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How to Build an Upcycled Mad Hatter Top Hat

Joel's most recent projects include Burning Man 2017, Colorado Hemp Expo, Denver Paper Fashion Shows, Arise Music Festival and more.

 The Mad Hatter of Loveland Top Hat Design: From Cardboard Box to Complete Mad Hatter Top Hat

The Mad Hatter of Loveland Top Hat Design: From Cardboard Box to Complete Mad Hatter Top Hat

The Mad Hatter of Loveland, Colorado

This Mad Hatter (or Hattress) design can be made using materials commonly found around the house or easily sourced for free. My top hat design was inspired by a special art event in the beautiful little town of love, Loveland, Colorado. I hope you can use this design for a concept of your own. I am also creating laser files for those who might want to replicate it for their own adventure.

Skill Level: Medium to Advanced

Average Project Time: 4 hours

What You'll Need

I wanted to create a quality top hat that closely resembled one of the many hats of the Mad Hatter in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. The challenge was to design a pattern using only upcycled materials I could find around the house. I'm pretty happy with the results and am converting this design into a file that can be scaled, reproduced, and cut out using a laser cutter to create the components in a matter of minutes.

Here are the materials I used:

  • (1) large thin cardboard box opened up and laid flat
  • 2 old cotton blend stretchable t-shirts (any color)
  • Good homemade glue with a two-minute working time (recipe below)

Cost if you use upcycled materials: $1
Cost if you use new materials: $20

Parts of the hat design and suggested direction of cardboard grain.

Parts of the hat design and suggested direction of cardboard grain.

1. Find Cardboard

Finding a good source for cardboard is usually easy to do if you don’t already have a box or two laying around. For this hat, I used a thin wall house-fan box and a piece of cardboard that came from a frozen pizza container.

Other good sources you may want to check out: :

  • Grocery stores
  • Car repair shops
  • Friends and neighbors

Note: The “grain” of the cardboard will determine which direction the cardboard will bend the easiest. If you haven’t done so before, take a small piece and bend it. You will quickly recognize which direction the grain or corrugation is going. Think about what direction will make it easiest to bend, cut, or score.

In this design, you don’t need to score anything as the cardboard primarily creates a framework to fit the cloth over. Most of the bends will be across the grain and the swooping curves will be with the grain. Also, for costuming design, it's best to use a single wall as opposed to double-wall cardboard.

It takes about 1-1/2 shirts to make a large top hat.

It takes about 1-1/2 shirts to make a large top hat.

2. Choose the Cloth

For costume design and prototyping, I like to use a cloth I can paint on, stretches in all directions, and readily absorbs the glue. I find that t-shirts made from 100% cotton work the best, especially where there are forms that require complex curvatures or need to be pulled tight to create certain strength engineering which we will explore during assembly.

Learning to make glues is an important  part of developing your crafts.

Learning to make glues is an important part of developing your crafts.

3. Make Your Glue

You can skip this if you choose to use a shelf-bought glue like fabric glue or paper glue. Hot glue is another option that works equally well but requires a delicate touch. I chose to make my own glue mixture that bonds well to both cloth and cardboard and still remains somewhat absorbent for final paint or other faux finishes. Working time is about three minutes once applied.

Using a piece of flexible wire to create patterns and large curves makes it easy to transfer shapes onto paper.

Using a piece of flexible wire to create patterns and large curves makes it easy to transfer shapes onto paper.

4. Determine Head Size

This design is based on the head size and shape more than traditional hat sizes. To fit a specific model, use a piece of aluminum wire and bend it around the place on the head that I want the hat to fit on. Add a half of an inch the whole way around to allow for a headband, material thickness, hair thickness, or a wig. Once I have the shape bent, I trace it onto a piece of paper to make a pattern template for next steps.

While creating the brim.  Its a good idea to go bigger than smaller for the head size.  Keep in mind things like wigs that may effect the size.

While creating the brim. Its a good idea to go bigger than smaller for the head size. Keep in mind things like wigs that may effect the size.

