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Jytte-It’s Hard to Top Her Hats
Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Jytte Mau’s motto is “Live Your Passion.” And you can see that passion spelled out on hundreds of beanies she’s designed over the past 40 years.

There’s a Wave Man hat for surfers. There are hats boasting puppy paws and a cat doing a downward dog yoga pose for pet lovers. And there’s a beanie boasting a petroglyph-like figure of a cross country skier for Nordic skiers.

Countless others have memorialized their passions onto Jytte hats with everything from  a cowboy riding a bucking bronco to a helicopter ferrying backcountry skiers.

Jytte’s beanies have been featured on the cover of countless ski magazines. Even the late John F. Kennedy Jr. was photographed wearing a Jytte hat while sailing.

And Jytte (you-tay) creates all of this head-topping fun in a 5,000-square-foot knitting mill in the Hailey Airport Industrial Park, where she will hold an open house featuring Sawtooth Brewery brews on Saturday.

"Jytte will introduce her latest design at Thursday’s Turkey Trot fun run in Hailey. The plan is to offer Jytte hats at future Turkey Trots, as well," said Jeff Bacon, director of the Chamber of the Wood River Valley.

“Jeff wanted something that would make people do a double take. We have turkey feet, turkey bones. We’re pretty excited about it,” said Jytte.

Jytte was 4 when her parents emigrated from Denmark to Canada, looking for a better life following World War II. She learned to knit her own clothes at an early age—she even knitted a bikini.

A professional skier, she got her big break when she befriended a fashion designer while skiing in a Barrymore movie. Soon she was designing sweaters, hats and socks for Marmot, Swix, Salomon and Wigwam.

She came to Sun Valley from Whistler, B.C., in 1976 for skiing. And in 1998 she built a knitting mill in the building The Hunger Coalition now occupies in Bellevue.

“We’re the only company in the world that offers beanies made of 100 percent merino wool with custom design detail and coloration and a minimum run of 50,” she said. “We don’t take a helicopter design we do for one company and use it for another. Everything is unique and one of a kind.”

“There’s nothing like them in the world,” she added. “Actually made in the USA—made in Hailey, Idaho.”

Jytte works with clients to design the fabric, then translates each stitch into the language of her computerized knitting machines.

The machines go to work, knitting together fine yarn from spools of azure, paprika, larkspur and cumin-colored threads.

Then Jytte and her assistants hand stitch together the small blanket-like panels that the knitting machines spiel out. They add a comfy band of fleece inside and hem them. And, depending on the hat, they add a tassel—or what Jyette refers to as “an air speed indicator for measuring how fast you’re going.”

It used to take Jytte six hours to do one hat. Now she and her co-workers can put one together in minutes, thanks to the knitting machines.

Jytte has reaped countless testimonials from happy-hatted customers who have used them to combat the damp, cold penetrating wind along Chicago’s Lake Michigan or to look smart skiing the Alps of Switzerland.

Rich Anderson said he wore one of Jytte’s hats through two Russian winters in minus 35-degree weather, and Billings, Mont., resident Walter Brophy says he’s such a big fan he owns a dozen Jytte hats.

“I have tons of them myself,” said Ketchum’s Dawn Ferguson. “The stitching is so much better than a lot of hats. And the quality is so good you can’t see the colors coming through the background in the pattern.”

Jytte’s hats display her whimsical sense of humor. She inserted one barking dog among a number of non-barkers on a hat for an animal shelter.

She hid a heart in one of the edelweiss flowers in a hat that a couple gave as keepsakes to those attending their wedding. Then she tucked away the couple’s initials in the folds of the hat.

Mau featured a female bicyclist flipping hearts behind her on a “Ride like a Girl” hat. And she copied the Cheshire cat tattoos that members of a helicopter rescue crew in Alaska boasted on their hips for yet another hat.

She’s knit caps for scientists and geologists doing ice core research in Antarctica. Mau’s designed hats for Nordic ski teams, sheriff’s departments and ski resort employees, including Sun Valley’s.

Jytte designed one of the world in the red and gold marigold colors for Buddhist monks and a coffee bean hat for a coffee shop.

And she’s done a myriad of “Beanies with a Cause” for such organizations as the Idaho Conservation League and Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley.

In those cases, organizations pay a custom design fee and Jytte features the hats in her online catalog, with 20 percent of the sales profits going to the organization. Mau’s doing one with a penguin right now for scientists in the Antarctica with the money going to a Penguin Foundation.

“The best part about my hats is that they’re great advertising,” she said. “They never get covered up. And you don’t have to worry about sizes or whether it’s for men or women.”

Jytte is very conscious about her environmental footprint. She turns remnants into cat toys, fingerless mittens and cat beds that she donates to rescue shelters across the country. And she mills and dyes the wool in the Carolinas and knits the hats locally rather than offshore.

“People have told me they can cut the cost by a third, but they do that by doing the work in places like Mexico where there are no restrictions barring them from dumping the dye into the rivers,” Mau said. “It costs a lot of money to have the yarn done in the United States because of the standards they have to  adhere to. But I don’t want to pollute our drinking water.”

"Chances are most Wood River Valley residents have a Jytte hat, even if they don’t realize it was made locally," Jytte says.

“Even after all these years, it still wows me when I see someone wearing one of my hats. I go up to them and say, ‘Nice hat!’ … and they never know.”


Jytte will hold a Beanies & Beer Party from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 26, at her factory at 130 Gulfstream in the Hailey Airport Industrial Park. It’s an opportunity to see the showroom and buy beanies and quaff a beer made by another Hailey local—Sawtooth Brewery.

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