Hat Trick: Turn a Placemat into an 18th Century Hat in Three Steps

Alternate Title:
Le Chapeau Rusé – Using Bad French to Disguise Excellent Hat Trickery

To complement my Robe pas Cher and to ensure that I was suitably dressed for an outdoor excursion, I needed a hat to wear for Georgian Picnic. In addition, I had sorely neglected the past, oh, ten or so Historical Sew Fortnightly challenges and I wanted a good stepping stone project to get back on track.

Enter Le Chapeau Rusé!


I had plunged myself so deeply into making a suitable costume for Christopher that by the time I got around to my own costume, I was a little burnt out and very very far behind schedule. I managed to eek out a wearable muslin from my test pattern, but I always feel under-dressed without accessories, so I decided I needed a hat. I didn’t have time to order one and I had foolishly missed out on all the post-Halloween sale merchandise. However, there was no need to worry because I had long ago discovered this post about placemat hats by the Thread-Headed Snippet:


With a title like that, how could I resist?

Inspired by Miss Snippet’s thrifty, simple solution to my problem, I set out to make my own version.

What follows is the three basic steps to making a super-cheap 18th century “Chapeau Rusé” out of an old placemat.

1. Pick a Proper Placemat

15 inches is a good, easy-to-find placemat size, but if you can find larger rounds, they’ll work as well. Hats were rather sizable during the 18th century, so don’t be shy!

If you can find genuine straw placemats, more power to you! Mine was a completely fake polypropylene straw placemat I found for $1 at Garden Ridge (the picture is the same brand on Amazon). Fake straw placemats have the advantage of being very springy and forgiving, but they are not historically accurate in the least. Real grass or straw mats are more period appropriate, but straw can be brittle and crack, so how you plan to wear the placemat/hat dictates which material is more suitable. While a natural, tawny straw color is a safe choice for both materials, almost any color of placemat will work as long as it matches your outfit (though I’d avoid brighter colors if you want an authentic look). Also, if it has bands of decorative braiding or a little extra color woven in, that’s perfectly fine for an 18th century hat.

2. Settle on a Shape

18th century hats for ladies come in many shapes and sizes, but the quintessential mid-century hat is the bergère, a wide brimmed hat with a low crown:

“Portrait of Eleanor Frances Dixie” by Henry Pickering, circa 1753

This is the type of hat the Thread Headed Snippet made her placemat into; it is also the shape I chose for Becky’s hat. Originally, I was planning on making another bergère hat for myself, but I was horrendously jealous of Christopher’s tricorne, so I decided to make a folded straw hat which, while more uncommon, was not unheard of:

“Portrait of a Lady in a Straw Hat” by by Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich, mid-18th century

Another option is a giant D-shaped hat, like these:

“Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Foster” by Angelika Kauffmann, circa 1785

D shaped Hat

D-Shaped Dutch Straw Hat, 18th century

If you can find a big enough straw mat or if you want to make a smaller version, just carefully cut off one edge of your placemat and finish it with glue, or when you decorate your hat, place the “crown” closer to one edge.

If you were lucky enough to find a real straw mat, you can even reshape it to have a crown. My fake straw placemat, however, wasn’t malleable in the manner traditional straw is, but it folded beautifully. To figure out the shape I wanted, I held the folds in place with pins so I could adjust the placement and size as needed before I tacked everything into place with sturdy stitches. You will find that pliers are exceptionally helpful to get a needle through all that plastic!

Once you settled on a shape, add ties so your hat won’t fall off. Most 18th century straw hats had ribbon ties that were secured to the underside of hat near the place where the brim and the crown connect:

Hat Ribbons

Bergère Hat, 18th century

I used 48 inches of 7/8″ grosgrain ribbon for mine, but most ribbon between 1/2″ and 3″ wide will work:


 For flat hats, the farther from the center of the hat you sew your ribbon, the more bowed downward and bonnet-shaped your hat will become. If you want the hat to lie fairly flat on your head, I recommend tacking the ribbon down 3-4 inches from the center on each side. Use pins to hold the ribbon in place before you sew it on so you can fiddle with how the hat will sit on your head.

3. Decorate!


Real straw placemats pretty much become suitable hats the instant you apply the ribbon in Step 2, but without decorations, a synthetic straw placemat hat will look like you’re wearing..well..a placemat, so don’t be too miserly when it comes to trimming.  There are infinite ways to decorate your hat. Popular trims include:

Poufs of fabric or ribbon
Flowers and wheat
Feathers and plumes
Fabric and Coverings

I chose to use fabric scraps left over from my dress to create ruffled white trim and two types of bows from pinked purple fabric (I love saying “pinked purple” out loud, no matter how many weird looks it earns me!).

I used a large bow called a Double Ruffle to trim the back:


I found the free tutorial on the wonderful Ribbon Retreat website which has plenty of other tutorials for different styles of bows. I was also inspired by the Flower Loop bow because it reminded me of 18th century cockades, so I made two for each side of my hat and put a silvery button in the center of each for a little textural contrast (all the fabric and ruffles gets a little too fluffy for me sometimes and I need to balance it out with a harder edge).


