How to make a Felt Hat for a Halloween Costume

Curious George The Man in the Yellow Hat Halloween Costume

A big part of making myself a Curious George The Man in the Yellow Hat Halloween Costume was making the big yellow hat.  I devoted most of my energy towards making one that was a perfect replica of the hat worn by Curious George’s friend, The Man in the Yellow Hat.  As you can see in the picture above, my big yellow hat came out pretty well.  This post explains how to make a felt hat for your Halloween costume.

The first step toward making a felt hat for a Halloween costume is to decide on what type of felt hat you want to make.  Find some photos online, look at period correct movies, etc.   This was easy for me as The Man in the Yellow Hat from Curious George only wears one type of hat, a big wide rimmed round yellow hat.  I found about 2 dozen different images online and in the Curious George books to help me conceptualize the size and shape of the felt hat I would make for my Halloween costume. I want to state here that real felt hats are made differently then the process we are going to use.  Real felting of a wool hat is more work, wool felt the appropriate color was not readily available and it costs significantly more.

  

I started by buying about 2 yards of basic craft store acrylic felt fabric from my local Jo-Anne Fabrics.  The fabric was only $2.99/yard and was in the perfect shade of bright yellow to match my shirt, tie, and previously dyed pants (check out my earlier post).  I did some rough measurements of the hat brim size to shoulder width ratio on photos of Curious George’s  Man in the Yellow Hat.  I then scaled up based on my shoulder width to get an approximate size.  I  made a quick beam compass to lay out the circular pattern on the felt.  A beam compass can quickly be made from cardboard taped and folded over by punching holes at appropriate radii for your needs.  The disposable beam compass is a useful trick for woodworking, crafts, fabric, and any other time you need to layout a large diameter circle or arc segment.   Folding the fabric over results in two patterns being cut out at the same time.

   

I used the cardboard beam compass to layout an inner circle as well. The inner circle is a radius 2 inches shorter then the average radius of my head as measured above the ears. I used a fabric tape measure and mirror to get that measurement. Some quick math calculations gave me the radius I needed for the inner circle.  Using some quality fabric shears I cut out my patterns for the brim of the hat.

  

The next step required a plastic covered piece of flat cardboard and a piece of circular foam cut to that previously measured and calculated average diameter of my head.  Wrap the foam carefully with seran wrap and clear tape to ensure your felt does not stick to it during this next step.   This next bit I learned back in my theater days working in the costume shop.  It is the magic trick to making a felt hat with cheap craft store acrylic felt.   Be sure to have lots of white craft glue on hand.  Add about 25% water to the white glue and mix it in well.  Next take your two cut out felt patterns and run them under hot water until they are well saturated. The felt goes limp and softens.  Wring out as much water as you can from the felt. Then take the first pattern and carefully stretch it over the foam buck working slowly until you have it stretched nicely over the foam and flat on your plastic covered cardboard.   Paint on the watered down white glue with a brush until you have saturated the felt with the watered down glue solution.   Next stretch your second cut out pattern over the first being careful to smooth out any wrinkles or bumps in the felting.   Again paint on a liberal coating of the watered down white glue onto this second felt layer.  After saturating with glue rub your hands over the felt from the center outwards to smooth any small bumps, wrinkles etc.  Let this dry for a long, long time.   This part is what killed me, it took about 48 hours for the felt to dry and I was running out of time.  I added a fan to help speed the drying.  You can also use an iron when it is mostly dry to help it along and settle out any wrinkles/fold marks on the flat part.

Man in the Yellow Hat Halloween Costume     Man in the Yellow Hat Halloween Costume

Using a similar process, repeat the previous steps but stretch the felt over a styrofoam ball for the shaped upper part of your hat.  If you are making a different shaped hat, say a fedora you would simply use a different shaped buck (foam or wood pattern to shape the felt over).  Wetting and carefully stretching/shrinking the felt till it is smooth takes some time but is not complicated or difficult.  Use elastics and push pins to hold the wet felt onto the buck until the watered down glue solution dries completely.  Trim off the extra after its dry and you are left with a nice stiff felt hat.  For a shorter hat this step would be the end of the felting.  However Man in the Yellow Hat has a tall hat.  I felt I could not stretch the felt as a single piece that length. I made a felt cone for the added height of his hat.

Man in the Yellow Hat Halloween Costume   

As this post is running long, I will simply say I calculated the arc segments and radii needed to make a cone the perfect size for the felt hat being made.  I promise to do a short post on the trick behind making a flat pattern for a cone in a day or two.  It’s not complicated but relies on a good understanding of trigonometry.  After cutting out the arc segment, roll it up and sew the seam to make the cone section.  Then stitched your cone onto the top “ball” section made earlier, ensuring it dried completely before removing it from the foam buck.

