Idaho leather braider makes hat bands for cowboys - East Idaho News

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The following is a segment from a series showcasing artisans and other makers in Idaho. It is produced by Idaho Public Television. Leather Machine Company Cobra Class 3

Idaho leather braider makes hat bands for cowboys - East Idaho News

DONNELLY – To watch Mike “Hooey” Storch braid leather is to watch someone who has found his calling.

For hours on end, Storch painstakingly cuts, bevels and knots narrow strips of leather, working in tiny fractions of an inch. Pairs of reading glasses with additional magnification cluster on tables throughout his cabin. Rolls of leather crowd a spare room.

“It’s just something inside,” he says of the feeling he gets when he braids. “It makes you feel at peace with yourself.”

Storch, who lives in Donnelly, started tying knots and braiding the way many people do, by learning macramé as a hobby. But his skillset quickly progressed when he worked on a tall ship and then on ranches, two jobs for which knowing how to tie knots is essential. When he started helping a rancher take hunters on pack trips, they noticed him braiding and wondered if they could buy his work.

“They’d come to me and say, ‘Here’s an elk tooth, an elk ivory. Here’s a bear claw. Can you do something with that?’” says Storch.

Over time, Storch, who was nicknamed “Hooey” by a friend, began specializing in braiding bands for cowboy hats. Ad hoc commissions eventually turned into a full-fledged small business, with Storch now selling his work to high-end hat companies.

“I can’t keep up with the demand during the busy season,” he says.

Idaho PTV first learned about Hooey in February 2023 after getting an email from rancher Linda Bequette. We visited Mr. Storch in April, when snow was still piled high on the road to the cabin where he is a caretaker.

Over more than four hours, Hooey took us through the detailed process of making one hat band, focusing on the complex braided “pineapple knot” that has become his signature.

“If it doesn’t have a pineapple, I didn’t do it,” he told us.

Hooey’s “bible” is the classic The Ashley Book of Knots, first published in 1944. Wherever he’s moved, a well-worn copy has travelled with him. A perfectionist, my sense is that he lives by one of the book’s adages: “A knot is never ‘nearly right’; it is either exactly right or it is hopelessly wrong…”

“You go in any store now, everything you buy was made by a machine,” Storch says. “Everything is mass-produced and disposable. When you buy something of mine, it’s made to last. It’s made the traditional way and it’s made with care.”

Idaho leather braider makes hat bands for cowboys - East Idaho News

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