July 30, 2009

How to Make a Derby Hat

I have professed my love for big hats worn at horse races. I have also discussed how to pick a hat for your face and how to wear that hat properly, with a dress and minimal, classic accessories. In this post, I'll show you how I made my own Derby Hat.

Google "derby hat" and dozens of online couture hat boutiques will come up. The Derby Hat is not only a long-standing tradition, but also brings good luck to you when you wear it, and some people take this tradition very seriously. So if you're lucky enough to be attending the Kentucky Derby, your outfit is of paramount importance. There are, apparently, women out there who will spend upwards of $400 on a gargantuan hat festooned with feathers, netting, ribbon and flowers, which she will wear to only one race, on one day, ever.

I am not one of those women.

I am also not going to Churchill Downs this weekend, but I am attending the Hats Off to Saratoga Festival in lovely Saratoga Springs, New York. I have two navy-ish dresses that I plan to wear to the track Saturday and Sunday, and I have created my own custom hat for the weekend. Yes, I do realize this is probably a huge faux pas, wearing the same Derby Hat twice in one weekend (or in one lifetime), but... I don't really care.

So! Time to make your hat. Before a chef begins cooking, he gets mise en place. Before embarking on any project, it's good to lay out your materials ahead of time. For this project I suggest:
- the hat
- silk flowers (several small and one large)
- feathers (many)
- ribbon
- netting (optional)
- thread and needles
- Tacky Glue or a hot glue gun

Here are my materials laid out on the kitchen table.

Then I took everything to where I do all my crafty-work: my bed (weird, I know).

1) Start with the feathers. I attached mine so they would lay across the crown and fan out. Pour some glue over the spot, lay down 2 feathers and sew them onto the hat. As you get comfortable with this process and feel they are secure, add more.

2) When you are satisfied with your plumage, it's time to add the band, if you don't have one or want to change yours. Cut a long piece of ribbon, wrap it around the crown, and bring the ends together where the feather bunch is. Secure with pins, then sew the ribbon in place with small stitches. Cut off any excess.

3) Now we add the side flowers. You will need to cut or detach smaller stems from the large flowers. Place the bunch where you like, then sew it in place by looping thread over and through the branches.

4) Once you have the framing set, you add the focal piece: the large silk flower. My hat has a magnolia-ish flower. Pick something with size and volume! Using matching or inconspicuous thread, sew the blossom onto the hat where the brim meets the crown. Be careful not to sew through any top petals (you'll see the stitches).

Here is how the hat looks now...

5) Now the hat is basically done - you just need finishing touches. This is the point where I added the extra ribbon, pushed in the rest of the feathers, and made small adjustments. You can add more flowers, netting, whatever you like, but it will be harder to sew anything into the crown once the large flower is sewed.

5) Last thing I added: the single ostrich feather. I thought it added a great pop and a change from just navy/white.

And there you have it... a custom-made Derby hat to match whichever lovely sundress you want. My plain hat cost $17, and the decorations all together were about $18, which makes this project a very affordable one. I'm already laughing and excited about the pictures we will take this weekend. And maybe I'll win big!

Here are some tips for making your hat look great:
  • Find a place to consider your focal point - where the attention to the hat will be drawn. The statement will be more sophisticated than silk flowers sticking out of every corner of your hat.
  • Sewing through glue will get your hands, needle and thread messy. Consider yourself warned. But the sturdiness is worth it.
  • Attach decorations without pulling them through the holes in the straw, if applicable. That'll poke you in the head!
  • Have fun with color, but shopping for things like feathers and flowers can give you ADD. Create a palette (3 colors tops) and stick with it, if you want to look sophisticated.
  • Consider your dress. If your dress is on the fancy side, go for a hat in a fabric, rather than straw, and keep a clean color palette.
  • Hats come in many shapes and sizes. Take the time to pick the best one for you.
  • Finish off the look with nice, big sunnies.
  • Have fun and work that Derby Hat! If you're feeling a bit shy, first, take a look around you, and second, have another drink. You're at the races - enjoy!

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