Sunday, 16 October 2016

How to Make a Gothic Witch's Hat from Remnants and Found Objects

This project was a great deal of fun because although I had the design firmly set in my mind when I started, I still allowed it to grow organically in front of my eyes. The costume was one of a set I made for the independent film company 'Climb the Ivy' and as with the others, was inspired by a living creature, in this case the Raven.  The witch is often depicted with a companion or familiar; a black cat, a black bird, a bat, toad or hare, the main function of which, apart from in its literal sense, as a servant or companion, is as a communication channel. However, the direction of flow of information depends very much upon country and region. In some cultures, the familiar exists to carry out the witch's bidding, whereas in others, the familiar transfers information and orders to the witch from a higher command. Having once re-homed one of the crow family I can testify that never before have I come across a bird so intent upon and gifted at, getting its own way. The Raven was an ideal starting point for my design and so everything grew from the Black Bird! Thus the idea of the hat, was to me, an extension of the witch herself.

Gothic Witch's hat and veil

The characteristic low light, almost film noir levels in the film allowed me to play about with fragments of colour, textures and movement in my hat design and matching 'crow' collar.  Within the confines of a short film it is often difficult to work detailed characterisation into the narrative, so the costume can be designed to complete that function. As with all fairy tales the characters in the film had a certain duality of purpose, being complex in motivation, neither wholly good nor wholly bad so it was an interesting challenge to portray that in the costume. To my idea, when design is used to portray character traits, it should be subtle even obscure, there is no need to hit the viewer over the head with ideas of characterisation. These should grow upon the audience as the film progresses, or if you are wearing this as a costume, throughout the evening.


Gothic witch's hat from remnants and found objects
The other inspiration for my witch was the idea of the veil, which has such an interesting social history and folklore attached to it, in particular the full mourning veil. I felt that this particular piece of hat furniture, with its connotations as a protection against the Evil Eye, was a 'must have' for my witch. So much so, that I gave her two; with a simple eye veil, as well as the full mourning version. I also needed to consider the film script, i.e. the witch required to run through the forest, thus I planned the veil so that it could be either worn pinned up or flowing loosely.

Gothic witch's hat from refashioned items and remnantsOne of the inspirations for the headdress, was a Pinterest pin, 'The Fortune Teller', actually this is a contemporary piece by Christine Elfman from her series: Cabinet Cards (Storydress II). I love the idea of the visiting card and her work is a fascinating mix of sculpture, writing and photography.

Gothic witch's hat repurposed feng shui coins
Making a mourning veil for a gothic witch's hat
Gothic witch's hat projectTo continue the theme of the fortune teller I was very pleased to have picked up, in a lucky bag from my local Haberdashery, a bikini scarf made of Feng Shui Emperor coins. I decided these would make excellent embellishments and also add to my Raven/Witch's love of finery and shiny things even putting one in the Raven's beak! I also decided that they would be attached in the traditional way with red silk or glass beads, this also gave my witch a hint of blood red, also to be referenced in my dotted veil. Furthermore, to continue with my Witch/Fortune teller theme, I also created a version of the traditional chenille dotted veil but instead of dots, transposed symbols of suits of playing cards.

Finally I love the old early horror movies and their use of Expressionism's skewed vision to suggest that something is not quite right, so I made my hat totally asymmetrical, starting with the basic shape and going forward with the embellishments


From the conversations I had with the Director at the start of the project, I interpreted the overall theme of the Witch as grunge bohemian. I used materials I had at hand, for example the bikini scarf of Feng Shui coins is not something that turns up everyday but you can find packs of coins easily on line. However, my main suggestion would be; the more outré your found objects, the better and above all you need well-worn fabric, so this is a great refashioning project and a chance to upcycle that old garment from the bottom of the wardrobe.

Found objects: various feathers from our garden from moulting poultry

Refashioned fabrics: old skirt ruffle, remnants from a wool cape, old skirt lining, the upper from a modern Turkish slipper, bikini scarf, black angel wing Christmas decoration. Red and black felt from another project

Purchased: 1m black tulle, half a metre of simple black lace trim.


