Scratch Hats: How To Make Structured Period Hats From Craft Store Goodies

No period costume is complete without a hat. The proper hat can make a costume really stand out, and the absence of one can break it (and sunburn your head.). Up until the 1960s, and especially before the turn of the 20th c., hats were worn every time one left the house, and to be seen without one would be most improper. Not only useful as sun protection and head-warmers, hats were a fantastic fashion statement and accessory to one’s dress, so why, oh why, would you ever want to go bare-up-there?

There are, of course, myriad varieties of hat. We’ve talked about a few here on American Duchess, and where to find them, but we only scratched the surface. Primarily this blog has been dealing with straw hats, with the onset of Summer, but what about hats for winter, or hats made from other materials, like velvet or silk? What about hats that require…ENGINEERING!?

If you have failed in all your searches for the proper hat blank, or desire a hat that is uncommon, you may find that making the hat yourself, from scratch (yes, I said from *scratch*) may be the best option. To start, I would recommend redirecting your search towards hat patterns. It is always better to start with as much information as possible, and learn from someone else’s mistakes and experience, than to flounder through the thing yourself. Here are some fabulous sites and companies that sell hat patterns:

If you’re like me, though, you’re fairly convinced that you can figure this business out by yourself. After all, how hard can it be? Well, if this is indeed the case, then here is some information that you don’t have to order or pay for, that might be helpful to you in your millinery adventures….

How To Make Structured Hats

For this exercise, I am making an Elizabethan “tall hat.” I know, it’s not 18th c., but the principles remain the same!

What you will need:
– needlepoint canvas, heavy. (NOT needlepoint plastic)

– stiff felt – two large sheets (11×17)

– soft felt – several sheets (8.5 x 11 usually) for thin fabrics such as silk.

– heavy upholstry-weight thread
– your outer fabric, whatever that may be.

– 1/2″ (or greater) double fold bias tape in a color you want to match or contrast with your hat

– medium-gauge wire – strong enough to hold the hat brim in place, soft enough to bend with the help of a gorilla.

All of these materials were available at Michael’s Craft Store with the exception of the outer fabric, which I hope you already have, and the bias tape. Michael’s also has lovely trims, feathers, and brooches for later decoration.

Step 1: Patterning The Crown
The easiest way to determine your crown is to curl a large piece of paper into a tube somewhere close to the right shape. It can be conical, straight, whatever you’re after. Trim down the excess – the height, the overlapping edges- until the shape is just what you want it to be. For my example piece, I have a tall, tapered crown, oval in shape, with a curve on the bottom edge. Depending on the shape of the hat, you may or may not want to curve the bottom edges.

Step 2: Patterning The Top of the Crown

This piece is circular, or oval in shape. Lay your curled paper crown-tube from the last step on another sheet of paper, top side down, and trace around the inside. Remove the tube and add an allowance – 5/8″ – 1″ – to the circle or oval. When you attach the top to the crown, you will cut the allowance into tabs and fold down the edges.

Step 3: Patterning The Brim

Brims can be huge, or quite small. Start by laying your crown-tube, bottom side down, on a large piece of paper and tracing around the outside. Extend your brim from the drawn circle as far as you want, using a ruler to mark the measurement every few inches, around the entire circle. Then just connect-the-dots. Add an allowance to the interior circle.

Step 4: Cutting
Cut out all your materials.

For your crown and top, cut one layer of the needlepoint canvas, one layer of the stiff felt, and one layer of the soft felt (you may need to stitch two pieces of soft felt together to get enough length). Be sure to cut the seam allowances OFF the stiff and soft felts. Cut one layer of your outer fabric, leaving the seam allowances.

For your brim, cut one layer of canvas and stiff felt. Cut two layers of soft felt and outer fabric. Remove the seam allowance on the stiff and soft felts.

Step 5: Stitching Up

Start by sewing your needlepoint canvas and stiff felt together (wrong sides together), making stitching lines around the edges, and throughout the middle. I found it helpful to iron the stiff felt, pulling the felt out from under the edge of the iron to keep it from “breaking” funny, and to curve it slightly (for the crown). Join the felt and canvas for all the pieces.

Next, join the soft felt and the outer fabric. The soft felt does not have seam allowance, while the outer fabric does – center the felt and stitch around the outside edge narrowly.

Now join the stiff layers with the soft by laying them together and basting around the outside edges. For the brim, you have the stiff layer sandwiched between two layers of outer fabric. All edges are still raw.

Now for the tricky parts:

Step 6: Putting It All Together

First let’s put the crown and top together. Fold over the edge of the outer fabric on the height portion of the crown and either stitch it or glue it down, to create a clean edge at the top. To do this, make cuts in the seam allowance, and pull and fold the fabric over the edge towards the inside. Glue.

Now make small cuts into the seam allowance all the way around the circular top and fold the tabs downward. Fit the top into the crown, adjusting the cuts of the tabs as needed, until the top sits properly in the crown, with the edges meeting. It might help to do this upside-down, with the top flat, and fitting the crown-tube down over the tabs. Joining the top to the crown can be achieved by whipstitching around the outer top seam, stitching the tabs on the inside, or calling on the power of the Glue of the Gods (hot glue!) to adhere the tabs to the interior of the crown. I recommend a combination of techniques.

Now for the brim. This is done in the same manner as the top – cut tabs on the inside circle of the brim, and fold them up. Turn under the outer fabric on the bottom edge of the crown and secure it, making a clean edge. Fit the crown over the brim tabs, and join in your preferred method. I recommend both Glue of the Gods and a stitch, which will be hidden under the hatband.

*If you would like to add a lining, now is the time to do it. Cut out one crown and one top piece and join them, right sides together (clip the seam allowance to get the circle to lay correctly). Turn under the bottom edge of the crown and press. Place the lining in the hat and either glue (yes) or stitch in place. The raw edges of the tabs will be covered now.

Step 7: Finishing the Brim

The hat is now completely constructed, and only the outer edge of the brim needs finishing. If you plan to wire the brim, cut the wire to the proper length, curve it around the edge of the brim, and whipstitched it roughly into place. Now bind the edge with bias tape, fitting it tightly over the wire (or edge if there is no wire), and either hand-stitch into place, or machine stitching with a heavy needle and a zipper foot.

Now your hat is finished! Trim it however you like – add a hatband, some ridiculously large plumage, a brooch, some decorative braid. Bend the edges of the brim to the shape and curve you want. Stick that thing on your head, and off you go.


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