Introduction: Beginner Sewing - Make a Summer Hat Pattern From Scratch

About: I am a former zookeeper. One thing you may not know, zookeepers often have to make their own specialized tools, enclosures and supplies. It's just part of the job, because there aren't really any box stores …
A beginner can complete this project in one day.

Things you will learn:
  • How to visualize and create a simple pattern.
  • How to pin fabric for sewing.
  • When not to pin.
  • About 1.5 yards of one fabric (or .75 yards of two fabrics)
  • .5 yards of medium weight, double sided, fusible interfacing (optional for a stiff brim)
  • complimentary colored thread

  • seam ripper (for inevitable mistakes)
  • scissors
  • marker or pen
  • basic sewing machine with straight stitch and zigzag stitch
  • measuring tape
  • paper for sketching

Construction Basics:
  • The hat featured in this Instructable is constructed of three parts: a flat oval top, an elongated rectangular band for the sides, and a flat donut for the brim.
  • In order to hide the raw edges and make the hat reversible, there are two of each piece.  Basically, you make two raw hats and then sew them together into a cleanly finished end-product.

Step 1: Sketch

The first step of creating a pattern is simply sketching the object that you would like to create.  These sketches need not be full size - we will use them to determine the full dimensions that we will need later.

Sketch an oval to represent the top, a long rectangle to represent the sides, and a donut shape to represent the flat brim.

Now that the pieces have been determined, it is time to figure out how big to make the pattern pieces. 

Measure the distance around your head, at a place where you feel that a hat brim would be the most comfortable.

Measure the distance vertically from the front of the line you just measured to the very top or crown of your head.  To do this, hold the end of the measuring tape on your forehead at the location where you would like the brim of the hat to sit.  Pull the measuring tape straight up in the air.  Set your hand or a ruler on the top of your head so that it sticks out straight across the measuring tape.

Measure the distance vertically from the back of the line for the brim to the crown of your head.  Most people want the brim to sit lower on their head in the back than in the front.

My measurements were 22 1/4" circumference of my head for the brim, 3" high in front, and 4" high in back.  Throughout these instructions, I will use the word inches and the symbol " interchangeably.  For example 3 inches is the same as 3"

Write the circumference on the outside of the oval that represents the top.  (For me that was 22 1/4")  Write the larger number for the height on the long rectangle that represents the sides.  (For me that was 4")  Write the circumference inside of the donut that represents the brim.  (For me, 22 1/4")

Step 2: Seam Allowance and Pinning

Explaining seam allowances

If you cut out pieces that are exactly the correct size and sew them together, the item will be too small, because sewing the edges together takes away some fabric.

For beginners, it is good to leave a 1/2 inch of extra fabric all the way around.  this is referred to as a "seam allowance".  If you sew too close to the edge, the item will end up being a little bit bigger than you intended, but you will still be able to wear it, and you can always take it in.  If you sew too far away from the edge, the item will end up a little smaller than you intended. 

Once you make something too small, there is very little you can do to fix it.  So, if you are a beginner at sewing, it is almost always better to round up your measurements to the next 1/4 inch and leave a full 1/2 inch seam allowance.

Think about your pattern pieces and where you will need to add the seam allowance:  All the way around the top piece.  All the way around the rectangle for the sides.  All the way around the outside of the donut and also all the way around the inside of the donut. 

Adding a seam allowance to the inside of the donut will seem strange at first, because you will think that it will make the hole in the hat too small to fit on your head.  You are right.  After the pieces are sewn together correctly, the seam allowance will be edited so that the finished hat will be the correct size.  (See step 7)

Pinning for a sewing machine

Look at the photos throughout this Instructable to see how the pieces are pinned.

If you insert pins perpendicular to the edge of the fabric and pointing toward the edge, most sewing machines can sew right over them without having to remove them. If the pins have large balls on them, slide them away from the edge of the sewing machine's presser foot, so it won't get stuck.

Be careful and go slowly when you are trying this for the first time.  I have broken needles when sewing too quickly over pins.  If a seam requires a lot of pinning, it is probably complicated enough to require a slow pace, anyway.

