Royally Inspired

Homemade Kentucky Derby Hat

So. Last weekend was the Kentucky Derby. While many consider it the most exciting two minutes in sports, I love it because it is the only occasion all year when it is socially acceptable to wear a fancy hat. And not just a fancy hat—a ridiculously, outrageously dramatic, fancy hat. In real life. Not a costume. Not a joke. Not a lost bet.

One should take advantage of it.

I did not go to the actual derby, but I was invited to an incredibly lovely gathering to watch it on tv—a gathering complete with themed decor, mint juleps, bourbon truffles, derby pie, the works. It was a party the likes of which Pinterest hostesses only dream.

AND there was a contest for best hat. Now, I don’t usually think of myself as a competitive person. But there is a very small part of me that is still five years old, that can still taste the sweet, sweet victory of winning my Kindergarten class’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle drawing contest. (Chucky Cheese Pizza. That victory tasted like Chucky Cheese pizza.) And this hat contest roused that sleeping, hangry child within.

I had a goal. So where to begin? I started by perusing photos of she who is the most chic sporter of the hat: the Duchess of Cambridge. Obvi.

Kate Middleton's Hats

 Source | All photos are from eonline: Kate Middleton’s Hats and Fascinators

So many beautiful, sculptural examples! I know that derby hats traditionally have very wide brims, but I really liked the idea of doing a more unusual, asymmetrical shape. And apparently, European customs and fashions have always been a source of inspiration for Kentucky Derby attire.

Finding an interestingly-shaped hat within my meager budget proved to be a challenge. It took some intense interneting, but I finally found this frame at Theatre House, an aptly named online theatrical supply shop, for $12.95.

Hat Frame: Before

Theatre House actually recommends that you buy two of the same hat—that way you can take one apart and use it to make a pattern. However, I chose not to cover or even paint my hat frame (as was probably intended). Instead, I glued thin white ribbon over any obvious seaming.

In order to keep the hat from falling off of my head, I made two tiny loops out of very thin brown ribbon that roughly matched my hair color. I sewed one loop on each side of the hat, where the inside of the hatband rested on my head. I could then use bobby pins to pin the loops to my hair, holding the hat in place.

Now what? I GUESS I could go to Michael’s and pick out some silk flowers.


Armed with Terial Magic Stabilizer Spray and this fabric rose tutorial from How About Orange, I got to work.


By taking the basic rose tutorial instructions and varying the shape and number of the petals, I was able to create a few different styles of flowers. I primarily used quilting squares of 100% cotton, but the pale pink roses are actually made of silk scraps leftover from my cocktail dress re-fashion last Fall. Once the flowers were finished, I simply used hot glue to affix them to the hat.

Derby Hat: Detail

Lovely, no?

Derby Hat

And then, my favorite part. I added A GIANT-A$$ BOW to the back! Also with hot glue.

Finished Derby Hat


Finished Derby Hat 2

Now, what’s this I hear about some horses?

Derby Hat Side

2 thoughts on “Royally Inspired

    • Thanks, I’m so glad you like it! Unfortunately, I didn’t take many photos of the process, and I sort of made the whole thing up as I went along. Lots of trial and error!

      If you’re interested in making something similar, I highly recommend investing in some stabilizer spray. I bought Terial Arts Terial Magic Fabric Spray, and it was easy-to-use and effective. You just spray it on the fabric, let it dry, and flatten it with an iron, and the fabric takes on a stiff, papery quality. When you apply heat, it becomes almost moldable.

      This “How About Orange” blog post is a great tutorial to get started making fabric flowers using a stabilizer. At first I tried using a curling iron to shape the treated fabric into petals, but I found it was much easier to stop trying to be clever, and, per the actual instructions, use an iron to apply heat and then carefully shape the petals with my fingers. Don’t burn yourself, but work relatively quickly to mold the desired forms before the fabric cools—then they’ll better hold their shape. By experimenting with different shaped petals (pointy vs round) and different numbers of petals, I was able to use the same basic tutorial instructions to create a variety of flower styles.

      I also made a giant cheerleader-style bow out of 3″ wide ribbon (you can follow tutorials like these without actually needing a special “bow maker”.)

      Then I attached everything to a purchased hat frame using a hot glue gun.

      And that was basically it! I hope that helps! Do you have any specific questions I can answer? Cheers!

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