DIY on a Dime: Number 1 Custom Top Hat!
Created by Mercury on 9/17/2012 9:33:05 PM

This is a very straightforward Do It Yourself build of a steampunk top hat complete with decorative accents and LED lighting.


DIY on a Dime Number 1 Custom Top Hat! Total Cost: $40


Salutations. On this day, we are after modifying a top hat to suit more of our own individual needs.  I did this in about 5 hours total time, but mind you, I have never done anything like this before.  So, going into this with zero previous skill sets, a simple drawing on paper of what I wanted to do, and the conviction to see it through is what it took to own this dead sexy piece of loot.  I hope this helps everyone rock out their own custom convention wear.  So, with that being said, lets begin!


Step 1:  “Just the bear necessities-Baloo”

You will need to already have purchased or made the items for your top hat.  I bought these items randomly over time, and paid great prices for all that you will be shown.  However, you will need a hat, some cloth, and however many items you want to add to your hat.  For my hat, I wanted one lit up trinket on each side of the hat, but feel free to customize to your liking!  It’s FREEDOM!


This is a simple “Coach’s Hat” bought from one of my favorite venders at AnachroCon, “Elope” makes the hat.  I bought it for either $20 or $30 bucks.  It comes in black or brown, since my brown one sports a heavy mini Gatling gun, I wanted a lighter hat, so I bought a black one, with this project in mind.

Purple Silk, It has a blue shimmer to it, got it from Wal-Mart for like $3.  I bought a single yard, but you’ll have extra after this project, or if you make a mistake (like I did) you’ll have enough to try again.

Vacuum Tubes!  These things are neat-o!  Be warned, they are glass, and if you break the seal, the silver stuff at the top goes away.  I got all three for $2!

This little guy is a brass owl pin I got at a flea market for a whopping $1! 

Ah, the center piece, my octopus that I bought from a vendor at DragonCon.  She sold it to me as a necklace for $12, like 2 years ago.  Through some luck, I have found all the parts to make the exact same thing, for just under $3.  I don’t mind that I paid $12, it looks great, and I didn’t have to do it, not to mention, everyone has to get paid. 

For the final side, I wasn’t sure what to put, an Ace of Spades, or a feather, but then it struck me, why not support a friend!  So, I’m sporting my friend’s card, It just happens to have the Ace of Spades I wanted on it, it’s the right size, and I think it looks good too!  I will tell you about this below, but I can change it however I see fit, if need, with great ease.

This project needs LED’s.  It happens to be my first LED project with cloth, and I was excited to knock it out.  I went with Violet, because it happens to match my Steampunk clothes.  You can go with any color! LED’s come in all kinds of colors.


Step 2:  Tools

Now that you have your trinkets to add to your hat, you’ll need some extra things to get started. 

Flower Wire (Cheap $2), or Copper Wire, ($5)

Hand tools to bend with, like needle nose pliers and what not.

Black Duct Tape, or Brown, or whatever will match your hat! ($3)

Needle and thread, that also matches the cloth you bought. ($3)

Solder gun, (Like $7 at Wal-Mart)

A sharp knife, (X-acto knife, $3)


Most of us already have this stuff, but I figured I would put down prices just in case.  You can build a hat with a single trip to Wal-Mart and Radio Shack, but you save money if you buy online (LEDs) and trinkets at Wal-Mart are some what, limited, but I’m just saying it “could” be done if needed. 


Step 3:  Somebody turn on the lights!

Lets start with the LED system.  I hope this picture helps.  For those of you out there scared to solder, therefore LED’s scare you…..don’t be.  I was worried greatly at first, but I bought a solder knife, gun, wand, thingy, some “Helping hands” (strongly recommended btw), LED’s on 14” wire just to make sure I had room to clip in case I messed up and just went to town.  I did this set up below in about 5 mins, and I am a total nooblet at this.  The big key here, that an online LED calculator told me, was the on/off toggle switch, is going to be on the negative side, and the 330omz resisters are on the positive side.  You can’t see the resisters because I just used heat shrink on everything.  Another key note, your heat shrink makes things nice and neat, but its not mandatory, you could go cheaper and just buy 30 cent electrical tape.  I also want to point out, your heat shrink will only shrink so much, so your wires should some what fit already, then the heat just kind of “seals” it all together.  What you see below is a $9 set up, plus the battery.



Step 4:  The Front!

Start with figuring out how you want your trinket to hang on your top hat.  You need some way to attach the trinket to the hat.  If your trinket has a pin, like my owl, its super easy, just poke, and prod, then boom, done!  My octopus took a little more love.  It had a necklace loop when it was made; if I didn’t have this, I would take some copper wire (like the kind you make a necklace with 20ga, stuff from a craft store) and solder it to my trinket.  So what your looking at is the necklace loop pushed trough the positive and negative wires on my LED, then a copper wire ran through it.  This was to ensure my LED wouldn’t pop out and run amuck.  I did some testing, and the LED looked better pointed down in this case, where in other parts of that hat, it looked better pointed up.  I suggest you do the same, test out which way your LED needs to point BEFORE you make attach it to you hat.  So, start by poking a hole in your hat just large enough for the LED to fit through.  The less of a hole the better!  Then, I poke two more even smaller holes with a leather worker’s needle, on the left and the right of the LED hole.  This allowed me to fit the copper wire and attach it all to the hat tightly on the inside of that, by twisting the copper wire couple of times, trim the extra wire and lay flat against the hat.  Apply a small piece of black duct tape to not get randomly poked by wires.  **Side note:  I tried thread at first, it “sagged” because my sewing Kung Fu is not so strong.  Anywhere in this DIY where I use copper wire, you could use garden flower wire, it’s cheaper and gets the job done just as well.



