18th c. Tall Hat

I love really enormous hats, but have never actually owned one.  Well, I did try to make one years ago, but it wasn’t exactly a success and it got crushed in the process of a couple moves, so it seemed like a good time to try again.

Last year after Costume College I picked up some delicate silk and cotton sheer fabric in an aqua and white stripe, some aqua silk taffeta to match, and some vintage grosgrain and velvet ribbons to trim a potential hat.  At the time I wasn’t sure if I would go late 18th c. or 1910’s, but either way I envisioned something with a sash and a big hat. I don’t really do 1910’s, and I love 18th c., so I finally decided to use the stripe for an 1780-90’s open robe and make a giant hat to go with it.

I really love the curved shapes of these hats, as well as slightly sloped tall hats like these, so decided to combine the two.  As a starting point, I used the pattern for my Renaissance tall hat, which is slightly sloped top to bottom as well as front to back. Just as a guess, I widened the brim 6″ all around. After making up a paper mock up in tag, I ended up scaling it back just slightly, taking 1″ off the sides and 1/2″ off the front. The existing measurements on the sideband of the crown and the head opening on the brim didn’t quite match up, so I enlarged the brim opening, making the oval slightly wider at the back than at the front. It wasn’t my intention, but I liked the way it looked and thought it enhanced the fact that the crown is also taller in front.

Any hat needs some wire for structure, but one this large was going to need a LOT of structure. In one of my books two methods are listed. 1) a continuous piece of wire bent back and forth around the brim, or 2) smaller loops of wire attached at the edge of the brim and at the head opening. Method 2 is what I used on my first big hat, since it seemed easier and maybe used a little less wire.  I was always unhappy with how it turned out, however, since there were lots of poky ends of wire and I felt like every join acted like a hinge, allowing the hat to flex in ways I didn’t want it to. So on this hat, I tried the method with one continuous piece of wire.

I felt like I should lay out all the wire and get it bent into shape before zigzagging it onto the brim. However, millinery wire is springy, this is a lot of hat, and I couldn’t predict exactly where my bends should be until I was right on top of them, so I ended up just winging it while stitching it down. I did take care to keep the wire as flat as I could, although getting the brim through my sewing machine sometimes meant I had to bend things more than I liked. Still, it turned out more or less flat, and I was happy enough with the somewhat irregular wire placement. Next time I think I’d pencil in some guidelines instead of completely winging it, but I think (hope) this will work just as well. I’m not 100% sure I like the shape of the brim in the front – at some angles I love it, and others it looks clunky, but since it’s already wired, I’m not changing it!

With the brim wired, I decided to start to bend it into shape before I covered it with anything. While you can shape a hat somewhat after construction, I wanted to make sure I had enough ease in the outer fabric that it wouldn’t strain after I shaped it.  This shaping also led me to a patterning decision I hadn’t yet considered – do I shape the sideband of the crown or leave it flat?  It’s really hard to see the join between the crown and brim in most illustrations, because there is so much decoration on the hats. This one shows the crown deeper in the front and sloped up along with the brim at the sides, but plenty of others look like the crown could also be a straight line all around. The difference is somewhat subtle – the outer edge of the brim can be shaped into a curve either way, but it will either continue the curve all the way to the crown if the crown is shaped, or flatten out as it reaches the crown if the crown is straight.  I decided that curving the crown would help support the structure of the curve I was building into the brim, rather than possibly fighting against it and/or weakening the join between the crown and brim.

Luckily, the sideband is the piece not already wired, and it was easy enough to change the shape before I got any further. I ended up raising it almost 1″ at the sides, blended in at the front and back. I had the forethought to measure it again and found that this change shortened the circumference of the bottom edge by 3/4″.  This meant that the previous sideband I had cut out could no longer be used, but cutting a new piece was simple enough at this stage.

From there it was easy enough to join the new sideband to the tip, and get the frame ready to be covered. Since the extra wire would be on the underside of the brim, I decided to mull this side with a layer of cotton batting to help hide the lines of the wire. The top side of the brim and the crown will be covered in velvet, and could do without mulling, but I think a layer of cotton flannel makes the velvet look a little more plush without blurring the edges of the hat as much as the batting would. I also used cotton flannel for the bias around the wired edge of the brim and top of the hat.

Now I just need to get it covered in the outer fabrics and decide on trim. Here’s the construction so far:


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