Step 3: Draw the Pattern

I created my pattern directly on the cloth that I was going to use, but I've been sewing for a long time.  You can create the pattern on a piece of paper, then cut it out and put it together with tape, to check that it is correct.

If you are using one type of fabric, fold it in half with the INSIDE or "wrong" side up.  If you are using two types of fabric, lay them on top of each other with the edges lined up and the INSIDE or the "wrong" side up.

Always make your marks on the inside or "wrong" side of the fabric, so they won't show after you are done sewing.

Draw a rectangle lined up with one edge of the cloth that is as long as the circumference of your head plus one inch. (For me that was 23 1/4")  It should be as tall as the larger of the two vertical measurements plus one inch.  (For me that was 5")

Optional Step:

At the center of the rectangle, measure the height of the smaller of the two vertical measurements plus one inch.  (For me that was 4")  Draw a line about one inch wide at that spot and then connect it on both ends with a gentle curve to the existing edge of the rectangle.  If you are having trouble visualizing this, look at the photos. 

The shorter, center area will be at the front of the hat and the taller ends will be at the back, where the sides are attached with a seam. 

All the way around the rectangle, sketch a line 1/2 inch inside.  After you sketch it, if you measure the shape, it should match your measurements exactly.  (For me, the inside rectangle was 22 1/4" by 4" at the ends and 3" in the middle.)

Next, find an area on your cloth that looks a little larger than you think the hat brim should be.  In the center of the area, lay out the measuring tape so that it makes an oval of the exact circumference of your head that you measured earlier.  It doesn't have to be an exact oval.  Just a generally oval shape.  Trace the oval onto the cloth with a pencil, then take away the measuring tape. 

Sketch around your oval shape to even it out, making sure that you don't make it substantially smaller or larger.  After you have rounded it out and made it more evenly shaped, you can measure it again, to be sure that you have not changed the size too much. 

If one end of your oval seems more narrow than the other, make that the front.  Sketch out a brim of the hat, exactly the size that you have visualized the hat you want to make.  use your initial sketches to to help with the scale and proportions.  The hat in this Instructable has a front brim about 3.5 inches wide and the back is about 4.5 inches wide.  The sides are about 3 inches. 

If you want to use the same measurements I did, the easiest way to do it is to make one mark 3.5 inches from the front of the oval, one mark 4.5 inches from the back of the oval, and one mark 3 inches away from each side of the oval.  Then, connect the dots with gentle curves to make the brim shape. 

Sketch a line all the way around the outside of the donut, 1/2 inch away from the existing line.  Also sketch one 1/2 inch to the inside of the inner line. 

Lastly, find one more clear spot on your fabric and use the measuring tape to sketch out another oval that is the exact size of the circumference of your head.  (For me that was 22 1/4") After you get it rounded evenly, sketch a line 1/2 inch to the outside.

Step 4: Cut Out the Pieces

Carefully cut out the pieces along the outer lines. 

If you are a beginner, you can cut out one layer of fabric along the lines and then trace around the pieces, for the second layer of fabric.  There is more tracing and cutting this way, but it will minimize mistakes, especially if the fabric you are using is very flexible and moves around a lot while you are trying to work with it. 

After you get all six pieces cut out, trace lines 1/2 inch inside of the edges on the pieces that are not marked yet, so you will be able to see where you're supposed to be sewing.  It is very helpful to have a line to follow when you are first starting out. 

Optional Step:

Cut out a donut from medium weight, fusible interfacing, that fits inside of the seam lines on your cloth donut. You want the interfacing to be close to the edge without getting into the seams. It would add too much bulk there.

Step 5: Sew the Raw Hats

Figure out the sides of the fabric that you want to show on the outside of the finished piece.  Always when pinning and sewing, be careful to keep the sides of the fabric you want to show for the finished piece touching each other. This seems backwards, but if you take two pieces of practice fabric and sew them together in any other way, then look at the seam, you will see what will happen.

