I love hats. They’re such a great accessory to a person’s persona — be they for the SCA or a RenFaire or a LARP or even for just Halloween fun.
I’ve gotten a lot of use out of this hat that I got from Potted Fox (they no longer carry this, alas) and then added the silk band and plumes.
This hat was great because it’s leather so it can take a beating and also has a wired brim, so it can be bent into any shape I want and then reshaped later. I’ve used this for the cavalier/musketeer look as well as a tricorn for being a pirate and my Daring Dragoon cosplay. Hell, I’ve had folks recognize who I am in the dark because of this hat. Like I said, it’s a good hat.
But as part of my #MoreDashing2015 goal, I decided I needed update my look. The leather wide-brim hat isn’t going anywhere, but I wanted something a little more period (I haven’t found an instance of a leather hat in the early-to-mid 17th Century) and something a little nicer.
Here’s the end result:
So here’s a basic guide to shaping your own cavalier-era/musketeer wide-brim hat.
Note: This is for making a cavalier-era hat using a hat blank that’s already been shaped. I plan on doing a future project and guide on blocking your own hat with wool felt hat bodies/capalines. If you’re wondering how to do that now, I recommend this guide by fellow Musketeer fan Sam Hawkeye.
Cavalier/Musketeer Hat Styles
There are a myriad versions of the musketeer hat. Everything from a completely flat brim to one side being completely cocked up, to the front being curled, to almost everything in between. Typically the crowns were tall and brims wide. The tall crown/short brim almost top hat like Elizabethan tall hats were still a thing in the early half of the 17th Century. But by the time the Three Musketeers and the English Civil War hit, wider was better. Large, ostentatious plumes also decorated the top of the brims. The crowns varied in size, but were typically on the taller side and were usually square in shape.
Here’s a sampling of cavalier-era hats. Some are from paintings of the period; others are from movies I really enjoy. But it’ll give you an idea of where to start as you decide what you want your own hat to look like.
I decided on doing something similar to what my leather cavalier hat looks like — slight dip in the front and a curl on the left side. There’s also a slight curl on the back that acts as a “shelf” and keeps the plumes from spilling over too much. Nothing wrong with it doing that, just a personal preference.
The Hat Blank
First thing you need to do is get a hat blank. A quick Google search brings up several options. I decided to get the basic wool felt hat blank from JA-Townsend. They also have fur felt blank if you don’t mind shelling out the extra cash. Their brims are about 5″ wide and the crown 4″ high (which is actually a little too low for the period), and the crown is round instead of square, but their stuff is good, so I didn’t mind giving up a little accuracy for quality.
The brim comes in uneven as the brim ranges from like 4-5″ wide. So you’ll probably want to even it out a little. I decided to cut my hat to 4″ wide so the crown and brim are even proportions. The way I did it was with a rule and just marked off 4″ on a whole bunch of spots, but using a pen and string also would work. I then connected the lines and then cut the brim so it was round and even.
Shaping the Brim
Depending on the hat blank, the brim will be a little stiff or not very stiff. Either way, you may want to stiffen it and the crown up a little. I used the Bickmore Kahl Hat Stiffener. It’s a spray and there’s more than you’ll need in the bottle to get started.
Be sure to follow the directions and safety guidelines on whatever stiffener you end up getting. For the spray I got I just cover the crown, the top of the brim, the inside of the brim, and inside of the crown in a layer of spray and then let it dry for a day.
Once dry we can start the actual shaping. Fortunately it’s fairly simple and all you need is water, a tea kettle, and a heat source.
Boil water in a kettle so a steady stream of stem is coming through the spout. Hold the hat over the steam so it softens, but don’t hold it there for too long — 5-10 seconds is plenty and it’s better to err on the side of not enough time than too much time. You may also want to wear some gloves so you don’t burn yourself.
Then bend, shape and form however you like it.
I wanted a slight curl on the left side of the hat. To make the curl more consistent and nicer looking, I used a wooden dowel to shape the brim over. Hold it in place and as the wool cools it’ll stiffen back up and keep the shape.
