How to Make Your own Custom Hat

It is pretty cold here in Canada right now so I wanted to make myself the perfect hat! Well, as per usual I can’t decide which style, perhaps because I have some millinery in my genes; I made them all! Let me help you Design & make your own custom hat with my detailed instructions.

What supplies do I need?

This project started from a misfortune of a wool sweater ending up in a washing machine and becoming felted – ouch! Instead of throwing away such a beauty I decided to make a few things from it. The unique crocheted blanket was somewhat felted and such fun colours. My mother was a milliner (hat maker in the 1950’s – 1970’s) so I have a couple wood blocking heads but you could use a styrofoam head or just use your own head for fit. Traditional methods were complicated but these designs are my simplified instructions.

Core millinery materials are simple sewing tools and you can have a variety of skill levels to make these. I believe hats should become more fashion forward from just costumes or ball-caps!

  • Knit (felted sweater/blanket) or fleece
  • A sewing machine
  • needles
  • measuring tape
  • Optional Bias Band (for sweat band)
  • Optional lining fabric
  • Paper to draft out pattern

Felting happens when wool gets agitated too much and the scales on the fibres get all tangled together. It will now be more dense and not unravel when it is cut, like commercial felt. It is wonderful to sew with since it does not need so much finishing and it’s also very soft and cozy. Felted wool blankets are very much the same but may not have that amount of stretch.

How to Make a Custom size Hat:

I have a pretty big head so every time I try a hat on it is too tight; another reason I wanted to make my own. Measure around you head to see what fits best for you. I have 23″ which would be a XL size. Adult sizes range from about 21″ – 23″. The amount of stretch in the fabric also plays into the fit. I like my hat to be pretty loose so I don’t get such flattened hair; ‘hat-head’.

I planned to make a simple bucket hat, adjusting the head circumference size according to my head. Since much of the fit depends on the measurement I cut a bit extra, after sewing the seam I test how it feels around my head. Making sketches does help but I find the deciding factor is looking in the mirror!

Design Your Own Hat in various styles:

I have tested numerous different simple hat styles and created illustrations to show how the pattern pieces look. The components of millinery design can actually be quite simple. As a child I watched as my mother would sew vogue custom hats for distinguished ladies to match their coats/outfits, those were the days! She didn’t have a premade pattern, just measured and adjusted accordingly.

Many hat designs have a hat body/crown, brim and a crown cap, just like a bucket would have. Altering the parts gives difference characteristics to the different hats. Curving the brim allows it to stand out more, making the main crown taller, shorter or tapered changes the shape. Each alteration make a different hat style (see below for illustrations). Basting first allows you to see how it will look… Keep the main circumference measurement in mind when creating curves.

There are no rules to the art of millinery as it’s all about how the owner likes the fit.

Assembling the Hat:

Attaching the cap to the band while easing will give the top some curvature. Sewing a tight stitch (many short stitches) or twice will make sure it does not unravel.

Making a smaller circle crown cap pulls the sides in to round the top even more. Sew and test fit. The thickness of the knits is warm enough to not need a lining. If you choose to line it would be a slightly smaller copy of the outside shapes.

Once the circumference fits you may want to add a ‘sweatband’ to the inside. this will keep the hat from stretching out and also will cover the seam allowance. The brim is lined so the bias band finishes the edges nicely.

The simple bucket hat is done… but I now want to make a few different variations. Sadly hat boutiques are less common now, as true millinery art seems to be dedicated to fashion events.

Why not have a bit of this art form in your everyday life?! In this tutorial I used supplies I have on hand and some fabric/fleece scraps. Here are the details of how each different hat design looks in pattern pieces. I’m sure you can measure and draft up your own patterns, no real need to buy a modern pattern. It’s been refreshing since a hat making has so few pieces & results are pretty quick. It perfect to use up all those small pieces of leftover fabric sweaters (and even match the mittens!) For more details see the video below. (illustrations to follow are rough shapes on a 1″ x 1″ grid)

The Bucket Hat:

I made this simple Bucket hat with a brim that can be worn down to protect from the elements/sun or flipped up completely or partially.

The body of the crown is made to be tapered and the brim has a curve. Make the top crown smaller to pull the side in and create a more rounded hat top.

