27 Aug 2009

Making a straw hat - the easy (and cheap) way

I mentioned on the forum that I once made a decent low-crowned straw hat out of three place mats hat and was asked how I did it.

Well, I'll tell you, as well as I'm able to, and show with my own fool-proof Photoshop illustrations spiced up with various clip-art images stolen from around the web. Even mad PS skillz like mine need a little extra help sometimes.

OK, here we go:

Hello! In this tutorial, you will learn how to make a basic low-crowned straw hat out of three place mats!

It won't be the kind of hat that a milliner would be proud of, but it's a cheap and fun way to experiment with different styles and trims and colours with little effort.

Note: I have used this method only once (and should have taken pictures...) and was very pleased with the result, but as always: use at own risk! And don't sue. This is a hat that is supposed to be pimped with trims and goodies, so that any unavoidable flaws won't be noticed.

Let's go: Buy three place mats of a size you think suitable in a store of your choice. I got four for ca 10 EURO, they looked like this (I used the purple - the result can be seen here). Make sure they're made from some kind of natural straw; synthetics may very well work but I haven't tried it so we don't want to risk anything.

Step 1: Glue two of the place mats together (skip this if your type of place mat is very stiff. I did this because the brim would be too floppy otherwise).

Don't use a glue that is too runny - it may bleed through to whatever surface you put the place mats on and leave marks on the hat - but it's better be strong. Remember to open a window if your glue is very strong, or you may experience a conga line of psychedelic animals or worse. Cover the place mats with heavy books and leave them for now.

Step 2: Soak your third place mat with water!

Step 3: Find an object in your home that is shaped just as you want the crown of your hat to look. I found an ugly, purple flower pot that had made no one happy until now. It was cylindrical and turned upside down it proved to be the perfect hat shape.
Put your soaked place mat on top of the object and gently but determinedly shape the place mat around it - remember, you're the boss around here! Try to get it as smooth and even as possible. Use a little violence if necessary but be careful not too make the soaked material rip or tear.

Step 4: (And here comes my pièce de résistance!) Tie a piece of fabric or a ribbon, or whatever you have, around the newly shaped brim (a helper may come in handy here).
Let it dry overnight or longer (I let mine dry for 24 hours but that may not be needed).

Step 5: Your hat crown should now be dry and ready to be removed from the shape. Trim away all surplus until you have only the crown plus an extra centimeter or so.
If you leave too much, you can always trim it down later but not the other way around! Put the crown back onto the shape used.

Step 6: Let's get back to the brim which should also have dried by now.
Check the diameter of the crown and mark on the brim where it will sit, but subtract 1,5 centimeters from the radius and cut out a circle, that consequently is somewhat smaller than the diameter of the brim.

Step 7: From the center of the brim (which is actually a hole), cut small cuts outwards, all way around the cut-out.
As always, it's better to cut too little than too much.

Step 8: Go back to the crown that sits on the shape and firmly press the brim down onto it.
If it won't fit, cut a little more as in step 7.

Step 9: Now the crown is surrounded by little tabs that will secure the brim to it.
Help them by gluing and perhaps sew a few stitches around the crown as you see fit.

When the glue has dried, check that it looks OK on the wrong side. You may have to trim down the bottom of the crown if it peeks out too much.

Your hat is now ready to launch. You can experiment by shaping the brim into any style you like, pretty much like you shaped the crown - soaking and some kind of outer force.

And now you're on your own, because I won't tell you how to doll up your brand new hat - I'm sure you will manage that perfectly. The possibilities are endless:

You can have a very pretty, simple hat...
like so...

Or something fancier and froufier...
...like so! Have fun!

Hope this was of any help to you. This will probably be the only tutorial you get from me since I'm usually the one who gets tutored rather than the other way around.

But I DEMAND to see what you make! You know where to find me...

All the best,

Madame B


  1. How fabulous! Thank you so much! Simple, yet effective - like the best How-Tos.

  2. That is seriously awesome! And I adore the hat you made - it is so darling and I would never have guessed it was made from 3 placemats!

    I'm definitely going to have a go at hat-making!

  3. See! Genius, why hide such genius! I never would have figured out how to do the crown. You have made someone with an oversupply of placemats somewhere very happy indeed.

  4. Thank you ladies! I hope it was helpful and I hope to see something awesome made by you soon.

    Hey - wouldn't a friendly hat-making competition be fun? You could only use place mats and stuff you already had lying around!

  5. Great tutorial! Thank you so much.
    I'm thinking on trying this method out for making my self a mini tricorn.

  6. Oh-my-goooosh! Soooo long have I pondered how to make a hat like this without some super special millinary materials and super special millinary skillz! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! I'm heading out right now to find some of those place mats!!!
    This is why you deserve all those awards!!! =D

  7. You're welcome, hope you find it useful and make something smashing! Oh, wait, I *know* you will make something smashing!

  8. I made mine rather different, and some steps are definitely more of a fuss than yours. I'll nick some for my next hat. :-)

    Isn't it fun to make hats?

  9. "You can never have enough hats, gloves and shoes..."

    Pray tell me how you went about it, maybe I can pick up something too!

  10. Hmm, what kind of straw was your place mats made of and were did you buy them? I looked at my local Coop today and they had place mats made of bast (which they stated was 100% paper) ?

  11. I bought them at Hemtex (went to one of the stores today; they still had them. 4 for 99:-). I think they also were made of bast but that's some kind of straw, isn't it? They survived the water treatment very well at least!

  12. Ah. judging from the look of them om the hemtex homepage I think theirs are the same sort that Coop sells. That's good then I know that they are safe for hatmaking next time I go shopping there :)

  13. Wow, what a great idea, jjust have to find some straw mats like this, are they in fashion this year ?

  14. I have no idea :) The store where I bought them seems to have them always.

  15. I really, really want to try this now! I know that at Target they have a pretty decent selection of these placemats at a pretty cheap price... lots of colours too.

  16. Good luck, it's great fun to experiment with colours and trims. Hope this tutorial helps you!

  17. What a great tutorial! I shall try it soon! I am an historical reenactor, among other things. I thought you or some of your followers might enjoy visiting my website~we get over 8000 visitors a MONTH!
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  18. As others already have mentioned.
    "Wonderful tutorial!"
    I've already done two hats after your description.
    I really like your blog!!

  19. Thank you so much for this tutorial, I will be sure to send you photos of my white elizabeth swann hat I am making next months, I need to find some white round place mats and then cover them with white organza or chiffon and decorate with lace trim and apliques.. your tutorial has been a big help.