Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How to make a last-minute Christmas gift--with ears!

For those of you with even a little sewing acumen (by which I mean those of you who remember those stitch-with-yarn cards from preschool), here’s a quick and easy way to please a few people on your list this year.

During the summer, I used some fleece scraps to construct a coyote hat—ears and all—similar to the cat-eared “kitty hats” popular among anime fans. The hat was something of a hit, and got quite a laugh from my friends one chilly night recently when I wore it on an expedition to look at Christmas lights. It also kept my ears warm.

So here’s how to make your very own eared hat—bunny-eared, cat-eared, or—if you’re inclined to show your Masks spirit—coyote-eared. I recommend gray for that, because people don’t believe in brown coyotes.

1. Buy a half-yard or so of fleece from your local fabric store. You can probably get it as a remnant, or odd end of an old bolt of fabric, which is cheaper than buying it off the bolt. Get a color you can stand—you do have to wear this thing. I recommend “anti-pill” fleece rather than “blizzard” fleece—it’s a bit more expensive, but after you’ve washed your hat a few times, you start to notice the difference. Get some thread in a suitable color. You’ll also need a needle and some straight pins.

2. Measure your head. Wrap a tape measure around your cranium at about where you want the bottom of the hat to rest. If you want your hat to cover your ears, wrap the tape around your ears when you make the measurement. Measure from the top of your head to the bottom of your planned hat so you know how tall your hat will be. I like to pull mine down to my eyebrows when I’m cold, but your results may vary.

3. Go to http://www.wildginger.com/products/wildthings.htm and download the “Wild Things” freeware program. The program lets you make lots of simple hats, bags, accessories, etc, but what you want here is the Baseball Hat program. Select the Baseball Hat, input your head circumference and intended height of your hat (minus the width of your band—see step 5), and generate a pattern. You will see, among other things, a bunch of pattern pieces shaped like pie slices. Print out one of those pie slices and cut it out of the paper.

4. Choose the “right” and “wrong” side of your fabric. There’s no right or wrong way to do this (ha), so pick which side of the fabric you want to be on the outside of the hat. That’s your “right” side. Cut six pie slices from your fabric, with the pattern on the right side. NOTE: The pattern will include a seam allowance—a dotted line that shows you how far into the fabric you will be sewing your seam. Make sure you can live with that seam allowance. If you think you need a bigger one, cut the pieces bigger, but be consistent.

5. Cut out your hat’s headband. This will help the hat maintain its shape. Decide how wide you want the headband—I like three or four inches—and then cut a strip twice that wide and as long as your head circumference, plus seam allowances all around the piece.

6. Make your ears. Draw your ear shape on a piece of paper and cut it out. Cat ears, coyote ears, ears with notches, whatever floats your boat—just draw the ear, draw your seam allowance around it, and then cut the piece out of the paper. Cut four ear pieces from your fabric. NOTE: If you want a contrast lining—where the inside of the ear is a color different from the color of the outside—cut two of your four ear pieces from the contrast fabric.

7. Sew your ears. Each ear is made from two ear pieces (or one regular ear piece and one contrast ear piece) sewn together with their right sides facing each other, leaving the bottom edges open. Sew each ear in this way and then turn your ears inside out. BONUS POINT: Hold the ears to your head at this juncture and run around the house making “rawr!” noises. This will encourage people to leave you alone while you sew the rest of the hat, as you’re obviously out of your skull.

8. Sew the two halves of your hat. Each half is made of three pie slices, sewn together at the sides so that the points come together at the top. Sew the pie slices with their right sides together. This way, when you turn your hat right-side out, the seam allowances will be on the inside and the outside of your hat will appear smooth.

9. Attach your ears and sew your halves together. As you fit the two halves of your hat together (right sides together), position your ears in the seam and pin them there if necessary. Remember, the bottom of each ear should be sticking into a seam and the top of each ear should be on the inside (right side) of the hat when the hat is inside-out for sewing. So while you’re sewing this hat, you see only the bottoms of your ears sticking into your seam. Stitch the front and back of your hat together. If you have contrast ears, make sure the contrasts on the two ears are both facing the same direction—toward the forward side of your hat. BONUS POINT: To add dimensionality to your ears, fold one side in just a bit so that the fold is toward the crown of the hat. This will make your ears stick out more and appear to be listening forward or out to the sides.

10. Make your hatband. Sew the ends of the band together (right sides together again) to make a loop with the same circumference as your hat.

11. Attach your band. Center the seam in your loop on the back of your hat (it should end up in the middle of the center back piece), and then pin the band in place there—right sides together. Work your way around the hat, pinning the band with the right sides together, to make sure everything fits. Stitch the band in place.

12. Turn the band right-side out (you should see a smooth seam where the band joins the pie slices). Now fold the band in half and tuck the other side into the inside of the hat. Pin the free side in place just like you did the previous side. Stitch your hatband to the inside of your hat. If you want to fold your edge under and stitch right-sides-together again, go ahead, or just attach it any old way you like as long as you don’t make too big a mess visible on the outside of the hat.

13. Turn the hat right-side-out and stitch on any accessories you want, like eyes or scars or fangs or other shapes, preferably cut from fleece. Painting designs on fleece is hard, embroidering them isn’t worth your time, and while felt is cheap and tempting, it doesn’t wash well, and you will eventually want to wash this hat. I plan to sew fangs on my next coyote hat after hearing several people remark that it appeared to be eating my head.

14. Tug your hat onto your head, or wrap it up to present to the animal in your life. If you’ve had the good taste to make a Masks coyote hat, go howl at the moon!

I can make one of these suckers by hand in two or three hours. I assume it’s faster on a sewing machine. The fabric and thread generally come to less than ten bucks—less than five if I use coupons or poke around the right stores. These hats generally sell for about thirty bucks at conventions, so with a little ingenuity it’s not hard to be the envy of your fandom.

Best of all, fleece does not fray out like most fabrics, so you can expect your hat to look good and keep your head warm for a long time. At least until a hungry coyote steals it off your head.

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