Monday, May 20, 2013

White Queen AAR - Lessons Learned and Next Steps

Writing a few quick after event thoughts (what the DoD calls an AAR for After Action Report) while they're still fresh in my head on what worked, what didn't work, and why.

1.  Need new boots!  The shoes I had, while barely seen under the spats, were just some cheap Mary Jane heels I'd picked up around Halloween for $15 on eBay.  Great look, but definitely NOT made for 10-12 hours or more on your feet.  These need to go!  Already found a pair of vintage white leather ankle-length laceup boots on eBay, so that's resolved.  Of course, this will also mean I need to trim or sew new spats...

2.  Web Cloak worked brilliantly.  I wasn't sure about the spider-web type fabric and how it would look - up until this weekend, I'd used a more basic white linen that breathes and drapes well.  Spider web fabric was a royal pain in the white backside to work with, but really looked beautiful.  So that was clearly a win.  The main danger here is that it tends to catch on things very easily - ratchets, canes, car doors, pretty much anything that sticks out even a little bit.  Still worth it though.

3.  Corset needs to be lined.  Up side to beautiful handmade corset - looked amazing and gave me plenty of support throughout the entire day and well into the night.  I know a lot of people ask me if corsets are uncomfortable, and I always reply that if it's designed well and fits you properly, it's very comfortable.  The problem most folks have is wearing a poorly fitted corset.  In this case, the fit was dead on, but the hand-stitching of the grey applique wound up rubbing on my skin and by about 9pm, my skin was feeling pretty raw around the appliqued parts.  I think I'm going to take some felt and just bind that with rubber cement to the corset, to prevent future rubbing and cover over the seamed areas.  Alternate plan is to get some sort of waist cincher or Spankx just to wear around my waist under the corset, but I think the felt is a better long-term plan.

4.  Develop a cool weather version of cloak/coat.  Again, really pleased with my existing cloak - but because it's so open (and one of the only pieces that's synthetic rather than a natural fiber), it won't retain heat worth a fig.  By the fall, I'm hoping to make a wool coat version like this, to capture both the Steampunk flavor and also provide more warmth.  The trick here is going to be finding a white wool that's as close to true white as possible....wool in particular tends to run very warm/ivory, like the fox fur in v1.  For the design, I'll be copying the Emmeline Frost coat in Earth-889 of the X-Society version of X-Men, as shown below.

Emmeline Frost and the X-Society from a Steampunk alternate universe called Earth-889.
Next step is clearly sewing Ian one of the other outfits.

5.  Sew the long skirt from the Earth-889 picture above.  This clearly calls for dupioni silk.  Added bonus, if I ever get bored with doing the White Queen at costume cons, it will also double perfectly as a Mystique skirt.

6.  Boffin-ize Emma.  By next year, I'm hoping to have a secondary version of the White Queen, keeping some elements but adding in others for differentiation.  I've been a big fan of the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld, and one of the more interesting characters is Dr. Emma Nora Darwin Barlow, a geneticist and (fictitious) granddaughter of Charles Darwin.  She's known for being a brilliant scientist, fluent in multiple languages, and always impeccably dressed with a black bowler hat.  Ever since my husband bought me the first book in the series, I've wanted to do some sort of version of Nora Barlow and just never got around to it.  This is a perfect costume melding for me of two characters I love - Emma Frost, and Nora Barlow (who oddly enough is *also* an Emma - never knew that until today!).  So by next year, I want to incorporate:

  • a long white walking skirt, likely wool or cotton twill.  Possibly with a mermaid tail, verdict is still out.
  • a white felt bowler, which I will try making my own from boiled white wool felt using the instructions here.
  • a pair of white goggles - again, going to see about making these, but plenty of suppliers if I can't figure it out.  Worst case, I can get a pair of cheap plastic ones and dry-brush them white and silver.
  • a silver and white walking cane.  Plan is to find some stainless steel plumbing pipe, a nice crystal or white enamel doorknob, and some epoxy - if it works out, I'll post pictures and instructions.
7.  Sew a formal/ball-appropriate skirt.  The short version is perfect for the day, but I'd love to do a really fantastic, full-skirted affair for evening wear.

