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feathered picture hat, c1911, from scratch

This is how I did it - this is not the only method, and there are probably other techniques that I do not yet know about. However, I thought you would be interested to see my methodology.

The design concept was 'contrast within the historical constraints'. So having researched original examples of large-brimmed hats I contrasted textures of different feathers with smooth silk, greens were contrasted with purples, short feathers contrasted with long, old with new and so on throughout the decorative elements.

Please do get in touch if you have any questions, queries or suggestions. Thanks.

main inspiration:
triangular hat sold at auction

fan-shaped ostrich feather design, 1911, photograph

hat with feathers around brim and on crown of 1911, sketch

massive feather hat of 1911, painting

Ostrich feathers on 'perch' hat, photograph

hat base - brim

Brim consists of a sandwich of fabrics:

* darker silk
* iron-on vilene
* millinary buckram, millinary wire on edge
* iron-on vilene
* lighter colour silk

The space in the centre of the brim is head-shaped, not circular. My head is not a perfect oval, but slightly flattened at the back. This is the advantage of making you own hat base, you can make it to fit exactly so it is comfortable.

Do as much work as possible on each piece before the hat is put together. This allows for modifying as you go, and aids handling.

I bound the brim edge with velvet bias binding.

Stretch the bias slightly as you sew to give a smooth finish.

Sew through the brim (from top to underneath to top) with tiny hemming stitchs.

Brim base finished.

feathers for decoration
vintage and modern feathers used on this hat:
chicken feathers
peacock 'T' border tail feathers, natural colours
ostrich feathers, commercially and home-dyed

materials and equipment basics:
millinary wire, fuse wire, wire cutters
ribbon for cockade, other beaded decorations
coloured silk scraps, bias binding
millinary vilene
silk for brim and crown

cold water dye, wool fabric washing liquid
sewing kit
pencil, paper, rule, paper scissors
PVA glue, paintbrush, ceramic tile

long vintage feathers

Edwardian ostrich feathers and batch of feathers in a slightly different purple from an old hat.

Purple was the first colour to be made from coal tar by the chemist William Perkins in the late 1850's.

Various pieces of the broken ostrich feathers, dyed green, were quite attractive when were sewn together along their vanes to look like long feathers.



These are attached to the crown with very large stitches
Purple feather side - three different textures of purple feather in a pyramid shape.
1. purple brim ring


Millinary wire was smoothed into a ring the circumference of the hat brim, with a 5cm (6 inch) overlap.

Bunches of purple chicken feathers were wired onto the main wire.

I used commercially dyed chicken feathers to make the brim ring.

5 feathers were wired together into a bunch.

I decided that these feathers were too similar in structure, and added commercially dyed hackles, a spikey type of feather, for contrast between feather shapes.

Each bunch was then wired onto the brim wire.

edge of brim from the underside: the brim wire was placed around the edge so that the feathers overlapped, contrasting the smooth curve brim edge with irregular feathers, the texture of the velvet bias with the feathers.

edge of brim from the top: to add a touch of modern contrast I painted over the few silver wires that showed with purple sparkle paint.

2. green feathers

washing and dying ostrich feathers

I washed, then dyed green, a batch of broken ostrich feathers using cold water dye.

These were left to soak overnight and excess dye rinsed out by drawing them through my hands under running water and left on newpaper to remove some water. The feathers were dried using a hairdrier so that they fluff back up again.

Once dyed and dried they came up in a range of greens, depending upon what colour they were to start with.

Some feathers were stripped of barbs to make motifs. Others were good enough to be sewn together.

8 bundles of green feathers were needed.

To make the bundles I cut a few barbs at a time from a feather. 10 suitable individuals were laid out on the tile so that the tops were approximately level. They were trimmed to size at the base.

The base of these10 barbs were painted with PVA glue, pushed together (a messy job) and left whilst other 10-barb bunches were prepared in the same way.

When gluing I always use a paintbrush and put the glue onto a ceramic tile first so that I have complete control over the amount of glue and where the glue gets to.

Bunches were glued together into one bigger bundle and wire wound around whilst still wet. Another messy job.

The glue, wire and feathers become one and the feathers will never fall out of place.


At the end, only the vane of the feather is left together with the few barbs that were damaged or too short.


(ostrich left vane underneath, peacock vane right)

3. chenille flower motifs


2 motifs on firm bases were needed.

Vintage Edwardian chenille flower motifs were cut from a very torn dress.
(I have used these in the past to decorate shoes.)


Add pic of torn net dress

For each chenille flower: I cut the shape out of paper, and used this as a template to cut out the shape in millinary vilene. (an iron-on stiffening with glue on both sides.)

I ironed each vilene flower onto green silk.

(Baking parchment between the iron and the vilerne stops the foot of the iron becoming covered with burnt-on glue.)

Then trimmed the edges, cutting slots at changes of direction.

the back:

The green silk was turned over and ironed/glued down using just the tip of the iron.

The chenille flowers were sewn on in places and net edges also turned under.

The beads in the centre and elsewhere were a little loose. So I took the opportunity to sew them down between each bead through all the layers. This also holds the delicate vintage motif firm against the base.


Iron-on vilene was used to cover the back to hide and hold down the turnings and sewing.

chenille flower motif with green feathers added

Behind the finished motif and green feathers is this firm base; this helps the whole motif to withstand windy weather.

Iron-on millinary vilene is covered with silk, the edges bound with bias binding.

The feathers and then the motif is glued and sewn on.



Press studs are sewn on - I always use three or more.


tassel extension

I realised that a tail was needed so the eye flows down from the hat crown to the brim.

To form the base I used iron-on vilene with two different colours of silk, to make it clear which side is uppermost.

Bias binding covers the edge.

A thick layer of glue was spread over the green side of the base and three bundles of ostrich feathers pressed down into the glue when it was partially dried.

Brim, with green ostrich feather tassel filling space left in purple feather ring.

The sewing and wired ends of the tassel are hidden when the soft crown is added.




Add the hat crown

Crown is a circle of silk stiffened slightly with iron-on vilene. The circle is gathered and then sewn onto base.


Press-studs are used to position each motif. This is my usual method so that the hat can be taken apart for travel and maintenance. Also different trims can be used as required.

Each motif has a different size of press-stud so that there is no mistake in its placement in the rush to get ready for an event.

Completed motif in place on hat.

Chenille flower motif fixed to crown with tassel tail across brim looking like one item.

4. purple/white peacock cockade

The cockade was pleated from medium-weight ribbon which was in the right colours. Another time I will use light-weight ribbon as this cockade feels a little too heavy when wearing the hat.

The peacock 'T' border feathers were not easy to sew on as they are very narrow front/back.

On the reverse of the motif all work is covered by thin leather, glued on, and press-studs added. I wear a leather glove when sewing through stiff materials, to grip the needle.

Cockade and peacock tail feathers ( 'T' border feathers) sewn on individually.


To hide the sewing that holds the cockade pleats together I tried this original Victorian beaded decoration.

But the black beaded decoration looked too heavy.

The chenille flower motif was more in keeping with the style of the age.

Purple peacock decoration in place on the hat
5. inside completed

Underside of crown finished.


I wired the head edge, covered it with bias binding, then inserted a cap to hide all the working. This was rescued from another torn hat, but is basically a circle of silk fabric.

The sweat band was then added; this can be renewed as required in the future.


Next job is to add some detail to the rather plain tailored suit.

(see here)

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.

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last updated 11 December, 2012