Making your own leather hat is not as hard as you might think, in this step by step tutorial you’ll be taken from star to finish and at the end of it you’ll have a hat to be proud of and it will last you for years.
I had made a fantastic video tutorial on creating a bushcraft hat, but after being online for the last 6 years YouTube decided to remove it without telling me. So now, unfortunately I don’t have another copy of the vid but I did have some images I used in making the vid. This presented a fantastic opportunity to do something I’ve wanted for a long time and create a more comprehensive and detailed instructable.
My foray into hat making came about because initially, when I started into leather, there were no resources online that offered plans on how to make these hats, and any I found at my local leather shop where overly expensive and didn’t fit the style I wanted.
So I grabbed my favorite Tilly hat, took some measurements and designed this hat based partly on it, and partly on what I wanted in a bush hat. It’s my hope that this design, like all of the instructables I create, gets passed around as much as possible.
It was pretty frustrating, when I first started out, to find there were so few resources for beginners, in any medium, and that plans and templates were so unattainable.
This design, like many of my plans, can be modified simply by adjusting a few measurements to become anything from a fedora, to a top hat, to a cowboy hat. It was made to be fluid, so that there is no set number of holes to be punched, or stitches to be sewn, thereby keeping the fundamental design in tact, but allowing room for creative alteration.
Step 1: Tools And Equipment
- Sharp leather knife, x-acto knife, etc
- Wheel cutter
- Rake hole punch
- Sewing Awl
- Leather edger or 220Grit Sandpaper
- Rubber Gloves
- Wool for leather dye
- Spray bottle with water
- 2-3oz leather 26×15″ minimum
- Patch of tanned deer hide 8×8″ minimum
- Fiebings leather dye
- Large sheet of paper
- Leather polish (see my other instructable on how to make your own)
- Leather Glue
Step 2: Creating Your Template And Cutting Out Your Leather
This pattern can be used to make a hat that’s anywhere from 7 1/8US (medium) to 7 5/8US (XL) depending on how you set it up, which I’ll go into later.
Making your template is pretty easy. There are only four parts to your hat; the brim, two side bands and the crown. The crown can be made from the cut out center of the brim, thereby saving you leather.
As you can see by the template, the tapered section of the crown is actually slightly rounded. This sets the overall look of the hat by tapering it at the front. If you wanted to make a pilgrim style hat, or top hat, you’d simply leave the crown round. Likewise, on a cowboy hat, you would taper it even more across the front and the back.
You’ll notice the brim is slightly longer than it is wide. That’s because the human head is longer than it is wide so making it perfectly round would make for a pretty uncomfortable hat. In the bushcraft hat style, the hat tapers up to the crown. Again, you can change this feature as you see fit for a straighter, taller hat, or for one that has a more pronounced angle. It’s really up to you.
Once you’ve created your template, transfer it to your leather and cut out your pieces. You don’t need to be to tidy since we’re going to work a bit more on the edges next.
Step 3: Prepping Your Edges
Now’s the time to fix those little slips with the x-acto knife. If you have a leather edging tool, then this process is pretty easy, however if you don’t you can simply use a bit of 220 grit sandpaper. Using such a low grit sandpaper will take longer to smooth the edges, but it’ll go a long way in keeping down inevitable burrs that can happen on the suede side of the leather. If your suede side does burr, you can clean them up with your knife.
Skiving the Edge:
If you ended up using higher weight leather, like I did with my first hat, you’re going to need to skive the edges where the leather joins together, tho you can leave the brim as is since it won’t take any of the forming. It’s not a bad idea to thin your 2-3oz leather as well, as it’ll help a lot in the forming process. Just be sure to skive the suede side of the leather only.
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Step 4: Punching your holes
The biggest piece of advice I give, always count your holes. I can’t stress this enough since one hole difference, between the brim and side bands can make your hat look crooked and ruin its symmetry.
The holes on the inside of the brim should equal the holes along the bottom of both side bands, the holes along the top of the side bands should equal the number of holes around the crown etc.
You can punch a series of holes around the outer edge of the brim for a reinforcement band. It’s not necessary, since we’re working with solid veg tan leather, and, honestly I find it looks nicer with just a smooth stitch around the outside edge of the brim.
For the reinforcement band, you just need to cut an extra piece of deer hide, which I’ll get more into later.
Another good addition are breather holes in the side bands of the hat. I’d recommend two holes per side, evenly spaced and filled with lacing grommets for decoration. Again, it’s not essential, but it can go a long way to keeping your head from overheating when wearing your hat.
Step 5: Sewing Your Side Bands To Your Crown
For starters, we’re going to stitch the brim together inside out, with the suede on the outside. When you stitch the ends of your side band together, you should have the edge of one side overlap the other, with the inverse on the other side.
You’ll notice that the bottom of the new side band is somewhat concave. This will help form the overall shape of the hat since the seams will be on the front and back of the hat, rather than the sides.