As the overriding inspiration for the costume was the black bird I decided to start with that. Beginning with the main theme to your costume puts it firmly into the centre of the project and I find, everything else falls into place once I have that.

Making a bird motif gothic witch's hat
I started by working on my central motif of the Black bird. I took the quill of a flight feather and opened it up to make the beak. I then cut out a simple head and neck in black felt and started to attach my feathers. You can do this by hand stitching or using a glue gun. I did both. If you sew the feathers you can actually sculpt the individual barbs, as here to create character, with an unkempt look to the top of the head.

Making a bird motif gothic witch's hat
The bird was worked on until it was complete, making sure there was enough space and overlapping feathers at the bottom of the neck to attach it invisibly to my Angel wings Christmas decoration with glue. The Angel wing cost me 25 centimes in a closing down sale but it is a really easy shape to make yourself.
Gothic witch's hat project in the planning
Then I started on the hat proper, cutting out a band of fabric to fit the circumference of the head. I needed a hat that would stay on the actress and if you are going to be partying in this headdress then it is a good idea to make it an exact fit. As I mentioned I like anything that suggests, trickery to be asymmetrical, so I cut my hat shape with a peak to the side, which I then planned to fold over and sew down to make the crown. I then mocked up the design, to check how the whole thing would look.

Gothic witch's hat work in progress
I neatened the top edges of my hat with a simple running thread of red silk and trimmed the seam back with pinking shears. I then cut a second piece of softer lining fabric to make a hat. At the same time I started to add some of the coins. Through this you will see what I meant by the hat growing organically, it's like cookery, you need to be constantly checking to see that you have the right ingredients. The lining was purely pinned and tacked in at this stage so I could keep opening it up to add embellishments as I went along. I always line hats because then you can go to town on the decoration and cover all the 'workings' within the lining. This not only gives the hat a much more professional look but also makes it comfortable to wear. This is really important with a close fitting hat.

I then tested the look on Andy, who fortunately had the same head size as the actress. At this point, you will notice that I have not joined the hat seams together and that I have removed the lining, it is much easier to work on a design in the flat and unhampered by lining fabric.

I ripped rather than cut the inner hat band, this gives it a good grunge feel and I added some sequins cut from my Turkish slipper.
As I had planned in my mock-up I placed the toe part of the Turkish slipper onto the hat band, where it would lie behind the bird's head, to give it a Byzantine halo touch and sewed it down.

I then added my bird and with Andy's help positioned the eye veil. At the same time I used a piece of black chiffon to work out the positioning of the mourning veil and again to test what the final look would be. I have an old wooden wig stand, on which to try out designs, it is a really useful item if you can get hold of one!

Bird detail on Gothic witch's hat
I then started to add the details to my hat, sewing a coin into my bird's beak and another run of coins to make a fringe. I added a double ruffle to one side of the hat to balance the folded section. With all the hat decorations and details finished, I was now ready to refit and sew in the lining material, fold over the section of the hat band to make the crown and hold it in place with a coin.

Gothic witch's hat from 3 angles
I was now ready to make the full mourning veil. This was probably the most arduous part of the whole project, cutting numerous tiny spades, diamonds, hearts and clubs from red and black felt. Half way through I really wondered if this was a good idea and as for sewing black on black... but the end result really made me so happy that I had persevered! I gathered one end of the tulle together and tied it up with a bow and pinned it to the hat. I then pinned on and hand sewed each motif, whilst on the dress form, that way I got a better idea of where to place each one.

Here's a little snippet of the hat in action:


My hat was seen for some minutes on screen and I had such fun designing and making it and most unexpectedly, these projects earned me a costume credit on IMDB! With your version of a Gothic witch's hat, I am sure you will make a great entrance and cast a spell over the whole assembly!

Hope you have enjoyed this and if you did and found it useful then why not share it and or think of joining this or any other of our blogs and youtube channels? I also love getting feedback to please feel free to comment, ask questions and/or share your own experiences in designing and making witch's hats. I forgot about Halloween and still have the crow cape to write up but after that I will post the organic knickers project!

All the very best from Normandie,



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