September 9, 2012

Tiny Top Hat Tutorial

There's something about me that you should know: I love steampunk. What is steampunk, you ask? Well, to put it simply, it's a sort of alternate history where in Victorian times, more focus was put on developing steam technology. So you can have this Victorian gentleman with a steam-powered robot manservant. Or a soldier who lost his leg and had it replaced with a clockwork prosthetic.

Steampunk started out in literature. It's not really quite a genre, but more of a setting. Most steampunk novels are set in Victorian times, but they can also be set in the future, provided it's a future where technological developments focused on steam and clockwork, rather than electronics (or where they've reverted to those technologies, for whatever reason). Jules Verne can really be considered the father of steampunk, although for the time it was more of a possible future rather than an alternate one.

The idea of steampunk is captivating. The romance and elegance of Victorian times combined with technology that equals or even surpasses our own, wrapped in copper and brass and clockwork gears. Today, steampunk has gotten so popular that there's conventions and music, and even a style of dress.
And that's where this post comes in. Whenever I go to the Steampunk World's Fair (yes, I've been twice. It's loads of fun), I'm always captivated by the hats. Ever since I was a little girl, I've loved hats. The fancier the better. The problem is, they're all hand-made of course and the full size ones can run up to a couple hundred dollars. The little top hats are much more affordable, but they can still be $20-$40 or more depending on materials and embellishments.
So one day I decided that I was going to see if I could make them myself. And while the result is maybe not as nice as the ones you would buy at SPWF, it's loads cheaper.

  • 1 sheet felt (I got this really cool embossed felt from Michaels, but plain felt works as well)
  • White or school glue (Elmer's)
  • Tacky or fabric glue
  • Ribbon
  • Embellishments of your choice
  • Optional: depending on your embellishments, you may need hot glue.
Step One: Cut the felt
First you want to cut out a large circle, about 5 to 6 inches in diameter. I used a large cookie cutter as my guide here. (Note, if using embossed felt, work on the plain side.)
Next you'll want to cut a smaller circle from the center of the big one, about 3 inches in diameter. I used a vinegar bottle here because it was the right size, and it comes in handy to measure against and when drying the felt.
You also want to cut a long strip of felt, about 3 inches tall, and long enough to wrap around your vinegar bottle, with some overlap.

Step 2: Stiffening the felt
In a shallow container, mix equal parts white glue and water. (You can buy fabric stiffener, and I'm sure it works just as well, but it's more expensive. $15 bottle of fabric stiffener or a 99 cent bottle of glue. Your choice). Add the large circle and make sure both sides are coated. Let the excess drip off, then use your thumb and forefinger to squeeze out the rest. (Yes, it's messy, but the best crafts always are) It should be damp, but not soaked.

Some of the dye may bleed when you add the felt to the glue mixture. This is fine, but something to keep in mind if you're doing multiple colors.
Cover a bowl or a rounded surface with plastic wrap, to keep the felt from sticking. This one was a little too steep; you should use something shallower. Place the felt on top and smooth out any ripples (it's hard, I know). How you place it is how it will dry, remember that.
Repeat the same procedure for the long piece of felt, but wrap it around a tall, cylindrical object (also wrapped in plastic), the same diameter as small circle you cut. Hence, the reason for the vinegar bottle as guide.

The two ends should stick together well enough if you press them together, but if not, use a paper clip to hold them in place.
Repeat the process for the small circle, and place it on a flat surface. Let all three pieces dry for 12-24 hours, or until completely dry and stiff.

Step 3: Assembling
Once dry, take the long strip of fabric off of your vinegar bottle and glue the two ends together using the tacky glue. You may have to reapply the glue because the felt can soak it up.
You can hold it together as it dries with paper clips. Let it sit until dried: up to 30 minutes should suffice.
Using the tacky glue, glue the cylindrical piece to the large circle, lining it up with the hole from the smaller circle. Err on the side of caution here with the glue-- use more of it than you think you need, and use a paint brush to fill in any gaps. Tacky glue dries clear, so don't worry too much about being neat.
Glue the small circle to the top. Again, don't be stingy with the tacky glue. Let dry for about 30 minutes to 1 hour before embellishing. It doesn't have to be completely dry, just dry enough that it's sturdy.

You may have found that the felt shrunk while drying. If the smaller circle is too small to fit, re-cut it (you should have more than enough felt, still), add to the glue/water mixture, and let dry about an hour. Because it's small, it dries fast, and it doesn't have to be completely dry when you add it to the hat.
Please note, a snoring cat under your chair is recommended, but not necessary for this step.

Step 4: Embellishments
Cut a length of ribbon long enough to wrap around the cylindrical part of the hat (does that part have a name? Any hat buffs care to weigh in?)
Use the tacky glue to glue the ribbon down by the brim.

Add your embellishments. For this hat I used a sparkly silver bird (from a packet of scrapbooking supplies-- there are a whole slew of different shapes in three different colors), and some feathers. I had to hot glue the feathers on, and I really should have  moved them a little farther forward, because the bird kind of gets hidden by the brim.
For this one, I used this self-adhesive flower and glittery copper curlicue (from the same scrapbooking set as the bird). I also used lace ribbon that I aged by soaking it in coffee.

To wear, you can attach elastic or glue the hat to a headband or hair clip
So there you have it: tiny Victorian top hats. Easy and cheap to make. How cheap? Well, I spent about $25 in supplies, and that was enough to make 4 complete hats, plus plenty extra. I already had the tacky glue and feathers on hand, but I also bought two different spools of ribbon, embellishments I haven't even opened, and the slightly more expensive embossed felt. So I'd say about $6-$8/hat. Not too shabby, don'tcha think?
Say hello to today's model: Roebert. Because when you have a clockwork dog, you use him to model steampunk hats.
And his name isn't a typo. He's not Robert. He's Roebert.