Pattern Puzzle: Hats

How was your Memorial Day weekend? We did our traditional routine, hanging around the house and of course, attended the Southern New Mexico Wine Festival where we stock up on our annual supply of local vintages. Some bottles are old stand bys for one reason or another. One we buy because we (okay, I) like the name (Girls are Meaner). Yeah yeah, I admit I wouldn’t buy it if it had a style number instead. I bought an extra bottle this year for my sister in law (I hope she’s not reading this) in celebration of my niece’s birthday. I’ve always thought it’s moms who should get gifts on their kids birthdays.

As ever, I peruse the vendor’s booths for DE goodies. This show is still very young and doesn’t attract a lot of apparel and sewn products vendors but the numbers slowly increase. There was one very bad vendor of imported “silk” tops. These were lousy and it annoys me because people always have the idea that import=crappy and it’s not true now if it ever was. We get crappy imports in the U.S. because the buyer specifies that level of quality (cost) in the product and we rarely have a true picture of a given nation’s capability. Anyway, in a show of perhaps karmic retribution was another vendor of hats imported from Madagascar (above). The quality of these hats was immaculate, simply exquisite. Besides, my ears always perk up at “Madagascar” because I’ve been trying to source a specific sort of sewing contractor there for years. Madagascar has the labor pool to do a particularly difficult form of needlework that is unparalleled internationally. And it would seem that nearly no one knows it.

These hats are incredibly well made. I couldn’t find a raw seam inside or out. I love how the sides (A) of the hat cup over to meet the top circular portion (B). I’m guessing the hat may be steamed to shape. Then again, judging from the quality, I would not be the least bit surprised if the top circular portion was actually smaller than the total circumference of the hat sides (i.e. negative ease). I also noted the seam running across the brim (C) but the pattern did not jump up and automatically make itself for me. That was strange in retrospect; typically, patterns spatially unfold themselves for me without any effort on my part. I then just draw them out. Maybe I’m losing my touch.

The challenge:
So boys and girls, your challenge for today is to configure a pattern for this hat. Bonus points to anyone who can explain how to sew it, with no raw edges exposed. You can click on the above images for larger file versions of these photos.

[Amended] If interested, you can buy these hats ($40) on the web. Site has been updated and click repaired. Icing on the cake; the vendor is a member of the Fair Trade Federation so you can buy with confidence. Word has it this hat is a loss leader to promote the launch and its price is anticipated to increase substantively. I’m getting the sapphire blue one.

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21 comments

  1. dosfashionistas says:

    I feel like I am cheating, because I made hats for about a year, back in the 70’s. I got myself out of that business as quickly as possible. Buckram frames will eat your hands while you are sewing them. I used to wear bandades over the parts of my hands that would rub while I was sewing and turning the frames on the machines and I still had raw places when I finished the day.

    Anyway, the pattern for the frame is B-an oval, A-an upward curved piece the height of the crown, and C-a circular brim with an oval hole that comes approximately 1″ inside the finished crown. It isn’t exact because a hat is not sized exactly until you finish it. You will cut these pieces out of stiff buckram. Probably two layers for each piece. Flexable wire is zig-zaged around the oval and the outside edge of the frame. Then the crown is zig-zaged onto the oval, starting in the back and overlapping slightly. Run a stitching up the center back to stay the crown with a nice flare. Leave the brim just as it is. You will not be attaching it to the crown until both crown and brim are covered. Note: When you are sewing, you must be careful at all times not to crush or bend the buckram. A crease in buckram will leave a permanent weak place, actually a permanent bend, and you get to just throw that frame away.

    For the hat cover: Pieces A and B are just like for the frame, except with 1/4″ seams. And the crown is sized exactly to the size wanted. Piece C is a bias strip the length of the outside edge of the brim, or probably a little smaller and double the width. (I think you’re right on that Kathleen.) You will be cutting 2 each of the crown pieces and one of the brim, and you will be cutting a bias strip for the outside trim and bow.

    Seam the center back of the crown pieces and sew to the top pieces, with the seam at center back. Place one outside and one inside the crown frame and stay around the bottom. Not that the outside will fit snugly and the inside will fit loosely, but that’s what you want. Seam the bias piece and pleat around the top of the brim, then fold to the inside and pleat to the inside of the brim. Sew 1″ from the opening as this is where the brim will meet the crown. Now cut the inside hole every 3/4″ about, snipping to the stay stitch. Bend the tabs up and place the crown over the brim. Sew around the crown, catching the tabs of the brim. Sew around twice, to be sure to catch everything. Now sew the sweatband over the seam on the inside. (Yes, that is exactly what that band on the inside of the hat is called.) The outside trim is traditionally done by hand and tacked or even glued in place to cover the seam on the outside and decorate the hat.

