Introduction: Make an Ancient Egyptian Headdress

Want to make an Egyptian-like headdress? Short on sewing skills?  You are not alone.  Machine stitching usually strikes terror into our hearts and fills us with dread like the coming of an ancient plague.   

We vowed to design and make this headdress while trying to avoid the hulking beast in the corner (the sewing machine) as much as possible.  The only machine stitching here will be of the unseen variety, where two pieces of fabric are sandwiched together, sewn and then turned right way out.  If there is any visible stitching, it's going to be minimal.

We had big ideas - we wished to make a simplified version of the gold and lapis lazuli headdress portion of King Tutankhamun's stunningly beautiful burial mask.  We needed to attempt some crazy alchemy, and turn fabric into solid metal and semiprecious jewel.  Or at least, try and make it look a little like gold and jewels, if we could. 
We had to use fabric because we wanted it to be as lightweight as possible - it's going to fit over a large animal mask which is in the works.  It still had to move; but it had to look like it didn't.

We’ve made two and a half of these now. Headdress number two (in the photo) suffered from me going insane and electing to sew each of the 75 individual coloured strips into tubes, instead of doing the ‘fold and press’ routine (so much quicker and easier). What was I thinking?  Why did I break our vow?

The cost for the fabric comes in at between $20-30, dependent on whether the fabric is at sale price or not.   

Step 1: Supplies

Inside lining:  about 1 metre of black lightweight fusible or iron-on interfacing. Get the good stuff. The cheap stuff we purchased only fuses in patches, if at all.
Outer lining: about 1 metre of black foil jersey, or similar fabric.
Coloured strips: about ½-1 metre each of blue and gold metallic-look fabric (we used foil jersey).  
Matching or ‘invisible’ sewing thread.
Sewing machine.
An iron.
Cooking paper.
A large sheet of paper, or some smaller sheets taped together.
Optional:  some Hobbyfill, wadding or cloth suitable for stuffing.

Step 2: Sketching the Template.

Take a piece of paper about 120cm long by about 70cm wide. Some pieces of printer paper can be taped together, to make a big enough piece.
Look for an outline of the headdress part of an ancient Egyptian Death Mask. Searching ‘Anubis’ also brings up some suitable images. There’s a plethora of online reference pictures available. This may sound odd, but look for images of the traditional, ceremonial wig worn by The Speaker of the House (a UK parliamentarian) - the kind of wig with the long flaps down either side. This makes a mean base from which to design a template for an ancient Egyptian headdress.  The attached picture is of some judges; or possibly actors playing judges, because they look a little too posed.  But their wigs are great.
When you have enough images, start sketching. In our design, the meeting point of the back and front will fit together later on (when the back is folded over, the tops of the two fronts will be joined to the top sides of the back, at a sort of ‘shoulder’ area). Make sure your sketched template fills the whole paper. Better too big than too small.
Our headdress has to fit over a big dog-like head, so our template is ‘roomy’ round the face. I’ve made some red lines around the face in one of the photos as a bit of a guide, if you need to bring the face area in.

Step 3: Cutting Out the Template.

(Note to self:  before cutting out, make sure the front flaps are going to be wide enough to fit your hands into, in order to perform Step 10 easily...hindsight is a wonderful thing.)

Roughly cut it out, leaving plenty of overhang round the edges. 
See if it looks OK - hold it on your head so that the back piece falls over the back of your head, and the front flaps hang down beside your face. (If it’s going over a mask or fake head of some sort, put the mask or head on first). If the template needs altering where the back meets the front at what looks like a ‘shoulder’, mark some alterations with a pencil or sharpie.
Fold the template lengthwise down the middle and ‘tidy’ it up. Don’t forget about leaving enough room for about a 1cm sewing seam around the edges. Temporarily tape the template with a bit of tape here and there, so it stays put while you trim any alterations you made. Cut off any overhangs, so that both sides match up reasonably OK.

Step 4: Cutting Out the Headdress.

Use your template to cut out 2 headdresses:  one out of the black iron-on interfacing (when the headdress is finished, this will be the middle layer), and one out of the black foil jersey (when the headdress is finished, this will be on the inside, against the head). 
I put the template on top of the 2 fabrics, weighted it, drew around it with tailors’ chalk, and then pinned the 2 fabrics before I cut around the chalk line. After I’d cut these pieces out, A THOUGHT OCCURRED. Why not:
fold the template, the interfacing, and the lining,
line all the folds up,
pin all together,
cut everything out at once. 
Again, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

The above is proof positive of our lack of garment construction knowledge.

Step 5: Preparing the Coloured Strips of Fabric.

Hint: if using foil jersey, cut the strips so that they stretch widthways, not lengthways. This makes them easier to fold and iron. It also makes them look better; the metallic foil coating has more of a sheen to it.
Cut strips out of blue and gold foil jersey, allowing for a foldover on each long side.   
For the front sections, make them about 5-6cm wide and 15-25cm long (the top pieces are the longest). 
For the back section, make them about 50cm long - depending on the length of the back – and about 6-7cm wide.
Put the fabric strips on the ironing board; fold the sides inwards and iron them flat, using a lowish or synthetic heat setting.
For the fronts: iron the first few strips (about sixteen: eight of each colour) so that they’re graduated, like men's neckties: narrower at one end, and wider at the other. In other words, fold the edges over more at one end and less at the other.  The rest of the fabric strips are straight.
For the back: iron all of the strips so that they’re slightly graduated.  

Step 6: Adding Strips to the Front Sections.