Pin the rectangle that will be the sides of the hat to the brim of the hat, starting at the center of the front and working to the left side.   Stop pinning about 1 inch away from the end.  Leave the other side unpinned.  If you pin the whole thing, it will be very bunched up and it will be much harder for you to sew.  Sometimes, it is better to sew several small sections than it is to try to sew the whole thing at once. 

Sew the pinned area slowly, moving the pins out of the way as you go along.  Stop every inch or so, and tug on the top and bottom pieces, to make sure they are flat under the sewing needle and there is no cloth getting bunched up underneath.  Whenever you are sewing curves, it is best to go very slowly and check for bunched up fabric very frequently.

After you have it sewn halfway, take it off the sewing machine and finish pinning the other side.  Then, go back to the sewing machine and sew the rest, again leaving about an inch at the end unsewn. 

Turn the parts you have sewn already, so that the "right" side or the side you want to show when the hat is done is facing outward, toward you.  Pin the center of the front of the top oval to the center of the front of the hat with the "right" sides touching each other. 

Go directly to the sewing machine without pinning, and sew one half of the top, starting at the center of the front.  You should be able to line up the edges of the fabric and hold them in place as you go along without using pins.  Sew slowly and be careful to keep your fingers clear of the needle.  Leave about one inch at the end unsewn, as you did with the brim.

Take the hat back off of the sewing machine and turn it inside out, to make it easier to finish sewing the top on. 

Alternatively, you can try pinning the top inside of the hat before sewing it together.  Make sure that you have the center front lined up, and make sure that you have the "right" sides touching each other.  It will help if you start at the center of the front and sew toward the back.  Leave a bout an inch at the back unsewn. 

After the top is in place, sew the back seam of the rectangle together.  Take up the slack if there is any and cut off the extra cloth.  If the rectangle isn't quite long enough to go all the way to the edge of the top, just sew it together as close to the ends as you can.  Sew the back seam wherever it will best fit the brim and the top. It doesn't have to be a perfectly straight line. It could be wider at the bottom than the top or the other way around.

This method allows for quite a bit of error in the construction.  You can take up the difference here at the back seam, and it won't be noticeable later. 

Finally, after the rectangle has been sewn together in a back seam, finish sewing the gaps at the brim and the top.  If the rectangle for the sides is a little short, you can just sew it wherever it will best fit.  Even if your sewing is a little uneven, it should be very close to the correct size, if you measured and drew the pattern correctly. 

Constructing the hat in this way gives you a lot of room for error.  Don't sweat the small stuff.

Sew the steps again for the other layer of the hat.

The hat in this Instructable is constructed of the same material for the inside and the outside, but I reversed it so the inside of the hat shows the "wrong" side of the fabric but there are no raw edges.

Step 6: Secure the Edges

Using a wide zigzag stitch, sew over the outside edges of the seam allowance.  This will help prevent the fabric from unraveling over time.

Step 7: Trim the Circles

This step is critical to make the hat fit. 

Trim triangles out of the seam allowance, all the way around the circular seams.  The points of the triangles should be as close to the seam as possible, without cutting through it.  See the photos for an example.

The triangles will allow the seam allowance at the brim to stretch out to the right size and they also will reduce the amount of cloth bunched up in the seam at the crown of the hat.

If you have a fabric that unravels a lot and will fall apart, you can make slices in the seam allowance, instead of cutting away triangles.  This method works better for areas that need to stretch, and not as well for areas where cloth is bunching up.

Step 8: Reinforce the Brim

Iron on the fusible interfacing to the inside or "wrong" side of one of the raw hats, using lots of waxed paper to protect your iron and ironing board.

Trim the interfacing to make it the perfect size before you iron it!

Step 9: Finish

Turn the hats so that the "right" sides are touching and the fronts are lined up.  Pin the hats together and sew around the brim, leaving about six inches unsewn at the back.

Turn the whole thing inside out, using the gap at the back.

Fold the unsewn edges of the gap to the inside and pin it if necessary. Then, sew around the edge of the hat, about 1/4 inch in from the edge.  This will close the gap and also secure the brim nicely with one continuous seam.

You can iron the brim again, to secure the interfacing on both sides, or you can leave it loose on one side.
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