8.  Wig?  I've been very on the fence about getting a long blonde wig.  I am blonde in the world of reals, though not quite as blonde as Emma - more medium to dark blonde than pale.  On the one hand, it would certainly help cement the look.  On the other hand, good wigs are *very* pricey, and cheap wigs look tacky and I find them a bigger distraction than compliment to most outfits.  Plus, I'm not sure my coloring is cool or fair enough to pull off the pale blonde.  So still mulling this one over...

9. Insanity time.  Once I finish everything else, and decide to well and truly take leave of my senses - I want to make the Lulu skirt, (outfit?), though in white and grey.  Already have the corset, the overdress is very straightforward and I could sew that easily enough, white stockings are readily it's just finding white and grey leather to make the buckle skirt.  Easy, right?  /cues famous last words

Someday, I will do this.  Someday...

Because sanity is *clearly* over-rated, and what could possibly go wrong sewing an entire skirt out of nothing but leather straps and buckles???

The more likely result of me wearing something white and with buckles if I try the Lulu skirt...
Anyway, for any costumers or steampunk fans out there, please feel free to offer suggestions, post your own costuming sites or tips and tricks, or whatever!  One of the best parts of the community is the modding and collaborative nature of it, so I love learning what other people have tried, what worked, what didn't, and comparing notes.  Thanks!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Steampunk White Queen V2 - Steampunk World's Fair 2013

Long time, no write!  That's why I don't do very well at keeping blogs..../makes note to self.

In any case, hubby and I just got back from the Steampunk World's Fair in Piscataway, NJ and I'm delighted to report that not only did I get to premier the latest and greatest version of my Steampunk White Queen costume, it actually won first prize in the costume contest!

Think this was right before my cloak turned into a D&D cloaker and ate me...

Not too shabby, if I do say so myself - and it was an impressive crowd, so really was a spectacular honor. If only I hadn't gotten horribly tangled up in my cloak trying to show off the ratchets....but that's so very, very me, trying to being sexy and instead winding up awkwardly charming instead.

In any case - first, the outfit!

Steampunk White Queen/Emma Frost outfit

That's the completed outfit in all its white glory.  Now, to talk about how it came to be...

As I've mentioned in an earlier post, I think one of the most important parts is to first find something that really appeals to you and you want to develop.  It will become a real labor of love, and at times your mortal enemy - so it's important that you're really excited and passionate about the costume you're working on.

The next step I always try to do is to find a primary element, and then build around that.  In my case, the primary element is of course the leather corset.  This is a corset I commissioned and worked with Steward Facile of Life Tree Leather, writing back and forth to discuss design options, color options, fastenings, all kinds of details.  His work is really outstanding, and I've recommended he post the design above as a steampunk wedding corset - I think there would be a lot of demand for it.

The corset is white leather, with a dove grey scrollwork design that is hand-stitched onto the white.  We used pewter/gunmetal colored rivets and swing arm box latches, to match the grey of the corset and to give a little more contrast.  Originally I'd debated doing this in all white with silver trim, but then thought some level of differentiation would be good, to give a little more interest and versatility to it.  I'm glad I did - it not only allows for options such as pairing with a grey skirt down the road, but I think pure white might have been too boring.  It's still clearly White Queen enough.

The cape I sewed from a lace-type fabric I got from JoAnn Fabrics, trimmed with white fox fur around the color.  Under the cape are lace elbow-length fingerless gloves, which you can make from any stretchy cotton/lycra blend lace.

The "boots" in this case are white spats, made from cotton twill and lined with felt.  Instructions here.  The felt is important because if you wear any sort of stocking or nylons underneath, the felt helps to give a bit of grip to the fabric and helps hold it up.  I've trimmed it with petwer color buttons, though I think I probably need 12 rather than 6 per leg.  The spats were made from taking newspaper and wrapping it around one of my legs (buddy to assist recommended), and then duct-taping the newspaper as snugly as you want your spats to fit.  Trace seam lines where you want seams (generally front, back, and then outer leg side), and then cut the newspaper/duct tape off to make a pattern.