Next sew on the crown of your hat, again with the suede side out. Only stitch one half at a time, starting from the front and ending at the back. This will prevent it from torquing due to over snug stitches and help it keep its symmetry better.
Step 6: Attaching The Top To The Brim
First you’re going to need to turn the top right side out. For that, you’re going to need to soak it. Now we won’t be wet forming it just yet, but the entire top has to be soaked really well, almost to the point of dripping wet.
The reason we wet the top is to prevent wrinkling along the sides where the leather will be flexing. If you don’t soak well, the grain will stretch and create creases in the leather that can’t be smoothed out, even with burnishing (rubbing with a wooden doorknob shaped tool).
Once you have the top with the grain side out, you can attach it to the brim. There are a couple of ways you can do this, and they are entirely up to you;
- Brim overlaps side bands. – makes for a larger hat, however creates a place for water to get between when it rains. Can be fixed with wax waterproofing or by gluing before stitching which also reinforces the seam.
- Side bands over Brim – Makes for a smaller hat, however prevents water from getting between the top and the brim. This is the most practical way of doing it.
Again, like you did when attaching the crown, when you attach the top to the brim, do one half at a time, starting at the front and ending at the back.
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Step 7: Shaping Your Hat
This is where the wet forming comes in to play. First, we need to soak the hat to make it pliant. A really good resource would be to have a pre-form in the shape of a head, that you could set it on, but it isn’t necessary.
When leather becomes wet, it becomes more pliant, and as it dries, it begins to take the shape molded into it. Keep working on the shape, either using your hands or a burnisher, (any smooth round object will do), using your own head as a template, until you get the shape you want.
Step 8: Dying Your Hat
There’s a lot of techniques when it comes to dying evenly, but mostly it amounts to:
- how clean your leather is
- how oil free your leather is
- how ‘humid’ your leather is
- and what you use to apply it with.
For me, I like to prep my leather by cleaning it with a preparation of distilled water and 10% alcohol, which seems to work very well.
Next, I like to give a nice, light spray of distilled water with a spray bottle, because as the person who taught me used to say, “dry leather is thirsty leather”.
Then I like to apply with balls of raw wool, or the smaller wool on a stick that comes with the Fiebings bottles for smaller jobs.
**Important**: Don’t dye the inside of the hat. It will leach to your skin and make you look very foolish in the process.
Here’s an interesting technique:
If you want to give your hat a worn look around the band, just let it dry completely, then give it a light spray all over. Then, along the bottom half where the sides meet the brim, give it a heavier spray wetting it.
The spots that are wet will take less of the dye and look faded compared to the rest of the hat, making it look worn. Next take a slightly damp, soft cloth and start rubbing down the entire brim. This will lighten it overall, and make the shade difference between the two areas more noticeable.
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Step 9: Cutting Your Deer Hide Pieces
The Hat Band:
Take your wheel cutter, and make your patch of leather round. Next, start cutting around it, roughly 1/2″ wide and keep cutting until you reach the center and can’t cut any more. You should end up with a long leather lace. Next, cut it into three pieces. Start one end by punching a hole through all three strips then running a small lace of leather through it and tie it off.
Attach the finished end to a table or chair, then start braiding your three strips, continually measuring its length against the diameter of your hat. It’s important you keep the strands flat as you braid as any wrinkles in the leather will show in the finished band. Once you get it to length, you can punch a hole in all three strands and again, run a small lace through them to keep them together.
Next, put the band around your hat, and tie the small laces together, fitting it snuggly. You should end up with a nice finished end.
Cut another piece of deer hide, roughly 1 1/4″ wide that’s the inside diameter of your hat. I neglected to mention that you can stitch this sweat band in when you attach to top to the brim of your hat, however it’s not necessary. Some good quality leather glue should bond it in place nicely.
Step 10: Polish and Waterproof
The point of a hat is to keep the sun off of your heat and the rain out of your face and an unprotected hat won’t do either very well. I highly recommend using a beeswax based polish that will fill any of the stitch holes and help waterproof your seams. Here’s an instructable I made on making your own polish.
A little trick with leather polish:
If you apply your polish while your leather is still wet, your finished product will be softer and more flexible, however if you apply your polish to dry leather, it’ll stay firmer and less flexible. I really couldn’t tell you the science behind it, but suffice it to say it’s a matter of choice. A flexible hat can become floppy over time but is more comfortable to wear, while a firmer hat will keep it’s shape longer, but require more break-in time. It’s your choice in the end.
Step 11: Finished
That’s it. Creating a hat can seem like a big job, but it’s really one of the easiest leather projects you can undertake. The best part is the flexibility and creativity that goes into designing them, and as far as I’m concerned, there’s no such thing as a bad hat.
Like always, thanks for reading my instructable and I hope you enjoyed it.
You can see the original article from ‘antagonizer’ HERE
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