The table was covered with colorful felt rectangles and triangles. The children and their mothers picked out an assortment of fabrics in shades of blue, pink, red, purple, grey, green, and yellow.
A woman sat at a nearby table, her foot pressing on the pedal of a sewing machine as she feeds in pieces of fabric to be joined. After a few minutes, the pieces of felt were turned into warm hats for the children to wear once the weather turns chilly.
This was the first year Nancy Daly, organizer of The Hat Ladies, was at Marshall Early Learning Center, to make hats for local Head Start children. Local Head Start coordinator Lacy Thomas was excited to have Daly come to the village on Oct. 2.
“I called super early to set up a time for Nancy to come in,” Thomas said.
In previous years, Marshall children enrolled in Head Start were the recipients of the handmade felt hats, but The Hat Ladies sewed hats for the Marshall children while sewing on-site in Sun Prairie.
“This way they get to pick out their own fabrics and get to be part sewing the hats,” Thomas said. “It’s a fun experience for them and also gets them interacting.”
The village’s Head Start program is home-based and some of the families Thomas works with do not know one another.
“This gives the moms a chance to socialize because moms don’t always have the time for that,” she said.
In less than two hours, Daly would complete 16 hats perfect for keeping children warm once temperatures decrease. This is just a small fraction of the 7,500 felt accessories created by The Hat Ladies per year. The organization, which has female and male members, has about 45 people signed up to sew the hats this season (running from the third week of September through the second week of December) and four people are dedicated to cutting out the felt pieces. Daly said the most hats sewn in one day was 750.
Creating hats for all Head Start children in Dane County began in 2002, but Daly had been making the hats since 1997 when she would sew them for her children, their classmates and members of their sports teams. She knew there was a way to help people beyond those she was creating hats for.
It was the fall of 2002 when Daly decided to make felt hats for every Head Start program in Dane County. The group then added six Madison elementary schools and other organizations such as Salvation Army shelters, Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS), after-school programs and community centers.
For smaller groups, like the Marshall Head Start, Daly is able to go herself and make the hats under the guidance of the children. In larger settings, multiple members of The Hat Ladies assist. At other times, all of the hats are made off-site. She said in some instances, the organization is given specific colors for the hats, other times the only information provided is the number of hats needed.
While the children patiently played in the ELC classroom waiting for their turn to sit next to Daly as she sewed their hat, Thomas spoke to the mothers about an upcoming child safety seat program and if they wanted their children to be signed up for a well child clinic visit. This is Thomas’ sixth year coordinating the Marshall Head Start program and The Hat Ladies is just one of the programs she wants to bring to the village.
“Usually, resources are given to Madison and some of our local folks don’t want to drive downtown Madison,” she said. “I want to bring more of those programs out here for all our community members to experience.”