I had some fun making my hats from old Tandy patterns and quite a few people asked for a tutorial.  So here we go!

Before Construction

The pattern, attached at the bottom of this page as two .pdf files, is half size.  I had the original reduced to 50% on a copier - so I assume you would just enlarge them 200% to get them back to the original size.  The pattern of the sidewall of the bowl is meant to print on legal size paper.

You have to transfer the patterns to the leather very carefully and accurately.  I first trace them onto tracing film with a very thin sharpie - make sure you get the exact position for all the holes.  If you get the holes accurately on the leather, the hat practically builds itself.
I dampen the leather with water and the trace the hat parts down onto the leather from the tracing film.

This picture shows the second brim being traced for a hat.  The first brim is cut exactly from the pattern.  I also punch the stitching holes in this piece.  Then the first piece is placed upside down on the bigger sheet of leather so that they touch grain-side-to-grain-side.  The outer edge of the bottom piece is just marked and cut roughly - much bigger than the rim of the top piece.  This will allow for curling up the brim into a snazzy shape later!

Note the little "B":  I was cutting more than one little hat at the same time and because I am using one piece as the template for the second, they become partners that have to stay together - they should be a perfect fit ...   The photo on the right shows how the stitching holes are marked with a scratch awl through the holes on one piece down to the grain side of the other brim.

Take Care:  When you trace and cut out the second brim, it must be bigger than shown on the pattern - you will trim it smaller right at the end.  You need the extra around the edge, especially if you are going to curl the brim like in the cowboy hat.

As a second step, I cut the pieces out of the leather and punch all the stitching holes that have not been punched yet.  I do this now so that when I dye the pieces, the insides of the stitching holes are also dyed and do not show up light against a dark dye job.

All the pieces have now been cut and punched: a top and bottom piece for the rim, and the long piece for the bowl and the small round top part of the bowl.

The third step is to dye the leather the color of your choice.  For the two hats you see on this page, I did the following:  the big hat was first dyed with a dauber and full strength Eco-Flow blue dye - really saturated so that I got it as dark blue as possible.  Then I took a rag around my finger, dipped it in Eco-Flow dark mahogany and rubbed the pieces all over to get as close to black as possible. I was careful not to saturate the leather with the mahogany - I wanted a dark "two-tone" effect.

The small hat was first dyed with the purple Eco-Flow dye and then rubbed over with timber brown.


Once the dye is dry, you can start sewing the hat together.  I do not use any glue on the seams - the hat is three dimensional and has to take shape as you sew it.  It would be just too difficult to glue the pieces in place before sewing.

Take Care:  Do not put any dressing or conditioner on the leather before construction is complete - it helps to get the leather damp as it forms itself into the shape of a hat...

The first seam to be stitched is the one at the back of the bowl. This is just a simple cross on the front - straight across at the back stitch with the two edges of the leather butted against each other.

The next step is to sew the crown (very top part) to the bowl of the hat.  The pattern of this top circle of leather has a small notch on one side.  This notch is aligned with the seam of the already sewn piece.

I just use a very simple running stitch for all the rest of the sewing.  Starting with this seam round the top of the hat, the hat is starting to shape itself in three dimensions and the leather will become distorted.

I keep the crown of the hat (flat round very top piece) dry and stiff, so that it retains its shape.  I dampen the top rim of the bowl while I stitch so that it can start to fold over as you can see in these images.
This makes it much easier to shape the bowl when this part of the sewing is done.

Make sure you do not miss any of the holes for the stitching - these are well planned and the bowl will distort if you get the holes out of alignment.

The following photo shows the crown all sewn into the bowl and the top rim shaped as it will finally be.
To make the next step easier, get the lower rim of the bowl a bit damp again and curl it outward with your fingers as shown on these two images.
Here you can see how the bottom rim of the bowl is going to fit in between the two layers of the brim of the hat.  I find it easier to first stitch these to the bowl before I glue the two of them together - their holes have to align perfectly and that will be near to impossible if you first glue them together.
The trick with the sewing now is not to miss any one of the three holes that you have to go through.  Again I am just using a running stitch.
With this very small half size model hat, the holes got a bit exaggerated and after they were sewn together with the bowl, they were slightly wobbly and I wanted them as an even flat brim, so i weighted them down with some heavy objects and left them like that to dry.
The last step was to glue together the upper and lower halves of the brim.  If you wanted to, this would be the right time to introduce a curled up brim and glue them in that position.
All that remained was to trim the bottom bigger half of the brim and then I applied a bit of thin edge coat to neaten it all up!

Now to find a monkey to wear it ....?!?

Johan Potgieter,
Jun 8, 2009, 8:25 PM
Johan Potgieter,
Jun 8, 2009, 8:25 PM