If it cooled before you got the shape exactly the way you wanted, just re-steam and shape until you get it the way you want. Wool felt is very forgivable that way and you keep steaming and shaping until you’re happy.
Along with a curl on the side of the brim, I dipped the front of the brim just a little so it would give me maximum eye protection from the sun, and curled the back just a smidge so there’s a shelf for the plumes to gather against. The end result of the shaping:
Once you’re happy with the shape, give it another layer of hat stiffener all over the top and bottom. You can put as many layers of stiffener as you like so you get the right feel you’re going for.
Decorating the Hat — Bands & Plumes
You could stop right with the shaping and leave the hat a little more plain looking, a la Alatriste. Or you could go the full Musketeer and add a band and plumes.
Silk was often used, but I’ve seen some hats from the 17th Century that also had a braided cord as the band. So you have options. For my hat I decided on a black taffeta silk from Renaissance Fabrics. I bought varying sizes of ostrich wing plumes from Plumes N Feathers.
You may also want some wool as an interlining for your silk band, if you go that route. If you compare the band on my leather hat up top and this finished hat, you’ll see how much smoother the lines of the silk band is when sandwiching wool. Thanks to my friends Jehan and Luke for the wool idea!
Making the Band
Fortunately, this is also easy.
- To start making your band, you’ll want to measure the outside of the bottom of the crown and then figure out how tall you want the band to be. Take those measurements, add about a .5-1″ for seam allowance and overlap at the short edges, and draw out a rectangle on stiff paper and cut it out. Congrats! You just made a pattern for your hat band!
- Use that pattern to cut out a piece of wool. This will be your band interlining. It’s not needed, so you can skip this if you wish, but I think the final product lookers nicer with wool inside the silk. After you cut out the wool do the same with the silk but place one of the long ends of the band on the fold and add about a 5.” for seam allowance on the bottom of the band (the non-fold part). Cut it out.
- Once both pieces are cut out you’ll want to sew the wool to one side of the band (it doesn’t matter which). Press with an iron after to smooth and flatten.
- Then fold the silk over and sew it to itself, right sides to right sides, leaving a big enough gap to turn the band. Make sure your seam allowance isn’t too big so it’ll still fit around the hat crown.
- Turn so the wool and your seams are in the inside and use a slip stitch to close up the gap.
Your band is now made. Wrap it around the crown of your hat. It should fit nice and smooth along the bottom but may gap a little at the top where the crown is a little narrower. To fix this, just angle the ends of the band where they overlap. This will help tighten up any gaps you have. You can leave this bit showing or you can cover it with plumes (like I did). When you get it the way you want, tack it in place with pins and then sew two rows to hold the shape in place.
Adding the Plumes
Now the fun part. Feathers!
There’s a few ways you can add feathers to your hat:
- Stuff it into the band
- Attach to the hat via a brooch
- Stuff them into a pinnable feather aglet and pin to the hat
- Sew them onto the band
With the leather cavalier hat I have, I went the brooch method. For this hat I decided for a more minimalist look and sewed the plumes on.
Before I did this, though, I laid the plumes out on my hat to see how many feathers I needed, what color combo I liked and in what order, and how I wanted to layer the plumes.
If you sew the plume son like I did there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind:
- Don’t sew through the stem! You’ll ruin your feather so fast that way. You’ll want to sew through the silk, wrap the thread around the stem and then back through the silk. Do several stiches before tying off. I tacked each plume down this way in three different spots, starting with the bottom later and then moving my way up to the top later.
- Be sure that the thread isn’t catching too many of the feather strands. You want those strands as free as possible so it puffs out naturally. If you’re not careful you’ll sew some of these strands down and it’ll have a weird look to it. We want these plumes full.
And when you’re done you should have a dashing looking cavalier-era hat!
My Hat Got Wet and Now It’s Misshapen! What Do I Do!?
Good question! Just re-steam and reshape. Like I mentioned before, wool felt is very forgivable and you can be reshaped as many times as needed.
That’s pretty much it. You have plenty of styles and designs to choose from. It was a great era for fashion.