How to make a toy soldier hat

A tall, round military hat, sometimes called a shako, was part of the traditional dress of some European soldiers during the eighteenth century. The decorations included braid and metal badges. In a few military groups, the hat included a large feathered plume attached to the front centre. The shako-type hat is best known in modern times as the costume hat worn by the Nutcracker in the traditional holiday ballet and the favourite costume for toy soldiers. A soft shako is quite easy to make from items found at a sewing shop or online store.

Measure 1 inch up from each ear and then around the head with the measuring tape. This will give the circumference of the hat.

Measure down 1 1/2 inches from the peak of the hair. From that point, measure upward from the head for the height of the hat. Traditional hats would stand 9 to 10 inches above the measuring point, but the hat may also be made in a taller version. Stand in front of a mirror to determine an appropriate hat height for your individual stature. Add 3/4 inch to each of the measurements for the sewing seam allowances.

Lay out the black fabric and measure on the fold of the material. Keep the fold in place, making sure it is straight. If the fold is uneven or not clearly defined, steam the fabric with an iron. The front part of the hat measurement will centre on the fold of the fabric. If making a 9-inch-tall hat, measure for 3/4 inch for the seam on the top of the hat, 9 inches for the centre hat piece and add another 3/4 inch for the seam margin at the bottom of the hat.

Cut four pieces of the fabric for the central hat piece, each with the 3/4-inch seam allowances.

Pin the rights sides of the fabric together and sew the 3/4-inch seams on two of the hat pieces. Pull this piece over the top of the head to check the fit. Adjust the two pieces using the seam allowance to make it larger or smaller. The fit should not fall down on the forehead, nor should it fit so snugly that it looks taut.

Sew the second pair of hat pieces using the seam allowance from the test piece. These two pieces will be the central hat (the exterior and lining). Turn one piece inside out. This will be the lining. The sewn seams should face toward the other seams, making an inside appearance that is smooth.

Measure the circumference of the piece sewn in Step 6 to create the top of the hat. Take that measurement and cut a circle on the paper plate. Cut two pieces of black fabric using the paper plate pattern.

Sew one round hat top to the exterior of the hat. Sew the other round hat top to the interior of the hat.

Use the paper plate for a second pattern. Cut a large curve on the plate that replicates the shape of the wearer's forehead. This pattern represents the shape of the hat bill that is attached to the front of the hat. Remember to add 3/4 inch for the seam allowance on each side.

Test the plate on the forehead until satisfied with the curve, then measure 2 inches out from the curve. Take the hat bill pattern piece and cut two pieces of the shiny plastic fabric. These are the top and bottom of the hat bill.

Sew the hat bill by pinning the wrong sides together and sewing around the outside curve 3/4 inch from the edge. Do not sew the side facing the forehead yet. This will be attached to the main hat pieces.

Cut the thin foam to fit around the middle circumference of the hat. This will allow the hat to stand up. Tuck the foam in between the hat and the lining. With the needle and black thread, tack the foam at each corner so that it will stay in place when the hat is worn. If the hat is tall, tack the foam on the sewing seams around the edge at the top of the hat.

Add a piece of thin foam to the hat bill, if the plastic fabric is not firm enough.

Sew the bill of the hat on the main hat piece by pinning the bill and hat pieces.

Tuck the seams from the exterior hat pieces with the bill and slipstitch the two in place. Slipstitching holds the fabric in place until the lining piece can be pinned. Pin the lining to the top piece and the bill to finish the look.

Sew these in place with the black needle and thread or with a large stitch on the sewing machine. At this point, all the seams should be hidden inside the hat lining. Tack the lining at the top of the hat so that it remains inside the hat and doesn't fall or drape down.

Measure the front piece of the hat, adding a drape of 1 inch to the measurement, for the cording. Cut two pieces of cord.

Sew the buttons to each end of the cord and then attach the buttons and cord to the hat. The buttons should be placed a few inches down from the top of the hat. The links on this page have sample hats to illustrate the location of the braid.


Add a chinstrap by measuring from the hat edge, under the chin, to the other hat edge. Use the extra fabric from the black fabric or leather/patent fabric to construct the strap. Attach Velcro to one end and sew on a brass or silver button on the exterior for a bit of flash.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Dress pins
  • Steam iron with water
  • Paper plate
  • 1/8 yard patent-type plastic or leather-look fabric
  • 1/8 yard black felt or heavy cotton duck fabric
  • 1/8 yard interfacing (medium weight)
  • 1/2 yard thin foam (wearer's taste) for main hat
  • Black thread
  • 1 yard gold or silver cording
  • 4 small gold or silver buttons
  • 1 small matching button for head strap (optional)
  • Sewing machine
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About the Author

Lee Grayson has worked as a freelance writer since 2000. Her articles have appeared in publications for Oxford and Harvard University presses and research publishers, including Facts On File and ABC-CLIO. Grayson holds certificates from the University of California campuses at Irvine and San Diego.