Tuesday, February 16, 2016

HSM February--A Pleated Tall Hat

For my entry into the Historical Sew Monthly February challenge, the theme being Pleats, I chose an Elizabethan era tall hat.  Which has, as you might guess (and can see), a pleated crown.
The finished Tall Hat.

The Project:

An Elizabethan Tall Hat or Pleated Tall cap.  This form of headwear was seen starting in the '70s (1570s, that is), for a good 30-40 years.  It was typically made of a heavy felt base, covered with pleated silk.


This project of an Elizabethan tall hat was based on several examples in period artwork, but particularly on an extant example in Patterns of Fashion 3, by Janet Arnold.  There are a few variations of the garment in the artwork of the period--shorter, tall, and decided crushed (which seems to be the more common in Northern Europe during the '70's).

Philip II. By Juan Pantoja de la Cruz (1553–1608)
Vaandrig, Abraham de Bruyn, (1550 - 1587)

My Goals:

I decided on this project at least a couple of years ago--I knew that when I finished the Sture Suit I would need a matching hat.  Therefor, I settled on this particular type of hat...primarily because I like the look of it.  My goals in making it were (other than to have a hat matching the Sture suit) partly to test a theoretical method of construction, involving padstitching, and because I have never made a stiff hat before.


The tall hat is--well--tall. Extant examples are typically built upon a heavy felt (felted to shape), pasteboard, or possibly stiffened canvas form, and have the shell pleated around it.  There are variations--some taller than others, some look decidedly crushed, and the brim (though always narrow) could range from almost three inches, to nearly non-existent.

As noted above, they seem to have typically been made of a plain silk or silk velvet, over a felt or pasteboard base, and lined with a lighter silk.

Material Choices:

My materials were mostly chosen for their availability to me and budget.  The shell--while velvet--is synthetic and much heavier in weight than a silk velvet; it was also important that it match my doublet (which is the same velvet).  The lining is linen; also chosen from stash and because it matches the lining of the pluderhose.

On the other hand, the foundation materials were chosen as an experiment.  I used acrylic felt, and cotton canvas (rather than the more period wool, and linen canvas) for cost and out of stash.  The wool felt might have had a couple of advantages in being able to be steamed to shape, but that was not part of the construction.  16/2 linen thread (from Wm. Booth, Draper) was used for the gross construction.  Colour matching cotton (rather than silk) thread was used where visible.

The Pattern:

I made the hat using a method which was probably more complicated than in period, although not requiring the special equipment and skills for felting.  It consisted of a curved side, cut to give a cone a couple inches smaller at the top than the bottom; a circular top; and a somewhat oval shaped brim--you can see examples in PoF of circular and oval rims--a few fingers in width.

The lining and brim matches the foundation in shape.  The top is, however, perfectly circular--its diameter is equal to the measurement from brim to brim over the top.

The lining laid out.

My measurements were based in part on the 1575-1600 Silk hat on page 94 of PoF--that is, the top, and brim width measurements were.  The inside measurements of the hat were measured from my head; the height of the hat was originally based on the extant, but I ended up trimming it by 3/4 inch since I found the 6 inches to be too tall for my taste (the hat ended up being approximately 5 1/4 inches tall).  The pattern was worked out on paper before cutting from fabric.


The majority of the seams were done as a "this is what works" approximation--whip stitching was used to keep the layers of fabric together, and a sort of vertical stab stitch--much like a flesh/edge stitch in leather--was used to attach the top to the brim.  Padstitching was used to stiffen all portions of the base; while I don't believe you see the stitch being used for shaping in period, it was used as a stiffener (and as a quilting stitch) in some garments--in particular, I am thinking of the collar of Nils Sture's leather doublet [PoF.  Pp. 63], which is stiffened by pad-stitching.

Pad stitching the foundation in vertical rows.

Much of the rest was sewn with varying sizes of backstitch.  I preferred backstitch over running stitch because it is neater (on the right side, anyways), doesn't give the puckering running stitch can, and is a bit stronger.  Raw edges were turned under and slip or whip (for the velvet) stitched in place; these were chosen for ease of use in a piece which was a funny shape, and for neatness of the finished seam--cleanliness of the stitching on the inner layers was not an object in this piece.


Stacked and Staggered to show the layering.
On the whole, construction was not complicated; stack and pad-stitch the foundation.  There was some debating in there, on which direction the stitches should run, but I believe I decided correctly.  The assorted pieces of the foundation were sewn together, then the lining installed; I had to install the lining at this point because it got sewn to the top of the hat, in order to prevent it falling down.