The necklace is two separate elements in the above picture - one is a hand-tatted lace choker by RĂ© Teague of Custom Clothing and Costumes that I bought at the Steampunk@Gettysburg event in March, and the beaded parts are attached to another choker I made using seed beads, Swarovski crystal separators, and pearls.  This allows me to wear either piece separately or layered, depending on the look I'm going for - when I want something more subdued, or with the v3 boffin outfit (in planning), I'll want just the lace choker. For balls or something more flashy, I like having the beaded lower section as well.  Future post will have instructions on how I made the necklace - it was one of the easier and lower-cost, if time-consuming - elements.

The hat was a commission I designed with Belinda Lockhart of Ms Purdy's Hats - white feathers, a white satin band, and then there's a large bow with a train on the back.  The train I sometimes tuck under the hat (as I did above), depending on if I'm wearing a cloak or not.  V3 will have a white bowler,and the current plan is to make from felted wool myself - but we'll see how ambitious I am this summer.

The skirt, if you can believe it, is what gave me the biggest headaches.  I was stumped for months on what to do, and tried various versions.  While bustles with trains are gorgeous - and my first idea, based on a pattern from Truly Victorian - using white fabric makes this a Bad Idea in the long run.  I wound up doing a short bustle of cotton twill, just to make sure it worked, and will ultimately do one out of dupioni silk (because the shimmer is divine).  The front skirt took a while.  I tried multiple fabrics, but everything that had the right drape was too sheer (again, when wearing white, sheer is a Bad Idea).  The fabrics that had more weight were too bulky and didn't lay well.  I finally, in desperation the week before the even, tried making some short Victorian-style bloomers - after all, the White Queen from the comics wore a bikini bottom in the original ensemble.  They came out well, but it still didn't have quite the right look - it seemed to make the rest of the outfit a little casual.  Finally, I bought a couple yard of bridal lace to make an over-skirt to wear over the bloomers, and that worked out very well.  Did version 2 of the bloomers the morning of the event, but finally got the right length and flounce for what I was aiming.

And, voila!  It was a lot of work and a lot of time putting together, but very pleased with how it came out.  Now to begin modifications, the white wool skirt for my boffin version, a white and silver cane, a parasol....

Steampunk White Queen, Version 1 - Halloween 2012

As the title of the blog may indicate, one of my many hobbies is steampunk costuming.  For those not familiar with steampunk, it's basically Victorian science fiction - the future, as imagined in the late 1800s by writers such as Jules Verne, HP Lovecraft, and Orson Wells.  Also, there are often a lot of buckles and gears (for reasons I can't entirely explain)....

I've been trying to do more serious costuming and sewing recently, both to develop my own skills (and maybe even get to the point where I can sew well enough to make real life clothes too), and also because it helps being able to make the items you can imagine rather than relying on others to do so and hope they get it right.  I had the idea at Baltimore Comic Con of trying to do a Steampunk version of the X-Men's White Queen, formerly of the Hellfire Club and now one of the leaders of the X-Men Academy.  How times change, right?

Now, the goal when I try to adapt an existing character to a steampunk version is to meet two criteria I have for "successful" costuming:

1.  Does it look properly Victorian/Steampunk?  (AKA does it look good)

2.  Can people tell who you're actually supposed to be?

Obviously the first rule is fairly self-evident - did I make a costume that looks pretty, and that I'm not embarrassed to wear?  Oddly enough, this is the easier part of my two criteria - making something that looks good and fits well is a fairly straightforward enough goal, with enough practice.  In the picture above, there are definitely things I want to still improve - the cloak I think came out very well, and I'm very pleased with that, but the corset fit could stand some improvement.  Regrettably (I think), there's a little more me than the top allows for, so I could stand to enlargen that part.  I used lace as a quick-fix to get a bit more coverage on the bust area, but in an ideal world I'd like it to fit better - enough so that I'm not terrified to bend over.  Also, while you can't see the skirt (as I had my cloak covering my legs here), it's one of two pieces that were *GASP* store-bought, and I need to make a proper, draping Victorian skirt to really make this work.  The boots were also purchased, but they are leather and my leatherworking skills in no way extend to making footwear - so this, I can live with.

