Late 18th Century Picture/Gainsborough Hat

The sections of two paintings I used to create my hat. Top: Portrait of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, by Thomas Gainsborough. Bottom: Mr and Mrs William Hallett (“The Morning Walk”), by Thomas Gainsborough.

Patterns used:
– None (my own design, based off a few paintings).
– Basic construction tips from various sites, such as (I pretty much read how others did it and then just went with what worked for me for now):
Denise Nadine Designs, and curiouschilde on Livejournal.

Materials Used:
– Buckram (not sure what weight, light? from Joann Fabrics).
– 16 and 18 gauge jewelry/craft wire (from Joann Fabrics).
– Regular sewing thread.
– Black felt (from Joann Fabrics for mulling).
– Aleena’s Original Tacky Glue.
– Black taffeta (not silk?).
– (Feathers — soon to be added).
– (Ribbon — soon to be added).

Also Used:
– Posterboard to create pattern.
– String and pencils, rulers, etc to help create circles and markings.

See Also: I made a Regency Stovepipe Bonnet using similar materials and techniques, and it worked much better.

Disclaimer:  I still have not trimmed the hat or worn it as of 12/6/13, so I don’t know if this hat will even work out. It is very heavy — this technique might work for smaller hats, but it was a little bit of a pain for a hat with a brim this large. I might try piecing together a base from straw hats next time, or else use *actual* millinery supplies. I have also seen a few different construction methods that used a slightly different order putting things together than I did. Whether or not this hat works out though, it was an interesting experiment. 🙂

This was part of the September Accessories Challenge. I planned to make this hat, but originally was going to make it after I made the gown in case I ran out of time. I also was injured in late-August, and this put me behind a little. Between waiting until my foot/ankle was healed enough so I could get up and down (I sometimes work on the floor with sewing projects), as well as waiting until I could get out to the fabric district, it made the project take a little longer than I would have liked. I need to order my feathers and ribbon to finish trimming the hat, so only the hat itself was finished in time for the challenge.

I ended up using what I had available. I probably could have purchased millinery supplies online, but decided to use what was local at craft stores.

I will state up front, that this hat is heavy and I made the crown a little too big around. I think it is supposed to be a bit big based off some of the images I used for inspiration, but it sinks down on my head more than I would have liked. I made a poster-board test (and tried it over my wig), and unfortunately it was difficult to tell at the time since it is so light, whether or not the crown size was right.

As mentioned, I started off with posterboard, taping shapes to see what sizes I thought would look nice and work. I made a point to wear my wig when I did this since I will always have “big” hair while wearing this hat.

Once I decided on the pattern, I used that to trace and cut out *two* of each shape (crown tip, vamp, and brim) from the buckram. The buckram I used is very light, and I was not sure it would provide the right stiffness. I carefully pinned the like pieces together as one, and ran my serger around them.

I transferred my markings — where I would place wires, where the crown would sit, and the inner seam allowance of the brim that the crown gets sewn to. I also marked “front,” “back,” and “top” to pieces so I would know what went how as I put them together.

I sewed the wire (18 gauge to start with — higher numbers = thinner wire) around the very top round part of the crown, using whipstitch. Next, I sewed the vamp seam allowance (that seam is at the back of the hat), and then I sewed 16 gauge wires to both the top and bottom of that piece. I felt that the 18 gauge wire just was not very sturdy, plus it would help to put those two pieces together.

I made the mistake of not trusting my patterns and cut the round top out a little larger than I should have. When I whipstitched the top to the vamp of the crown, the top buckled a little on one side especially. I went ahead and left it alone and moved on.

I then worked on the brim — the underside of the brim, which is where the wire was placed. I started with 18 gauge wire and, using my sewing machine on wide-spaced zig-zag, sewed the wire around the hat. The ends are overlapped and merely stitched securely together. I started realizing this was not going to be sturdy enough, and bought more 16 gauge wire, adding more rows of wiring, and the innermost and outermost rows are also the thicker wire. Much better.

