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Hat Construction 1

I recently started working on an act that involved hat manipulation. Many of the tricks that I wanted to do involved catching and throwing balls from the hat as well as throwing the hat itself. After several crashes and tears, it quickly became apparent that the $65 hats that one can get from the normal prop venders were not going to work, so I decided that I would have to be able to build my own.

Now, I am not a milliner, so the way that I built my hats are more along the lines of stage costuming techniques rather than those for fashion. Keep in mind that this description is how I am currently building my hats, not necessarily how it should be done.

The process involves blocking felt onto a form, blocking the brim onto a form, sewing the two together, coating the hat with a latex paint, and finishing with a hat band.

I use only materials that were readily available from the local fabric store, that I am sure that I can duplicate the process at any time.

Some of the materials that I am using that are sub optimal are:

  • Craft felt instead of Wool felt.
  • Elmer's Glue instead of blocking glue
  • Home made hat block instead of a professional one

The synthetic craft felt works well enough if used in several layers. Since I coat the hats with latex, the glue that I use as a stiffening agent isn't exposed.

The resulting hat looks just fine from stage, is fairly durable, completely customizable, and costs about $5 in materials.


The first step is to buy, or build a hat block. The block is the "mold" that you will stretch the felt on. Each block is made for a single size, so you will want one that fits your head.

I build mine out of 2x4 lumber that I edge glued together. I then roughed the shape on a band saw, and finished the shape on a disk sander. The block sits on a piece of plywood and connects with dowels. When I stretch the felt, I stick the pins into the edge of the plywood base.

It took a couple of iterations to get the shape that I wanted based on the original hat style (bowler), but now that I have one that I like, I am able to make as many hats as I wish.

The block must be divided into sections so that the felt can be removed. I used three sections, so that once the felt dries, the middle section can be slipped completely out, releasing the piece.

I know that it looks like a toilet seat...

Although you can form the brim by hand, I built a block for the brim so that I could be sure of the size and angle. The thickness of the ring determines the depth of the brim. On the bottom side I glued several layers of cork so that the pins would have something to grip.