Lay the piece of iron-on interfacing on the work surface, treated side (the side which is SUPPOSED to stick when you iron it) facing up.    
Begin on the front sections first, and work from the top down. 
Start at the top area of one of the fronts – the part that looks like a shoulder or folded wing. Take one of the graduated strips of fabric and fit it to the ‘shoulder’ on about a 45 degree angle, with the narrower end towards the inner edge, and the wider end towards the outside edge.
Do the same on the other side. 
Do the same with the next fabric strip. Work your way down the front sections, using your graduated fabric strips up first. You began at the top by placing the first strip on an angle; the strips should gradually become horizontal by the time you reach the upper middle section. Keep adding strips all the way to the bottom of the flaps, trying to keep both sides even. 
Make sure that the last fabric strip is placed slightly lower than the bottom of the interfacing flaps – it looks better this way, when it’s turned. 
Pin the fabric strips to the interfacing base.

Step 7: Adding Strips to the Back Section.

Lay the fabric strips lengthwise down the back, as in the picture.  Pin the fabric strips to the interfacing base.

Step 8: Attaching the Fabric Strips to the Iron-on Interfacing.

Leave the pins in while you hand-tack/baste the whole thing; back front and sides. 
The hand-tacking takes a long time, but it’s an important step for me. When I used pins only in our first attempt, the unpinned parts of the fabric tried to sneak away while the pinned parts stayed put during the ironing stage.
Remove all pins once the hand-tacking is done.
Place a sheet of cooking/baking paper over the headdress. This will stop the iron from sticking to any exposed parts of the interfacing. Use the highest heat possible that won’t burn the fabric strips (but not too high). Test an unobtrusive piece before ironing the whole thing.

Step 9: Sewing the Lining to the Outer.

Place the black foil jersey ‘lining’ on top of the stripes/strips side of the headdress, right sides (the good sides) together. Pin and…oh joy: hand-tacking yet again. 

*Gulp* Here it comes.  The biggest amount of sewing on this 'able, and in one single serve:
Machine sew the whole thing around the outer edges. 
Leave the headdress unsewn, or open, in the following places:
(1) at the bottom of the back piece;
(2) at the top of the back piece, in the forehead/hairline area; and
(3) at the bottom ends of the front flaps. 
Sew any sharp angles or corners twice, to reinforce them. 
Sew the bottom few centimeters of the flaps twice, to keep the stitching from unravelling. 
(Use the reverse button for these areas, if your sewing machine has one.)

If any part of the seam allowance looks too wide, trim it down to about ½ cm - especially on corners or tight areas. It makes it easier to turn right way out. But don’t trim excessively close to the stitching. 
Carefully make some little cuts on any curves or angles, without cutting through the stitching. The cuts should be closer together for the sharper angles and further apart for more gentle curves. 
Cut the point off any outward-pointing angles, without cutting through the stitching. 
Doing these things takes some of the stress off the fabric when it’s turned right side out, and helps prevent pulling or bunching on the curves and angles.

Step 10: Turning the Headdress.

This step is rather fun, after the pure unbridled terror of the previous step.

Follow the steps in the photo sequence. 

Put your arms and hands inside the back and reach into the flaps, and carefully turn the whole thing right way out. 
After it’s turned, use the handle of a wooden spoon or a thin paintbrush, or something similar, and run it along all sewn edges and points from inside the headdress, to help straighten and flatten the seams.  The blunt side of a table knife could be used along the straight edges, and anything with a rounded or bulbed point (e.g. a crochet hook, or the handle of a thin paintbrush) could be used for the pointy areas.  Avoid poking holes where there are not meant to be any.  Guilty!

Iron the headdress flat.

Step 11: Neatening Raw Edges.

In the forehead/hairline area, tuck the unsewn bits of the seam inside the headdress, pin them, iron them, and hand-sew them together with matching or invisible thread. Or use one of those almost invisible machine stitches, if your sewing machine has one. 
Leave the bottom part of the flaps open and unsewn, because the final fabric strip provides its own neat edge. 
Temporarily pin the front to the back at the part that looks like a shoulder, and put it on a wig head. Or use a real person. Replace the sewing pins with safety pins if there’s any danger of stabbing the real person in the head (guilty AGAIN.) Now’s the time where the unsewn bottom edge of the back piece can be trimmed, if it’s too long. Just below shoulder height would probably be about right, but it’s dependent on personal taste, and how it fits with the rest of your costume. It could be cut into a curve shape, instead of straight across. Don’t forget to allow for a hem. 
Tuck the raw fabric edges inwards at the bottom of the back piece, pin, press with the iron, and handsew or machine stitch.

Step 12: Finishing - Joining the Front to the Back.

We machine stitched this section using invisible thread (thin nylon sewing thread) and a stretch stitch.  Hand-tack it first.
The machine stitching caused the headdress to look a little squarish or boxy.  Handsewing may be the better option here. 

Our headdress is very roomy in the front; when the front is attached to the back, a raised space is formed inside the top of the headdress. This was meant to fit over a large mask/head thing that we’re in the process of making; however it was still too roomy, so I took a handful of wadding, shaped it into a cylinder, and shoved the wadding cylinder inside the headdress. You could probably use a rolled tea towel or soft cloth, or cut some foam to fit.
It’s possible to machine stitch the blue strips onto a lightly padded gold fabric backing – I tried this method on a mock-up bit of headdress. The whole “precious metal inlaid with strips of jewels” look that we were aiming for didn’t quite pan out here; what we got was a quilt!  Although it was so very quiltlike, it did look neater and tidier than our iron-on version.  If you love sewing and don't mind the headdress looking quiltlike, this might be the way to go.
It might also be possible to use some strips of non-fray fabric, such as felt. This would eliminate the need for turning the sides under. The felt could be painted with shiny fabric paint, if necessary. Or blue stripes could simply be painted onto a gold fabric backing. I haven’t tried these methods.