To turn a placemat into a bergère, add a small circle of puffed ribbon to create the illusion of a minute crown. Otherwise, trim, trim, trim until you can’t see the straw anymore or leave it fairly plain with only a bit of ribbon or a light net veil— it’s up to you!

More 18th Century Lady’s Hat Resources

18th Century Women’s Hats” research collection at Larsdatter – Great for inspiring your creativity. This site is downright amazing!
How to make an 18th century hat. A tutorial in pictures.” by Dressed in Time – Sew your own hat from scratch.
An 18th Century Hat” by The Fashionable Past – How to cover a straw hat with pleated silk.
Tutorial: How to turn a straw sunhat into an 18th century bergére” by The Dreamstress – Exactly what the title says!
The Amazing Crafthat Pt. Deux : Finishing!” by American Duchess – How add a stylish, floppy fabric crown to a straw hat.

..and this.

HSF Stats

“Le Chapeau Rusé” – 18th Century Folded Straw Hat

The Challenge: #23 Gratitude
Fabric: White cotton and purple polysatin scraps
Pattern: None
Year: 1760-1780
Notions: Poly cotton thread, buttons, grosgrain ribbon, and I guess the placemat would count as a notion???
How historically accurate is it? 40% It is entirely handsewn and trimmed with appropriate trimmings inspired by extant examples, but it’s made from a faux straw (read: plastic) placemat.

I am grateful to: The Thread Headed Snippet for sharing her placemat hat (http://threadheaded.blogspot.com/2012/08/so-you-want-hat-but-you-have-will-power.html) and Ribbon Retreat for their free bow tutorials (http://www.theribbonretreat.com/Catalog/free-hairbow-instructions.aspx)

Hours to complete: 3 hours
First worn: In my bathroom for fitting, but officially at Georgian Picnic in the park
Total cost: $1 for the placemat, 50 cents for the buttons, $2.50 for the ribbon

I must disclaim that my French is limited to what I remember from an old library book I read in 6th grade and what Google translate can help me piece together. Many 18th century fashions came from France and thus had French names, so in that tradition, I decided to play around a bit with giving my cheeky 18th century creations equally cheeky French names (unless you are fluent in French; then you are council to all my poorly-translated secrets)!

18th Century Picnic and my Accidental Royalist Robe pas Cher

– A First Time for Everything –

I attended my first Georgian Picnic this year! I was so flattered to get an invitation from Jen of Festive Attyre. The DFW Costumer’s Guild has been doing the event for 5 years now, but I have only lived in Fort Worth 3 months. I moved just in time for Georgian picnic! I’m not the fastest nor neatest of seamstresses, but after two weeks of mad sewing, I managed to crank out a full early 18th century outfit for Christopher and a passable mid 18th century Anglaise– a.k.a. my Robe pas Cher– for myself. It was quite a wild ride!

The Pragmatic Costumer

My robe a’lAglaise is my first attempt at drafting my own 18th century pattern. It’s made out of polysatin with a cotton lining and a last-minute petticoat made from sheer striped cotton. I didn’t intend for the dress to be purple. In fact, I hadn’t intended for this to be my picnic dress in the first place– it’s my pattern test! Originally, I planned to make a version of this dress:

Robe a l’Anglaise, circa 1785-95

I had purchased some creamy, light floral cotton, but it was expensive and I didn’t want to cut into it without trying out my pattern first. So out came the cheap eggplant satin! By the time I finished futzing with my purple mock-up, I had no time left to make another. I applied some ruffle trim to add a semblance of finality and called it a day!


“Robe pas Cher” Costume Breakdown

4 yards purple polysatin – $6, Walmart
20 hooks and eyes – $2, Hobby Lobby
Purple thread – $2, Walmart
3.5 yards white striped cotton – $5.25, Walmart
White gauze scarf/fichu – $3, Walmart
Faux straw placemat (for hat) – $1, Garden Ridge
2 buttons – 48 cents, Hobby Lobby
Brown pumps – $2, thrifted

Total: $21.73

The Pragmatic Costumer

Still doesn’t fit quite right, but my Robe pas Cher is still pretty cute!
The lovely lady accompanying me is Christopher’s mother, Becky, in her first costuming project ever which she sewed in all in one weekend. She was also gracious enough to do my hair for me.

I didn’t really think about the color until I assembled the pieces on my dress dummy when it suddenly dawned on me that I had created a blatantly Royalist gown (ironic,  considering I wore this to a picnic in Texas and Chris wore a red coat. We’re such non-rebels!). During the French Revolution, people who still supported the monarchy wore purple. Wearing this on the streets during the later part of the French Revolution would have been a seriously risky business! Fortunately, my fellow picnickers were a peaceful lot and my freedom fashion faux pas passed unnoticed.

Doesn’t Christopher look dignified in his enormous red coat? I used Simplicity 4923, the same pattern I used for the Merchant Gentleman coat, in size XL (Chris is 6′ 2″ and has a 49″ chest) for both the coat and waistcoat.

