How to make pill box hats

Updated April 17, 2017

Pillbox hats can make for a chic retro accessory. Often worn at a flirty angle, these flat-topped, short-sided hats were first popularised in the 1950s. They became something of an icon when Jackie O adopted the look, and they continue to carry a throwback appeal for anyone seeking out old-fashioned charm. Pillbox hats can seem complicated to make, since they're stiff and need structural support, but after you assemble the right materials, sewing a pillbox hat is a straightforward process.

Make a pillbox frame. Use a headsize pattern that will fit the dimensions of your head, and cut the pattern out of a piece of cardboard. Lay the pattern piece over the elastic netting to cut out the crown piece for the hat frame.

Measure the desired height of the pillbox hat. Mark and cut out a rectangle on the bias of the elastic netting so that the width of the rectangle is the desired height of the hat, and the length of the rectangle is equal to the circumference of the crown, plus two inches to allow for overlap.

Measure a wire to fit the crown of the pillbox frame. Join the ends of the wire together with a wire joiner, and attach the wire around the edge of the frame with a buttonhole stitch. Hold the edge of the bias side crown piece onto the wired top piece and overcast together. Lap the ends of the bias side crown and sew them flat.

Stitch the edge of the side piece to the wired top piece of the pillbox frame, using an overcast stitch. Overlap the ends of the side piece and stitch them together flat.

Measure a wire to fit around the bottom edge of the side of the frame. Join the ends of the wire together, and sew the wire around the bottom of the frame with a buttonhole stitch.

Cut a 2-inch wide bias strip of crinoline to fit around the wired edges of the frame. Stretch the strip before using, fold it over the wire edges of the hat, and baste the crinoline to the frame.

Cut a square of material at least 2 inches wider than the circumference of the crown on all sides. Lay it on top of the crown of the pillbox frame and pin it in place, stretching the material taut over the frame. Lay it on top of the crown. Pin the front, back and sides to the crown top, stretching the material as you pin. Turn the material half an inch over the edges of the crown and baste it in place. Cut off excess material after basting.

Cut another piece of material on the bias, 2 inches wider than the width of the sides of the frame. Pin and stretch the material over the side of the frame. Pin the ends together to form a bias seam, stitch in place, and press the seam open. Turn the material under one inch around the top and bottom of the crown. Stitch the material to the inside of the crown.

Sew the lining for the hat. Cut a circle of lining material to fit the top of the crown. Make V-shaped notches around the sides of the circle. Cut a strip of lining material on the bias the width and length of the side of the frame. Fold this strip into quarters, notch the edges, and sew the ends together. Match the notches on the bias strip with the notches on the circle and baste together.

Slip the lining inside the hat, pin, and baste in place. Cut off excess material and finish the raw edges with a piece of ribbon.


If desired, add a veil or trimmings such as plastic flowers or jewels to decorate your hat.

Things You'll Need

  • Headsize pattern
  • Cardboard
  • Measuring tape
  • Elastic netting
  • Tailor's chalk
  • Scissors
  • Wire
  • Wire joiner
  • Needle
  • Thread
  • Crinoline strip
  • 1/2 yard fabric, 45 inches wide
  • Pins
  • 1/2 yard lining fabric, 45 inches wide
  • Ribbon
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About the Author

Michelle Labbe has been writing online and for print since 2004. Her work has appeared in the online journals Reflection's Edge and Cabinet des Fées as well as in Harvard Book Store's anthology, "Michrochondria." She is pursuing a Master of Arts in publishing and writing at Emerson College.