Introduction: Leather Steampunk Top Hat

Picture of Leather Steampunk Top Hat

If you've got some basic leatherworking know-how and need a spiffy hat for your steampunk getup, give this one a try.  It took me 3 hours of construction and alteration on day 1, and 2 hours dyeing and finishing on day 2.

Step 1: Materials

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From your leatherworking tool kit:
rivet setter
knife or rotary cutter
cutting mat
leather hole punch
marking pencil

LEATHER (I used a cheap-ass utility hide I bought off a sale rack because the price was too good to ignore.)
Dye and a dauber
20 or so rivets
mink oil
leather finish
bailing wire

AND either a good quality sewing machine (I used my home sewing Viking machine, but it's got a great motor) or leather stitching supplies for hand sewing (ick)

Step 2: Take Measurements

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I measured the interior height of an old hat, and around my fiancee's head. 

Step 3: Cut Your Brim

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If you're not real confident about your pattern drafting skillz, do this on paper first. I started by cutting the hole in the brim to the same circumference as the head measurement.  It should be an oval.  Then, I traced the outside edge, adding 3/4" for hem allowance. 

Step 4: Cut the Top

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I wanted a very dramatic curve on the side band, so I make the top oval much larger than the hole in the brim.  Don't forget to add 1/2" for seam allowance.

Step 5: Cut Your Side Band

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The sideband starts as a rectangle 2 1/2 inches taller than the hat height you decided on before.  The hat I measured was 7 1/2 inches deep, so I cut a 10" high rectangle.  The rectangle should be the same length as the circumference of the hole in the brim.

Step 6: Making Waves

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This is where we hack up the rectangle to give us that dashing profile and steamy look.  The "high" parts of the wave are the front and rear, the low parts are the side.  Next, cut it in half to make room for the triangle inserts on the sides.

Step 7: Finish Cutting

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Cut your triangle inserts.  Cut them big; this lets us adjust things as we go.  Here are all your parts, ready for assembly!

Step 8:

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Sew the flat part of the sides to the top piece.  Center them on the long part of the oval.  Next, sew the inserts to the top to cover the gaps.  DO NOT sew the inserts to the sides.  Pull the brim over the sides and sew it on.  Make sure to line your long points of the ovals up.  Roll the outer edges of your brim over and hem, inserting the bailing wire as you go.  I used a zipper foot.  Go SLOWLY.

Step 9: Rivet in the Inserts.

Picture of Rivet in the Inserts.

Carefully mark and punch your rivet holes where your sides overlap your inserts.  Set your rivets.

Step 10: Steam Some Shape Into It!

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I have a big Jiffy Steamer in my basement, but for little stuff like this my electric teakettle works just fine.  Hold a small section of the hat over the steam for 20 seconds, then remove and bend the hat into the desired shape as it cools.  Repeat until the hat has the desired shape.

Step 11: Dye It!

Picture of Dye It!

I originally wanted to airbrush the dye on, but Matt wanted it darker so I used a fully saturated dauber instead. 

On a side note, if you KNOW you want to use a dauber, dye first, then steam.  You'll loose some shape when you dye.

Select an appropriate finish for your needs.  I chose a heavy coating of mink oil.

I let it sit overnight, then buffed off the excess mink oil.

Step 12: All Done!

Picture of All Done!

The completed hat.  STEAMY!


ottawafm (author)2016-12-20

I love the top hat! Great job! It'd make a fantastic gift!

Magickman made it! (author)2015-07-23

I wore this to Comic Con and cannot believe how many compliments I got on it. It turned out rougher than the others on here, but I think that added 'character'! lol

Thanks again for the instructable!

Magickman (author)2015-07-05

Thanks for this! Was a great learning experience and fun project!

Cyberponcho (author)2015-02-07

This is absolutely fantastic!! I'm definetly keeping this in mind, just have one question, how thick is the leather you used?

DeaconMortis (author)2014-07-17

Tried this for myself, now this has brass rivets all along the gold dyed side panels. Lots of fiddly work (especially since I also hand sewed the whole thing), and the rivets near the top were a royal pain to set but I love how it turned out. Especially like how the main red dye turned out (2 layer with Mahogany over Cranberry)

wblack3 made it! (author)2014-02-17

Made a couple of modifiations such as:

  • Thick gauge jewellery wire in the brim
  • Less 'swoop' / wave
  • Eyelets and thonging on the sides, which also helps adjust size/tightness of band
  • Thonging also allows more ventilation for hot days/nights
  • Hand sewn with awl
  • Thicker leather, more like shoe upper
SpectacularSteampunk (author)2013-10-01

Is it ok to use faux leather fabric?? Are there differences???

