When is a flat pattern not a flat pattern and a Hatter sane? this article first appeared in Your Wardrobe Unlocked
The answer to the second question is rarely, we’re all mad. The answer to the first is, when you are able to use a flat pattern to create a hat that looks like it couldn’t have been made with a flat pattern and also the main subject of this article.
In terms of millinery, what is a flat pattern hat? Simply, a hat that can be constructed by joining flat shapes together to construct a three dimensional shape.
Flat pattern hats
The pictures above show a few flat pattern hats I have made over the years. Flat pattern hats are not always simple in shape and not always fabric covered buckram hats they can be complex and made of felt, straw, fabric or any number of other materials as long as the separate pieces that make up the hat begin flat.
Caption From left to right: early 19th C black straw Wellington top hat, mid-Victorian fabric covered buckram winter bonnet, early 19th C straw bonnet, early 16th C wool felt Landskecht hat, late 15th C velvet fabric Myllan cap, Romantic era fabric covered buckram bonnet, Elizabethan fabric covered buckram high crown hat.
Blocked hats
The pictures above show some blocked (non-flat pattern) hats I have made over the years. All or some part of each hat has been molded over a ridged shape to create curved surfaces. Blocked hats are most often felt or straw hats but buckram can also be molded. You just have to wet a sheet and drape it over the block until it is quite dry. The process works well for making skullcaps you can see some pictures of this on my site.
Caption From left to right: Elizabethan fabric covered buckram high crowned hat with a molded crown, Edwardian fabric covered buckram hat with a crown tip that was molded over a wooden bowl, Late Victorian fabric covered buckram tall hat with a brim that was molded over a Styrofoam wreath, modern straw sunhat with a crown that molded over a Styrofoam head, 18th C high crown large brimmed straw hat that was blocked over a homemade heavy cardboard block, Late Victorian straw tall hat that was molded on a wooden hat block.
Modified flat pattern hats
Now that I have defined the two main categories of hats, we can get to the reason for this article and that is to show how to create a flared top hat without having to make or acquire a wooden hat block in your head size to shape it over. You can see what the block for this type of crown looks like and how they work on the Guy Morse-Brown site under five-part puzzle blocks.
Inspired by the new Mad Hatter, for the new Disney production of Alice in Wonderland coming out next year, I set out to develop the best technique to make a hat as close to that one as possible. As many of you know I sell a flat pattern for an early 19th Century Wellington hat (shown above on the left). The shape of that hat is historically accurate and very much like the period drawings from the original Louis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland but as you can see in some of the pictures at the top of the page there are many variations on the shape of early 19th C top hats. The new Mad Hatter has lots of flare and I wanted to reproduce that for this article but you should be able to use this technique to create any degree of flare for a top hat.
Analyze the shape
The first step in creating a reproduction hat is to study and analyze your source material. If you are able, get a look at it from as many different angles as possible. I usually trace the outside edge as simply as possible (see below) this will help you chose what pattern to use and what modifications you will need to do to it. As examples, I have taken all the hats from the pictures at the top of the page and drawn red lines over the outside edges of the crown sides. These lines cover only the portions of the hats that are in a straight line they do not cover the curved or flared portions. The purpose of the lines is to figure out if the crown sides angle out or are parallel which is important in picking the shape of the crown pattern.

Caption There are three hats that angle out but do not flare (d), (e), and (h) flat patterns from my Wellington pattern can be used for these hats as is. There are two that angle out and flare (a) and (f). There are three that do not angle out but flare (b), (c), (g). The Disney Mad Hatter (i) & (j) in a tracing I made from photos is in this category but has more flare than (f) which is the most similar.
Determining the shape of a pattern for the buckram sides
If the lines are parallel (b,c,g&i) then the pattern for the crown sides would be a rectangle like the first pattern below. If the lines angle out a little (a,d,f&h) then the middle shape is what you need and if they angle out a lot (e) then the bottom pattern.
Figuring out the proportions of the buckram sides, crown tip and brim
As a rule I use the measurement of the face in the reference drawing or photo against my own to figure out an estimate of the hat’s measurements. Without a picture directly from the top you can’t say anything more about the size and shape of the crown tip other than an estimate of the distance across. Usually top hats have oval or slightly oval crown tips. Even with a photo angle that is mostly from the top a near oval will look like a circle. If you can get a direct front and a direct side photo then, if the sides flare a lot more than the front and back then it is most likely a circle as most people have an oval head shape.

