Only 30 minute drive from central Hanoi, Chuong village in Phuong Trung commune, Thanh Oai district, Hanoi is regarded as the oldest conical hat craft village in northern Vietnam with a long history of more than 500 years.
By the village’s ancient communal house, there is a special fair selling conical hats and materials for making them. Another special thing about it is that it is only held on certain days a month.
Making a conical hat is a delicate process. First, thin bamboo sticks need to be bent into hoops of different diameters to create the conical hat’s frame.
Unlike other Vietnamese conical hats with 20 bamboo hoops, Chuong village’s conical hat has only 16 hoops, giving them a light and flowing look.
As soon as the frame is completed, wrinkled ivory leaves will be ironed to have a new look, smoother and nicer.
According to Lê Văn Tuy, an artisan in Chuông village, when ironing the leave, makers have to make sure the temperature is not too hot but also not to cool.
Makers should not use polyester for ironing because it may burn, Tuy said, adding that they also have to keep their hands’ movements steady like this.
As conical hats have been close companions of Vietnamese farmers, crafting tools are also very familiar to farmers. Indeed, craftsmen often use ploughshares and a stuffed haversack made from leftover clothes to flatten the leaves.
Without modern equipment, conical hat makers rely on their experiences to make sure the leaves are not burned or raw.
After overlapping three layers of average leaves, spathes and the finest leaves on the top, the conical hat starts to have its familiar look. It only needs craftsmen to sew and make some final touches.
Humble yet sophisticated, a conical hat requires great efforts from craftsmen as even a skilled one can produce only two to three items per day.
Conical hats nowadays are not only used to protect bearers from the bad weather, but also perform as a tool to promote Vietnam’s image to international friends in films and on fashion runways. –VNA