Yo yo yo! Today’s the day we get started on some costumery. Instead of a typical sew-along where we are all making the same garment, I’m showcasing some costuming basics so you don’t have to have endless mishaps, glue-gun burns, blunted scissors, and bent sewing machine needles!
Well let’s just be honest. You are going to get a few glue gun burns. That’s probably given.
But here’s the thing. The real benefit of this sew-along are my Skype sessions. This is where you and I video chat and you can tell me all about your project and I can direct you to sources, help you find techniques, and advise you! My next three Fridays are open for Skype appointments – 12 to 3 PM PST on September 16th, 23rd, and 30th! I already have slots filling in (albeit slowly) – so if you want to reserve a spot, text (360.500.3287) or email me!
In a couple days, we’re going to get started in earnest on a costume body (here is our first supplies post). But I thought we’d ease into a little costume sewing with a simple hat, with ears (and/or whiskers). Not only are these things good costuming practice – I’m pretty sure you’d like to wear a hat with ears and whiskers all winter long! And if you don’t, you probably have a friend who does!
So here’s the thing. We need to talk materials, for a moment.
In general, the smaller the ear, the easier things are. If you have a very small ear – like the little “fox” ear on the pilot cap above, or the plaid ear just beneath that, you aren’t going to need a supportive structure. However, for my Max hat at the top of this post – with very sharp, upright ears – or the wolf hat below, you need something to keep the ears standing. And I’ve also found that sometimes when you first make a hat or hood, everything looks good – only to find that upon wear, the ears droop (this happened with my first Max costume).
Below you see my basic supplies and pattern pieces. For my hat, I used two fabrics: the lining (a Michael Miller 1005 cotton knit called “Clown Stripe”), and the shell fabric – a simply gorgeous bamboo fleece from Nature’s Fabrics that I overdyed to knock down the bright white. I made my own pattern (more in a minute), and I bought some wire (should be able to bend and hold form), and white tape (in case I wanted to wrap the wire). You will also want a glue gun, polyester thread, and a machine with a zig zag stitch and a needle appropriate for your fabrics (instead of reading the article, this is a great thing to ask me about via Skype!).
I want to talk a bit about fabrics. These two knits I used, aren’t a great idea for a beginner. They are, like most knits, forgiving and wonderful to work with. However they are also very supple, meaning every little stitch and pucker and wire underpinning risks showing through! Faux fur is another wonderful choice for hats – and it’s easier to sew with than you might guess (please read my post on the topic). But if you’re a beginner or otherwise a little shy, the best bet really is polar fleece (Malden Mills is one of my favorite; and Rocky Woods Fabric is a great supplier who can help you through selection). Fleece sews up easily and has a way of masking little mistakes. It’s also very warm (be careful not to line it with something that makes it too warm) and especially practical for children.
So! For my hat pattern, I am using a basic four-gore hat with crown – you can find these patterns almost anywhere. This Etsy pattern is a good example of the type of hat I’m using. My band is self-drafted and quite unique. On my crown pieces, I marked where I wanted my ears to emerge from the hat. Then for ears, I drew a template based on the curve of the crown gore. I marked the location I wanted the ears to emerge from
If all this is sounding like Greek to you – by all means, purchase a hat pattern! A tip: go for a fleece pattern – I favor those from Green Pepper. Make sure, if you use a fleece pattern, that you sew with fleece or another fabric with stretch! Most faux fur, for instance, does not stretch – the hat will need to be sized up a bit for comfort.
Assuming we’re all cut, interfaced, and threaded – it’s time to sew!
First, I generally construct the lining. This is because you can use the lining to make sure the hat’s going to fit properly. Using a long narrow zig-zag (0.5 mm wide, and about 3.0mm long) I sew up the back seam on the band (matching the stripes LIKE A BOSS):
And then I add my label. I have sewn thousands of garments without my label – but no more! I am proud of my work, and I always love hearing from those who’ve eventually found their way to my garments, when they get passed on or end up in a thrift store or garage sale.
Now – for the lining, we are going to leave one gore seam partially open, so we can turn the hat right-side-out after we join the nape. I always do this open seam first, so I don’t forget and sew up all the gores (ask me how many times I’ve made that mistake!). I usually just sew about an inch and a half from the raw edges, and firmly backtack:
We’re almost done with the lining! Join the band to the finished gores:
Go ahead and try on the hat, if you like. Now’s the easiest time to size up or size down.
Now we’re moving onto the shell fabric.
Time for the ears! Again, I interfaced the four earpieces to give some structure and opacity, as the bamboo fleece is a little bit sheer! I firmly backstitch at the raw edge of the ear, and sew up to the point.