    I can’t believe I remembered this much about the hats. I would try making one, but hats require two or three very specialized machines. And I sold that business off as soon as I could. I think there are home sewing do-arounds, but them I don’t know.

    Hope everyone had a great holiday. I stayed close and tended to my auctions. Memorial Day is the one holiday of the year that is traditionally good for online sales, and it was.

    Sarah@dosfashionistas

  2. Sandra B says:

    I just read the first bit of Dosfashionistas’ answer, and thought I’d better not read the rest until I’ve had my attempt. I can’t see if there is seam on the outer edge of the brim, but from the look of the grain, I’d say the brim is a very wide bias strip pleated onto the crown. The inside of the hat looks like it has been steamed over a block, but the outside doesn’t have that stretched out look I would expect from being shaped. The tip/side seam still has a softness to it. As far as sewing it together, I’m a bit stumped. If it was a soft fabric hat, I’d sew the brim to the outer hat, then make up the lining with an opening in the CB seam, join over the brim seam, (thereby crushing the brim in between the two crowns) then turn through and slip stitch the opening. However, this looks like it’s a fine straw, I can’t see it surviving a severe crushing.
    I did study millinery, and inherited my Nana’s home millinery coursebooks from the 50’s, but I don’t have all the equipment, so I do a lot of improvising. I’ve made lots of kids sunhats because I lose the darn things and we have a climate that requires them daily.
    amended: just read the above – I think the hat is less structured than Dosfashionista has described. I suspect there is no buckram in the brim, and the structure is maintained by the stiffness of the straw alone.
    amended again: I just looked at the larger pictures and think that the hat is finished by slipping the inner crown into the outer crown, turning the raw edge under and edgestitching it over the first crown/brim joining seam. This also secures the lower edge of the band, but to get it precise is quite tricky. Well done, I’m glad they were paid a fair rate.

  3. Sanga says:

    I have just read both answers above and both seem to have correct viewpoints. I have a been a milliner for only 4 years, but also specialize in cut’n’sew hats. I don’t have any specialized machines, only a straight stitcher and an overlocker and I can get by and make hats to a great standard. I’ve found that there are many ways to perform one task correctly.
    In saying this, I believe Sandra B is correct when she states the brim (part C) is on the bias and tucked in to the band (part A), there must be a seam on the outer as well as on the inner. Often with millinery you buy a block in the shape of the wide brimmed hat and mould it yourself to your own specifications. This is not the case with this hat. The band (part A) is also on the bias but does look as though it has been further moulded to create the shape at bottom (where it meets the brim) and the top (where it meets the crown). This could be just eased or stretched in OR cut to meet the measurements as all of these pieces are cut from flat straw lengths.
    Sandra B is also correct in stating ‘that the hat is finished by slipping the inner crown into the outer crown, turning the raw edge under and edgestitching it over the first crown/brim joining seam’.
    Nice hat!

  4. I think the brim is a straight piece (cut larger than twice the depth of the brim) that is seamed in a circle and then the top and bottom layers twisted in opposite directions and pleated at an angle with the points eventually trimmed off when the brim is attached. I’m guessing the brim has a wire inside the outside edge.

  5. Rose says:

    If you just look at the seam it is aligned, but look at the ‘edges’ of the brim both inside and outside are bias. Piece A is also bias.

  6. dosfashionistas says:

    I have been wondering ever since I wrote my piece if the brim had a frame inside it at all. It really looks as though the double thickness of the material (raffia?) was holding up the brim, while letting it droop slightly. I have never worked with straw or raffia, but I think they are slightly more able to recover from crushing than buckram.

    The machines I sewed on when I was making hats had a large cutout in the table, so that I could sew the frames without having to crush the material against a table. You held and rotated the buckram in midair. My hat is off to anyone who can produce a buckram based hat on a regular machine. I made top hats, derbys, a plumed hat that turned up on one side, and more like that for drill teams and marching units…and acters and once for Benji. My one contact with Hollywood; I made a top hat for a dog.

    I have often wished I could start a business that would utilize some of the handwork that women around the world are known for, but I have never worked out exactly how to do it and be sure the women were adequately paid for their part. Or how to do it in such a way as to be salable without destroying the very tradition I wished to celebrate.

  7. Kathleen says:

    If you just look at the seam it is aligned, but look at the ‘edges’ of the brim both inside and outside are bias. Piece A is also bias.

    When we say something is or is not bias, we refer to how it is cut, how the pattern is laid on the fabric, not how it ends up once it is sewn. Yes, this brim ends up turning on the bias but it is cut on grain (another photo). And yes, you are absolutely correct in that piece A is cut on the bias.

    I have been wondering ever since I wrote my piece if the brim had a frame inside it at all. It really looks as though the double thickness of the material (raffia?) was holding up the brim, while letting it droop slightly. I have never worked with straw or raffia, but I think they are slightly more able to recover from crushing than buckram.

