Monday, June 14, 2010


A very long stretch of rainy days recently, so we've
been forced to stay indoors and do crafts. I don't hate
crafts (obviously) but I much prefer being outside with
the kids in the summer. Anyway, we made hats some
days ago. I shamelessly poach cardboard from stores
like Costco because it comes in huge sheets. I ask the
people loading milk jugs from the wooden pallets if they
will give me the cardboard dividers between layers of
jugs and they have always been happy to oblige. These
sheets are not thick enough to be made into cardboard
ovens or giant play structures, but they are useful for
playmats and cutting up to make things like these hats.

If I were making fabric hats, I'd measure around the

wearer's head and draw a circle with that circumference.
But cardboard is rigid, so the shape of the hat had to be
ovalish to match the kids' heads. To make the basic hat,
I used some flexible wire and wrapped it around each
girl's head and then traced the outline on cardboard
to get both the head opening / top part
of the crown of the hat

and used that as the basic pattern to make different brims:

We made three kinds of hats:

1 a flat boater of the sort worn by gondola operators

and ladies attending tea parties
2 a peaked engineer/ railroad-operator sort and

3 and a Mad Hatter kind of top-hat
To make the boater:

I measured all around the basic head opening shape to make the brim.

Then I made a mark at the front (or back) end of the hat for later alignment

and cut it all out.

Then I measured and cut out a rectangular gusset piece

for the torso of the hat. Note that the ridges of the cardboard
lie perpendicular to the direction of folding/bending:
and hot-glued the top of the hat onto this torso

and then everything to the hole in the brim:

To make the peaked engineer hat:

we started with the basic head-opening shape and traced

on cardboard around the front part of it (remember that
alignment mark?) to get the inner curve of the peak
and drew the outer curve of the peak, which we then cut out.
The gusset piece for the torso was not rectangular -

it was taller in front than in back. So the gusset piece
looked like this (it joins at the back):
The hat was put together in the same way as the boater,

except there was no brim - we simply hot-glued the peak on:
The Mad-Hatter style top hat needed a bit more geometry,

because it was wider at the top than at the bottom, like a
flower pot. I drew around the head opening to make a
symmetrically-bigger oval - this was the top of the hat.
I measured the circumference of the both the head opening
and this bigger oval, and wrote down these measurements:
Then I drew the gusset piece so that
  1. the lower arc was the same as the circumference of the head opening
  2. the upper arc was the same as the circumference of the top of the hat (the bigger oval)
  3. the short straight sides met the ends of the arcs at right angles.

Then I cut everything out, made a brim that was
narrower than the boaters, and hot-glued everything
together. And made two more:

Finally the girls got to decorate the hats:
If we had artificial flowers in the house, we would have

decked out those boaters like a garden. But we didn't.
Emily has asked for a tea party as her birthday theme
this year, so we might rehash this hat thing for the party
craft. Must start stocking up on plastic flowers from Michaels soon.


  1. What about tissue paper flowers or paper/cardboard flowers to go with the recycled cardboard theme?
    I think it could be really neat! : )

    pink and green mama

  2. These are fabulous! I never would have thought of that wire measuring trick, very impressed.

  3. what a clever idea! I love it! And what a great way for me to learn construction by playing with a cheap material.
    You could use fabric flowers too - I made one and showed it on my blog, but there's no tutorial.

    ANd now that I looked at that post again, I realized the flowers are not easy to see. Hopefully there is a new camera in my life soon!

    ALso, I'd like to know more about cardboard ovens because I've been jonesing for some better kitchen play for my kids. They have an old bookcase for oven/sink right now.

  4. I always wondered where you got your pristine cardboard! I never thought to ask for big sheets at the stores. :)

  5. Love this! Thank you. We are having a hatter party next month and these are perfect!

  6. Great hats. Have your girls read 'Millie's Marvelous Hat' by Satoshi Kitamura? They would love it!

  7. I didn't comment on this way back last month when I read this but that's because I was in my car and out the door as soon as i was through. I'd been stressing a little about the over-sized Monopoly board I was supposed to make because none of my cardboard was big/non-creased enough. So decided to take a quick break and see what was new in the ikatbag. Right there, my answer! We don't have Costco here, but Sam's Club works too! Picked up some extras because ya never know when you might need some nice big sheets of 'board.

