Top Hat From Old Books




Introduction: Top Hat From Old Books

It never fails.
The kids just had to read those books over the summer.
And they just had to read their own copies - not the ones that you got from the library*, Mo-omm!  You are so uncool!
And now that school's starting again...  your kids would rather sit two hours in a spike-lined coffin than look at those books again.

So what to do with all these books?  Full of... paper?

Did someone say... "Paper Steampunk Top Hat?"

I thought so.

*Note:  The books used in this craft were, in fact, library books that were taken out of circulation due to damage.  I always encourage you to pre-love any books used for craft projects.

Materials Used:
1 book  (I used Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling & the decorations came from The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik)
small craft blade
scrapbooking glue (because it had a handy dual applicator, but probably could have used craft glue)
pencil with eraser
scratch paper
stain (black tea and some spray stuff from the craft store)

For optional decorations:
crepe paper streamers
2 metal paper fasteners, aka "brads"
20-gage floral wire, gold
wire cutter with rounded plier end (to shape wire)

Step 1: Prep Your Paper

Using a small craft blade, cut out a bunch of pages from your chosen book.  You could use a pair of scissors, if you are careful, but I recommend anything from the box cutter/X-acto family.
It is better to go ahead and get more pages than you think you'll need now.  You can use them to mock up your pattern if nothing else.

Okay, now give your paper that vintage look. 
Crumple your paper, then smooth it out.  Now, do it again.  You should have a softer medium now, paper that feels more like fabric and looks nice and weathered.
Then make yourself some strong hot tea (black - herbals, etc. do not work well) or coffee and blot it over your pages.  This can get a little messy, so you might like to work on a water-safe surface.

I personally laid out some plastic grocery bags on my kitchen floor and used the tea bag to apply the tea to my paper.  You could try a sponge, some paper towel, or a rag.
You could also move the crumpling step to after the staining step.  Either way, bear in mind that paper warps once you get it wet, so if you don't want to crumple at all, you will need to research paper stretching or alternative stain methods.  Let everything dry before proceeding.

Step 2: Make Your Pieces

To make a top hat, you need three basic parts:  An oval brim, an oval top, and a rectangular crown.

For this step, you don't want to cut blindly into your pretty, stained paper.  Glue some of your pages together, edge to edge, to form a few big sheets of paper, keeping in mind the size and shape of the three parts to your hat.  Try it with your least favorite pages first, so that you can make some mistakes, change your mind about design, etc.  Once you are satisfied with your method, you can do it with your "good" paper.  For stiffness, I made the final brim out of a double-thick sheet of pages: one sheet of pages glued directly on top of another.

Since I wanted my hat to have a wider top than base and a little shape to the sides, I started with the basic ovals and rectangle and tweaked them a little.

The brim is the easiest part.  Tie a string around your head, then lay it out on my sheet of scratch paper and trace the oval with your pencil (Line A).  Add an even space (in my case, maybe 2") all the way around that oval to create the width of the brim (Line B).  Cut along your lines, resulting in a big O-shape.  Check to make sure your edges are even and symmetrical, then trace onto your two-layer sheet.  With your pencil, add an extra half-inch (~1 cm) inside the inner oval (Line A) to allow a joint (Line C).  Cut out your final brim.  Going around the inner oval of the brim (Line C), make small cuts perpendicularly up to Line A every half-inch (~1 cm) or so, to create a series of tabs.  The tabs get glued to the crown of the hat later.

The crown of the hat is basically constructed of pages glued vertically, edge to edge.  To make the top of your hat a bit wider, the top edge of your crown will need to be longer than the bottom edge.  You could manage this a couple ways.  What I did is glue all of my pages tilting a little this way or that, so that I would have my text tilting all the way around instead of just at the back seam.  After drying, I held the long sheet around my head to get an idea of where the back seam of the crown would need to overlap to create the right shape.  I penciled along the edge to help me keep everything in line once I took it off my head. 
If you would like a curve to your brim over your ears, now is the time to mark lightly on the crown at your temples and just behind your ears.  Remove the crown and pencil in the ear curves, then cut and erase any leftover pencil marks.  
Again, it's a good idea to do this with scratch paper first.
Cut small tabs, about a half-inch (~1 cm) long and a half-inch (~1 cm) wide, all the way along the top edge of the crown.  This will be a joint to the top of the hat.
If you want to add any decorations to your hat, you should not glue the final seam of the crown yet; leave it flat.