The Bucket with Varied Brim:

This variation on the basic bucket hat is much the same but the brim is wider at the front. You can make completely unique stylish hats for yourself by adding/adjusting where you like.

The Bowler/Derby Hat:

This design came from the bucket hat. It fits closer to the head with the brim folded up. I lined the brim and added a sweat band inside to cover the seams.

This design has less taper for the main crown and the brim is much more straight as well. The knit fabrics allow the brim to fold up easily and create a soft curve.

The Toque/Beanie:

This is probably the most popular design at the moment and is super simple. Use the existing edge of the sweater for the bottom edge.

Adjust the height as per your fit desire. I made the pom-pom by cutting a circle of a long faux fur and hand-stitching the outsed to gather into a ball, fill loosely and tie before attaching.

There are 4 sections the seam to the point. Plan for the stretch to be across the width/knit of felted sweater.

The Fez Style Hat:

The Fez stye hat is even more simple! It is actually really a bucket shape! Using interesting fabric or even some piecing makes this simple design stand out.

If you’d like the crown top to be rounder ease a smaller circle to the side piece. I can imagine this design with many embellishments (like those on fascinators)or bands/ribbon of detail to create interest since the sewing pattern shape is simple.

The PillBox Style

This style is a loose variation of the Pillbox hat. I remember my mother carefully shaping felt with steam to make the more formal ones a few decades past.

This design will look different depending on the fabric used, as more stiff will create a less slouchy shape hat.

If the band is wider it will sit further over the eyes as well. I just trimmed the seams close since these fabrics do not fray. It wears great and can slouch a bit at the back of the head. This design is actually my favourite design. It does not squash my hair so much!

The Beret Style Hat:

Isn’t she lovely?! The bright blue was a lambswool seater that sadly ended up in the washing machine. But, it was wonderful to sew! I used some hand-dyed wool blanket that I made into a jacket to make the embellishments.

Do you notice how the pattern pieces are quite similar? There’s not much difficulty to them and the variations are minor. Adjusting the top circle makes the crown shape rounder. I’d say this is my favourite! I love the blue & softness of the wool. It would be great if thrift stores would sell the felted sweaters that come in!

Imagine this one with a big fuzzy pom-pom or some bling embellishment on the side. Once you start to design I bet you will want to try a few variations of each… Happy hat making and maybe you learned a new term; millinery.

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  1. Great Post again. Love the variety, especially the blue hat.
    My mother was a milliner too. Research on Ancestry shows Milliners were a big part of my family going back to the early 1800s. No getting away from our genes I guess

  2. I’ve always loved, loved hats. I can’t wait to try this again…. I say again, because I spent hours frustrating myself a few years ago, trying to make some for myself. You make the process look a lot simpler. Thanks again for all the work you put into making these ideas look ‘do-able.’ You’re a woman of many talents!

  3. Pretty cold here too (6 below) in Minnesota so I made not one but three pairs of your mittens. All turned out well so now I must find another sweater and try these hats before it warms up. That gives me months to work on one of these.

  4. Greetings Barb, as a hat lover, I love your hat designs! I do sew but have never drafted a pattern, but now in my 80’s I still like trying new things. I can’t remember the formular for making a circle from straight measurements and is the draft paper in 1″ squares? I’d appreciate any help so I can get started making these beautiful items! Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. Yes, the patterns are 1″ squares but you could probably eye-ball the curves too. The formula for a circumference of a circle = 2πr (π=3.14). Here are some common circumferences: 6.5″ circle makes 20.4″, 7″ circle makes 22″, 7.5″ circle makes 23.5, 8″ circle makes 25.15″. Add seam allowance to the size. There are many online resources for math too. A flexible measuring tape helps measure along a curve nicely. Happy sewing!

  5. Barb your designs for hats are so awesome I just want to make them. By any chance do you have a book with these designs? I have been cleaning out clothing from my closet to be given to Salvation Army or Goodwill and then I saw all these amazing hats that I could create from some of the mazing sweaters I have. I will keep this site in computer files for future use. Thank you so much.

  6. I’m a Canadian woman with a big head and am thrilled to see how easy it could be to make a comfortable hat this winter.