Top hats and you: A guide for people with normal-sized heads

A lot of the top-hat making guides I’ve seen are for the tiny ones that are so fashionable nowadays. If, like me, you want to make one that fits on your head, you better have the world’s smallest head. Sorting through search engines for these guides is difficult, as well.


For my first hat, I’m going to use lightweight poster board, some bendable wire, duct tape, glue stick, a glue gun and black moleskin velour. I also used paper, solely for pattern-making purposes.

Hats have been made of real moleskin felt in the past, so moleskin velour works well. It has a soft, very short nap on one side, making it good for sewing and gluing. Moleskin velour is matte on the front and shiny on the back.  This is useful for achieving certain texture effects that can look really pretty for the final hat. Another useful thing about moleskin velour is that it stretches; this means that your hat will have nice, clean lines in the end. It’s available at Jo-Ann and other craft stores, comes in a wide variety of colors, and doesn’t require killing or tanning anything.

Lightweight poster board is also good. It comes in large sheets, and is sold at office supply places. It’s stronger than paper, bendable, and good with glue. In single sheets it’s weak, though, so you may want to layer it. I used two sheets for the basic framework of the hat.

I decided on the use of wire based purely on trial and error. I knew my head wasn’t perfectly round, so I experimented with different ways to get oval head shapes. Mine is copper electrical wire, about 24 gauge, coiled around itself. I used one piece to find the shape of my head, and a cord of it to make the shape of the hat’s brim.

Duct tape is a magical substance. It adheres very strongly to things, including the wire and your trusty poster board. It’s also good for making sure something holds its shape while you’re waiting for the glue to dry. You can also make entire hats out of it, but that’s a tutorial for another day.

My first adhesive experiment was with school glue and glue stick. It held, but was bubbly no matter what I did. I moved on to just the glue stick, and it has worked out for me for weak and temporary bonds. For stronger bonds, I used a glue gun. Glue guns come up on a lot of crafting blogs, because they are awesome. Hot glue dries in seconds and can be really strong. Some people also use it like dimensional paint, or for gloppy special effects. It turned out that I could feel the bumps through the fabric a little when it was done, but it didn’t show.

No hat made by me would be complete without a little duct tape. I used it on the inside and outside of the poster board to hold it smoothly in place, and to hold the wire. If you work with duct tape, keep in mind that it won’t let go of the poster board without a fight and possibly some tearing.

I wound a single ply of wire around my head, where I wanted the band to be. I took it off, measured it and my head, and then put it back on to take the shape of my head. Without disturbing the shape, I traced it onto construction paper for my pattern. I then traced it three times onto my poster board. I cut out one as it was, added tabs pointing out to one, and added a four-inch seam allowance and tabs pointing in to the last. These were my crown, crown reinforcement, and brim.

Using the around-the-head measurement for the length, I cut out a head-circumference by 8-inch rectangle from the remaining poster board. I checked my pieces and duct taped the rectangle into a tube. The two crown pieces were glued together for a stronger shape. I also added several ply of wire to the outside brim with some more duct tape.

I cut out fabric for the crown, tube and brim. For the crown and tube, just follow the line and cut slits between tabs. Add a little more than four inches around to your brim, again cutting slits between tabs. To attach the fabric, I started by using school glue spread evenly from the center of the crown, and then glued the poster board tabs to the fabric ones. Use tiny amounts of hot glue to wrap the tube bit, or it will show. For the brim, start by spot-gluing the fabric to the tabs, and fan out from there all around. Then flip the brim over, and pleat the material evenly.

Glue your tabs to the inside of the tube, cutting off excess and tweaking as you go. Bend the sides of the brim up and the front and back down with the wire until you have something you like. Garnish with whatever you have on hand to hide flaws and look purty.

It's not perfect, but it's mine.


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Filed under Crafting, Steampunk

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