The top of the hat.  Paperclip the crown into shape and turn it upside-down over a sheet of pages.  Trace the oval shape of the top of your hat, cut it out, then fit it into the crown, about a half-inch (~1 cm) inside from the top.  Take note of any spots where you need to even things out, trim, etc.  Trace your scratch-paper top onto your good paper (can be a double-thick layer if you like), and cut it out.

In the picture: the crown on left, the brim at bottom, and the top of the hat on right.  You can see the tabs on the brim for joining to the bottom of the crown.  The top still needed some rounding-out.

Step 3: Assemble Pieces

Depending on your details, you may wish to glue them on before or after you put the three main parts of your hat together.  I knew I wanted some vertical features and some lacing, and those are easiest to put on the crown while it is still flat.

After adding your decorations, glue the final seam of your crown shut in back, holding it in place with paper clips until dry.  This will create a cylindrical shape.
Fold down the tabs at the top of the crown so they face inward and are at a right angle to the rest of the crown.  Place the top of the hat, wrong-side up, on a flat surface.  Arrange the crown on top of it so your hat is upside-down.  When you are satisfied that everything is in place, carefully glue the undersides of the tabs to the top of the hat.  To keep everything in place, you may need to do this in 3 or 4 sessions, weighing down the tabs while they dry. 
Then glue the brim to the crown.  You will want to arrange the brim on the crown with the tabs inside the hat and keeping in mind that your hat is upside-down.  Again, you may need to take a few sessions to do this and paperclipping everything into place so things don't slip while your glue is drying.

The photo shows the inside of the back seam of the crown, with the tabs of the brim being held in place while drying.

Step 4: Finish

Once everything is dry, remove your clips, try on your hat, and adjust the brim so it sits nicely.

Everything else is details. 
I wrapped crepe paper streamers around the hat as a ribbon, then did it again for a fuller look.  I made a big, gift-style bow in back with long tails to hang down.  I also made several wire curlicues and glued them underneath the ribbon on one side.

Other details I added along the way:  I added vertical bands of black paper (from Hugo) and made two of them into a laced-up feature by poking holes in them and lacing twisted crepe paper streamers through them.  I made a couple short straps for the bottoms of these bands, to go around the "ribbon" and held them in place with metal fasteners.

I also cut out a number of pictures from Hugo and glued them on with no further alteration.

Depending on what materials you have on hand, you could create a lot of unique decorations!  Paper flowers look beautiful when made from book pages.  You could stain, paint, or marker paper to create designs.  Twisting can make some interesting rope-like material.  Play around with your decorations!

Back to School Contest

Participated in the
Back to School Contest

Be the First to Share


    • Lighting Challenge

      Lighting Challenge
    • Colors of the Rainbow Contest

      Colors of the Rainbow Contest
    • Puzzles Speed Challenge

      Puzzles Speed Challenge

    13 Discussions


    6 years ago

    Is there a way to make it sturdier? Would gluing the pieces to cereal boxes work you think?

    I'd be afraid to wear it. Especially in the rain.. Have you tried coating it with some waterproof sealant?


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I never thought of trying to wear it in the rain! Mostly it sits on a display shelf.
    However, I have made paper wreathes that I would like to stand up to a little weather (such as hanging on a door under a covered porch), and for them I would be interested in trying a waterproof sealant. Perhaps a simple "clear coat" spray would work!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I'm Back! Here's mine :)
    the pages have been taken from a book of Irish legends.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Oh wow. This is amazing. I think I might do this project, but instead of making a whole hat, just modify the one I have now.... an amazing project with a beautiful result.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you! I encourage you to play around with it - would love to see what you develop!


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Yeah, I might do an Ible' on tea-dying paper.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Now i know what MUST I DO this afternoon :)
    You're a genius!