The Slowly Turning Cog

“How to” make a 3/4 size top hat


Make the brim former.  Get a 25cm polystyrene ring, cut out segments then glue it together to create an oval.  Make sure it sits more or less comfortably on your head.  Don’t forget that as this is basically a perch hat, its not going to come down to your ears!  We will address keeping it in place later in the guide.  Cover the ring in Clingfilm.

Cut 2 pieces of buckram about 10 or 12 cm larger than the brim former.  It will surprise you by how much larger you need to cut it.  Don’t underestimate.  Cut a cross into the centre of both pieces of buckram.  Holding both layers together, soak them under a warm tap.  Buckram is covered in water soluble glue. The layers will meld together and go soft and floppy.

Drape the buckram over the brim, smoothing out creases and pin.  Work quickly but ensure it’s as smooth as possible.  Slant your pins so they hold the buckram taught when it’s pulled.  If you start by putting in pins at the ¼ points then halving each section that creates you will be able to smooth out any creases as you work.  Buckram is a very loose weave so this should be fairly achievable.  You need to do this for the inner ring too, cutting into the crosses a little more if you need to.  Keep pinning and smoothing until you are happy with the result.

Leave it somewhere to dry!

Decide how tall your hat will be.  I initially decided on 5” for mine as shown in the photos but I shortened it a bit later on.  The next bit is a little “suck it and see” as this is where you work out how large you want it at the smallest section of the hat band.  I’ve gone for 14 ½” with a 1” overlap.  So, I’ve cut my strip of buckram 15 ½” long.

Mark your 1” overlap then draw a line 2” in from each long edge.  Every 1” along that line make a mark and then cut down to the line.  Do this along both edges.  I started my row of lines, ½” in from the edge and didn’t cut the first line.

Overlap your 1” seam allowance then run 2 lines of stitching down.  If you started your lines ½” in from the edge, you should have one going down the middle of the overlap.  Your rows of stitching should go either side of this.  Cut that line through both layers of buckram once you have stitched it.

Holding the tube you now have in a rough oval.  Place the end onto a sheet of paper and trace around it.  Add about 15mm around that oval and cut it out.  This becomes the pattern for your crown.  Cut this out in one layer of the buckram.  Mark the centre back and centre front points onto the buckram.

Next take some millinery wire and overstitch it to the edge of the crown.  Overlap it about an inch when you have gone all the way around.

Pin the band into place onto the crown.  Make sure the gaps between the pieces are more or less even.  Make sure the overlapped section is at the back of the crown.  Stitch these in place.  Don’t worry about the gaps!  These wont be at all apparent in the finished hat.

When your brim is completely dry (this may take 24 hours or so depending on where you stashed it to dry) remove all the pins you used.  Some may be a little stubborn and might need a pair of fine pliers to get them out.  Ease the buckram away from the former gently.  Take a bit of time to do this as it needs to be done carefully.  Before you remove the former, draw a line onto the brim to give you your approximate brim shape.  Allow an extra ½” or so in order to allow a little reshaping if needed.  Carefully cut along this line and then the former should come out easily.

Sit your hat band into the middle of the brim and trim the brim as needed.  This is the point where I decided the final height of the hat and the final shape of the brim.  Its too tall at this point!

Pin then stitch the band onto the brim.  Cut away any excess band underneath the brim.  Stitch millinery wire onto the hat brim, overlapping again at the back of the brim by an inch.

Now, as I prefer my hats to feel somewhat substantial, I cover mine in cotton felt.  It’s fairly stretchy so I was able to ease it right over the edge of the crown and onto the crown.  This was glued in place.  I also covered both sides of the brim.  This cotton has a slightly “grabby” surface which will help with the silk!

Next I used some black bias binding and stitched this in place all around the brim edge.  This just gives a nice firm and sharp look to the edge of the brim.  It also stops the white from the cotton showing through.

Now for the really fiddly bit!!  Covering the brim.  I used a strip of silk, 5” wide and stitched it onto the top side of the brim with the raw edge of the silk just over the edge.  I stitched it as close as I could to the millinery wire.  I was then able to flip the silk over the edge of the brim, covering the raw edge.  I then gathered and eased the fabric tightly over the brim and pinned it into place.  I then stitched it through the hat band to hold it into place.  Your row of stitching will be hidden by the covering on the band.

Because of the strong curves we are dealing with on this brim, I decided I was going to roughly pleat excess fabric on the top of the brim so I could keep it close to the buckram.  I held the silk into the curves with my fingers then pinned it into place.  I stitched around the edge of the brim after I’d turned a seam allowance under.   I then stitched this in the same way I did the silk on the underside of the hat.  The excess was then trimmed off.

Unfortunately I forgot to photograph some of these stages!  I hope my descriptions will make sense though.

Next I took my crown pattern and cut it out in silk, allowing a bit extra to go over the edge of the crown.  I pinned this in place on the crown and stitched it down through the buckram.  Make sure it’s nice and tight.

I then took a length of silk, large enough to go around the band and added a couple of inches.  Then, at regular points along the strip I sewed darts that corresponded with the shape of the hat and the height of the shaped section.  Imagine a corset and the panels which make it up.  This is the sort of look I was aiming to achieve.  I made sure I left 1 ½” at the top and bottom of the fabric which didn’t have any darting on them.  This was to be the seam allowance.

Check the fit of the silk onto the band and trim and turn the seam allowance on the top and bottom.  Pin the back seam so the whole thing is very snug.  Sew the back seam.  I used a curved needle and just sewed a hidden line of stitching through the layers of silk.  If you feel you’d prefer, you could stitch a line of stitching through the buckram as well.  I then used the curved needle to sew the band to the silk on the crown.  When you sew the lower edge, you can pull it tight and sew right through the buckram as this will be hidden by any decoration.  This will remove lots of wrinkles.

You now have a fully covered hat!  The only thing really to do now is decorate it and then add a lining.  Lining is added last as some of your decoration may be sewn through the buckram.  Lining means you get to hide all of this.

As this is already a rather large post, I’m going to end it now and carry on with some decoration in my next missive!  I hope it all makes sense, please let me know if there is anything you need clarifying on!