DIY felted toque

Bryhanna Greenough whips up a felted toque.

In a play I once worked on, political prisoners were made to line up for an old-fashioned, public-style execution.

On each man’s head was a hat which had been stretched, crunched and torn. Costumes are often broken down with wire brushes and the edges painted the colour of dirt to look old, but in this case the mangled hats were designed to humiliate the peoplewearing them. In the moments before death, the prisoners were reduced to objects of ridicule as the crowd of merry spectators pointed, heckled and threw rotten food.

Since their invention, hats have come and gone as status symbols, uniforms and fashion statements. They are an easy way to create character. Plop a cap ‘n’ bells on your pate to help you conjure up a court fool, or put on a fedora to feel like a tough guy from the 40s. Hats can also trigger a person to go into a character, bringing out the inner cop or cowboy…

Style, memberships and alter egos aside, here in the wild north, hats have a more primitive function: they keep the earlobes from freezing off.

Last weekend after digging up bulbs and sweeping rotten dogberries off the back deck of my apartment, I decided to bust out my box of winter stuff. There were my favourites: the thin stripey t-shirt hat; the handmade, mottled, mushroom-shaped felt hat; the fluffy white fun-fur hat that feels like marshmallow; a plain black tuque; and a few others.

As attached as I am to these hats, I’ve had most of them for so long now that they’ve lost their sparkle. It was time to whip up a fresh one.

A few years back I made some Peruvian style winter hats with earflaps and tassels by cutting up sweaters and sewing them back together again. They made great Christmas gifts since they were small enough to send in the mail, and of course, each one was different and made by hand so they had that personal touch. They were so great I ended up giving them all away.

But I still had the pattern.

So, in the time it took to watch an episode of Heroes, I made a fantabulous, firey, fuchia wooly hat with long, streaming tassels that tie under the chin and a little doot straight out the top.

It’s an easy cut-and-sew project best done by hand with a needle and some thread. You don’t need knitting needles or a sewing machine, but you do need a computer, a printer, a wool sweater, a needle, thread (or wool or embroidery floss), straight pins, and a marker.

This is how to get started:

Here is a pdf with the pattern.

Print off this pattern (making sure that your printer has PAGE SCALING off) and, following the lines, cut out the pieces.

Now you need to find a shrunken wool sweater. You probably have one around, but if not, this is how to shrink pure wool: Heat, chemicals and agitation. In other words use hot water, regular detergent, and a heavy-duty wash setting. Lay it flat on a towel to dry. Wool felt is what we need, because felt, when cut with scissors, will not unravel.

The hat pattern consists of four pieces: Front, back, left side and right side. Place each piece on the sweater lining up the ‘grain line’ with a natural line in the knitting. Hold the pattern piece down with a straight pin at every corner then carefully draw an outline with a marker. Remove the pattern piece and cut it out, leaving an extra centimeter of fabric all around.

Look to the paper pattern to see how they all connect. Pin two pieces together and sew down the marked outline but do not sew to the very edge in the extra centimeter of allowance. Once you’ve sewn together all the pieces, try it on. There’s an extra centimeter of material around the face which you can either fold under on the line and sew it down, or cut it off. If you do cut it off, consider doing a decorative line of top stitching so the edge around the face looks less raw.

For tassels, cut some long bits from the sweater carcass and sew them on. Or use ribbon, or string. You can also try cutting around and around in a continuous circle, like a snail’s shell to make long curvy strips. Each hat will want a different type of tassel. Remember to experiment with the peak of the hat as well.

If want you can sew some tiny pockets into the earflaps— for head phones, say. Or make legwarmers from the sweater sleeves, using the wrist band for the part highest on your leg. You’ll surely be as cozy as a tea pot.

Illustration by Kira Sheppard.