I decided to make a Sorting Hat out of a thrift store leather jacket for my daughter’s Harry Potter party after searching the internet to find a decent one. I wasn’t very impressed with the talking fabric hat you can buy. I did find a picture of a leather Sorting Hat on BurdaStyle.com with no instructions on how they made it, but the picture inspired me.
I like to start any sewing project with a pattern. My handmade clothes turn out much better if I don’t try to make it all up myself. For the sorting hat, I started with a witch’s hat pattern. I used a Simplicity pattern that is out of print, but any pattern for a witch hat will work.
I altered the pattern by making it much taller, to give it lots of folds, and by making the edges uneven, to make it look a little warped. I used the pattern piece from the Simplicity pattern and drew a new pattern piece on some scrap paper. I didn’t worry about flattening the paper (it had been Amazon shipping paper) because a more uneven, imperfect pattern piece would make the hat look more warped.
The curve at the bottom of the hat I kept exactly the same because I used the brim from the pattern. Getting a brim to fit on a hat it hard enough when following a pattern. I didn’t want to mess with that.
I made a muslin, which means I used some thick fabric and tried out my new pattern. As it turned out, the hat wasn’t folded and crooked enough to look like the sorting hat. It looked too much like a witch hat. So I took it apart and made it bigger.
Here’s my lovely model with the second muslin. Much better, very wrinkled. I could also tell that I would need to do something about making the brim stand up. More on that later. Now, I used the fabric from the muslin as my pattern pieces. Fabric patterns are actually much easier to use than paper patterns.
I found a women’s suede jacket at Goodwill for $6. The jacket was terribly out of date, but the leather was beautiful and fairly thick. Perfect for a sorting hat.
I cut the jack apart so that I could lay it flat. Basically, I cut the sleeves off and cut down the seam of the sleeve, then cut the jacket apart at the sides.
My hat pattern was just a little too big for any the jackets parts, so I sewed the top of one of the sleeves onto the side of the jacket. I tried to hand sew it because that would look cool, but I couldn’t get the needle through the leather very well. Luckily, my sewing machine did just fine.
Next, I sewed the 2 sleeves (or what remained of them) together to make a piece big enough for the brim pattern. I just laid one sleeve slightly on top of the other, pinned them together, and sewed. With leather, you don’t have to worry about raw edges.
I sewed the hat and the brim together, and it looked pretty good.
The two front parts of the jacket, I cut into strips that I could sew around the brim of the hat. This made the edge of the brim look more finished.
It also made a great little space to push wire into. I used 20 gauge plastic coated steel wire. No more floppy brim!
I wanted to make the whole hat stiff and a little crusty, so I watched a lot of YouTube videos on how to make leather stiff, like this one. They were mostly about making sheaths for knives. Cool, huh. Basically, the advice was to soak the leather in hot water, shape it, and let it dry. So, I tried with a scrap piece of leather.
It’s hard to tell, but the scrap did keep it’s shape, but it didn’t get stiff. I soaked the hat in hot tap water, then stuffed plastic bags inside, and shaped it. I shaped the mouth first, then the nose, then the eye brows, and finally, the tip of the hat. Again, it kept its shape, but wasn’t stiff. I have to keep the plastic bags inside the hat to keep it up.
The leather jacket was the right leather, but the wrong color. I rubbed a dark brown shoe polish over the whole hat. It turned out very uneven and mottled, which is perfect for old-looking leather. I used a lot of shoe polish in the eye sockets and inside the mouth to highlight those details.
I finished the hat with a few stitches around the mouth and above the nose to keep the face in place. The hat was awesome at the party, and every kid had fun trying it on and being sorted. As a side note, we put a cell phone under the stool where each kid was sorted. My husband was on another cell phone outside as the voice of the Sorting Hat.
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