I have a great Steampunk costume that I made in 2009 when we enjoyed Halloween with friends on Frenchman Street in New Orleans. In the crush of reveling bodies I never managed to get more than a head-shot of my own costume. The hat unfortunately did not survive the plane ride home. This year we’re doing a Mad Hatter Tea Party in my front yard (see Dogs and Cats Living Together… Mass Hysteria!” My Favorite Holiday!) and I’m recycling the costume that my friends have never seen.

The Humble Bowler Hat, Pre-Transformation

The quick fix for the hat is a hat conversion. I’m going to take a bowler hat I have and transform it (temporarily) into a top hat. The beauty of this transformation is that it doesn’t require any special tools, just the existing hat, some fabric, flexible poster board, a lining fabric (optional, but I’ll explain why it’s a good idea) some glue and tape. I used Tacky Glue, but you could go the hot glue route. I didn’t feel like burning my fingers.

1. Measure around the hat, where it attaches to the brim – on the outside.

2. Measure the height of  the crown. The top hat must be at least this tall. A good top hat height is 6″.

More instructions after the jump. 

3. Cut out a piece is poster board with the above measurements plus about a half inch where the two ends will join. Mark the center front (CF). Double check that this oval will fit snugly on the actual hat and tape an even join from top to bottom, placing the join at the center back (CB). Tape the inside too.

Taped CB and CB/CF Markings on the Tip. (Yes, the outer fabric is already in place - pay it no mind.)

4. Cut out your outer fabric to the original measurements plus 3/8″ all around.

5. Cut out your lining fabric to the original measurements exactly. I suggest something thicker and natural that will absorb glue. I used heavy duck.

6. Sew your two fabrics together, 1/4″ from the edge of the lining fabric. Iron the raw edge of the outside fabric in. The stitch line is going to show. You could cut bigger, sew and iron to meet the final size, thereby hiding the stitch line, but that would create a thicker piece to attach to the tip. It’s up to you.

7. With the new top hat side structure on the existing hat, turn it over onto another piece of poster board and trace the top oval. This is called the tip. Cut out and mark the CF and CB. Normally you would attach the tip to the sides now, but I was working with some existing materials (I couldn’t find a large enough piece of my fabric to start over – remember this is a reconstruction), so that’s not what I did. I’ll get to that in a moment.

8. Cut out fabric and lining 3/8″ larger than the tip.

9. Stitch the outside and lining tip fabrics 1/4″ from the edge.

10. Determine the CF and CB on the lining, center the tip structure piece and glue it down. The lining should absorb the glue without it spotting the outer fabric. I used semi-shiny, thin outer fabric, so this was important.

11. After the glue is dry, crease the fabric where it meets the tip. I didn’t use an iron because my fabric had a low burn point. Clip the fabric into tabs  up to the tip structural piece, evenly all around, but don’t cut the poster board. I actually cut the duck and not the outside fabric. I trimmed to 1/4″.

12. Using the CF and CB marks on the tip and sides, place the tip in place from the inside. Make sure the fabric sits just above the cardboard of the sides. Glue the tabs inside.

Fabric Tabs Glued in Place

13. Glue the lining/outer fabric very carefully to the poster board structure, folding the ends under and overlapping slightly to place a clean CB in the right spot.

The Outer CB Seam

14. Because of the way I applied the tip I had a tiny area where the poster board showed at the top so I carefully stitched it.

Careful Hand Stitching and the Fabric to Lining Seam

15. Slip your new top hat in place and decorate!

My Dapper New Top Hat

Keep in mind that you could put this together in a totally different way. You could join all the structure pieces, apply the fabric tip, use the duck to hide the tip’s edge, then add the outside fabric. Or you could omit the lining altogether. It depends on your materials, the time you have and what you are comfortable with. You could go a step further (though in a different order and with different measurements) and create a new brim for you hat – but that would be an entirely new hat.  The beauty of the top hat transformation is that it looks nice and isn’t permanent. Make more than one top for your hat!