5. Create the Brim

  • Use the head pattern wire template to mark the head size on a piece of cardboard.
  • Remove the pattern and measure in one inch to sketch an inner oval. Cut this out and add notches to create gluing tabs. These tabs will insert later into the tapered bell tube during assembly.
  • Measure approximately three inches out from the template oval equal distance to draw the outside shape of the brim.
  • Cut this out and hand form the brim so that the long sides curve up slightly. Bend the tabs up along the template oval line. Don't worry too much about creating the perfect shape just yet. At this point, you are just wanting to "break" the cardboard in a little making it more flexible.
Rather than measure out all of the cut lines, I simply use the width of a ruler to create my one inch wide lines.

Rather than measure out all of the cut lines, I simply use the width of a ruler to create my one inch wide lines.

6. Make the Belled Topper Pipe

To determine the length of the belled pipe, mark where your aluminum wire intersects itself and straighten it out. This will give you the actual length. Add an additional inch for overlap during assembly. You can adjust the height as you please. For this hat, I made my height 10-½ inches. This will give you a pretty tall top hat. Using this same design, you can adjust the height to reduce it if you desire.

  • Draw a line approximately halfway and draw a line from the middle of the line perpendicular to the center point. From either side, draw lines one inch apart. These are your cut lines for the bell part of the hat.
  • Draw another line one inch down from the top. This is your fold line to create tabs to attach the roof of the hat. Cut the bell lines and fold along both the top tab line and the original center line.
Dry fitting is an important practice each step of the way.

Dry fitting is an important practice each step of the way.

7. Create Bottom of Bell

  • Draw a line on the lower portion of the bell two inches up from the bottom.
  • Using the same wire you used to create the head size and bell width, bend it into a smooth curve starting from the center line and then down and back up again.
  • Reach the outside edge producing a consistent wave pattern.
  • Draw your line and then flip your wire pattern and do the same to the other end. Don’t worry about being perfect, at the point of assembly, you will do some hand shaping.
  • Cut the bottom shape along the curved line.

8. Dry Fit the Bell to Brim

  • Before starting the assembly process, it's a good idea to dry fit the bell and the brim.
  • Bend the bell gently, work it into a gentle tube, and place it over the tabs in the brim.
  • At this point, you can make any adjustments. Compare how the tabs line up and alter them to fit your tube.
Always make sure you allow the glue to thoroughly bond before moving to the next steps.

Always make sure you allow the glue to thoroughly bond before moving to the next steps.

9. Assembly of Bell to Bell

  • Curve the bell around a round object like a small can. This will allow you to smooth out some of the fold lines if you want.
  • Overlap the left and right end of the tube by about a half an inch and glue. I usually just hold it by hand and compress the overlap as it dries ensuring a great bond.
  • Allow to fully dry before moving to the next step.

10. Assembly of Bell to Brim

  • Insert the bottom of the bell over tabs of the brim.
  • Apply a bead of glue around the inside of the tabs along the bottom of the bell. By placing one hand up the bell and the other hand on the outside, press and work the inside and outside together as the glue begins to set. Do this while compressing the tabs and the inner wall together.
  • Set aside and allow the glue to fully set. Do not attempt to sculpt the brim and bell until the glue is dry.

11. Make the Bell Top

In this design, the bell-top plate is the same size as the outside of the brim. This gives you the maximum bell-shape without making it too top heavy.

You can reduce the radius of the bell by making the top plate smaller, which will also make it slightly taller. Mark the front and back with a center point to help align the bell during assembly.

12. Assemble the Bell to the Top Plate

  • Bend out the long cuts at the top of the bell and bend the tabs inward.
  • Line up the front of the bell with the center of the front of the top plate.
  • Apply a spot of glue to the top of each tab. Gently start working the tabs around the underside of the top plate keeping an approximate distance between each one.
  • Using the same method as attaching the brim to the bell, attach the bell to the top plate with one hand in and the other on top.
  • Work and compress until bonded and set aside for drying.
The final cardboard creation is now ready to cover with fabric.

The final cardboard creation is now ready to cover with fabric.

13. Shape the Brim

After the glue is dry, begin to gently shape the brim, curving it or bending it down to get the exact shape you want.

Trim any jagged edges away. You are now ready to attach the fabric.

I used two colors of shirts for this project to help show the difference between the bell and the brim.

I used two colors of shirts for this project to help show the difference between the bell and the brim.

14. Prepare the Cloth

If you use a t-shirt like the one used in this version, it will take approximately one and a half shirts.

