Make Your Own Cocked (Tricorn) Hat

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This “cocked hat” (aka “three cornered”, tricorn, tricorne, or colonial hat) is a fun project that you can make right now, requiring about a half hour of your time and a few supplies readily at your fingertips (scissors, glue, and paper). However, if you’d prefer a more durable chapeau — say, for Halloween, a school play, or clearly more memorable beach photos — then with a five-dollar bill and but a single trip to a hobby or fabric store you’ll have your perfect, custom lid.

Here’s how I found myself making my first hat (feel free to skip ahead to the instructions):

Part of the fun of building smaller websites for friends is the opportunities they afford to be immersed in new, often unconventional, worlds, and in the case of my pal Ben Tripp’s site, for his Young Adult novel “The Accidental Highwayman”, one of those other worlds would be 18th century England, of which I knew nothing. So it was that I came to find myself at a pub getting schooled on cocked hats by Ben (he’s adamant that I use the historically accurate, quite archaic, name “cocked hat”, versus their common, modern name: “tricorn”)

One thing led to another (read: “pint”) and soon I was declaiming my need for my own cocked hat. Turns out this was easily accomplished, so much so that I thought I’d document it and share my DIY patterns with y’all. So let’s build…

Instructions

First off, a big thank you to SPWA for allowing me to include his baseball cap design for use as our cocked hat’s crown (my early attempts were truly feeble, ranging from lumpy beret to stunted witch’s peak, so again, thanks, SPWA!).

Secondly, I’ve made a few of these hats now (don’t laugh, you might, too) using various materials and I can honestly attest that paper is your easiest and fastest choice. In fact, a couple brown grocery store bags, carefully cut apart and spread flat, work terrifically. That said, however, for these instructions I’ll be walking you through making a felt hat. I’ll note any special paper tips as asides.

Time

Paper hats: ~30 minutes

Felt hats: ~ 1 1/2 hours

Project Steps:

Hat assembly requires five steps (completely read all of the instructions before you begin):

  1. print & trace
  2. the crown, the most difficult step in which you’ll essentially be making a baseball cap’s dome;
  3. the brim, the big floppy disk;
  4. assembly
  5. shaping, this, it turns out, is the magic sauce

Materials & Supplies

As just mentioned so far I’ve tried my hand with paper grocery sacks, posterboard, heavy felt, and thin foam craft sheets: conclusion? stick with paper or heavy felt (off a bolt, not the small, 12 inch, floppy craft sheets — there is something called “stiff felt” which I’ve yet to try).

You’ll need:

  • cocked hat/tricorn template (see below)
  • fabric (I bought 1/2 yard of 72″ wide felt to make one hat, you’ll have plenty leftover)
  • sharp scissors
  • glue, either fabric glue stick or a bottle of tacky glue (for paper white Elmer’s is terrific and tasty)
  • straight pins
  • fabric pencil or china marker to trace the pattern onto your fabric (papercrafters, grab a plain, erasable pencil)
  • 3 safety pins to hold the brim up against the crown.
  • (optional) decorative ribbons or cord (if you’re planning on putting ribbon around your hat’s brim — and you should 😀 — you’ll need about 1 1/2 yards to go around an adult-sized cap)
  • (optional) feathers, buttons, glitter, and, for paper hats, color pens and pencils, crayons, and paint to decorate

Papercraft people might want some tape handy for temporary holds while your glue dries –use tape wherever the instructions mention pinning.

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Tip: Protect That Worktable! You’ll be using glue, a substance known to love hiding where it ought not be until its dried, at which point your mom/dad/girlfriend/boyfriend/roommate shall invariably discover it and scream how you’ve ruined the table. So take a few minutes to smooth out some newspaper over the entire work surface. Keep a damp paper towel near at hand to clean minor drips.