The second part of the equation is the trickier one - can people tell who it is you're supposed to be a Steampunk incarnation of?  I'm pleased to report that at least three people at the party from above did compliment me on my Steampunk Emma Frost outfit, so I think I'm on the right track so far. I was worried people would ask if I was supposed to be some sort of bride (all in white, after all) - and only one did, so as long as more people can correctly recognize the character, I call it a win!

For those not familiar with the character, this is a fairly iconic version of the original White Queen (in her pre-good girl Emma Frost days):

Now obviously, I wanted to tame it down some - no way at my age I want to be prancing around in a little bikini!  There's still a lot to work with though, and adapt for steampunk purposes.  As far as the individual components of the above - the first thing I tried to do is identify the main or key elements of the original character, and adapt from there.  In the White Queen's case, there are really three main parts to her classic outfit that stand out visually.  One is the long cape with the fur collar, the second being the front-lacing corset, and the third being the very tall white boots.  So that's where I tried to begin, in terms of developing the costume - items that I needed to keep very prominent in my adaptation so as to recall the original.

The boots, for now I just kept as long white leather boots.  I did actually sew a pair of thigh-high white spats, to see how those would work out in terms of incorporating the look but adding more steampunk flair, but I didn't finish them before the party - so those are for v2.  The corset I made, though I stayed with a traditional back-lacing corset rather than a front-lacing one as this was the first corset I've made.  The cape, I decided to construct out of white linen, to be lightweight and breathable, and then added a vintage fox fur stole I found on eBay.  I went with linen rather than wool because it runs a little more true to white (wool can run more cream-colored), and also because most Steampunk events and comic cons tend to be in the warmer, summer months than the winter ones.  Plus, I can tell you wearing it on a cooler evening in October - even with the linen cloak, the fur will definitely keep one warm!

What I'll try to do in the coming weeks is to draft out patterns for what I did and how, in case any other aspiring Steampunk costumers ever come across this and want to try working on their own character adaptations.  For now though, I figure even posting this much is a start!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Washi from Haibane Renmei

Taking a brief detour from steampunk costuming to post an anime costume I did for a friend for the 2012 New York Comic Con.  He wanted to go dressed as Washi, from the anime Haibane Renmei - which presented a bit of a challenge for me, since I don't really follow anime or know much about it.  But I can work from a picture!

The original character can be seen here:

When constructing the outfit, we tracked down multiple pictures of the costume, from all angles, to try and construct the parts.  The hardest part turned out to be the wings - we wanted something that would look really good, but also have a degree of stiffness to protrude from his back.  Ultimately, I decided that a good 9/10 oz leather would work best, dyed in a dark brown (I used bison brown from Tandy Leather).  We also used leather for the mask, painted white and with small holes cut out for the eyes and mouth.  You can see below, where we created a template of the mask in paper, traced onto the leather, and then cut out along the lines.

The body costume was sewn from dark grey linen, using a variation of a classic t-tunic, and the headdress was also made from a neutral linen with embroidered symbols.  To make the symbols, we used a fabric pen to trade them onto the fabric, and then wool embroidery floss in a stem stitch to make the symbols themselves.  The dots are French knots.  The ribbon was basic black grosgrain ribbon, 1" width, attached with fusible.

For the center piece, we used black trigger cloth and then sewed grey trigger panels to it in 7" rectangles, cutting a square hole for the neck.  Since this was likely the part of the costume that would take the most abuse, we wanted to use something cheaper than linen and fairly durable.  I used my sewing machine to satin stitch the blocks to the black fabric.

The attachments to the hood were made with natural flax thread, attached to wooden beads and bits of shell beads (we had a hard time finding bone beads).  The tassels were made in a coordinating grey using DMC floss, and just cut into basic small tassels.  And finally - the finished product!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

How to Make a Leather Top Hat

Making a top hat is a somewhat time consuming, but also very rewarding, experience.  Not only will you learn a good deal about construction and assembly, but you’ll wind up with a hat fitted to exactly your head measurements – which makes for a more pleasant wearing experience overall!  Plus by the time you finish, you will not only have a truly original hat, you’ll really value it from having made it yourself.

