The Basic Brim Pattern

To Pattern the Brim

To make the Brim pattern, you will need:

  • a Flexible Ruler
  • a Regular Ruler
  • Paper (notebook/printer and larger)
  • a Head (the one the hat is meant for)
  • Scissors
  • a French Curve (optional, but nice)


Decide where on the head you want the brim to fall. The modern habit is to wear the hat down around the ears. Elizabethans tended to wear their hats up above the temple. LADIES: At this stage, you must decide how you will be wearing your hair when you wear the hat, and put it that way. Whether you wear your hair up or down can change the size and shape of hat you need.

Wrap the Flexible Ruler snugly around the head, where the hat is meant to set.

Looking down from above, you should not see gaps between the head and the ruler. This is harder to tell if there’s hair on the head you’re using. If the hair is up, you may see gaps at either side of the bulk of the hair. Don’t smooth those out, or you will have a brim with a divot taken out — very awkward to sew!

Carefully lift the Flexible Ruler off the head, and move it to a sheet of paper. If you keep a firm hold on the ruler where it overlaps itslelf, and handle it gently, it should not change shape while you move it. This is important, because it allows you to make a truly custom hat brim pattern. (While everyone’s head is oval shaped, every one of those ovals is just a little different.)

Trace around the inside edge of the ruler, and you’ll get a rough oval like this.

Carefully cut out the oval out of the piece of paper.
The goal is actually to preserve the paper with a single, oval shaped hole cut out of it so that we can double check our oval against the head before we get any farther.

Place the paper *gently* over the head, to make sure it rests at the desired point.

From above, check to see that there are no gaps between
the paper template and the head.

Now, draw a line just a hair outside the oval. ("A hair" is roughly between a 16th and 32nd of an inch. This seems trivial, but trust me — it’s a circumference thing.) This adds a small amount of ease. The construction method we’re going to use in the brims doesn’t require a large amount of ease, but some is good. Too-tight hats give headaches.

Now we’re going to true out our oval just a little. (Sure, we want to fit your unique head exactly, but we don’t want to do it so exactly that you have to wear the hat exactly the same way every time you put it on because it it’s turned by so much as a degree, it doesn’t fit right.) First, fold the oval in half. Match up the sides of the oval as best as you can, even if that means the sides of the paper don’t match.

Now fold the oval again, into quarters, matching as best as you can. The edges of the oval won’t all line up. That’s ok. That’s the next step.

Using a French Curve (or any other handy object with a regular curve to it), round out any weird flat or pokey bits of the oval. (Yes, that’s a technical term.)

Here is the trued line from my curve. As you can see, these adjustments are pretty tiny.

With the ease added and the curve trued out, I should have enough room to slip the tip of my pinky finger between the template paper and the head. That’s enough to keep your hat from feeling like it’s eating your head.

Congratulations! You’ve just finished the most crucial part of this whole process. I strongly recommend labelling the template paper, so you don’t pick it up in a few months and wonder why you have a piece of paper with an oval cut out. I’ve also drawn an ink line over my quarter folds, so that my front, back, and sides are clearly marked

Start the brim pattern on a larger sheet of paper (I’m using an 11×17" sheet of Bristol Board. Cardboard or posterboard would also do.) I’ve drawn a set of crosshairs on the paper, and used them to center up my oval template.

Using a pen, transfer the oval to the larger paper.

You’ll need to decide how wide you want the brim of your
hat at this point. A brim width between 1" and 2" seems to be most typical in the Elizabethan era (referencing Janet Arnold, period portraits) I’m using a 2" brim. Mark out the width of the bring around the center oval, using your ruler and pen

The finished markings are the outside edge of the brim.

Cut the brim pattern out of the paper, following the inner and outer ovals as precisely as possible. This is your basic brim, without seam allowances. This will be used to make the brim pattern with seam allowances, and to cut the stiffening pieces for stiffened brims. You should label this piece and keep it handy.

On a second sheet of large paper, trace a copy of your basic brim. Using your ruler mark out a half inch seam allowance (adjust that if you strongly prefer 5/8ths or something else) on each side of the brim. THis is important, as brims are cut as two pieces (upper and lower brim) and must be sewn together at both the inside and outside edges.

Again, you’ll want to cut out your pattern piece. This is the basic brim, with seam allowances. It should be labelled as such. You’ve just made a full brim pattern.

Once you have a brim pattern, it is the foundation for the rest of the hat pieces. We’ll first talk about two different ways to make up a hat brim: one soft and floppy, the other with a rigid interlining for structure. Then, we’ll talk about altering that basic brim pattern to make three different crown patterns: one two piece, one pleated, and one gathered into cartridge pleats. Finally, we’ll talk about combining those options, giving you 6 styles of hat to make. (Well, actually, we’ll end up with 8. Like I said, this is hatmaking, not math. ;) )

11 thoughts on “The Basic Brim Pattern

  1. The Gathered Mob Cap | Sempstress says:

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  3. The Beret | Sempstress says:

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  4. The Flat Cap | Sempstress says:

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  5. The Floppy Flat Cap | Sempstress says:

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  7. The Toque | Sempstress says:

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  8. The Floppy Toque | Sempstress says:

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  9. The Floppy Pleated Cap | Sempstress says:

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  10. The “Jiffy Pop” Hat | Sempstress says:

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