braids are plaited only for demonstration purposes. Up until now the museum has had sufficient stocks of plaits from the past, but these are running low and will soon have to be sourced from abroad. One of the main problems of straw hat making is a lack of quality plaits. Another pressing problem is the old sewing machines and the lack of spare parts to fix them.
Joži soaks the plaits for a day or two until they are moist enough to be ironed. When sewing she places the braids one on top of the other. She keeps a hat mould at the side of the sewing machine so as to be able to measure the size as she goes. Once the hat is sewn it has to be pressed — the museum keeps old presses as well. Factory workers used to make them in stages, but in the museum Joži makes the entire straw hat herself. She custom tailors every hat to the user’s head and any preferences the user may have related to shape and similar. She sews it in ten minutes, attaches a sweatband and hand sews the ribbon.

Joži Košak makes different styles of hats, but the traditional Domžale Girardi hat with a stiff round brim and flat crown is still her favourite. She sews most of the hats at the museum, but keeps a sewing machine at home as well, for those times when she has to complete a large order.