These instructions are based on making a leather top hat.  They can be largely followed for using other fabrics or materials, though the supply list would vary accordingly.


  • One roll of 4/5 oz leather – this will give you a hat that is sturdy but not too heavy
  • Bendable ruler, at least 2’ in length (and ideally 3’)
  • Metal ruler or straight edge
  • Rotary or box cutter 
  • Leather scissors
  • Leather dye in the color of choice for hat
  • Sharpie, pen, or other tracing pencil
  • Safety beveler
  • Draft puncher, 1/8 or 1/16th 
  • Mallet (to pound holes with above)
  • Cutting board (to place below leather as you punch your holes
  • Awl thread
  • Large darning or needlepoint needle (dull tip, not sharp!)
  • Drafting calipers, set to a half inch
  • Water sprayer bottle
  • Small binder clips

Making the Brim Pattern:  
Take the flexible ruler and measure your head exactly.  Measure at the place you intend your hat to sit.  Shape and mold the ruler to fit your exact head shape, and hold it like that.
1.  Trace inside of ruler onto tracing or butcher block paper.2.  Add ½” for seam allowance INSIDE this circle.  Use calipers to measure exactly ½” all the way around.  Draw seam allowance.
3.  Determine how large of a brim you want, and measure out.
4.  Trace out brim on the outside of the circle, in the width you want your brim.
5.  Cut out brim.
a.       For men, if you want a flat brim this is the same size all the way around the brim.
b.      For men or women, if you want a folded or curved brim along the sides, add a bit more width on each side, making more of an oblong circle – the extra length is needed when you go to curl the brim up.
c.       For women, if you plan on wearing a scarf around your hat with the tails draping off the back, you will want to extend the extra width around the back of the hat as well, to allow a decent platform for the scarf to drape down. 

 Gents or Ladies Flat Brim 

-          Cut approximately 1 to 1½” evenly all around the head measurement 

 Ladies Brim with Folded Sides and Tail Scarf

-          Cut approximately 1 to 1 ½” at front and 2 to 2 ½” around sides and back


 Gents or Ladies Brim with Folded Sides 

-          Cut approximately 1 to 1 ½” at front and back and 2 to 2 ½” around sides 

Making the Sides Patterns:
6.  Determine how tall you want the crown of your hat to be.  Remember to be measuring from wherever you want the hat to sit on your forehead!  If you are just making your first hat and want a reasonable height without being too tall, shoot for around 4-5”.

                        Stovepipe Instructions
a.       If you want a completely vertical, “stovepipe” style top hat, take the circumference of your head as measured in step 1 and add an inch for seam allowance. 
b.      Determine the height of your crown, and add an inch for seam allowance.
c.       Draw a rectangle to these measurements (circumference of head plus 1” as the length, and height plus 1” as the height.)
d.      Cut out one rectangle.  This is your crown pattern.

Angled Crown
a.       For a slightly angled crown, then you will draft and cut a slight trapezoid shape, with the sides each tapering in slightly.  Be cautious, as you may not want too steep an angle!  You can angle your crown inwards or outwards, depending on your style preference. 
b.      The bottom width of your trapezoid will be HALF the circumference of your head plus 1” seam allowance.
c.       The top width of your trapezoid will be either slightly larger, or slightly smaller, depending on if you want a crown that angles slightly inwards or outwards.
d.      Determine the height of your crown and add 1” seam allowance.
e.       Cut out two trapezoids.  (For the pattern drafting stage, you only need to cut out one and then trace it twice onto the leather.)
Hourglass Crown
a.       If you want a hat crown shaped like an hourglass, then you take the circumference of your head as measured above, and divide by four.   Add 1” to this for seam allowance.  This will be the bottom length measurement.  (This hat pattern requires four pieces.)
b.      Determine the height you want for your crown, as above, and add 1” for seam allowance.
c.       Determine if you want the top width to be the same as your head circumference or larger/smaller.  If the same, use the same number in step 11a, above.
d.      Determine how much you want your hat to curve inwards from your crown, and divide by 4.  (So for example, if your head circumference is 24” and you want your hat to be 4” narrower at its center crown, then you would take 24”-4” to get 20”.  Divide by 4, so in this case 5”, then add 1” for seam allowance.)
e.       Cut four hourglass-shaped pieces, based on the measurements above. 