 The Man in the Yellow Hat Costume  

Stitch on the top cone/ball section to the lower brim section and you have your felt hat.  Use a piece of heavy ribbon to hide the seam where you attached the two sections of the hat together.  The ribbon serves the additional purpose of keeping the felt hat from stretching out while being worn.  You will want to run a stitch around the outer rim of the hat.  This keeps the two stiffened brim sections from separating.  If you want to go hog wild with your felt hat you can stitch in millinery wire around the rim and cover it with millinery grosgrain ribbon as you will see done on fine felt hats.  For my man in the yellow hat costume I  kept it simple and ran a running stitch around the edge to keep the two layers of felt together.   The glue dries in the felt and keeps the rim stiff but it does not necessarily glue the two pieces of felt together adequately.

Man in the Yellow Hat Halloween Costume

Another shot of me in The Man in the Yellow Hat Halloween Costume.

2013 Note:  I’ve gotten tons of great notes emails and comments on this page. I would love to see some pics of the hats you all are making. send em to me at Zac at projectsbyzac.com   and if it’s ok to let me share them on this page please say so in the email.  I love hearing that people find my posts helpful. It really motivates me to take the time to write more posts.

31 Replies to “How to make a Felt Hat for a Halloween Costume”

  1. I love your Man in the yellow hat ideas. I made curious George for my grandson and will make the Hat for his Mommy. Thank you.

  2. Love the costume! My boyfriend and I are doing it this year and the hat was the toughest part. You’re idea is awesome though! Thanks for the help!

    1. I measured shoulder to shoulder with my arms up in a V to get the hat brim size. After measuring many pictures I decided it needed to be about as wide as I was.

  3. You have saved the day! This tutorial is exactly what I was looking for to complete my “Woman in the Yellow Hat” costume. My 2 year old son will be George. I have 3 days, hope mine turns out as good as yours!

    1. I was considering reusing the man in the yellow hat costume this year. I could be convinced to sell it but I don’t think you’d find the price very affordable, there’s a lot of man hours in making it, let alone materials cost.

    1. google this phrase “Laying out a frustum of a cone” and a pdf will show up that will be helpful. It is a bit over complicated. I thought I made a post on a flat pattern for a frustum of a cone but apparently like so many I intend, I never got to it.

        1. I’ve made myself a post it note to write up and post how to make the cone part of the hat. I will try hard to get it up. I’m way overloaded with life lately.

  4. I don’t know if you check these anymore but i have done everything you said to do (at least what you explained) but i am going crazy trying to figure out the cone part. If i give you the measurements i need can you tell me what to do from there? This is for my 3 year old and i promise to send pictures!
    Thanks,
    Trish

  5. Hi Zac! Your post has been unimaginably helpful – I never would have thought of the glue-stiffening approach and I think it’s going to turn out great! One question, though you show the glue treatment being done for the brim as well as the top “ball” section, you don’t mention stiffening the felt in a similar way for the cone or middle section. Would you recommend that? Seems that otherwise it would be somewhat of a weaker area.

    (I’ve just “painted” my brim now and hope to have the hat ready by later in the week!)

    Thanks again and look forward to your advice on this small point.

    1. Adam, I did not add any glue to the cone section. It is plenty stiff due to the geometry. I wanted it to fit to my head a bit and it works fine without any glue stiffening. It may be that my felt was thicker then what you are using so if you need to stiffen the cone section with glue I think you could do it the same way as the brim and top of the hat.

      1. Thanks Zac. I did end up stiffening all parts of the hat including the cone, but only doing that central part as a single layer, not doubled up as I did for the dome and the brim. My felt was pretty floppy so I don’t think it would have worked well otherwise.

        I have to again say, your post was a godsend – I’d never have thought of this technique otherwise, and it worked out great! Combined with the other elements including the fabric dyeing (I was a total newbie at that – and it took me three dyeing sessions to get the colour right!), I ended up with a fantastic costume. My little boy and I had a blast, and people everywhere we went had smiles on their faces seeing the man with the yellow hat chase Curious George down the street! Thanks again!

  6. Hi Zac. We can’t thank you enough for the Man with the Yellow Hat post. I worked like mad on a veela hat (Fleur Delacour from Harry Potter) for my daughter’s 9th birthday (she was born on Halloween). It was difficult and frustrating and exciting and interesting and challenging and successful! Can I send you an email with the photos? Many, many thanks. Your post was truly appreciated and inspiring. Liz (can you send me your email address please?)

  7. This was a very useful guide! Though I do seem to be having one issue. The top of my hat is almost completely dry, but the bottom is still just as wet as it was when i first saturated it. It’s been nearly seven days since I first started making the hat but there has been no progress on the bottom. Is there something I’m doing wrong?

    1. That’s odd, What glue did you use? It did take a long time for mine to dry. Perhaps try blowing air on it with a fan, or hair drier a couple times a day to help dry it out. If the humidity in the air is high things won’t dry well.

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