Since I used thicker wire, I decided to use felt to line the buckram (this padding/lining is called mulling, I believe). I thought it might add more weight, but it would also help hide the wires more. I also hoped those layers sandwiched together would add more strength and stiffness. I used the Aleena’s glue to stick the felt to the buckram, starting with the wired side (bottom) of the brim. I tested this to see how I liked it, and noticed if I bent the front and back the way I hoped to “style” the hat when I wore it, it added strength and did not flop as much. I cut out another piece of felt, and without gluing it, placed it on top of the brim and tried it on again. I felt it could work with another piece and not fall down from too much weight, so I glued that one down. I was careful to trim back the felt to make room for where the crown would sit, placing it down, making marks, and checking a few times. The brim’s felt, for the most part, comes up to where the crown sits. I admit, the bottom mulling could have gone on into the seam allowance to add a little more thickness or cushion to the inner/lower part of the crown. I chose not to do this. If you do add layers, as I’ve seen some sites mention, make sure you keep this in mind with your sizing — it could make the hat fit a little tighter in the end.

At this point, I put the glue aside, and picked up needle and thread again. I clipped the buckram brim’s seam allowance and turned them up to get them ready for pinning on the inside of the crown. I placed pins straight through (not all the way — I wanted to leave room for my hand), and this helped hold the crown in place, keeping the seam allowance tabs where I needed them for the most part, so I could sew everything down.

Once the crown was sewn on, I glued a scrap of felt (slightly rolled and doubled over a little) onto the top to help fill in where I had the dip from the over-sized top. Then I glued the actual felt round top in place. Next, came the vamp. I trimmed the back seam to fit edge-to-edge, and once I had everything glued down, I meant to do a whipstitch, but was so rushed and tired I did some weird variant of it. *laughs* Regardless, the felt was sewn on that back seam allowance, and then the vamp was stitched to the round top piece. I did not connect the brim’s felt to the crown’s felt at the bottom.

I was feeling rushed and sloppy at this point, and did not take photos of covering the brim.

When I finally had my black taffeta, I used the original pattern, but made sure I left plenty of seam allowance at the edges, and also left seam allowance in the middle hole. I transferred the pattern to the “inside” of the fabric, so I could mark which was the top brim, where the front and back was, as well as the crown’s opening. I placed the start of the hole over the crown, and then clipped the seam allowances enough to start pulling the brim over the top of the hat in place. I pinned the clipped seam allowance to the crown, and smoothed and pinned the edge of the brim down. I made sure to check the fabric’s tautness with how I would be wearing the hat. Something I kept checking as often as I could while sewing the fabric down — I didn’t want to have the brim held up too much, or pulled in the wrong direction, while taking up fabric slack. I sewed the fabric to the crown first (basting stitches), then around the edge of the brim. I originally tried using my sewing machine, but it kept causing the fabric to shift too much. It was hand sewing only for me.

I did the same thing for the bottom of the brim, and when I had it all pinned how I wanted it, I trimmed the fabrics close enough to the edge. This is where I got sloppy. I could have done a better job trimming the excess fabric. Ah well. The bottom side got whipstitched, so the top basted stitches also got an extra line.

I have no plans at the moment to add lining on the inside of the hat, so the taffeta’s seam allowance “tabs” are stitched down at the tops to keep them from flopping around.

I next moved to the crown top. This piece also had extra seam allowance added from the original pattern piece, and I stabbed pins down all around the edge, one across from another, working around, until the whole thing was evenly pinned. Then I clipped the seam allowances, forming tabs, and stabbed pins into the bottoms of those. I basted these down, and clipped the extra length off the seam allowances.

Starting the last day (and the last day of September!), and I had to attach the vamp. I should have been a little more careful with pressing the seam allowances under and checking the fit. I had a little more slack than I should have. It was just more stab-pinning the piece in place and using whatever stitches felt comfortable to stitch it down. I used loose basting stitches at the bottom of the vamp against the brim.

The last part of the day was attaching the bias binding (I started the day making the strips to get that out of the way). This felt like it was taking forever. I tried not to look at what was left on each side as I hand sewed the binding down on both sides. Any time I caught a glimpse of how much was left, I felt myself thinking I should just take one more day.

Overall, I did a little bit of a sloppy job, and some of the supplies probably aren’t the best things to use for a hat — especially one with a brim this big! Regardless, I made a hat! I still need to trim it when I get the chance to order my feathers (I’m not sure if I’ll go with white or black feathers, and a silver/gray or white ribbon). I also need to make the gown to go with it — it’s not ready yet, but I would probably wear anything 1780’s-1790’s I thought would be nice with it.


