How To Draft a Custom Hat Pattern

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On Monday I started my week long millinery course at Stratford Off The Wall; after only one day we’d already done a ton.

After going over some basics we had a chance to tour the costume warehouse at Stratford, including the upper level not usually open to tours. There we saw some amazing costumes, like this beauty;

Hat in the Stratford Warehouse

Hat in the Stratford Warehouse

There was so much to see we could have easily spent a day there, but our main focus was the hats. Even limiting it to that section, we spent a good hour browsing the aisles, each of us allowed to pick out one to take back to the studio and model our own hat after. I chose this cute little topper that had been worn in Guys And Dolls a few seasons back;

Hat from Guys and Dolls

Hat from Guys and Dolls

While my own hat has since been altered greatly from this version, it was great to see a professionally made one up close and personal.

There’s a lot of work that goes into making a hat, and being a novice I certainly have more to learn than teach. But in the interest of sharing knowledge and fun I’m going to break my lessons down into several blog posts, starting with this one. So part 1 in my hat how-to tutorial begins with….

How To Draft A Custom Hat Pattern From Scratch

Step 1. Prepping Your Hat Form

Step 1. Prep your hat form

Step 1. Prep your hat form

If you don’t have the luxury of using a wooden hat block, the first thing you need to do is prep your hat form – here I used a Styrofoam head. I covered the entire thing in plastic wrap and masking tape, making it stronger and protecting it for future use.

If you were looking to do a more fitted hat that comes down more on your head, like a cloche or a fedora, you’d need a form that is the right size for your head. Since I was doing a topper, it didn’t need to be as precise, so this method worked well.

Step 2. Make sure the form is protected

Make sure the form is protected

Step 2. Get Your Measurements
Measure the head you are building the hat for, and transfer those measurements to your form. You need to have your centre front, centre back, and size measurements, as well as your circumference. For detailed instructions on how to take proper measurements, consult the millinery book, From The Neck Up: Illustrated Hatmaking.

Step 3. Get your measurements

Get your measurements and oval pattern

Step 3. Make Your Initial Pattern
Once you have all your measurements, as well as an idea of the type of hat you’d like to make, you can start to construct your pattern. We used butcher’s paper; any study but light-weight paper will do. This is where some basic math is required.

Start off with the circumference of your head, or the size of your “head opening” spot of your hat. In my case, since it was a topper, it was smaller (higher on my head = smaller opening than the true circumference of my head). In my case, it was 19.5″. We were lucky enough to have use of our teacher’s patterns, so I had a ready-made oval that was 19.5″ in circumference. Without that, you’d need to make one yourself. Trace this onto your paper.

Mark the Front-Centre (FC) of your pattern, and then divide the number by 2, so you can find where your Back-Centre (BC) should be; 19.5/2=9 ¾ BC

Following the same idea, continue to measure and mark your Left-Side (LS), Right-Side (RS), and the halfway mark in-between those as well. You should have something that looks like this:

Step 4. Make your pattern

Step 3. Make your initial pattern

Add a 1 ¼” seam allowance to the inside of your head opening, and then you’re ready to cut our your pattern. Make a slit up the BC of the pattern and cut out the inside of the head opening (leaving the seam allowance).

Step 4. Notches
Take your scissors and make notches to the seam allowance, going in as far as your actual head opening; this is so you can attach the brim to the crown. They should be about 3/8″ wide all around the head opening. Now you are ready to begin shaping your brim.

Step 5. Make notches and fit that pattern to your form

Step 4. Make notches and fit that pattern to your form

Step 5. Shaping Your Brim
Pin your crown to your form using the notches. Tape up the CB seam. Now is the fun part! You can fiddle with the brim, deciding on how wide you want it, and if you want to alter it by using darts.

Step 6. Begin shaping your hat

Step 5. Begin shaping your hat

Step 6. Slicing and Layering
If you want to create a brim with some shape, do so by slicing and layering. This is an experimentation process; don’t be afraid to make a mistake. You can easily tape it up and go back to your initial shape.

Step 7. Shape your hat by slicing and layering

Step 7. Shape your hat by slicing and layering

Step 7. Complete Your Initial Pattern
Play with the slicing and layering until you are happy with your brim shape; I was going for a 1940’s look, so I created an exaggerated brim, but you can do whatever you want. Once you’re happy with it, be sure to mark the size of your darts and then un-tape the pattern and flatten it out. Remove the tabs.

Step 9. Complete the initial pattern of your hat

Step 7. Complete the initial pattern of your hat

Step 8. Creating a Master Pattern
To be sure to get an accurate master pattern, you want your paper to be as flat as possible; use steam if necessary. I then pinned it over my strong cardboard (for the master pattern) and into a piece of foam to make sure it wouldn’t slide. Trace the pattern remembering to mark where you will be placing darts. If you have large notches like I did, do not cut them out, just trace them. They will be layered.

Step 10. Flatten initial pattern and trace a simplified version on cardstock

Step 8. Flatten initial pattern and trace a simplified version on cardstock

Step 9. Checking Your master Pattern
When you are done tracing, once again add a 1¼ seam allowance and create your tabs. Then, cut out the pattern and pin it to your form, making sure it still looks right.

Step 11. Make final adjustments to your master pattern, fitting it onto form

Step 9. Make final adjustments to your master pattern, fitting it onto form

Congratulations! You have now created your master brim pattern.

More to come.

-E.

 Like this post? Check out my company blog, Bygone Theatre for related posts on a brief history of women’s hats and how to convey character through hats.

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