Red Winged Duchess (author)2013-09-23

I found this to be very helpful. I was uncertain how to shape the leather without supports. Anyone looking for cheap leather and doesn't mind getting a little dirty, hunters often throw away the hides after a kill. Most are happy to give them away if you don't mind tanning it. It's not that difficult to do and you never have to worry about running out of it. Hides will keep in the freezer until you're ready to tan them.

jimbo-g (author)2013-04-08

is that 3 or 4 inches or three quarters of an inch?

Ashenguar (author)2013-01-29

Thank you ;) I just ended doing my own top hat here are fotos

LynnKS (author)2012-07-05

I normally use fabric and flexifirm, but I recently purchased 4 old leather coats at a 99 cent Goodwill sale and I can't wait to try making my own leather tophats. Thanks!

kanadra (author)2010-09-28

Do you have any suggestions for the shaping step with faux leather? (polyester with a leather look, is what mine is, i believe)

jupchurch (author)kanadra2012-06-29

i would suggest if your uesing a faux leather to first cut the pieces from buckram, wire the out side edge of the brim, the top and botom of the crown then sew on the faux leather. once all pieces are covered, top and botom side of brim, crown and top of hat. then put the pieces togather. it will take a little longer but the finished hat will last a long time and the brim can be shaped buy just shaping the wire, the buck ram cann be shaped with steam befor you add the faux leather. hope this help. you can find buckram at hancock or joann fabrics. i have even found suppliers on etsy. hope this helps.

yallen (author)kanadra2012-06-02

You could try glue, or starch.

red-king (author)kanadra2010-10-18

you could make some sort of wire frame for it, i suppose...

Jenn Nelson (author)kanadra2010-09-30

Nope. Any heating will most likely damage the faux leather. Sorry!

kwhitacre (author)2012-03-18

I love your hat. I didn't see you mention anything about rubber cement. About 43 years ago, when I was teaching Jr. Hi, I taught leather craft: we would glue, using rubber cement, applied like contact cement; apply to each surface to be joined and then join them once the glue is dry. This makes stitching easier and if hand stitching, makes punching holes for stitching/lacing easier, too. I love steampunk and have some leather. So I'll keep this idea handy. Thanks for the clear description and great photos. Your husband is handsome in the black hat... matches his hair. :-)

tinker234 (author)2012-03-07

wow very cool could i possably make a wool one

Lili Angelika (author)2012-02-09

This work was wonderful!

sonofstone (author)2012-01-30

this is amazing, i'll try and make one, but i dont think im gonna dye it, the colour of leather looks cool to me, i'll be using this 'ible a whole lot

DragonFJ (author)2012-01-26

This is one of the better top hat tutorials I ran across, I loved it so much I ended up going back to it religiously to make my own hat!

Ended up not riveting the inserts instead i hand stitched it together and it turned out pretty nice.

Thank you again!

13thvulture (author)2011-12-28

where do you get utility hide? i make tophats too, not anything like this of course, mine tend to be more mad hatter style, but a bit steampunk too. i use only recycled materials since i dont have much money. for example, the last one i made was old shirts, a leather car seat, a large amount of coffee grounds, and a tomato cage.

if utility hide is cheap leather, id love to know where to get it. old car seats dont much care for being shaped when steamed. they either dont change shape at all, or just shrivel up for some reason.

Tanz27 (author)2011-11-17

Hi all,

I am planning to make this and after a discussion with a couple of leather suppliers it seems Veg Tan or tooling leather is most appropriate for this project. I have found it difficult to get hold of in the UK. However, try The Identity Store. They are an online store based in Matlock in Derbyshire. They seem happy to help, and willing to cut hides that are way to much for this project down to a size that suits. I managed to get 4ft sq of natural veg tan leather for £27. Hopefully it will be enough. I'm completely new to the world of leatherwork but really wanna give it a go. So, any handy tips to add to this instructables would be much appreciated.

