Convertible Sun Hat Made From Strips of Fabric




About: I am an artist and clothing designer with a passion for helping others bring their own creative dreams to life.

Intro: Convertible Sun Hat Made From Strips of Fabric

Summer is great, but without a sun hat and sunscreen, I would spend it looking like a lobster. I usually wear a military surplus bush hat, but I wanted something a little more... well, ladylike. One day I was sitting outside, waiting for someone I was supposed to meet. I had been wanting to make a sun hat for a while, and it suddenly hit me how I could do it. I already had the scrap upholstery fabric from a friend who does upholstery, and since I love reusing and recycling things, that seemed like a perfect thing to use.

The resulting hat takes on many forms. The brim is extremely moldable, and keeps the shape that you bend it into... almost as though it had wires in it. It also has interchangeable hat bands and fabric flowers, so the same hat can match virtually any outfit.

Since you're going to be sewing on something that's three-dimensional, it is somewhat tricky and probably not a great project for a beginning seamstress. But it is fairly inexpensive to make, and lots of fun. Here's how I did it.

Step 1: Choose and Cut Your Fabric

Choose a thick, heavyweight fabric that does not stretch, and is the same color on both sides. Something that was made for upholstery would be a good choice, and that's what I'm using here. Prints are fine, but you will only be able to distinguish colors in the final product, and not the pattern of the print. I chose a fairly plain, neutral fabric that would go with a lot of the clothes that I wear, and a lot of different embellishments, as well. You might want to get a few remnants of different fabrics while you're at the fabric store, to use as hat bands, bows, fabric flowers, or other embellishments. I also used a few large buttons.

My hat used 1,200 linear inches of 1" wide fabric strips, which equates to 3/4 of a yard, but go ahead and buy a full yard of fabric. The reason for the extra is because if your fabric isn't as thick as mine was, you will need more of it. Also, if you have extra fabric, you can use a little bit for a test piece (to get a feel for how it twists and sews) before you start work on the actual hat.

If you have a rotary cutter, by all means use that to cut your fabric. The kind of fabric you should be using will be too tough to tear, but you can use scissors if you want to. Try to follow the grainline... we're cutting these strips on the straight of grain, not the bias, so cut them from selvage to selvage.

Step 2: Join the Strips of Fabric Together

You will need to decide if you want to join the strips together ahead of time, or as you go. I joined my strips as I went along, because I had no idea how much fabric I would need. (I ended up using 100 feet of 1" strips!) I actually set up my second sewing machine behind my main machine so that I could join on a new strip without taking the hat out of the machine or changing my zigzag width settings back and forth.

If you join the strips together ahead of time, you could try rolling them up on a cardboard tube or something to keep them from getting tangled. But I knew that I would end up in knots, and possibly also tied to my chair, if I tried that. I am somewhat out-of-control when I sew, lol.

Regardless of whether you attach the strips together all at once, or as you go along, you should seam them on the diagonal so that the seam is not as noticeable in the final product. I used a zigzag stitch that was about half as wide as the widest setting on my machine. Take two strips, right sides facing up, and overlap them by about one inch. Sew diagonally from corner to corner, and then back to where you started again. Trim off the resulting triangles that have formed on the top and bottom of the joint. I have sewn a sample with contrasting fabric and thread, so that it was easier to see.

Step 3: Twist the Strips

Take your fabric strip and twist it so that it looks like a cord. You want to twist it pretty tightly, so that it makes a fairly firm cord, but not so tightly that it wants to kink up on itself when you move your hands closer together. You'll probably want to twist it as you go, and not get more than a few feet ahead of yourself, to keep from making a tangled mess. It doesn't matter in which direction you twist, but you want to consistently twist in the same direction throughout the whole project.

