Why make another hat?

I have a climbing trip at the end of January and am flying a budget airline. I’m packing minimally as I can only bring one bag (plus our “extra” carry on bag which is full of climbing gear). I have plenty of hats, but they’re all knit — wool, acrylic, cashmere. Knits definitely get style points, but when I’m climbing, everything gets covered in dirt and grime and I hate carrying “heavy” extra layers in my small multipitch bag. 

So I started thinking about the fleece hats of my childhood — is Turtle Fur still a brand (they are!), are there cool new indie designer patterns for fleece hats (nope, not really)? Per the last question, it’s probably because it’s incredibly easy to make a fleece hat and they are all pretty much the same. Regardless, I couldn’t find a pattern that was exactly to my liking — so I drafted once from a Madewell knit hat that I like the fit of. What was I looking for?

  • No folded up cuff – I just want to pull the hat onto my head and be done with it
  • A large-ish sewn in cuff – i.e. the place where the fabric is doubled to provide extra comfort and warmth for your ears
  • One main seam – all patterns I saw had 2 cut pieces resulting in two side seams. I wanted one seam at the back
  • Not too slouchy, just slouchy enough – Based on my Madewell hat, 12″ height is my preferred amount of slouch in a hat. Much more and the hat falls down my head and covers my eyes.
  • Using “sherpa” fleece or a high pile fleece – it feels like wearing a cloud! Light and cozy. I used this fleece from JoAnn Fabrics (1/2 yard, color “Stormy Sea”).

Right then, so I probably think way too much about making a basic hat. But, this is why I like making things because I can be overly specific and then adjust or draft a pattern to meet my needs. 

Drafting the pattern

First I measured the hat lying flat. Height 12″, Width 10.5″ = total ‘circumference’ was 21″

Second I measured the hat on my head, it stretched out to a circumference of 24″. The fleece I was working with had enough stretch so I knew I could use the same flat measurements to draft my pattern.

I traced a vertical piece that was the same shape “pillar” to capture the curve of where the hat narrows and the seams come together. Then I drew a quick sketch of how the pattern pieces should be laid out flat with corresponding widths. The total width was 16″ but I needed it to be 21″. I added a 1/2″ on both sides of my “pillar” template, which brought the total width up to 21″. That’s it! It was time to test it out.

How to use the pattern

  1. You’ll need a piece of fabric that is at least w 21″ x h 14″, a chalk pen, and the pattern piece
  2. With the wrong side of the fabric up, align the long edge to 0 and 21 inch marks on your cutting mat or ruler
  3. Start tracing from the middle — place the template on the fabric between 8 and 13 inches. Trace the top of the pattern. Shown in image below.
  4. Move template to the right, align between 13 and 18 inch marks, trace top.
  5. Move the template to the right, align the left side with the 18 inch mark. Only trace half of the top curve.
  6. Repeat steps 4 (3 and 8 inch marks) and 5 (align right of template to inch 3) for the left side.
  7. Cut fabric 
Photo of cut fabric with template laying in the center
Wahoo! Now you're ready to sew.
  1. Wrong side of fabric up still. Sew the main seam (backstitch at start & end). A note about seam allowance and machine settings: I didn’t use a specific seam allowance – I sewed as close to the edge as I could. I also used a large zigzag stitch, as I don’t have a serger. For my Bernette machine, the stitch size was set at 4 and the stitch was the largest zigzag on the dial. Also decreased the tension to 3.5
  2.  Now you  have four “points.” I started from the seamed point, but it doesn’t matter. Fold two points together and align the edge to sew the seam closed. Do this four times until your hat is closed. 
  3. Zigzag the bottom edge (this helps to flatten the high pile fleece &/or give a finished look)
  4. Fold the bottom up 3″ to create a cuff. Try the hat on to see if you like that amount of cuff, adjust as you’d like and then sew (again, close to edge as you can)
  5. Turn the hat right side out – you’re done!
  6. If you want a pompom – I used this tutorial from Whistle & Ivy. It’s very easy and can be completed in 15 minutes or less with 6″ of fabric and a bowl as your template.

A selection of photos of Tepals being very helpful behind the scenes. Working dogs gotta work.

Notes on sewing sherpa fleece

Overall, I found fleece to be very easy to work with. The biggest challenge was squishing the fleece down to get it into my sewing machine, but that wasn’t much of a challenge. 

I didn’t wash the fleece before sewing. Fleece doesn’t shrink and I think the sherpa would get a bit matted down in the wash (best to spot clean). Also, as a polyester fabric, washing sheds microplastics that go into our water — it’s a whole thing. So, not washing is fine.

This fleece is very big or puffy — making it hard to sew with a sewing machine. I read that using a walking foot can help, but I found that I could without one. I used my finger to flatten the fabric as it feed to the foot. Also, because of how fluffy it is, you won’t see your stitches (so don’t worry about neatness).

It also creates a lot of dust. Dusting your machine during and after will help keep the bobbin and other parts in good working order.

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