Monday, November 18, 2013

How to Make a Pirate Hat.

There are three main kinds of pirate hats – the tricorn hat, like Jack Sparrow’s, the cavalier hat, like Will Turner’s, and the Dutch hat, like Davy Jones. We are going to mostly look at the tricorn and the cavalier hats today.

The first thing you need is a hat. For the tricorn, the go-to pirate hat, you will need a hat with a low, rounded crown (the part your head fits into) and a wide (3 ½ or 4 inches) brim. For the best look, use a wool felt hat in black or brown. You will be able to tell the material of the hat by reading the tag on the inside, along the back of the hat band. If the hat has no tag, but is “fuzzy” and feels like felt, it’s probably what you want.

Of course, any kind of hat with a brim will do. The main thing is the "tricorn" shape. 

I got my last pirate hat at a second-hand store for about $2. It needed some work, but no one has ever suspected that it started out as something else. The place to get the ultimate pirate hat blank is here here.
The slouch hat works just fine. Of course, this is still $35. You can also use a hat like this this. (I have purchased a hat from here. Delivery took a while, but it was inexpensive, and the hat was great.)

You will need an object to poke a hole in the hat. An ice pick or a knitting needle is perfect. You will need some material to tie up the sides of the hat. The very best thing you can use is shoelaces – two pairs of black or brown. This stuff is going to show, so you want to think about that when choosing color. You can also use ¼” ribbon.


Given these materials, it’s very easy to make the hat. Simply grab the back side of the brim and fold it up, toward the top of the crown. Hold it in place firmly and use the ice pick to punch four holes, like the points of a square, right through the brim and the crown.

Punching holes for lacing

Cut the shoelaces in half. The aglet on the end of each half makes a perfect tool to poke the shoelace through the tiny holes. Make two vertical stitches to sew up the side of the hat. Just poke the string through two holes and tie it on the inside. Do the same with the other two holes.

Using white lacing here so you can see it
Repeat this, putting up the sides so they meet in a point toward the front of the hat. You will find that it’s very natural for the hat brim to go up in three sections.

Finished hat with black lacing
Is that it? Yes it is.

Hats from this period are all based on a low, wide-brimmed form. If you start with a very wide-brimmed hat, put up only one side, and add a feather on that side, you have the cavalier hat. If the brim is slightly narrower, and you put up 3 sides, you get the tricorn.

If you cut the tip off the tricorn, you get the Dutch hat. Why would you cut the tip off the tricorn? Well, wear the hat for a while, and bump the tip into a few things, and you’ll see why. If you want this type of hat, first put it up in the tricorn shape, then mark the area you want to cut off with chalk, then take the brim down and cut. This hat works best if you put trim around the edge of the hat brim.

Notes for hats
If the hat you are working with is too stiff to bend, steam it or wet it with warm water, and work with it while it’s damp. If it is too soft, fabric stores sell a product called fabric stiffener, which you can use as directed to fix it.

If the crown of your hat isn’t the shape you want (my last pirate hat started out with a shape more like a cowboy hat) change the shape by filling the crown of the hat with warm water and letting it sit for a few minutes. Then use your fist to punch the hat into shape. You can also make a too-small hat bigger by wetting it and then forcing it onto your head and wearing it until it’s dry.

If you do this, be careful. Any kind of wetness weakens the fabric of the hat. You can accidentally put your hand right through it. I was working with a $2 hat, so I had little to lose.

If you want to put trim around the edge of your hat brim, put it on the underside of a tricorn because that is the side that will show. On a cavalier hat, you must put it on both upper and lower sides of the brim, as both will show. It’s best to sew it on with a sewing machine, using a zig zag stitch, but hot glue will do.

Real tricorn hats were never worn with feathers in them, but you’re a pirate. Feel free to deck your hat out with feathers or gems. One big pin is a popular option, usually put on the left hand side. A huge feather is traditional on a cavalier hat, sweeping out behind. Once again, a big pin is a great accessory.

If you can’t find a felt hat, most fabric stores sell a kind of wide-brimmed straw hat that also makes a fine pirate hat. (If you watch the background of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, you will see people wearing tricorn straw hats)  Just make sure it fits. If you want to paint a straw hat, you can use regular spray paint. A straw hat looks better as a grungy pirate hat.

Pirates aren’t limited to only one kind of hat. Society at the time said that men wore hats. Pirates stole gentlemen’s hats and then wore them until they fell apart, so if your hat has seen better days, so much the better. If it needs to be grunged up a little, grease, spray paint, or actual dirt can be used. Sand paper can simulate wear. And rubber cement can simulate sweat stains on the crown.

Whatever you do, have fun. And if you enjoyed this post, and would like to support pirates and this pirate blog, click the links in the sidebar to buy a copy of Gentlemen and Fortune, the first book of my novel series, The Pirate Empire.


  1. We just made this with a €1.95 black felt cowboy hat and it worked perfectly. Very happy four year old, many thanks!

  2. Hello! I was wondering how you would make a cavalier hat except with one side up, both sides are pined up.