Tip: Research! There is tremendous variation in how these hats looked and were worn based on class and need, so you’ll also want to Google image search “cocked hat” (try “tricorn”, too) to decide which colors, trim, and shaping options suit your fancy, but don’t be limited by what you see, they sure weren’t.

globetheatricalresource-tricorn-hats

(found the above collage of cocked hats on a theater costume supply website)

Step One: Print & Trace

In this step you’ll download and print a template, and then trace it onto your hat material.

tricorn-hat-pattern

I’ve prepared four template sizes (adult men’s medium, adult women’s, child, and toddler), if you need a more exact, fitted version and know how to adjust your printer’s output based on percentage then begin with the adult template and scale accordingly. It makes an 7.6″ diameter round head opening (approximately 23″ circumference) with an ~18″ brim (before folding)

If you’re not sure what your hat size is follow these sizing and measuring tips from Craft Yarn Council.

Templates consists of two pages: the crown and the brim.

Tip: Fewer Seams Are Better! these patterns have been designed so that they’ll fit onto US letter (8.5 x 11″) paper, but this doesn’t mean that you need to cut them out this way. In fact, you want as few seams as possible. So if your fabric or paper are big enough make the hat brim by tracing the pattern four times to make a single, complete circle like this (below), do so!

marked-hat-brim-felt

Likewise, if you’re able to make it fit, the ideal hat crown would be a single piece that looks like this:

tricorn-crown-one-piece

The gray areas in the above image are your folding tabs: note that the triangular tip of each panel will be folded! These all get smushed under the hexagonal “nut” (there’s only one “nut”, on the far right panel).

cut-felt-pieces-workbench

Step Two: The Crown

In this step you’ll cut-out the crown’s “gores’, pin them into a round cap, check the fit, and finally glue your crown.

I’ll not lie: this is where I made all of my mistakes. You’re forming a rounded half-dome from a flat sheet — this requires careful folding, thus dry-fitting first is a good idea committing to the glue. Technically speaking you’re forming a octagonal dome, by folding in the 8 “gores” — triangular panels. When carefully folded they form a surprisingly smooth dome.

Having already traced the pattern onto your material it’s now time to carefully cut along the solid lines — not the dotted lines, those are your fold guides.

Tip: Cut Between Tabs: Be sure to cut all the way down each of your crown’s gores: that bottommost tab needs to be cut apart from its adjoining panel’s (gore’s) edge.

cocked-hat-hexagonal-dome

Pin your crown together before you apply a single drop of glue!

Tip: Overlap To Avoid A Very Pointy Peak!  The only pro-tip I can offer (and this only because I made a complete muddle of it the first time — see photo later in this post) is that forming the hat’s crown requires patient bending and overlapping of the side panels, with each panel’s tip overlapping that of its neighbors ever so slightly. The top two folds are the most important, they’ll decide whether it looks round like an acorn cap or spiky-pyramid-ish, like an acorn’s bottom (again, see photo documenting my flub).

hat-crown-gluing

Tip: Use A Form: If you have a cap or ball that’s the right size try laying your pieces over it.

Tip: Try It On! Before committing to the shape and size go ahead and try it on, make required adjustments.

Once you’re satisfied with your pinned crown’s shape go back around it removing each pin, gluing both the tab’s surface and the back of the panel, pressing them firmly together, and loosely re-pinning before proceeding to the next pin.

Now that you’ve gone completely around the crown you should set it aside until the glue begins to set. Depending upon your glue and the weather this will require about a half hour.

Remove the pins before they become a permanent adornment to your hat.

Step Three: The Brim

Now you’ll cut out the brim, glue (if needed), and attach any trim.

Note: Inner Head Opening Size: if you made any size adjustments to your crown you’ll need to adjust the size of the brim’s inner head opening (the outer size requires no changes).

If you were able to cut the brim from a single piece of material without any seams — congratulations – less gluing for you!

If you do need to glue your brim, first dry fit it, tape or pin it, check that it’s round, adjust, and once it’s completely true and round, glue each section and set aside to dry.

Tip: Apply Trim to Brim. (optional) If you’re planning on adding a bit of gold or silver trim around your hat’s brim now would be a good time to do this, before attaching the crown. Pin the trim, then glue and replace the pins. Place a few magazines for weight on top while it dries.