Two rows of gathering stitches.
At that point, I could cut out (and melt the edges of the velvet to prevent fraying) and run the two rows of gathering stitches.  The outermost was done first, with roughly even stitches about 1/4 inch from the edge of the velvet circle--in hindsight, I probably should have made the seam allowance a bit wider.  I used a ruler to measure in three inches towards the center over the center of each stitch (measuring radially) to ensure that the stitches in the two rows were parallel.  The velvet disk was centered on the top of the hat, and I pulled the gathering stitches tight.

Ensuring my pleats don't shift.
Every individual pleat got stitched down at the bottom, and two inches up (after spending a fair amount of time fiddling with the gathers until they were straight and even). I also tacked the bottom of each pleat to one side to flatten them slightly.

Turning under the top brim
The fun part--fitting the rim down onto it.  It was particularly enjoyable, because I didn't trace the center opening--I had to approximate, by blindly tracing the head opening on the mostly constructed hat.  The doughnut shaped brim covering got forced down over the top of the hat, and clipped to ease the fit--I didn't feel it mattered if it was uneven, since that area would be covered by a sewn down hat band.  This was turned under the brim, and roughly overcast into place; in several places I had to use relief cuts.

Inside of the brim lining sewn in place.  It really isn't this light--overexposed photo.
I did the same with the brim lining, using a slipstitch to sew it down 1/8-1/4 inch from the edge of the brim.  After cutting the hole in the center, it got stretched down into the top (since it was a circle, it's all bias cut) and permanently basted into place.
The lining for the top now got turned under and slipstitched into place, covering the raw edge of the brim, and the hat band of purple silk twill was sewn into place.

For the full complement of construction images and descriptions, GO HERE, to the specific page for this garment.

What I learned:

The bulk of this project was as an experiment in construction of the base--could I get the desired results with layers of felt and canvas, plus pad stitching to stiffen; the answer is a resounding yes.  While not a primary goal, the making of this hat is part of an extended experiment in sewing tailor-wise--sewing crosslegged.

I learned:
  • When you pad stitch that many layers of material, it is a good idea to run a few rows of basting stitches to keep the bottom layers from shifting and creating bubbles.
  • More curve is needed in drafting the hat top--what became the front of the hat slants more than I would like.
  • more about pad stitching for stiffening.  Most of my previous uses of pad stitches were on lapels and such--to create a curve in the fabric, more than to stiffen.
  • when you stitch the top of a hat to the brim (and the top to the walls), it should be tacked at equal distances to make sure that any irregularities in fit are evened out.
  • Pattern the brim before stitching the foundation pieces together.
  • Ease, dammit!  I never get the ease on a hat correct.
  • I found that the gathering stitches should be uneven.
  • When you gather the stitched, secure the thread with a pin, rather than tacking it--I had serious issues with getting the gathers even, because I had tacked the thread in place.

All in all, the project came out fairly accurate--I feel it matches various portraits and period images of the style of hat; if not exactly, then at least in spirit.  Obviously the materials are not period, although they have period counterparts (wool felt as opposed to acrylic, linen canvas as opposed to cotton, silk or wool velvet instead of synthetic).  My methods of construction are plausibly period--it could have been done, the techniques existed.  Maybe 80% HA--most of the materials are not period (and are modern analogues, as previously mentioned), but the construction is (mostly).

I cannot document the peacock feathers, and I am not trying to--ostrich feathers were used in 16th century hats, but I do not have any on hand; on the other hand, I did have a number of peacock feathers that I could pick from, and added them primarily for the appearance.


This was a fairly quick project, only taking 8 days and a touch over 14 hours.  I have no idea of what the materials cost--most of them were probably around 7$ a yard.  Figure 1/2 yard for each of the four materials--maybe 25$?

Given that, I would value the hat at around 190 US$ (12 an hour).

Historical Sew Monthly Information

The Challenge: February; Pleats
Material: Acrylic felt, cotton canvas, synthetic velvet, and linen.  Small amount of silk twill.
Pattern: My own, based on an extant hat in Patterns of Fashion 3
Year: 1570s
Notions: Peacock feathers(?), linen thread, embroidery thread
How historically accurate is it?: Around 80%.  Refer the the applicable section of blog post.
Hours to complete: 14 hours.
First worn: Not yet, but can't wait!
Total cost: Unknown.  Materials were from stash.  20-30 US dollars.

© John Frey, 2016. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.  Photographs of my work may not be duplicated.

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