March 3, 2015

Felt Legion Cap

One day last fall, I could not find my felt gnome hat I made a few years ago. With cold weather closing in and no silly looking home made felt hat to wear, I urgently set to work to make a replacement. 

I like the angular lines and short brims of some military uniform style caps from 50-100 years ago. My plaster head cast was brought out for a bout of millinery, and I pulled a cheerios box from the recycling to cut up for a pattern. Millie and I messed around with the pattern for a while. We started with this:

Then I cut some slits in from the top and overlapped the cuts, to create a lightly tapered abbreviated cylinder.

This got trimmed at the top and bottom. Traced around the top to get a top piece, then traced around for the beginning of a brim.

Millie wanted to try it out at every stage.

After fooling with the cardboard and blue tape for a while, I had something that looked good enough for a first draft. 

I cut the paper mock up apart with scissors and an xacto. The brim was designed not as a perfect match to the oval shape of the cap edge. Instead, it was drafted to spread out a bit more such that when it was joined to the cap it would be given a light curve and downward slope. At least that was the idea.

Here is a photo of the pattern on my fabric cutting mat which has squares in the quaint old-fashioned units of inches (1 per square). The bottom edge of the cap part measures 56.5cm in length laying the tape along it's curve, while my actual head measures 56cm with a tape.

I did a quick sketch in Inkscape of something close to the pattern, bitmap shown below. If you want the PDF or SVG files, they are on my google drive for download. You could try measuring the circumference of your head, adding 1cm or so, then scaling the vector drawing up or down and printing it out on multiple sheets of paper. Or you could just draft a paper pattern using measurements and a square.

Remembering my experience with my last hat, I cut enough gray wool blend felt for two layers to make the new hat. I wanted it to be somewhat stiff and hold its edges so I also cut a layer of nonwoven sew-in interfacing to go between the two layers of felt. The interfacing was cut to not extend all the way to the seams, in order to make the corners and edges less bulky. The brim was made with the same construction. I now wish the brim was stiffer; perhaps next time I'll find a stiffer material to use for the interfacing in the brim. 

The treadle machine was used to laminate the interfacing layer to the inner felt pieces. 

Then I started sewing up two copies of the hat by hand. There isn't that much seam to sew, and the dexterity of hand sewing was useful for putting things together. 

I started by sewing the top oval piece to the strip which forms the main part of the cap, then joining the edges of the main part at the center back. I quickly found the hat was going to be too tight. Maybe my head mold shrunk during the curing of the plaster? Maybe because I used two layers, or I needed more than 5mm wearing ease? Becky says she has little doubt my head has gotten fatter in the fourteen years or so since I made that plaster cast. In any case, I cut a triangular wedge to patch in to the center back seam on both layers, bigger on the outer layer.

Of course the outer layer needed to be a little longer than the inner layer, which I didn't account for in cutting the pieces, figuring I could stretch and shrink the two layers with steam to match. That became impossible on the inner layer once I stitched on the interfacing. 

After finishing the cap section, I stitched on the brim.

Once the I had two caps, I put them together, did a little trimming with embroidery scissors to get the edges matched, 

then sewed around the lower edge and steam pressed to make one hat.

One of my favorite things about my old hat was the big red felt flower on the side. I recreated one to put on this hat, originally intending it to go in the front center of the cap section. But once I could try it on and experiment with placement of the flower, I found I preferred it to be offset on one side. 

This hat is pretty great. Comfortable and reasonably warm, for a bald guy. I wore it to California this last December to attend my sister Annesly's wedding. 

 I received several compliments on it during the trip. I'm used to a certain percentage of people in public giving me a double take when wearing my wood shoes or my gnome hat. This was also the case on this trip, but the quality of the looks seemed subtly different, like "that guy looks weird. But good" rather than just "that guys looks weird." Naturally I was also rocking my homemade high waisted wool pants, suspenders, and white shirt.

Last two pictures courtesy of Mary Gates.

I'd like to experiment with some 100% wool felt in a single, thicker layer. Might be less work to make the hat instead of dealing with three layers.

Here I am wearing the hat at the chinese new year's party put on by the chinese school the girls and I attend on Sunday afternoons. The kids are doing a game which my class organized where you can eat however many M&Ms as you can transfer to a cup in 30 seconds with chopsticks.

Photo courtesy Jean Newman

As you can see, anytime I need to appear in public and look nice, its either my home made black formal suit or the wool pants outfit. The only other clothes I still have that I can wear out of the house are four worksuits which are getting increasingly worn out.

Just the other week, my old hat turned up. It had been stuffed in the crack of a chair cushion in the living room. That's ok though, now I have two silly looking homemade felt hats!

I think almost anyone could manage to make a hat like this. Depending on your skills, it might take a few drafts and some time, but it is quite straightforward. Developing the pattern with paper and tape is a good method; you can just work on your own head with a mirror if you don't happen to have a plaster copy of your anatomy around.


SJ Kurtz said...

I always enjoy your builds. A Cheerios box is just the right weight/flex for a hat. Just a warning: thicker felt is twice as hard to sew than two layers sewn individually and then sewn together. I wish I'd gone the route you went (and the thicker felt was a lot more expensive, thus sadder to screw up).

Bob Gates said...

Nice hat, it is silly and wonderful looking. nice job

Holly Gates said...

Thanks for the comments guys!

@SJ Kurtz - good advice on the thicker felt... I thought it would be easier overall but maybe not.