Hats for Their Majesties

A few months ago, my household took on the task of outfitting the new heirs to the Meridian throne on the occasion of their coronation. Members wove and sewed and patterned and embroidered like mad. My job was to make the hats. His Majesty does a later Roman Empire kit, while Her Majesty does a contemporary Sarmatian kit. The Sarmatian people lived in what is currently the Iranian steppes. If I understand the research right, they’re part of the early Persian peoples, along with the Sycthians and several other groups who lived in the area. I had never heard of Sarmatians, so there was much frantic research to help everyone involved get a mental picture, see what artifacts there are, and try to come up with a plan for interpreting those as best we could. The Roman part was a bit easier, because there are mosaics and statues and frescoes for us to look at. The Roman Empire was vast, and pretty much anyone off the street could give you some idea of what an ancient Roman might have dressed like. The Sarmatian part was harder. There aren’t replicas of their statues in every art museum or paintings or garments that have been preserved since the 4th century CE. There are some descriptions and some incredible metalwork and some clues from neighboring peoples, and from there, you apply your deductive reasoning.

His Majesty’s hat is pretty straightforward: it’s pretty much just a tube with a lid on top. There are several examples of this hat that we can see in Roman art, there are similar hats seen slightly after the fall of the Roman Empire in neighboring geographies, and we have extant versions of this hat from some of the Norse sites. We found a gorgeous deep royal blue merino wool felt for the outside. The wool felt provides great body and keeps the shape without needing to add stiffeners. Coronation was a little bit chilly, and the evening before, His Majesty was wearing the hat around with a tunic and shorts and said that he was very warm, even with bare legs, and could see how this would be a practical outfit for soldiers, even in colder months. Wool also keeps you warm when it’s wet, which is wonderful. I lined the hat in white linen and added a band of evenweave white linen around the outside base. I embroidered this with very fine weight merino yarn that I dyed using wildflowers (some sort of sunflower) a couple of years back. The motif is a gold knight’s chain. As you can see, the hat is a touch big because the head measurements for TRM were accidentally recorded reversed. This is important later…. I’ll adjust the fit of this at some point in the near future when he lets me steal it for half an hour.

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sawscyth03I’ve made some easy, simple hats in recent years, but nothing structural or complex since college. And even then, there were patterns from recent history and parts of hats I could scavenge to build on or pattern from. For this, I worked from some reconstructions of Scythian women’s hats. There seem to be two main styles: a giant cone or a flared, flat-topped version that reminds of of Queen Latifah’s hats from the early 90’s. The flat version was preferred, I guess because I’m the only one who wants to run around with a two-foot-tall bedazzled red dunce cap on my head. This was my main source of info, as well as the source of the amazing hat on the left: https://budsegoessingapore.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/gold-rush-treasures-of-the-ukraine/  It’s worth checking out, if only to gaze longingly at the incredibly ornate gold adornments on everything.

The formula for this project is: pressure because sewing for coronation and everyone will look at it + can’t make the queen look ridiculous + the queen is in the next state over + lining/interfacing/stiffener/wool layers that take up bulk and change the final circumference + I never took geometry in high school + I am a flailing art muppet who is always convinced that this will be the project where everyone finally realizes that I may not actually be good at making stuff + a firm deadline = A CHARACTER-BUILDING HAT ADVENTURE!

I thought that this would be really easy to pattern at first. The crown is basically a tube that’s lower at the back. How hard could that be? Not terribly. But it’s not just a tube. No. It flares out gently from the base. This is the hard part. Instead of being able to take a rectangle and make it lower at the ends than in the middle, we suddenly have to scale a gentle arc correctly. The pattern shape moves from being basically a rectangle that wraps around your head (think of the paper crowns from Burger King or a chef’s hat) to needing to be a carefully planned frowny face that wraps around your head. Too much curve, and it’s not straight across the brow and comes up high in the back. Too little and it doesn’t go together right and is low in the back. Some drawings I found for various top hat varieties from the Victorian (?) era helped me see the shapes.

Thank heavens for a stash of inexpensive wrapping paper that has a one inch grid printed on the back. I pattern with it all the time, and it’s big enough to handle this kind of plotting out of head sizes and gentle flares and curves and whatnot. It made sense in miniature. It worked (lumpily) in a paper mockup. So I made a trial version out of floral wire and Sunday School felt that wasn’t seamed in the back. Everything worked, though it needed to be a bit bigger to handle her hair. I thought I adjusted enough for that, but I didn’t, nor did I take into account (enough) how thick all of the layers were. It wasn’t until I was at the event, frantically sewing the last of the decorations on late at night, that I realized his hat was about an inch too big, and hers seemed to be about an inch too small. Luckily, I could insert an extra band of wool to fix it enough for the ceremony, but I still want to make it fit a bit better when I can.

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These are the pieces, layered bottom to top: wool, fusible stiffening interfacing, linen. Iron everything together to fuse the layers. Fold up the bottom edge and secure, then cover the lower portion in satin ribbon or wide twill tape so that foreheads and ears don’t get itchy and red. Sew the other pieces together by hand. A curved needle was VERY helpful for attaching the top to the crown. It was necessary to cut out lots of notches to get the edges to come together and lie as flat as I could get them. Hot glue got involved at some point for holding down all the little notched flaps under the linen lining. I couldn’t get this perfectly flat and nice where the crown and top meet. I don’t have molds or tools to block a hat form into smooth submission like a millner does. To deal with the minor inconsistencies and add gold, I sewed many small gold glass beads around the circumference at the top. I wound up filling in the whole space after taking this trial picture with bezant placement. The same brass bezants are all over her coat, and she is very shiny when the light hits her.

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