1880s Hat Conversion

Once I’d finished my 1880s Squirrel Dress, I had to have a hat to go with it. I have yet to venture into completely handmade millinery, so I’m always eager to find existing hats that can be adapted to more historical uses. My favorite may always be the Regency Cowboy Hat bonnet, but this one is a close second– I made it from a children’s trilby hat in bright pink.

I was going for something along the lines of the hat in the center here:

Or this one, from the Met Museum.

Both are probably slightly too early in the period to match my dress, but they’re just so pretty that I decided to go for it anyway.

I already knew that I’d be using a trilby as a base, but this blog post from The Pragmatic Costumer just cemented the idea. See, someone else has done it successfully! I went for a children’s hat because 1) it came in a color close to what I wanted; and 2) it was small enough to perch on my head, rather than settle down over my hair.

Anyway, the first thing I did was to break out my acrylic paints and darken the hat just a bit with cranberry and purple paints– it started out as a rather shocking pink, which didn’t quite go with my slightly more muted fabric palette. I diluted the paint with water to keep the change subtle– it ended up kind of blotchy for the first coat, so two coats were in order. There’s still some slight unevenness in color, I think due to the hat’s construction– an outer layer and an inner layer of fabric, which absorb paint unevenly. That being said, I figure that most of the the blotches are on the crown, which is mostly covered with fabric and feathers anyway, so no one will notice.

Once I had an appropriate color for the hat, I futzed a bit with my fabric scraps and my general stash of odds and ends to determine how to decorate it. I ended up breaking my vow never to work with velvet again– I fused some velvet with some more iron-on interfacing, then backed it in cotton to make ribbon, which I stitched in upstanding loops stiffened with wire. As usual, it was a pain in the butt to work with, but looked lovely at the end. I also used some non-interfaced velvet to make a gathered hatband to go around the crown, and I added in some of the extra buttoned tabs I made for the skirt, as accents.

Then it was time for feathers. I bought some basic 10-12″ pink ostrich feathers on Amazon, but when they arrived they were kind of flat-looking. Following some instructions I found online about techniques used by vintage milliners, I stitched them together in pairs to get some extra fluffiness. You just stack them on top of each other and then do a smallish whipstich around the shafts to keep them together– they instantly look more luxurious. I’ve read that most of the vintage and antique feathered hats use this technique– sometimes with as many as six stacked feathers– to get those gorgeous long, fluffy plumes.

Then I curled the shafts over my fingers to get the shape I wanted, and used the blade of a paring knife (so much more effective than a butter knife) to curl the barbs for even more fluff. The barb-curling really makes a huge difference in the appearance of the feathers– here’s a before and after comparison.

I made three plumes this way, and stitched them to my hat, curling over the crown, before wrapping the velvet hatband over the ends and securing it.

Et voila! A fabulous hat! I seriously love it.

So far I’ve been wearing this with a hatpin to keep it secure, but I may end up adding a wire comb on the inside to keep it stable.


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