Making the Top Pattern:
7.  If you are making the stovepipe version of the hat, use the head circumference measurement and shape from the bendable ruler, and trace onto paper.  Add half an inch all the way around for seam allowance. Cut one. 
8.  If you are making the trapezoid version of the hat, angled slightly inwards or outwards, then take the measurement of the top width, double it (since this was cut based on two pieces for the sides), and trace that measurement on the outside of your head circumference.  Add ½” seam allowance with the calipers, and then cut one.  
9.  If you are making the hourglass version of the hat, take the top width of your pattern shapes, quadruple it (since this was based off four pieces for the sides), and trace that measurement on the outside of your head circumference.  Add ½” seam allowance with the calipers, and then cut one.
Cutting Out Your Leather:
10.  Now that we’ve drafted our pattern pieces, it’s time to begin cutting the leather!
11.  Lay out your pattern pieces on the leather section, with the rough side facing up towards you.
12.  Before cutting, make sure to look over the smooth side of the leather and place your pieces on the leather you want in your hat.  If there are any marks or imperfections you want to avoid, then do not mark out your pattern pieces in that section!
a.       If you are doing a stovepipe hat, you will have three pieces – one crown, one brim, and one top.
b.      If you are doing an angled crown, you will have three pieces but need to cut TWO crown pieces for a total of one brim, one top, and two crowns.
c.       If you are making an hourglass crown, then you will finish with SIX total pieces of leather cut – cut one brim, one top, and then FOUR crown pieces.  Just trace out your pattern piece four times.
Sewing the Pieces Together 