By now, if you're as crazy as I am, you're probably wondering if you can use an electric drill to make the twisting process go any faster. The answer is yes. I put a hook in the chuck of my drill, cut a small, diagonal snip in the end of the strip that I was working with, put the drill's hook through that little slit, and spun away. The drill doesn't twist the fabric quite as neatly and evenly as twisting it by hand, and I think it would be more difficult to use the drill if you have joined all of your fabric strips together ahead of time. It worked quite well for my two-sewing-machines method, but overall it isn't necessary. Feel free to behave a little bit more sanely than I did. :P

Step 4: Start Coiling

Now you need to coil up the fabric cord, and here is where I made a mistake. I coiled my fabric in the wrong direction. I didn't stop to think about whether it would matter or not, I just whipped the first few inches into a counter-clockwise coil and started stitching. But that meant that the bulk of the hat would eventually have to be jammed inside the sewing machine, instead of out of my way, to the left of the needle. I had to squish and squash the hat once it got bigger in order to make it fit. So yeah, when you make your hat, make the cord coil clockwise, so that the free end is always to the right of your needle. You will be much happier if you do it this way. :D

Set your machine for the widest zigzag, with about a 2.5 length. (That works out to approximately 11 stitches per inch, on my machine.) Use a sharp size 16/100 needle (also called a denim needle or a jeans needle) and a good quality thread, as we will be sewing through several layers.

Fold over the first 1 1/2" of fabric cord, leaving a little tail at the very beginning to be caught in your stitching later. Now coil up a few more inches, and start sewing in the very center of the coil. Go slowly at first, catching the cord on each side as the needle swings left to right. You will have to pivot a lot in the beginning, because the circle is so small, but things will go much quicker once you get a few wraps secured and can make a wider turn with your stitching. Continue laying the free end of the cord along the right-hand side of the coil, and zigzagging it down as you go. You want the left swing of the needle to sew into the coils you've already secured, and the right swing of the needle to sew in to the cord that you're currently adding to the hat.

Step 5: Start Shaping

Depending on how much "give" your fabric has, you may find that the coil wants to curve in slightly all on its own, just the way a hat should be. Check the coil when it's about 4 inches across, by locking your stitches and taking the coil out of the machine. Does it cup in slightly, like the top of a hat should? Then you can keep going just like you were. Does it sit totally flat, like a placemat would? Then you will need to start pulling slightly on the free end of the cord while you're stitching it down. This will cause the coil to start taking on the shape of a hat.

Try it on every now and then, to see how it fits your head. If it flares out too much, then tug a little harder on the cord as you're stitching it down. If it comes in too much and is too tight, take out your stitches until it fits right, and then try again without pulling on the cord as hard.

You will want the shape to have a more gentle curve at the top, and a more pronounced curve a few inches down. Your head shall be your guide on this journey. Listen to what your head is saying to you as you place the hat upon it. :P

Once the crown of the hat comes down far enough for your liking, you can start on the brim! I chose to start the brim when the crown of the hat was two finger-widths above my eyebrows, because I think that is a flattering style. However, this will be YOUR hat, so when you form the brim is entirely up to you!

Step 6: Start Making the Brim

I strongly recommend doing this next part by hand. You will need to change the angle of the coils quite dramatically, and that is pretty difficult to do by machine. Get a large hand needle and thread it with a doubled length of thread.

Lay the new coil at a 90 degree angle to the crown of the hat, so that you're now building on to the side of your previous coils, instead of the bottom. You can use a few pins here, if it helps. Hand sew the cord for two complete revolutions around the hat.

There really isn't any trick to this part, other than a good thimble (because that's a lot of layers to go through!) and patience. Try to make it fairly secure though, because this is the foundation for the rest of the brim, and you don't want it to be loose and floppy.

Step 7: Finish the Brim

Now, you can put the hat back under the machine to form the brim. When you're making the brim, do not pull on the strip you're adding. We aren't going to be tugging on the new strip any more for the rest of the process. Keep sewing like you did before, adding new rows on to the brim, until it's as wide as you want it to be. But take it out of the machine periodically to make sure that the brim still has the angle that you want it to have.

If you find that the brim wants to come in too much (making a shape like a bell, instead of lying flat), then tug on the previous rows of coils as you stitch the new row down. You will be pulling on the part of the hat brim that has already been formed. This will flatten out the brim as you build on it.