I used a pin in the middle of the posterboard, tied a string to it, and tied a pencil at the end of it. I would measure markings around, but use this to help draw all the circles. Merely winding up excess string to shorten the distance, and carefully matching up all my measured markings.


This is the crown top. Two pieces of buckram, serged together, and the lighter 18 gauge wire whipstitched around the edge. I accidentally cut this piece bigger than I should have — I should have trusted my pattern, but was nervous I would cut it too small to fit on the other piece.


Whipstitching the crown top to the vamp. The crown top has the thinner 18 gauge wire, but the vamp has the thicker 16 gauge wire on the top (the bottom got wired after this).


I still needed to wire the outer edge of the brim, and a few lines of the thicker wire was added. This is where I discovered not only did the 16 gauge (I used jewelry/craft wire, not millinery wire) do very little, I needed more rows in between these rows.


Sewing the extra wiring in between the other rows. This was the thicker 16 gauge wire. The 18 gauge worked a little more smoothly with my sewing foot, but I had to be extra careful with the thicker wire. I also released the presser foot tension a lot more and made sure I “encouraged” (gently) the wire to move back. If I was not careful, the buckram brim would move, but the wire would not, or I might accidentally pull it back where it was not getting stitched down at my starting point. I placed all the overlapped start/finished sections on the back of the brim.


The wiring is finished. You can see the overlapped ends. I used pliers to help squeeze them together and get them through the foot. I also wore safety goggles and was very careful — I didn’t break my needle or hit the wire once. Just work smoothly and keep the speed slower than usual. Use the widest settings, especially on the thicker wires.


The mulling has been glued to the brim, and you can see pins going around the bottom of the crown. They are stabbed through both the crown, as well as the brim’s buckram seam allowances (these were clipped, forming tabs). I kept pliers handy, just in case.


A closeup of the crown pinned to the brim’s seam allowance. Somehow I didn’t scrape or stab myself as much as I thought I might. *laughs*


Sewing the crown and brim together. I used stab-stitching, and basically used running/basting stitches, occasionally backstitching in between the tabs. You can see a little of the seam allowance through the buckram crown.


I don’t actually have a lot of glue around, so I did a quick search and found enough people seemed to like this glue for crafts (not necessarily a millinery search, just in general). I did not get a thin, even coating like one should probably try, but so far it seems to be doing the trick.


Sewing the felt together at the back of the vamp. I was tired and rushing things, and apparently must have been tired of doing the usual spiral-whip-stitching. LOL!


Attaching the vamp edge to the crown top edge with the same stitch. I did not bother to stitch the mulling at the bottom of the vamp to the brim.

Again, I apologize for not taking photos of covering the brim.

The outer fabric going on over the crown top. You can see how I used pins to help keep it on smooth and in place. You can also see some of my quick basting stitches at the bottom, where the brim’s fabric meets the crown/vamp.


Sewing the vamp onto the crown. I didn’t worry too much about some of the stitches showing.


Stitching the bottom of the vamp onto the brim’s fabric. This drove me a little nuts. I also was not worried if the stitches especially were a little sloppy here. I intend to put a ribbon band and feathers around the hat.


Sewing the binding around the hat. This is from the same fabric. I ended up hating the binding part more than any other — I was hot, tired, and had to sit in odd positions to try to reach across the brim without crushing the hat or getting stabbed by pins. My poor thumb was not so lucky avoiding the needle several times though.


Stitching down the other side of the bias binding. You can see inside the crown (I don’t know if I will bother adding a lining).


Finally! Except for ribbon and feathers, the hat is finished. It looks odd to me with nothing else on it. I didn’t have time to sharpen my hat pin or style my wig.


I tried to hurry and get photos before it got dark. I would have preferred having a nap… pardon my exhausted expression. 😉


I will need to be careful with how I put the hat on and shape it — the wire is very bendy, which means it can get a little wavy and sloppy. I’m not too concerned with the loose fabric on the crown either. I’ll have decorations covering it and just wanted to finish it.


The back view. I got a little sloppy with the back seams (seems to be the theme the past two days — can you tell I was sick of this project?). Again, I’ll be covering it with feathers and ribbon.

I’ll add more photos when the hat is trimmed, and maybe wearing it with a costume.