    Sure enough a day or two later, the kids were doing magic shows and Soph was trying to make a top hat out of paper. Oh, she was working at it so well, but that paper was just too floppy!!! So out to the garage to get a pristine sheet, and off to use your directions in helping her make a hat. (Only problem: didn't realize I'd grabbed a two-layer sheet til after I'd started cutting -- which was REALLY hard to do. Figured it would be fine... but that hat ended up being so heavy it just kept tipping off poor Sophie's head. Perhaps I should have just left her alone -- I'm sure she would have come up with a wearable hat...)

  8. Thanks so much for the info on hats! I am going to make hats for myself using the card board and cover them with fabric, flowers and tull. Who knows they are made of cardboard? Just cant get caught in the rain! Hahhahh

  9. OOOhhh you are so clever, this is a great idea - just going through your old tutorials as only recently found your blog - hours of fun here for us, lots of fun new ideas - thanks a lot - loving your blog.

  10. This is awesome, but I have 1 question: what type of cardboard would you suggest for the gondola operator hat?,

    1. Same cardboard as I'd recommend for all the other hats: single-layer corrugated cardboard.

  11. My daughter wants an Alice in Wonderland party, and I've been looking for a mad hatter hat. I got the family fun magazine and saw the article about your cardboard crafts. Love, Love, Love your blog!

  12. I pinned this recently and enjoyed making 2 hats for my boys. Had I read your directions, maybe they would have fit!! :)

  13. As I was sitting in a Dr.s office this morning, I glanced through Family Fun mag. You young lady, are a clever one. I'm big into recycling and love your hats. That's why I looked up your recipe and I'm glad I did. Next month I'm celebrating my 40th and also our home turning 100. Theme is from 1912. Can't wait to make some top hats. Just today I picked up fur fabric to make mustache's on a stick. Thanks for your recipe.

  14. Thanx for the idea now i know wt to make for the jubbilee party in my school

  15. This lovely description has inspired me. I had been looking for party hats but now we are going to have loads of fun making our own. Thank you!!

  16. thank you these are brillant! I needed an idea for a class and the kids will love making these.

    Michelle Canada

  17. I was trying to make the mad hatter style hat. it is not turning out right and I followed your instructions is there any way you can help me out a little more please?

  18. Thank you so very much for such a great tutorial. When putting on a venue at a festival we are always looking for ways to keep costs down. This is going to make an excellent addition to the fancy dress photo booth, maybe even with a decorate your own hat feature! x

  19. This is great! Please could you share the formula/ geometry you used to draw the lower and upper arcs for the mad hatter hat gusset piece? Many thanks!

  20. I want to make one, harden it somehow, ans cover it in fabric! That would be awesome!!!

  21. So pretty - love to add some coffee filter roses and paint to one of your hats!

  22. How did you determine the radius of the arc for the mad hatter hat?

    1. I decided on the size of the circles for the top and bottom of the crown i.e. the top of the hat and the opening for the head. Then I drew free-hand two curves whose lengths were the circumferences of those circles. So if the top of the hat was 25", I'd draw an arc whose length was 25" for the upper arc. If the head opening was 21", I'd draw an arc whose length was 21" for the lower arc. This next part is important: join the short sides to those two arcs. The short sides MUST meet them at right angles so the crown sits squarely. If the angles are not 90 degrees, rework the curvature of those arcs, always keeping their lengths fixed (25" and 21" in this example). It's a lot of free-hand and manual adjusting. I'm sure there's a formula you could use, along with a very large pair of compasses (or use a DIY string version) but it was much faster for me to free-hand it. Don't forget to add 2" 'seam allowance' for overlap - the 25" and 21" are the final dimensions and do not include overlap.

  23. Do you have instructions to make a firefighter hat from cardboard?;)

  24. I love this craft! I am using it for an Alice and Wonderland themed week at summer camp and it is so easy and nice looking!

  25. Hi, I do love these hats. I made the first two as the children's and adult's activity component of a historical hat exhibit I created at a museum where I worked. This exhibit was launched in 1986. And I have seen them since being used in many other hat exhibits, so I am not sure you can claim copyright of this pattern and then tell people what they can and cannot do with it. Using your photos and copying and pasteing your instructions might qualify, but not the concept. They really are a lot of fun to do.


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