The Pragmatic Costumer

I owe this man so much rum…

Originally, he really wanted a plainer brown coat, but I found three vintage velveteen drapes for $1.50 a piece at the thrift store and that was that. I may possibly be the worst wife ever, but you cannot argue with handsome results!
I’d never sewn velveteen before and I lacked pretty much every tool necessary to do it right, but it turned out okay in the end (the lining gave me more grief than the velveteen). The pattern recommended about 7 yards of 45 inch fabric for his coat. I soon discovered that the tops of my curtains were sun damaged almost beyond use, so in essence, I had only 4 usable yards of 36 inch wide fabric. Add to that the fact that following the nap mattered, and suddenly I had a dicey game of tissue paper Tetris on my hands!


In addition to avoiding as many worn and faded spots as possible, I had to decrease the width of the back flare by folding the pattern in order to get it to fit on the drape.

I placed the gigantic front and back pieces on the least-worn sections first. Since they would be the most visible, they needed to be as unblemished as possible. Adjusting them to both avoid bad patches and still (mostly) match the nap was harrowing. After placing the rest of the pieces, I discovered that no matter what I did, some pieces would have the nap running in weird directions. When you encounter a problem like that, figure out which pieces are “least important” to the looks. In this case, it was the large triangular gores that flared the skirt, but were mostly hidden when Chris is standing up (and the cuffs because I had run out of any other place to put them). By the time it was all said and done, I had successfully Swiss-cheesed the old drapes into a coat!


I am still cleaning burgundy fuzz out of my carpet and sewing machine…

The Pragmatic Costumer

…but it was worth it!

To go with his Captain Morgan coat, I made him a gold waistcoat from some jacquard I dug up at Walmart and a pair of breeches from some super 1970s trousers (complete with contrast zig-zag stitching on the back pockets. Groovy!). The waistcoat is decorated with buttons, but since I loath buttonholes and was blessed with a shortage of time anyway, the front closes with three snaps. Not the classiest closure, but it’s much easier to get on and off!

To do up Christopher’s bottom half 1720 style, he needed stocks and buckled shoes. The buckles are enormous brass belt buckles that I put onto strips of pleather and literally tacked (with thumbtacks) to the rubber soles of his favorite black loafers. The stockings, however, are what really make his legs look so good.

The Pragmatic Costumer

Them gams!

Ah, yes, the Stockings of Miracles! They are actually a pair of knit, “ragdoll” thigh-highs from AJ’s Socks I had bought for my own 18th century costumes, but when I failed to find a pair of plain, knee-high men’s socks that would fit Christopher’s size 15 feet, I went out on a limb. On my toothpick legs, the socks reach mid-thigh, but he stretches them out, so they go just to his knee. They don’t have a top band like most socks, so they stay up without compressing your legs. If you are a lady or gent with wide legs or big feet, and you need some 18th century stockings, these are your saviors! They’re tube socks, so foot size doesn’t matter, and if they can fit Christopher’s 20+ inch calves, I think they can fit just about anyone!

The Pragmatic Costumer

Chris enjoyed playing with the diabolo and even caught it twice!

The Pragmatic Costumer

*white shirt not pictured, but it’s just a long sleeve dress shirt. Modern collared shirts aren’t “period,” but if there’s one already in your closet why not use it?

Christopher’s “Captain Morgan” Costume Breakdown

Coat and Waistcoat
Velvet drapes – $5.50, thrifted
Red cotton lining – $14, Walmart
27 brass buttons – $9, Walmart
Gold poly-jacquard – $3, Walmart
Cream cotton lining – $6, Walmart
11 matte brass buttons – $4, JoAnn’s
Gold “buttonhole” trim – $1.57, Walmart

Everything Else
1970s pants-to-breeches – $3, thrifted
White gauze scarf – $3.50, Walmart
Wool tricorn hat – $21, eBay
The Stockings of Miracles – $12, eBay
2 large brass buckles – $16.30, Etsy
1/4 yard black pleather – $4, Walmart

Total: $102.87

The picnic was a delight and the weather warmed up more than expected. Here are a few pictures from our 2 hour visit:

The Pragmatic Costumer

Becky and Chris in their first historical costumes ever!

The Pragmatic Costumer

So many lovely Regency gowns!

The Pragmatic Costumer

And an awesome bright magenta Mardi Gras ballgown!

The Pragmatic Costumer

Besides all the beautiful clothes, there were so many fancy foods and pretty picnic baskets to  fawn over.

If you are interested in more photos, there are plenty more pictures up on Facebook, as well as the official set on Flickr. I had a wonderful time meeting other costumers and befuddling shoppers at the local Central Market when we stopped for drinks afterwards!

The Pragmatic Costumer

That’s a Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer in my hands. My dress happened to perfectly match the label!
Reeds, if you are “reeding” this, I may be available to be your over-zealous spokes-Georgian. I accept cash, credit cards, and more delicious Butterscotch Beer!