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Hat Tricks: the Fastest Pillbox Base in the West!

File this under “Reasons missa is going to milliner’s hell” for 100, Alex.” This is the WRONG WAY to recover a hat. DO NOT DO THIS. It’s bad bad bad Wrongy McWrong. It’s really bloody fast. But it is wrong, and will probably get you mocked by anyone who knows what they are doing. You have been warned…  ;)

Still here? Great. Here’s the thing: I’m all about the cheat when the cheat works. Is it a cheat that looks nice, keeps all the ugly to the inside, and will be just fine on stage? Then great. Generally speaking, I don’t get to work for people who want to pay me for art. They want done. and they want it now.

If you need an eleventh hour hat, and you’re a light touch with a glue gun, this will do. If, however, you are going for points on authenticity or cannot use a glue gun without making lumps, this is not going to help you. The order of operations is shockingly similar to the way you should make a hat, but the technique is somewhat lacking in handwork.


  • One sacrificial hat. Sad Fezes work well.
  • Farbic to cover
  • A sturdy razor or carpet knife
  • Hot glue. Lots and lots of hot glue.


gather supplies
Gather your supplies. Mr Fez here is much too tall for my needs.
cutting down the crown
Use the razor knife to (carefully) whack off the desired amount of Mr. Fez. You could do something sensible like marking out your cutting line. I sighted mine, but I do this a lot.
checking height
Check to make sure the height is really what you want. Even I don't skip this, so it's probably important. ;)
fabric for covering top
Whack out a rough circle of cloth that is several inches larger than the top of your hat all around.
hot glue on hat top
Put a discrete amount of hot glue on the top of the hat in a non-glopular fashion.

The non-glopular part is really pretty key here – if you make it gloppy, you’ll see it through the covering fabric and people will be like, “why does your hat have a tumor?” and you’ll be all Schwarzeneigger “It’s not a TUMOH!” While this is good fun, it’s usually not the effect that I go for with a hat.

top covered
Quickly center your fabric and press it down over the top of the crown as smoothly as you can.
securing the top
You need to secure the top covering slightly down the sides. Start with a non-glopular line of hot glue just down onto the side of the crown.

I usually work this in 4-5″ segments. It’s just easier to do it without the glue freezing.

securing the fabric
Pull the fabric down over the glue. You may need to give it a stretch to pull out any wrinkles. You want it to be as smooth as possible.
all secured to sides
I keep working in dibs and dabs until the top piece is smoothly secured to the sides a good 3/4 - 1" down. Some fabrics don't really like this action.
trimming excess fabric
Trim away the excess fabric.
strip to cover side of crown
To cover the sides, you need a strip of fabric a couple inches taller than the crown, and a couple inches longer than all the way around the crown.
preparing to neaten top edge
Run a quick bead of hot glue along the length of the strip, about 1/2" from the top. Straight is good, but somewhat optional.
Sealing top edge for neatness
Press top edge down over hot glue, being careful to acquire no worse than first degree burns.

This, dear reader, is the atrocity that is the hot glue hem. Oh yes… I wouldn’t recommend it for an actual hem, mind you, but for something like this it actually works out fine. The trick really is to use a light bead of glue, so that you don’t have a ridge and don’t have a stiffened bit that doesn’t lie like the rest of the fabric.

attaching fabric to side of hat
Run a thin bead of glue right along the top edge of the side of the hat, and introduce Mr. Hat to Mr. Fabric Strip.

Again, I like to work in 4-5″ segments so my glue doesn’t freeze. Also, it’s pretty clear from looking at the picture that I never bothered to cut a strip to work with – I’m just using one long edge of the fabric. That’s not really uncommon for me. I can’t explain myself….

how the side band should look
The side band should set right below the top of the crown. It it starts to come over the top, it's going to be pretty obvious that the hat wasn't sewn.
finishing the side
When you get to the end, fold the edge of the stip in neatly, and secure the whole shebang with hot glue.
finishing the bottom
Turn up the bottom with another hot glue hem, then run a second bead of hot glue around the finished edge on the inside of the hat.
secure the hem inside
Press the glued edge to the inside of the hat to secure.
Voila! C'est fini!

Well, almost fini… See, what the designer actually wanted was this:

target hat
I need to make this, but I need to make it for the stage.

When I say I need to make it for the stage, I mean I need to make something that strongly resembles this concept, but is visible from stage. That means that the little top hatty-poo is getting bigger.

making the top dec
The top business is a flattened tube of fabric (yes, it's glued) and a fabric covered toilet paper tube. These are held in place by a really big stitch with some yarn.