When the brim is as wide as you want it, cut the strip you're working with on an angle. Twist it and sew it down like you've been doing, backstitching when you're done to lock your stitches.

Step 8: Make a Hat Band (Or Two... or Three...)

Measure around your hat, right above the brim. Add four inches to this measurement, and cut a strip of an accent fabric that is this long by 2.75" (7 cm) wide. Fold it in half longways, with right sides together. Zigzag over the long edge, so that you have a tube.

Pin a large safety pin to one side of the tube, near the opening. Feed the safety pin all the way through and out the other end, to turn your tube right-side out.

Trim the hat band so that it's one inch longer than the circumference that the hat measures just above the brim. The reason that I make it longer to start out with, is because the beginning and end sometimes get messy or stretched while you're turning it right-side out.

Fold the hat band in half, making sure that the long seam is on the top and bottom so that it won't show when you're done. Zigzag over the two cut ends of the hat band, one at a time. Then, using a straight stitch and a 1/2" seam allowance, stitch the hat band into a tube.

This next part is optional, but I sewed the corners of the seam allowances down so that they wouldn't poke out and show on the right side. Flip the hat band over to the wrong side, and fold in the corners of the seam allowances so that they look like little triangles. Tack them in place with a few hand stitches, making sure that the stitches don't show on the right side.

I added a large silver button to the hat band, right over the spot where I joined the two ends. I used the button to attach the fabric flowers that we'll make in the next step. The button is optional... you can use fabric yoyos, pompoms, beads, or whatever you'd like for the center of your flowers. Or, you can use a bow instead of a flower, or leave the hat band plain; it's totally up to you and the look that you're going for. The buttons do offer extra versatility though, because you can button on a new flower and totally change the look of the hat.

Step 9: Make Fabric Flowers

This is how I made my fabric flowers, but there are lots of different methods. Do whatever works for you! They really aren't difficult to make, and they add a lot of pizzazz. Usually I make the center petals of the flower the same color as the hat band, but there are no rules here. Just have fun! You could use a neutral fabric for the hat and hat band, and then make a flower to match each of your outfits. These flowers would also look amazing attached to a pair of flip flops or a headband.

I've made the sample flower in the pictures in contrasting colors of fabric and thread so that it would be easy to see what was going on, but of course you would match your thread to the fabric that you are using. I have also drawn and uploaded a PDF file that includes the petals in the exact size and shape that I used, as well as a petal placement guide. But it's a fairly simple shape that would be easy to freehand, if you wanted to do your own thang.

I chose to leave the edges of the fabric raw when I made my flowers. The reason I did that was because I wanted a more casual hat, kind of a raggedy-chic style. But if you do not want your flower petals to fray, you can use a brush to apply a very thin layer of fabric glue to the back of your fabric, before you cut the flower petals out. This will stabilize the cut edges of the fabric. Or, you could use fray check after you have already cut out the petals.

Regardless of whether you have stabilized the fabric, you do want to orient the petal shapes so that they are all facing the same way on your fabric's grain line. Cut out 16 of the larger shapes, and 16 of the smaller ones.

Arrange 8 of the larger petals in a pinwheel shape on a piece of paper. Each petal should overlap the next one slightly, and there will be a hole in the center of the flower that should be big enough to fit over the button on the hat band (if you are using a button). If you're not sure if the hole is the right size for your button, then scoot all the petals in towards the middle a little bit, so that the hole is smaller. You can always enlarge it later if it's too small.

Put the other 8 large petals on top of the first ones, placing each petal so that the point is in between the petal points on the layer below it.

Now arrange 8 smaller petal shapes on top, aligning the points of the petals with the points on the first layer of petals.

Carefully pick up the piece of paper and take it to the sewing machine. Set the machine to a straight stitch, and hold the petals down with your hand. Sew a spiral in the middle of the flower, sewing through the paper and all of the layers of petals. Make sure to go in the direction that the petals are lying, so that the presser foot is helping to hold them down, and not trying to flip them up as you go. Do not make so wide of a circle that you're stitching on the second layer of petals, because then the stitches might not be covered up by the final row of petals.