Step 5: Tubes!



So I took this extra 1/8” aluminum I had from another top-secret project and cut off a measured piece, and went to town.  I drilled holes in the cut piece, clipped off the extra prongs that came off the vacuum tubes, and placed them in the holes and bent them with pliers.  Once I put the tubes next to my hat, the bill flipped up almost buried them, so I had to add a ¾” piece of PVC to raise them up just a little, but you could use anything here, I just needed a little lift, like ½”.  The LED will be applied to back of the center tube, facing upwards.  **Side Note:  I ended up wanting more illumination on this side.  So, I went back and added 2 more lights.  To attach them to the hat, I poked two holes - about the distance in between the 3 tubes.  This allowed me to tie it to the side, and allowed the tubes to “rest” on the bill of the hat.  **Side Note:  The cloth band around the base of the hat will hide the PVC and aluminum plate that holds this all together.



Step 6:  I’ve Got Eyes in the Back of my Head!!

This ended up being too easy.  It’s a pin, like for your shirt, so it really was, just a poke, straighten up, and poke again.  I did copy the front in how I ran the needle through the two wires off the LED to secure it in place.  I wanted him to have a perch, so I ran a copper wire and poked two more holes to really tie him down.  His LED points up. 



Step 7:  Shout out for a fellow maker.



So this is the left side of my hat.  I pre-measured like I did on all sides, and the card itself is NOT attached to the hat in any way.  After I measured, I poked some holes, and started attaching gears.  Why gears?  Because I think they are dead sexy.  Some big notes here, the holes were poked for the LED, and I had to tape the LED to the hat in the upward position.  This is because the card is not attached like the other items.  The reason I did it this way is because this is just a card. If I get rained on, the card will be destroyed, and will need to be replaced.  Or, if I need an outfit change for whatever reason, I could change this out for an old school photo, or a tarot card, or really any kind of card I want that will fit in this spot.  The gears act as place holders and keep it in place.  I used some good quality stuff gears I got from Tandy Leather, so 3 of these gears were like $2 or $3 each.  Then, I added some cheaper gears and rivets to add a little more love ray to this side. 



Step 8:  Putting it all together.

Ahhhhh the chaos!!!

Much Better!!!


So, you can see I literally taped the battery to the top and center of the hat. I figured it ended up being the best place to put it.  Now, as previously stated, my sewing Kung Fu is weak sauce, or I would have done something different here.  Feel free to rock out with your needle and thread, but for the rest of us, black duct tape is boss.  I attached my on/off toggle switch to the battery facing down towards my head.  Not really sure where the “perfect” spot is. I thought about on the bill of the hat, but was worried about blending in issues.  I didn’t want to put it on the inside rim of the hat because I didn’t want the switch crushing into my head.  So, I went with on top of the battery.  Originally I wanted to sew some of my silk to the top, so the battery could slip in and out more easily, but again weak Kung Fu.  So, duct tape wins again! 


Step 9:  A Touch of Class

Adding the silk ended up being a good friend of mine’s idea.  Then, in addition, she stated it needs waves instead of flat, because they look like waves, you know, like the ocean, because he needs water, because he is an octopus.   LoL.  This ended up being dead on correct!  Did I mention her sewing Kung Fu is strong! 



We took a piece of paper, and drew out many ways to finalize the silk.  For the top part, we had the silk pointed up, two points, puffy, plus some others, I enjoyed this flat part, allowing it look a little more…my taste.  This is another point where you can add your own flare here.  If your Kung Fu is strong, you could add the silk or cloth to your project BEFORE you add this center trinket.  But, if you’re like me, I cut a small, precise slit in the cloth, then did this neat “weave” motion sliding one side all the way to the center, then getting his arms through the hole, much of that like one putting on a shirt.  Once he is all snug as a bug, she sewed it tight, and started making wrinkles.  She pinched a wrinkle with her fingers, pinned it in, and then once all wrinkles were done, she sewed it all down.  You can have as many or few wrinkles as you see fit.  The top part, center part, and bottom part were all attached by hand, with a needle and thread.



Step 10:  The Final Strap

This part was the final touch to the hat.  It let me hide a lot of stuff, in the end, saving me time. She measured the hat with a tailor’s tape measure, and then cut the silk to length, and 3 and ¼” inches deep, because I wanted a 1 and ½” thick/tall band.  Yet another time you can do as you please, it’s all about costume work!   Once she figured out the length needed, she folded and sewed it together for thickness reasons.  Tip: make sure you measure the cloth needed AFTER all trinkets are in place.  I requested her to re-measure my hat because it was measured in the beginning.  In step 5 we added to the overall base of the hat.  So, ye be warned.  “Measure Twice, Cut Once” is some really good advice.  Once the strip of cloth was completed, she simply laid it against the hat, pinned or tacked it down in a couple of spots, and then attached it to the hat, at the back seam, by hand, needle and thread style.  I shall now give you many screen shots of the completed project, and wish you the best of luck in all your crafty endeavors! 












Best of Luck in all your endeavors!

-Mercury M.D.

Hatton Cross


Mercury M.D. aka Matt DeLoach is an artist in Hatton Cross Steampunk. He has basic skill sets in leather working, painting, soldering, electrical work, and just in general arts and crafts, all self taught and inspired from all the panelist at a convention.

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