Happy Making

hanlie (author)2011-07-16

I wanted to make one for a costume party, but the leather was too expensive (One would think that it would be much cheaper in South Africa than in the States)
Anyway I had an inner-tube of a truck lying around and decided to try it. I think it came out quite nice. It's a bit top heavy and it gets hot after a while, but you know, it's painful to be beautiful.

Thanks for the instructable it was fun making it

Jenn Nelson (author)hanlie2011-11-11

That's awesome!

mdrummer (author)2011-11-11

How much leather did you need to make your size 7 hat please? As you hat is awesome and inspiring me to have a go but unsure of the costs.

Jenn Nelson (author)mdrummer2011-11-11

I bought half a skin and used about half of it.

Hope that helps!

JamesRPatrick (author)2010-12-07

Where do you get your leather?

I work near a big Tandy warehouse, so every once in a while I wander in and buy some stuff.

mdrummer (author)2011-11-11

How much leather did you need to construct this hat it looks incredible . I know this will only be an idea of how much based on your size 7?

ajs1313 (author)2011-10-23

Fair enough. Didn't mean to disturb you.

Jenn Nelson (author)ajs13132011-10-23

You didn't disturb me, I just didn't really have a good reason for omitting it; I didn't feel like it needed one.

ajs1313 (author)2011-10-23

Very nice, but why didnt you add a headband onn the inside?

Jenn Nelson (author)ajs13132011-10-23

I didn't feel like it, I guess. My husband hasn't noticed...I suppose you could put one on yours if you really felt like it..

Leo4613 (author)2011-02-03

Really liked this!! I tried making it with " Faux leather"( upholstery Naugahyde I had left over from a job.), would have came out great but I messed up 2 times. Once sewing the bottom edge to the top piece, and not leaving a seam allowance on the brim. Was able to salvage it though. turned it into a "regular" hat. to get the brim to curve up on the sides I cut thin plastic(a can lid),heated it over the side of a can to get a curve, the inserted them between the upper and lower parts of the brim. Picture of it in my profile in case I can't add one to my comment.
Thank you for sharing this! :) :)

Jenn Nelson (author)Leo46132011-06-12


Leo4613 (author)Jenn Nelson2011-06-13

Thank you! Glad you both like it. :) For not being what I intended, I have gotten quite a few complements on it. Guess if you learn to adapt your mistakes they work . ;) :) :)

tinker234 (author)Leo46132011-06-03

loooks like a steampunk cowboy cool

dray3 (author)2011-05-16

Can i use leather that is already cured and polished? Will the steaming effect still work on it?

Jenn Nelson (author)dray32011-06-12

I'm not sure... I steamed mine a second time after dying and waxing it and it worked fine...

dray3 (author)2011-05-16

Sorry for all the questions, but also, I was wondering about how thick the leather needs to be because i have some thin 1.5 millimeter thick leather. If it is too thin can i use two layers of it?

Jenn Nelson (author)dray32011-06-12

Probably not, they won't have enough structural integrity. The leather I used was about 3mm.

skim-2 (author)2011-05-29

can you use fleece? Because I don't have leather

Jenn Nelson (author)skim-22011-06-12

You probably couldn't use these instructions with fleece.

ivyartist (author)2010-11-06

I'm attempting to build one of these hats (love the pattern btw)... what's the weight of your hide or if you could, what's the thickness in millimeters? I've been trying to find "utility hide" but tandy leather doesn't have anything labeled as such on their website and they don't have a store near me. any help would be awesome ^-^

thepelton (author)ivyartist2011-01-08

Inch to metric conversion is one inch equals twenty five and four tenths milimeters.

ivyartist (author)thepelton2011-01-10

... yes i know that. but in order to order leather online i want to make sure that i'm getting the right weight. Leather measures weight in millimeters (the thickness of the leather in millimeters) ... so 1 millimeter leather is lighter in weight than 8 millimeter.... 8 millimeter is like a latigo leather (it's good for gauntlets but you can't sew through it). Unfortunately the Tandy Leather site doesn't use the words "Utility Hide" so I don't know what the correct weight is.... i don't want to order leather that isn't thick enough to stand up on it's own.

wolffster (author)ivyartist2011-06-11

I'm using 3-4 oz. leather.

ivyartist (author)wolffster2011-06-11


EllieBelle (author)ivyartist2011-03-03

Found it! <3

About This Instructable




Bio: I like to make stuff. I teach stagecraft to high school kids, and have won some awards for it. In my dream world, I will ... More »
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