20th Century, Tutorial

Tutorial: How to turn a straw or paper fedora into a 1920s style cloche

A lot of you commented on the hat I wore to Art Deco Weekend, and I promised to do a tutorial on how to make your own ’20s style cloche from a modern straw fedora.

How to turn a modern fedora into a '20s style cloche

In this tutorial we’ll go from this modern straw fedora (yes, that is me trying to do duckface.  It feels obligatory with a hat like that):

Modern straw fedora

To this plausibly ’20s or early 1930s summer cloche:

Modern straw fedora reshaped as '20s style cloche

You’ll need:

– A modern woven (not shaped and sewn) soft straw or paper fedora just big enough for you to pull down to eyebrow level.  It must be paper or soft straw: synthetic hats and very hard/crisp straw won’t reshape properly.
– Needle and thread or a sewing machine
– Hot water
– Hat elastic (any narrow elastic will do) or wire (not needed if your hat has a wired brim)
– Ribbon, fabric, feathers etc. for trimming.
– A hair dryer, dehumidifier or sunny day also help, but aren’t necessary!

First, I’ve mentioned sizing in the list of what you’ll need.  It is important to check the size of your hat.  It needs to be big enough to pull snuggly down to your eyebrow level without being so tight that it will give you a headache.  It can’t be so big that it is loose on your head when you pull it down like this.  Mine looks like this when I pull it down (yes, more duckface.  I think my technique needs work):

Modern straw fedora pulled down on my head

Start by removing all of the modern trims and ribbons:

Hat without all the ribbons or trims removed

Now, run hot tap water into the centre crown of your hat.  Try not to get the brim too wet:

Wetting the crown of the hat

Put the damp hat on your head (wrap your head in cling wrap if you don’t want to get your hair wet) and use your hands to smooth and reshape it to your head:

Reshaping the dampened paper fedora

Keep smoothing until you have worked out all the bumps and creases, and the hat is very snug to your head:

Reshaping the dampened paper fedora

Now you need to dry the hat.  You can go sit in the sun, use a hair-dryer, or sit over a dehumidifier (that’s what I do) or you can just take a lot longer and walk around.  When it is mostly dry you can carefully take it off your head and let it sit in the sun or by a dehumidifier on its own.

When it is completely dry (I wait overnight) you’re ready to finish reshaping it, and trim it:

The completely dry and reshaped hat

When you put the hat on you’ll probably find that it sits too low on the neck, distorting the silhouette and scratching the back of your neck.  To fix this, and to emphasise the proper ’20s cloche shape, we need to move the hatband up at the back slightly.  This is also a good excuse to unpick and discard all the original labels, since they rather ruin the ’20s feel!

The hatband with labels

Unpick the centre back of your hat band for about 3″ on either side of the centre back, and move it up 1″ into the crown of the hat.  Pin it, easing and distributing any extra width in the crown.  Sew the new band placement by hand or machine.

The moved up and pinned in hat band

Now we’re going to fold up a teeny bit at the very back of the hat.  This will help pull in the brim of the hat around the face to create the ’20s cloche look, and will also enable people with long hair to wear the cloche over a very low bun, as I do.

Fold up a crescent of hat brim at the back of the hat, trying to make it curve up and down as quickly as possible (so you want a deep C shape, rather than a shallow ( shape).  Pin and sew this fold down.

The centre back brim of the cloche folded up and pinned down

Here is the sewn-down back fold:

Sewn down back fold

And here is what it looks like on me:
The cloche with sewn down back fold

At this point the hat still doesn’t hug the sides of my face as much as I want it to, so I’m going to force it to curve around my face.  If your hat already has a wired brim, you can just mold the brim into shape, but mine doesn’t so I’m going to shape the curve by sewing a piece of hat elastic from one side of the back fold up curve to the other:

Hat elastic sewn across the curve of theback fold up

This piece of elastic tucks under my bun when I wear the hat, helping to hold it snugly on my head:

Hat held snugly on by hat elastic

If you don’t have a pre-wired brim, and don’t like the hat elastic, you could also wire that portion of the brim yourself, by sliding a piece of wire into the edge of the brim, or binding the brim with bias tape over a piece of wire.

Now that your hat is completely shaped, it’s time to trim it!

I’m making this hat to match my Sherbert Seersucker dress, so I’m using the same lagoon blue velvet ribbon that I made the belt out of.  I also have one of the buttons that went on the dress, and a couple yellow striped buttons.

Hat and potential hat trims: ribbon and buttons

First I use a steam iron to curve and shape my ribbon so that it will curve and sit nicely on the curve of the hat.  I pinned the ribbon in place, and sewed it down on my machine, though hand sewing works just as well.

Do check that the hat sits nicely on your head when you have the ribboned pinned on, before you sew it, as you don’t want the ribbon to be too tight.

With the main ribbon sewed on, I needed to figure out the rest of the trim.  I decided on two loops of velvet ribbon placed off to one side: quick and easy, with interesting shape and just enough movement.  The matching aqua button didn’t look right, and neither did the yellow stripes.  Then I thought of the mother-of-pearl belt buckle, and rummaged in my shell buttons to find a large circular ones.  Success!

Two loops of velvet ribbon

And here is the finished hat:

The trimmed cloche hat

Now, fingers crossed for one last fine autumn day when I can wear the complete outfit!  Today is cold, rainy, and windy, and I’m in two layers of wool.  Sigh.

Good luck in making your own cloche, and do come back and tell me about it!


  1. You can also accomplish this by accidentally wearing one in the rain, hehehe.

  2. The thought of you wrapping your head in gladwrap is amusing me greatly. The things we do for art…

    Perhaps a swimming cap would also work well.

    • True, but I do have glad wrap and don’t have a swimming cap! And glad wrap is way easier to get on than a swimming cap.

  3. Charlotte says

    This was so incredibly easy! I was searching for a straw cloche tutorial, did not expect something this simple and effective. I’m glad i’ve found your blog!

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