  • Cut the sleeves off and then both of the shoulders to the neck seam.
  • Cut one side of the body perpendicular to the bottom hem.
  • Cut the second shirt the same way.

You will have enough material to completely cover the hat, including a second layer on the bottom of the brim.

Fitting the cloth around the cardboard form is an enjoyable process.  Here you will discover how the form design actually helps to spring the fabric tight and becomes extremely strong but is still lightweight.

Fitting the cloth around the cardboard form is an enjoyable process. Here you will discover how the form design actually helps to spring the fabric tight and becomes extremely strong but is still lightweight.

15. Fit the Bell Cloth Base

  • Cut a piece of material two inches wider than the height of the bell at its longest measurement.
  • Cut the length one inch longer than the circumference of the top plate. After fitting, you will trim the excess as needed.
  • Apply a bead of glue to the base of where the bell meets the brim.
  • From the center point of the cloth, wrap the cloth around the base, pressing it into the glue.
  • Continue applying pressure while working and smoothing the cloth towards the back of the hat until the glue begins to firmly bond.
  • Allow the base to dry.

16. Fit and Stretch the Bell Cloth to Top

Place a bead of glue around the outer edge of the top perimeter of the bell cardboard top.

  • Starting in the front, pull cloth of the top and pinch the joint with your fingers.
  • Work your way around, alternating from side to side, stretching and pulling around and over the top.
  • Continue to do this as you smooth out wrinkles until the glue begins to bond.

When you are satisfied with the shape, allow the glue to set before completing the rear seam in the next step.

By using the hat itself as a template, transferring  patterns become much easier.

By using the hat itself as a template, transferring patterns become much easier.

17. Join the Back Bell Cloth and Trimming

To complete the final seam in the back of the bell, rough trim away the excess cloth, allowing about of a half-inch overlap.

Apply a thin bead of glue to the joint and pinch close, working it up and down until the glue is bonded. Allow it to dry and then trim the excess cloth from both the back seam and the top plate.

The top plate will be covered in the final step.

18. Fit the Brim With Cloth

Trace and cut out the shape directly from the bottom of the brim on cloth. Cut two pieces slightly larger than the brim. Place the second piece aside.

Using your head template, cut a hole in cloth directly in the center. This piece should slip over the brim and extend slightly over the edge of the brim. Add a bead of glue into the inside corner where the bell meets the brim. Form the cloth into the corner and allow to dry.

After the inside of the fitted cloth is dry, place a bead of glue to the underside of the brim outside edge. Stretch and smooth the cloth until the glue is bonded. After drying, trim the excess cloth.

19. Create the Top and Bottom Covers

Both the top of the bell and the bottom get a second cardboard layer that is covered with cloth. This serves to add additional strength and a cloth cap to give the project a finished look.

  • Trace and cut two pieces of cardboard to match both top and bottom.
  • Add a bead of glue around each piece.
  • Smooth and stretch the fabric around the edges and allow it to dry.
  • After drying, glue both caps to the hat. As you glue, press the edges together with a pinching approach to ensure a tight bond.

Inspect the hat and complete your final shaping. You're just about done!

Adding the embellishments makes each Mad Hatter (or Hattress) curiously unique.

Adding the embellishments makes each Mad Hatter (or Hattress) curiously unique.

20. Add Embellishments

At this point, you can begin adding any embellishments you want. A scarf tied around the bell, faux finishes, paint, feathers, or even hat pins. This same design can be used as the base for so many possibilities!

Enjoy Your Top Hat!

I hope you enjoyed this project. The steps and principles can be used on many similar projects. Thanks for looking! Please feel free to share your thoughts below.

© 2018 Joel Diffendarfer

Comments

Brenda J Jones on June 20, 2018:

This article is amazing and so informative! Thanks for sharing!

peachy from Home Sweet Home on June 16, 2018:

wow, you are very good at handmade crafts, great for Halloween art.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on June 15, 2018:

Excellent article, so well presented and illustrated! Another important fact, is that you are using up cycled materials.

Thanks for sharing this creative work!

Alexander James Guckenberger from Maryland, United States of America on June 15, 2018:

This is awesome!

Catherine Tally from Los Angeles on June 15, 2018:

Wow! What a great tutorial! I love the use of everyday recycled materials, your creativity, and easy to follow directions.