May 10, 2015

How to Make a Basic Pillbox Hat: Part 1

I had some fabric left over from making my metallic brocade leopard print dress (seen here) and decided to make a little pillbox hat to wear with it! I also want to start sharing some more millinery tutorials with you guys, so today I will show you part one of making a basic pillbox hat! 

Now there is millinery, and then there is millinery. Real deal millinery can require a lot of equipment and materials, and possibly classes or a tutor to lean all of the time honored and disappearing skills. This tutorial will show you how to make a basic pillbox hat without having to use a block or special millinery tools. This method is more like theatrical hat making, quicker and dirtier than having to block the various parts of the hat. I enjoy making hats both ways, and as I do own a few hat blocks I will show you the other method as well some other time.

To make a hat like this you will need to find millinery buckram, a cotton woven "fabric" that has a substantial amount of sizing (gluey stuff) in it so that it is quite stiff. Here in Colorado I am lucky to have a local shop that sells millinery supplies including buckram (Allyn's Fabric and Bridal), but if you don't have a millinery supply store nearby you can also find it online. You will also need millinery wire, which is usually sold by the foot and comes in various gauges (I usually use #19) and comes plain or with a rayon covering. This too can be found at millinery shops or online.

Materials Needed:

-Millinery wire
-Millinery needles
-Lightweight fusible interfacing
-Access to and iron

First you need to make a circle template out of paper the size you want your pillbox hat to be. I used a 6" diameter circle for this hat. Cut out one circle in buckram. For the stand of the hat (the sides of the pillbox), decide how tall you want the hat to be for the width, and cut out a strip of buckram along the straight grain a few inches longer than the circumference of your circle. 

Cut out a circle of fabric a half inch out from the edge of your circle template for covering the top of your hat. Cut out a strip of fabric 1"-1.5" wider than your strip of buckram for covering the sides of the hat.

Ready a sturdy needle with doubled thread for sewing millinery wire around the edge of the buckram circle you just cut out. We will be wiring the entire edge of the buckram circle to give the hat structure. To do this, I usually start wiring using the wire uncut and just cut off the excess when I get to the beginning again, but you could also cut the wire first to the circumference of your circle plus 1 inch. I find the wire easier to handle in a coil as opposed to when it is cut. Sew the wire to the edge using a blanket stitch.

Once you reach the beginning again, overlap the wire by an inch and sew over the ends a few times to make sure they are secure. Next we will sew on the strip of buckram creating the stand of the had. We will just use a whip stitch for this, the wire makes this part much easier than it would be without it! Keep your stitches about 1/4 of and inch apart or less.

Once you reach the other end, make sure the buckram strip is overlapped about an inch before cutting off the excess. You want to sew the free overlapped edge down, but make sure the straight grain matches up so that you don't get and warping of the hat stand.

Now, disclaimer, I did not wire the bottom edge of the stand as well, but I should have. I skipped this step and regretted it as I would have preferred the structure it would have added. Wire the bottom edge of the buckram strip as well.

Suddenly, you have a hat! Well, you have the inside structure of a hat. Now you have to cover it in pretty fabric, but before fabric I like to add a layer of lightweight fusible interfacing to the top to smooth everything out a bit.

Cut a circle of interfacing a bit larger than your circle and center it on the top of your hat.

When doing this step with a blocked hat, I would pop the hat back on the hat to iron it, since we are making this hat without a block, take some muslin and ball it up to protect your hat from the heat of the iron.

Iron the interfacing onto the top of the hat. pushing the fabric into the inside corner and wrapping the interfacing over the edge with the iron. I sort of move the iron smoothly over the edge to wrap the edge.

Now your hat really is ready for fabric! We will get into that tomorrow in part 2!


  1. This is so fabulously cool! Thank you for another wonderful, engaging, beautifully presented tutorial, dear gal.

    ♥ Jessica

    1. Thank you Jessica! I hope it will prove useful to someone out there :)

  2. Really clear tutorial. It would be very exciting to make a pillbox hat so I hope to have a go.

    1. Thank you Kate I'm glad you find it clear!


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