Caption In the hat (b) above I would measure the distance from the middle of my forehead (where the hat sits) to the end of my chin, which is 6”. The height of the hat is that 6” plus 20% of that 6” or 1.2” for a total of 7.2”. Using that same 6” we can tell that the crown tip is about 8” across from side to side. Also the hat is straight up and down for about 3.6” and flares out for the last 3.6”. The brim is about two to three inches wide. At this point everything is approximate and can be adjusted in the buckram phase.
Picking pattern pieces and cutting buckram pieces
For my replica of the new Mad Hatter based on my estimates I chose to use two pattern pieces from my Wellington pattern. The largest oval for the crown tip and the one piece brim, as is. When transferring pattern lines to buckram I rarely cut up the patterns I lay the buckram over the pattern and trace onto the buckram. Buckram is transparent, even crown buckram which is stiff and two layers thick, the lines on the pattern show thru. It’s important to transfer the CB, S. and CF marks and a few different head opening lines.

Caption Cut lines being transferred to a piece of buckram note, the extra head opening lines. These head opening lines can be clipped to one at a time and tried on for fit until you get the head opening right.
Getting the sizing correct on you brim
If you are going to be wearing a wig with the hat then you need to have it on for this process. Also it is important to either have your mull and fabric on hand so that you know how much thickness they will add to the inside of the head opening or you will need to buy the correct thickness of fabric later. I’m always amazed just how much a thick fabric will decrease the size of a hat sometimes more that a head size, it really adds up. Also, adding a sweatband can reduce a hat by a half size. The ovals on this pattern are set at a standard head oval but some people have rounder heads and some narrower. If the oval doesn’t seem to fit the shape of your head there are instructions on my site

Caption As you can see I had to clip all the way down to the largest head opening line. I usually take a large but because I’m using thinner mull and thinner fabric for this hat I ended up with the medium line.
Calculating and preparing your crown sides buckram piece
When you have the correct size of the head opening on your brim measure it and add about ¼”. This will be the length of the crown sides. I chose 10 inches at first but soon cut it down to 8 inches, which seemed much more in scale. When the buckram piece is cut use a marker or pencil to grid the top 4” along the full length. Four inches because I figured that the flared part of the hat came down 4” from the top. This curved-up side of the buckram will become the outside of the hat

Caption Cut rectangle of buckram for the crown sides. The top half of buckram is being marked with 1” squares. This picture was taken before I cut 2” off of the buckram.
Adding millinery wire to your buckram   Crown tip and brim
Cut wire for the outside edges of both the crown tip and brim cut it ~2” too long. I used #19 for the brim and #21 for everything else. You could get away with #21 for everything I think it makes the brim a little easier to shape in the final hat.
Caption Buckram pieces and millinery wire that will be sewn on.
1) With your sewing machine set at a wide Zig-zag stitch place the wire under the middle of the presser foot right about 2” in from the end of the piece of wire. Slip the buckram under the left side of the foot right up to the wire. Start sewing the wire to the edge of the buckram. Make sure that the wire stays just off the edge of the buckram.
2) When you get about 3” from the center back line stop sewing but do not remove the buckram from the machine. Pull the thread covering from the cut end of the wire back about ½”.
3) Stick a wire joiner onto the cut end and use wire cutters to carefully crimp the joiner. See next photo for close-up of a crimped joiner.
4) Hold the wire along the edge of the buckram and determine just how much the wire needs to be shortened. Trim the long end of the wire and pull back the thread covering on the wire as shown in the picture. Slip the wire into the joiner and crimp.
5) Continue to sew until you are back to the start. Be very careful as you sew over the joiner.
Caption Crown tip with sewn wire on the edge.
6) Repeat the same steps (1-5) with the brim.
Click here to continue Coypright Lynn McMasters, 2011

On to other Article
Last Revision: 25 Jun 2010

Copyright Lynn McMasters, © 2007
Individuals have my permission to print single copies of the pictures or texts on this site for non-commercial uses, for any other use please contact me.

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