13.  Next, it’s time to prepare the edge of the leather for seam allowances and sewing.  You will want to take your beveling tool and run it across EACH edge you will be sewing to thin down the leather along all of your ½” seam allowances.  So, this will include the inside edge of your brim, the outside edge of your top, and then all four edges of your crown pieces. 
14.  BE VERY CAREFUL!  Beveling tolls are very dangerous and have a very sharp blade!  Use all good rotary cutting rules, making sure to always keep your thumb in when pulling the tool towards you to avoid injury if you slip.
15.  Exert a fair bit of pressure, but not too much – your goal is to thin the leather along the sewing edges enough to make it fold nicely, but not so much that you cut all the way through the leather.
16.  Now it’s time to begin assembling and sewing them together.
17.  Take your draft puncher, and punch along the height side of your crown piece(s).
18.  Thread the awl thread through your needle, and cut off a generous length.
19.  Sew the crown together, with the pieces overlapping.  (The ½” seam allowance will overlap one section on top of the other.)  You should be sewing so that the smooth side of the leather (the outside of the hat) is facing you when the cylinder is complete.
a.       For the stovepipe, simply match the two sides together to form a cylinder, and sew using a running stitch going up and then back down.
b.      For the angled crown, sew piece A to piece B on one edge, then B back to A on the next edge to form a cylinder.
c.       For the hourglass top hat, sew the four pieces together.
d.      For added embellishment, you can use a cross stitch to form large Xs in place of the running stitch.
      20.  Now comes the tough part – sewing the crown to the top.  The good news is, this is the toughest part of hat construction – so once you’ve done this, it’s all downhill!
      21.  Take the water bottle, and liberally douse the top oval with a good spritz of water, to soften (but not soak) the leather.  Working along the ½” seam allowance, begin bending the leather edge inwards, towards the rough side and away from the smooth side, at a 90 degree angle.
      22.  Once you’ve finished, spritz the crown of the hat along the sides to dampen slightly, and fold inside out so the smooth side of the leather is now inside the cylinder and the rough side is facing outwards.
      23.  Once the crown has been turned inside out, take your binder clips and use them to attach the top (with the smooth side facing down, or into the cylinder) to the crown of the hat.  I recommend clipping it in four points – not so many clips you damage the leather, but not so few that the leather pieces can wiggle around or slip.
'     24.  Take the cutting board and place it beneath one of the now clipped edges.  Next, take your mallet and draft puncher, and begin carefully punching holes along the two top edges – one along your top’s seam allowance and going right through to the top edge of the crown’s seam allowance.
      25.  When you have gone all the way around, stitch the two pieces together using the awl thread and needle, with the same running stitch used when attaching the crown pieces.  You may want to take small breaks, as this can be a very tricky process.
      26.  When you have finished sewing the top to the crown, knot off your thread. 
      27.  Soak the entire crown and top fairly generously with the water spritzer bottle, then CAREFULLY turn the hat outside in, so that the smooth side of the leather is now on the outside, facing you.  Both the top and all the pieces of the crown should have the smooth leather side exposed.
28.  Next, we sew the brim to the crown.  Place the crown top-down, so the top is sitting on your workbench.
      29.  Punch holes along the inside edge of your brim’s seam allowance for sewing holes.
      30.  Take your brim, and with the rough side facing you spritz the inside edge seam allowance with water.  Bend at a right angle towards you.  (In general, you want the smooth side of the hat facing downwards, away from the crown.  While this might seem counter-intuitive at first, it will make sense when you begin molding and shaping the hat – this allows the smooth side to be more exposed for hats where the sides are folded up, since unless you are very short people will not be looking down at your brim.)
      31.  Once you have the sewing edge folded, place the brim down over the crown bottom, and with a pen or Sharpie first mark a specific point on each piece (I use the back since it will be easily hidden) – this allows you to match both pieces up exactly again while sewing.  Next, carefully make a dot on the crown at each point where you punched a hole in the brim, along the seam allowance of the two pieces.
      32.  Next, remove the brim and carefully use the draft puncher to punch out holes on each of the dots/places you marked from the brim holes. 
      33.  Reattach the brim, and hold the two pieces in place using binder clips as with the crown and top.
      34.  Sew your brim, along the inside edge, to your crown.
Finishing the Hat
     You’re nearly completed!  The final steps in the top hat making process is to mould, and then dye, your beautiful new hat.
      35.  To begin moulding your hat, liberally spray it with water.  You’ll want it to be fairly wet, though not soaking – spray it thoroughly until the leather seems more flexible.
      36.  Shape your hat into the desired shape. 
a.       For stovepipe hats, there may not be much shaping involved, other than trying the hat on to make sure it fits your head properly.
b.      For folded brim hats, you will want to work the leather along the sides, curling the brim up towards the top of the hat, until you have the desired look and shape that you want.
      37.  Once you’ve gotten your hat into its proper shape, either put in the oven at VERY low heat (for gas stoves, turn to the lowest setting and then when the oven reaches that heat, turn it off.)  You can also use a blow dryer to remove most of the excess water.  If you’re willing to wait a day or two, you can leave it out to dry on its own as well. 
      38.  Once the hat has dried, fit it again to make sure the fit is correct.  If not, repeat steps 42 and 43.
      39.  Now it’s time to dye.  Using the dye color you chose, start rubbing the leather dye onto the leather in small, circular motions.  Depending on the depth of color desired, two coats of dye may be required.
      40.  Allow the dye to dry thoroughly.
      41.  Finally, take your leather waterproofing spray, and spray the hat thoroughly so the color affixes and will not run in bad weather.  
      42.  Allow to dry thoroughly.
      At this point – you have a beautiful, custom-made leather top hat!  Feel free to enjoy it as it is, or to embellish or decorate as you wish. 
a.       You can use the draft puncher to add a few more holes along the brim or edges and hang chains or other fobs, or use a riveter to add various brass or copper embellishments. 
b.      If you want to add a ribbon trim along the lower crown and/or feathers, the sky is your limit!  Tuck in any feathers or other mementos (my husband is fond of playing cards) into the ribbon along the base, on the side of the hat.
c.       Finally, if you want to attach a scarf, simply take a long and narrow length of cloth and wind it along the front of your hat, leaving the edges or tails trailing down the back of the hat.  Knot into place, and voila!
If you've managed to make it this far, huzzah!  I do tend to be wordy - which is good for teaching hand-on, and bad for blogging.  However, if you'd like the Word document version of these instructions, please feel free to email me at  All I ask is that you credit me as the author if you distribute them!  Thank you.