I then grade the ear seams for both ears. Grading is important; garments look better, perform better, and feel better when you grade:
We’ve talked about grading – let’s talk about pressing! At the right, is the ear after I sew it. At left, after I press and then use my clapper to set the press. Remember when pressing to lift the iron up and down – don’t push the fabric with it.
Time for wire! Truth be told, this wire’s a bit too heavy for this project – but only because my fleece was more delicate than what I expected. The fleece here is so light that you could use a wire about half the diameter. But for a heavy fabric – or a burly wolf hat, say – you want a good strong wire. Each wire piece should be the outside perimeter of the two finished ear edges, plus 10″.
Fold that wire, more ore less distributing the length proportionally. Crimp the top! Yes, I’ve used my teeth to crimp, but I probably should stop doing that! You can use pliers too:
This is, more or less, how the wire is going to support the ears -with little “legs” that hide between the shell and the lining. You want to form your wire into the shape of the ear. You don’t need to bend them into their legs yet – because when you’re on the sewing machine, you will be bending them back down again anyway.
Time for that glue gun. Hope you like hot burns! But seriously. Be careful! That said, do NOT use a “cool” glue gun. Those are worthless!
So anyway – plug that baby in. Believe it or not, we are going to use it sparingly in this project (I know, I know, using a glue gun “sparingly” isn’t really in the spirit of a glue gun).
This part takes a little finesse. It’s even more annoying when you have a very white fabric and don’t want to get any smudges or blops of glue anywhere (most faux furs, you can NGAF because those fabrics hide mistakes pretty well!). So push the shaped wire up into the ear, and put a very small – like a cubic millimeter – dollop of glue at the raw edge. Even a small amount of glue here will hold that wire well. You don’t want a lot of glue because A. you will burn yourself, and B. you don’t want to feel a big chunk of glue in your hat! Gently hold the ear and wire together and let cool. Do this for all four wire/ear intersections. When finished, go ahead and unplug your glue gun – although we will be back soon!
Now, if you can believe it, we are going to sew these be-wired ears into our hat! Pin the ears to their location on the gore, right-sides-together – be very precise here. It doesn’t matter so much the ear is in the perfect position, but it does matter that both sides match. Start sewing, with the ear up and the gore against the machine. But for the love of God, man! Do NOT sew over that wire! Unless you want a really loud noise and pieces of needle flying all over the place! When you get close to the wire, simply use your hand to turn the balance wheel. You really want to keep your seam allowance as accurate as possible here. Sew slowly.
Here is the ear, with the curved gore seam across the bottom of the photo. You can see how delicate the fabric is – my pin marks are still visible! By contrast, polar fleece won’t show evidence if you sewed, tore the seam out, tried again ad infinitum!
And here’s how the seam looks from the inside, pinned to the adjacent gore. The wire is so strong it distorts the seam line – that’s why I said to honor your seam allowance as best you can. Now, pin the adjacent gore well and sew again – remember, use the handwheel to pass over the wire.
And here’s a finished half-crown! Go ahead and join both crowns together, pinning well at the center top so all four seams line up there. Plug in your glue gun. Mop the sweat from your brow, from the stress of sewing over thick-ass wire!
Now, while the glue gun is heating, clip your wire. I’ve never found I needed legs more than 1 1/2″ long – that’s certainly adequate to support these ears.
Now, gently apply little balls of glue to these wire terminals. Why? So the wire doesn’t poke through the hat and scratch you! This is very effective. Just apply a little, so you end up with a very small ball:
Let these dry, and mark your whisker line! It is astonishingly difficult to get even-looking whiskers once the hat has formed in the round. So doing it while the band is nice and flat, is the way to go:
I am using simple black cable ties for whiskers – they have a slotted end that makes them ideal for placing them in a project like this, and their shape looks good for this particular Max hat. I also decided that for this hat, I wanted “droopy” whiskers, so I didn’t provide them with the “backbone” that I used in my previous wolf hat tutorial (but you can find that method, here). In this case, I simply used an awl to push aside the fibers, before carefully inserting the cable tie. The awl makes sure you don’t break any fibers, and will help the fabric “grip” the whisker a bit:
The “gripping” action of the fabric is adequate to hold these whiskers. If you have a thicker fabric , you can use a tiny bit of glue gun. You can also use thread. I took invisible stitches from the backside, and tied each whisker cable tie head to the hat like so. These whiskers aren’t going anywhere:
Now, time to join the band, and then apply it to the finished crown!
The hat is almost finished!
Now, you can certainly topstitch this edge you just sewed. But in my case, I carefully steam pressed because I liked the little stripey edging without topstitching:
And there we have it!
In a couple days, we’ll get started on a basic one-piece body. But this is a great opportunity for you to contact me with any specific questions or projects you have in mind! If you have any questions at all – comment here, email, or find me on Facebook!