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1815 riding hat
Create the Mood

a hat from scratch

From buckram and coathanger wire to the finished hat: I needed a very sturdy low maintenance hat to be worn outside in all weathers, and to travel. So I decided to use a wire coat-hanger and heavy duty pelmet buckram for the crown sides. This is the way that I did it: note - there are other ways to make a hat.

Please do not copy or link to these 'how to make' pages. If you would like to use them, please contact me and let me know your plans. Thanks, much appreciated.
If you would like more information, or have any comments or suggestions, do get in touch.

hat base

Oval cardboard template for crown and brim inside.

Everyone's head is an approximate oval shape. This was the size I used for my own head.

Always add a little margin extra after measuring the head.


The width of the brim was drawn and adjusted first in paper so that it looked like a drawing from the time but also suited my face and height. It was then cut out in pelmet buckram (canvas stiffened with glue).

Millinary wire was sewn around the brim edge by hand using double-stitch, overlapping by 2" at the join. Some people use a zig-zag machine stitch.

Once wired the internal oval was adjusted to fit my head shape, which is not a perfect oval. The pencil line marks the actual size of the head opening.

A small margin was added so that small 'v's' could be cut, later become the join of brim to crown
[see below].







crown top
The crown top was cut out in iron-on millinary buckram and wired with millinary wire previously bent to shape. (Millinary buckram is lighter in weight andeasier to work.) The pencil line marks the head size and is the line for the buckram to be wired.

The wire is sewn onto what will become the inside of the crown top.

A seam allowance is left so that the crown top can later be snipped and bent down over the crown sides.

close-up of millinary wire sewn onto millinary buckram
I ironed a piece of silk, (using the oval cardboard template), onto the inside of the millinary buckram crown top purely for aesthetic purposes. [ I left the hat unlined so that I could use it to demonstrate my methods in future talks and workshops.]

crown sides
The height of the crown was checked against portraits; this involved trying on and altering first in paper, and then cutting the template in thin card. 5cm (2 inches) was added for the overlap at the join.
The stiff coat-hanger wire was quite difficult to bend to the correct profile.

Each horizontal section of the wire structure was bent into a gentle curve using pliers. Having checked again against the original paper template that it was the correct curve, the wire structure was sewn onto the inside of the buckram with double stitch and strong thread.

On the outside the double-stitch looks like a row of little straight stitches.

Once wired, the buckram ends were overlapped and sewn together into a circle with double-stitch.

The crown side and crown top were checked throughout this procedure to ensure that they continued to match perfectly.

join crown top to crown side
Little 'v's' were cut in crown top on the outside. This enables the buckram to be bent over and attached to the crown sides in a smooth curve.

The crown top was tacked in place then ironed with the tip of a small travelling iron over baking parchment to glue the two pieces together.

finished crown base

All of this is done prior to the attachment of the brim for ease of handling.

join crown and brim

Crown and brim pinned.

The cut 'v's on the inside edge of the brim were gently bent upwards in a right angle.

Crown and brim tacked together.

I did this on the outside for my own ease of sewing. Since the cover is thick wool and the join was to be covered with thick wool fabric and thick wool braid, any uneveness would hardly show.

A sturdy needle, strong thread and a leather glove are needed to sew through two layers of pelmet buckram.

crown and brim base, inside
cover base with fabric

The fabric was ironed on using commercially made double-sided glue, available in a roll.

This glue comes with thin backing paper: iron on the paper, peel off paper to reveal the glue, then iron the fabric onto the hat base.

I covered the brim first.

It would have been better if I had covered the crown first as this gets less handling then the brim.

Crown top fabric glued by ironing the fabric directly onto the millinary buckram.

White millinary buckram was ironed on the crown sides to attach the fabric and, incidentally smooth out construction uneveness. Then fabric was ironed over the buckram to cover the sides.

Bias binding was sewn around the brim edge by hand, covering the cut edges and the wire.

Hem stitch is used to sew both sides of the bias binding at the same time; the needle goes through the bias then the hat and then the bias on the other side.


decorate hat

add wool braid

Wool braid hides all joins.

PVA glue was applied with a small paintbrush, (from a ceramic tile, not direct from the bottle), to the hat and the braid and left for a few seconds before being joined together. Once dry the braid was sewn down using a curved needle. For a very strong join the braid can be sewn down as the glue is drying, but this is a very messy job.

add feathers

I chose three long Edwardian feathers to decorate the back of this hat. The feathers could have also been put at the front, according to contemporary images.

The feathers were lightly glued, then sewn, onto a triangular-shaped wired buckram base.

Wear a leather glove in order to get a good grip and push a strong needle through the layers. Any wind will blow the feathers around, so a secure base is really important.

If you know that you will be going to a windy environment, consider wiring the feathers before fixing them to the buckram triangle. A taller triangle may also be required.

I covered the buckram triangle with silk ribbon

then added three press studs, again using the leather glove to avoid tearing one's fingers to pieces.

A bow in the same silk ribbon hides the triangle. A circle of fabric covers up the raw edges of the ribbon and matching press studs attached.

(Press studs were used so that the bow can be changed in the future if required.)

Bow and feathers attached.  
And off I went to another event.


Create the Mood 's costume craft workshops and practical demonstrations with have-a-go for adults and older children can be organised in the UK. You provide the people and the topic and Create the Mood organises everything else. Contact us to discuss your ideas.


How other people have made top hats - just a few examples from the web

striped hat

shaped crown





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last updated 10 April, 2013

Create the Mood