I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that this is *not* the traditional construction technique, although the interwebs was surprisingly hush-hush on the topic of ancient chinese court hats.

finsihed hat
Back at the shop, I added some trimmins, a dowel rod I covered in fabric (yes, it's glued), half a tarty christmas ornament, and a tiesie for the actor's chin, and presto-change-o, hat managed.

And yes, that is a pile of sacrificial fezes. They are almost as useful as baseball caps. ;)



  1. Laura
    Laura June 4, 2012

    I have to admit I giggled at the “sacrificial fezzes.”

  2. Stephanie
    Stephanie June 19, 2012

    The repetition of “yes, its glued.” OMG, I laughed SO HARD. Almost made the morning’s coffeee come out of my nose. Good work, grrrl! :-D Hugs from your biggest fan in Ohio!

  3. Erin
    Erin July 30, 2012

    THIS IS WHY YOU ARE SO FREAKING AWESOME OHMAHGAH!!!! I never wanted a pill box hat until now…

    • missa
      missa August 5, 2012

      *laugh* Thanks, Gorgeous! The pillbox is truly one of the most versatile hat bases. They show up almost everywhere and every-when. It’s pretty awesome!

  4. Spinner Magaidh
    Spinner Magaidh September 1, 2012

    Fabulous!! I’m having to make hats for high school drama group and this is what I needed to know. Hot glue is a necessary evil sometimes!

  5. Michelle
    Michelle September 25, 2012

    Instead of using sacrificial Fezzes, try round chinese food containers next time… Just cut off the lip…

    • missa
      missa October 6, 2012

      Awesome tip! Especially for those who don’t routinely find themselves with a pile of spare fezes. ;) Thanks, Michelle!

  6. Halbert
    Halbert March 14, 2014

    Great ideas!! For someone who needs 20 “Little Old Lady Land” hats, this will be a big time saver. BTW, I love hot glue

    • missa
      missa March 14, 2014

      Hey, there, Halbert – It doesn’t have to be all “Little Old Lady Land”. Think of all the things you can do with a pillbox base – a henin, a Chinese headdress, an escoffion, a boater… It’s a foundational hat base!

  7. Halbert
    Halbert May 12, 2014

    Of course it it, but I am costuming the producers and had to crank out 20 identical LOL outfits. it worked well. I created a base from felt and a glue wash.

  8. Libby Olson
    Libby Olson July 1, 2015

    Well, this is great! I found your fake fall front trousers so now I don’t have to make those from scratch for two men & I need military hats (1844) so I’m thinking margarine or cottage cheese containers if sacrificing ball caps doesn’t work (I’m thinking trim the brim & spray paint them dark grey). At least I have a viable alternative now. (I love the bits of humour er reality you bring to your work)

    • missa
      missa July 1, 2015

      Hi, Libby – glad you’re enjoying the blog and finding it useful. Your local resale may have a fez or a brimmed hat with a similar profile as a starting point. If you do this using margarine/cottage cheese containers, mind the corners. The side-to-bottom join is rounded on most brands. I’d run a strip of chipboard (or, realistically, cereal box) around the sides, so that it’s level with the bottom, then fill the well between the new side and the top with caulk or something. That will give you the sharp corner you need, and add a little weight to the construct to help it sit on the head convincingly when it becomes a hat. Good luck!

  9. Karen Ralston
    Karen Ralston September 16, 2015

    This made me laugh out loud. I’ve done so many of these same things. The best tip for glue gun burns: use popsicle sticks to hold fabric or whatever in place while the glue is still hot. Also, for “The Producers,” we used plastic plant saucers as bases–they worked great.

  10. David
    David September 19, 2017

    Cheap fast and effective, is that not the cardinal rules for theatre work.
    Rock on!!

    • missa
      missa September 21, 2017

      Thank you!

  11. Debra Greene
    Debra Greene February 5, 2020

    I was watching Vanderpump Rules last night and she had a similar hat on and it was beautiful ! It had rhinestones all over it. I would love to make one but i cant find a hat like that at all. !
    Where did you find this one. I know it was years ago. Thank you love the way you showed us !

    • missa
      missa February 5, 2020

      Hi, Debra – Sadly, I got the fez from a pile my boss pulled out of costume storage when I was working in the shop. But don’t fret! A pillbox hat is really just a straight-sided hat without a brim, so you can use any straight-sides hat as a base. I’d check resale shops. Barring that, any oval shape with straight sides that is the right size and not too lumpy will work – hit a dollar store and look at the shapes. If you end up with something plastic, it might be kinda light and hard to keep on. You can add loops for hair pins or tipsy clips to the bottom edge of the hat to help with that, or hot glue a couple decent size metal washers inside the hat for weight. Hope that helps!

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