Take the flower out of the machine and place the final 8 small petals on top. Sew a line down the center of each petal, backstitching at the beginning and end. This will cover the circular rows of stitching and make everything look nice and neat. Now gently tear all the paper off the back.

Step 10: And, We're Done!

I really, really love how my hat turned out. It takes on whatever shape I mold it to, which means that it can fit my mood and outfit perfectly. I can leave the brim down, like Audrey Hepburn's classic sun hat in Breakfast at Tiffany's, or roll up the two sides to get a cowgirl look. I can make the brim wavy, or asymmetrical, I can fold up the front, or fold up the whole brim.

The embellishments are very customizable as well, and can make the hat take on an entirely new look merely by swapping out the hat band or flower. The hat bands are also just the right size to wear by themselves, as a headband. I think I might have to make a few more in different colors now. ;)

I hope you liked this instructable, and be sure to post a picture if you make your own hat! I'd love to see it. And please vote for me if you think it's a winner!

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    28 Discussions

    I definitely am going to try this!! ... and sent it to a friend... and sharing with a FB group that is all about crafts! Kudo's!!

    1 reply

    4 years ago on Introduction

    Those flowers are tons of fun.

    I have been working on this same technique with raffia instead of fabric. Braiding it is annoying so it's taken me a long time (started braiding last fall...)... we'll see how it looks once it's done.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    That sounds amazing! Are you using a sewing machine, or hand-sewing the braids? I'd love to see it when it's done!


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Very cute hat and a well written 'ible. I know I have some fabric hanging around that would be perfect to try this with. In step four, you have a close-up photo of the coil start. What kind of presser foot is that pictured in the photo?

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you! I hope you give it a try.

    That presser foot is actually a vintage buttonhole foot, the kind that was designed to be used with a plastic buttonhole guide. I changed presser feet a few times throughout the project to see if there was one kind that worked better than another, but I didn't really notice a difference. My walking foot, buttonhole foot, zigzag foot, and even satin stitch foot all seemed to work equally well. Any foot that accommodates a zigzag stitch (one that has a wide slot for the needle to go through, instead of a single hole like a straight stitch foot does) ought to work just fine. :)


    4 years ago on Introduction

    How cute! Not sure if my sewing machine can handle the thickness, so I might try it with cording. Do you think it would work? Thanks for posting this easy-to-follow instructable with nice pics.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    I would suggest that you try it with 3/4" strips of fabric and see how the machine handles that. You can just do a short piece as a test, and then go from there. If it seems to be slowing down or making a thumping noise, then maybe abandon ship (or borrow someone else's machine! Kidding, lol!)

    If you have a full-size machine (instead of a travel size), or if you can sew through a few layers of denim with it, then I would guess that you're okay.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Great idea for a hat! You don't mention using any special machine needles - I would think having a few 'denim' weight or the '16's' might work better. I tend to be a bit crazy when I sew and sometimes a smaller size needle(s) is lost when I am sewing heavy duty or thick fabrics and I would think the coils would qualify for being thick. A fresh needle also might help after sewing for a long period on the hat, too. Less technical frustration leaves more room for creativity!

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    You're absolutely right - I used a size 16 needle, and made a mental note to mention that in the instructions... but then I forgot! :O A denim needle is definitely the way to go. I'll add it to the instructions right now, and thanks for mentioning it!

    P.S. If you also get a bit crazy when you sew, maybe we're long-lost twins, lol! Happy crazy sewing to you! ♥


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you this is an excellent tutorial. I have hair similar to yours and finding a hat to actually stay on my head is quite a challenge. Being able to make a 'custom' shaped hat will be a big help. I wonder if it could be made out of a fabric for fall?

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    I'm very glad that you liked it! :) You could definitely make one in darker colors for fall, and maybe even make some fabric leaves for a decoration if you really wanted to go with the fall theme! I hope you post a picture if you decide to give it a try!


    4 years ago

    very nicely made..also well written detailed steps..

    1 reply