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Late April is probably not the ideal time of year to get interested in designing and making fleece hats, but that’s what has happened to me over the past day or so. The other night, I decided that the fleece hat I’ve worn for most of the winter is too tight, and resolved to make my own. Sewing is new to me, and I’m trying to build my skills with this ancient craft and learn more about how to use my recently acquired sewing machine. As I’m doing this, and other sewing projects, one of my goals is to develop classroom projects for my high school students. The slideshow above shows the photos documenting the process of creating a hat in one hour.

Initially, I needed to figure out how a hat is built. This was done by looking at this winter’s hat, taking some notes, making drawings, and figuring out how the fabric was cut and assembled. Grocery bags are turning out to be a good prototyping and pattern-making material lately, so I found one of those and opened it up. Over Saturday afternoon, I made one fleece hat, which turned out to be full of beginner’s mistakes. The points in the pattern needed to number six, not five as in my first one, and the edges of the points should be curved to form a rounded top of the hat. The two seams on each side of the head should be sewn first, and the last seam should be the one that reaches from the front of the head to the back. For material, I picked up four inexpensive fleece throw blankets from a local store. One was seven and three were eight dollars for each.

After dinner on Saturday, I resolved to redesign my template and make another hat in the evening. After making some adjustments to the design, I was able to cut a piece of fabric that went together pretty well, but was too big. As I sussed out the design and created my patterns, I created photos of the designing through deconstruction process.

On Sunday morning, it became obvious that the loose-fitting hat mostly just needed another identical one fitted inside. At this point, I started to become more conscious about time, trying to get it done as quickly and accurately as possible. Cutting that one from the same pattern, sewing it together and matching it to the first one took about 40 minutes. I went out to show it to a friend, who gave encouragement and a few tips on how to improve the technique.

On returning home, I resolved to make a complete hat in under an hour. This time, cutting both fabric pieces at the same time seemed more efficient, and I extended the bottom of the pattern by taping a strip of bag to it. Looking at the clock, I started, pinning the template to the double layer of material, using the hem at the edge of the blankets as the bottom. I cut the basic shape, then returned to cut the sawtooth shape. Once they were all cut, I then pinned the end seams, and went over to the sewing machine. After the end seams were sewn, I moved in to the second set of side seams. The last part of the basic hat shape is the front seam, which reaches over the crown to the back of the head. When the basic hat was complete, I inverted one and placed it inside the other. The seams of the outside hat were facing out, and the seams of the inside hat were showing in. Doing it this way allowed me to pin the bottom edges of the hats together and sew them, leaving a three inch gap. Sewing this bottom edge holds them to together, and the gap allows them to be turned right side out. The opening was sewn up with a blind stitch. Looking up, the clock read just under an hour to complete a new hat from scratch. It was complete before noon.

As a project, this seems like a great one to learn how to sew. Yesterday, I had never made a hat, and now I’ve made several and have a pattern for making more. More importantly, this project has shown me how to deconstruct an existing piece of clothing and make my own version of it. Once a basic hat has been made, there are lots of variations on it, including variations in pattern and material, embedding headphones, personal lighting systems and ornamental details. As with most important learning through doing experiences, this allows the maker to interact with the end product, looking at it, touching it, showing it to other people. After connecting with the thing you’ve made, you often have a list of things that you would do differently next time. It is pretty easy to do, and encourages variations and future iterations.

Making the first hat was the most time consuming, since everything had to be figured out, and mistakes were made. The second hat had fewer mistakes and flaws, The third hat, completed in an hour, was faster to make, had a more consistent result. Now that the design is more settled, thoughts can turn to how to optimize it for a production run of twenty or thirty, more than will be useful for my household, which leads to how much it could sell for and what potential buyers might want. This project and design also evokes a nice image of the hundred or so students who will make theirs next year, wearing their hats to school, showing them with pride to their friends, empowered by their skills of making.

Chris Connors

Making things is the best way to learn about our world.


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