    I handled the hats, I would say there is no frame. I am unfamiliar with the performance of raffia too. One thing I did check was to splay the brim layers against each other to see if there was an inner layer to keep it stiff, if there were (there wasn’t) I was imagining something like wigan weight material would be in there. The interesting thing (again, raffia performance) is that the brim edge would fold up readily but it didn’t feel like the material would break which is normally what you’d expect from a dried straw-like material. I really wish I’d bought one now. I wish Georges would fix the site so I could order one.

  8. dosfashionistas says:

    I had assumed a linen or similar fabric at first, which is why I also assumed a wired frame inside the brim. And I was wondering about the pleats also.

  9. Kathleen says:

    The brim (judging from the pattern) is a rectangle, folded in half raw edges together, forming a circle. The pleats were folded with both layers together.

    I don’t know much about linen or raffia but how much difference is there between them? Both are vegetable fibers. I’ve seen raw linen that looked similar to this material.

  10. Kathleen, I thought it was cut ongrain too, at first. But now I wonder if it is cut on the bias, but the two ends of the bias rectangle are just seamed on-grain. That would make it a lot easier to make the pleats work out. It would take a very wide piece of fabric/raffia to get that length on the bias though.

    I did a small scale sample of a straight cut rectangle that was twisted to get the folded edge on the bias and it just didn’t look right. Maybe my scale (brim circumference to crown) was off?

    I admit I know almost nothing about raffia….

  11. Kathleen,

    I am confused about your statement that the brim is not cut on the bias. I imagine a parallelogram with two long edges on the bias and two short edges on the straight of grain. The piece is then joined along the straight of grain, as is typical when joining bias strips of any kind, and folded on the bias.

    I am completely missing the point of what it means to be cut on the straight of grain.

  12. Kathleen says:

    I imagine a parallelogram with two long edges on the bias and two short edges on the straight of grain. The piece is then joined along the straight of grain, as is typical when joining bias strips of any kind, and folded on the bias.

    Ha! I stand corrected lol. Don’t you just love comments? Here’s a jpeg illustrating Alison’s solution. I really think this is the right one. Yes the seaming is grain but the majority of the piece (the long sides) are lain across the bias grain.

  13. dosfashionistas says:

    I had to go and look it up. Raffia is made from the leaves of the raffia palm. The leaflets are literally stripped or shredded to produce the rough fiber without much more work other than drying and stripping out the fibers to a uniform thickness. The plant is a native of Madagascar, and originally grew only there. (And there are those who ask me why saving indigenous species is important) Now the palm is grown also in West Africa and there is apparently growing demand for it as a source of fiber. Or maybe they were just promoting it heavily.

    The world is full of fiber sources we don’t utilize. I once read that the wool of the musk ox is more insulating and therefore warmer than sheep’s wool. The heavy undercoat falls out every spring, just like my German Shepard’s, and the people of the region gather it to spin and use locally.

  14. Barb Taylorr says:

    As raffia has plenty of body itself I expect there is no additional frame inside, probably just a spring wire around the edge of the brim. I think there are two crowns, both with a tip (A) and a bias-cut sideband (B). The brim (C) which is one long rectangle joined at the ends & with a fold at outter edge. The inside edges are pleated and sewn to the two crowns. The seam seen on the under brim is where you turn it all right side out and insert the spring wire. After closing this seam (or just allowing it to overlap) the crown (A&B) would steamed and also sized on a block. If the seam on the upper brim does not show then my guess is that it is hidden under one of the pleats.
    Sizing raffia will stiffen it and make it hold the shape of the block better. Sized raffis gets more brittle however, so sometimes a milliner will chose to leave it unsized.

  15. Barb Taylorr says:

    oops, sorry – just noticed I got the componet letters wrong. Tip is the top piece, labeled “B”. Sideband is self-explanatory, labeld “A” here.

  16. Marilynn says:

    Here’s my take. This is raffia, also called straw cloth. There are 2 crown/tips made. The inside one should be patterned smaller, the “sweatband/sizing band” is cut on bias to headsize (22″ is standard). It’s on bias so it will stretch when pulling the hat on and then pull into headsize. (This is the only place where grain is critical). The brim is one piece on crossgrain. It is stitched into a circle, folded in half (like binding) and pleated. Then it is attached to the two crowns, (between the two). The band seen on the outside of the crown covers the stitching of the crown to the brim, just as the ribbon band on a hat covers the attaching of the two pieces. There is no wiring in this hat (none needed) and there is no blocking (none needed). Because it is straw cloth, the seams do not look crisp because the straw would break. If you wanted, you could make this hat out of any fabric, but it would be very floppy.

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