Tip: Add More Tabs. If your crown’s base is very round, and with felt it should be, then you can cut extra tabs on the brim’s inner tabs (see picture below). Doubling our brim’s tab count from 8 to 16 will allow us to follow a much smoother, natural curve.

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Once your brim & trim’s dried you’re ready to attach the crown onto the brim.

Step Four: Assembly

In this step you attach the completed crown to the brim, first with pins (following a star pattern), then gluing.

Now that the crown and brim glue joints are dry you’ll just place the crown over the center of the brim and, yup, carefully pin the brim’s tabs inside the crown. The problem to watch for is “bunching up” or wrinkles where you’ve pulled or stretched the fabric.

cut-glued-tricorn-hat-pieces

(in the above pic you’ll notice that I have a shape problem — it looks like a melting Hershey’s Kiss — which could have been avoided had I pinned it first. I didn’t and paid the price; I had to yank apart all of the panels, from the second fold to the tip, then pin, and re-glue. Lesson learned! Fixed crown drying below)

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Note: Trim Faces Down! Make sure the gold trim is face down. Why? Remember the final cocked hat’s brim is rolled up; it’s the brims’ bottom that will be most visible — so you want that trim on the bottom.

(OK, confession: again I did this upside down the first time, but fortunately this time I’d only pinned it — no glue — and noticed my gaff in time to flip it upside down and repin)

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Tip: Alternate Panels While Pinning. This is actually my dad’s tip for how to tighten a wheel’s lug nuts when replacing a car tire, but it applies here, too. Instead of pinning one panel, followed by its neighbor, and so forth, progressing panel-by-panel around the cap you will instead use a star pattern, jumping across the cap each time. So, pin your fist panel, check alignment and fix any puckering problems, then jump directly across to the opposite side and pin that (see diagram), and so forth, until all 8 panels have been pinned to the brim and the brim lies smooth and flat — no wrinkles — on your work table.

brim-pinning-pattern

With the crown pinned to the brim let’s now go around, star-pattern-wise, gluing our flaps.

Tip: Check Inside. I glued and pinned from the outside — watching for puckers. Once that’s done, I flipped the hat over and made sure all those tabs were securely glued and pinned from the inside as well.

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Set aside (flat surface, crown side up) and allow to dry.

Step Five: Shaping

Now the fun part: shaping, or “blocking”, your hat — fold three brim sides up and safety pin to the crown.

Start by safety pinning a point on the brim to about 3/4 of the way up the cap’s crown (pin should be about 1 to 1 1/2″ from the brim’s edge). Repeat twice more, moving 1/3 of the way around each time. You’ll probably experiment with several folds, and mirror checks, before finding one you like!

Refer to the cocked hats you saw online — do you want a sharp crease or rounded, high or low? Play with it. Some look like perfect equilateral triangles from the top (see also: cheese head), whereas others are isosceles triangles. Ben’s in this latter camp (the back fold is shorter than the sides). He’s also added a bit of a pinch to it. Below is top view showing how he’s blocked his cocked hat (as he describes it, “a mighty uncomfortable bicycle seat” below)

Once shaped apply your cockade — that round, scrunched ribbon flowerette — feathers, buttons — in short, have fun with it.

sample-folding-cocked-hat

Here’s how Ben’s painted Kit Bristol’s cocked hat (he has a nice post about illustrating his book here):

kit-bristol-portrait

Finally, yes, this makes a dandy pirate’s hat.

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Though whose to say what a pirate looks like?

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Share & Repeat!

I hope you’ve found this a fun project. I’ve made several of these, each one’s taught me a bit more (mostly about how easily glue drips onto my pants).

Ben’s putting together a gallery so if you share a photo of yourself in your tricorne on Instagram or Twitter be sure to tag them #accidentalhighwayman

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Ludlow rocking cocked hat - tircorn - prototype (via Instagram)