To begin, I made a mockup out of paper. I traced around a slightly flared plastic pot for the crown, and I made a cone with a flare that I liked for the brim, then measured out from the middle point to draw the inside and outside edges of the brim. I also cut out a circle for the top of the crown, but I didn't even need it in the end.
Next, I took the paper brim template, wet the braid, and then started pinning it directly to the paper. I made each row of the braid overlap the top half of the previous row, and I used the zig-zag designs in the braid to keep it somewhat even. I think most people start with the top of braid hats and work their way down instead of working up, but I wasn't sure how far my braid would go, so I figured it would be better to make the hat shorter if I needed to vs. not having enough for the brim.
After the entire brim section was pinned plus a little extra starting up the crown, I started hand-sewing the rows together using strong, golden-yellow thread that is used for jeans. I used basic basting stitches in the middle of the braid, and I would remove one pin at a time from the paper and move the template out of the way for the part I was working on so I could sew the braid without catching the paper.
After the brim was all basted together, I put the crown template into the opening, and started pinning the braid to that section.
Once the sides of the crown were all basted together, I removed the paper template, and then started folding the top row to the inside to make the flat section at the top of the hat.
To make the braid lay flat while working in toward the center, I had to pinch little tucks in the inside part of the braid and then sew these tucks down. On the right of the picture above, you can see what it looks like with the tucks, and on the left side you can see how the braid tends to poke up without them.
When the hat was basted together, I re-wet it, then turned the entire thing inside out. I sewed the flat edge of the rows to the layer beneath with tighter whipstitches to hold it all together better. In the picture above, I have the top of the crown and the top few rows sewn down. I think you can see how it looks tighter and more solid than the bottom parts.
When I was done, I flipped the hat right-side-out, and it looked like this. It was still wet at this point, so I pinned the back of the brim up and let it dry upside down so the brim could flare out more naturally in the front (you can see that it gets very flat when sitting on the table).
When it was dry, I removed the pins from the back, and it held its shape with no problem. Then I sewed on a simple ribbon band with a few loops on each side of the head. I also went back and tacked down the scalloped edge of the braid around the top of the crown to soften the edge and keep the pointy bits from sticking out so much.
And here you can see the finished product with my new Regency dress!
I considered sewing the braid to a buckram and wired base, but I liked how light and open and airy the braid looked on its own. The hat is pretty flexible still, but it holds its shape wonderfully and is very cool and comfortable to wear. And just FYI, I ended up using about 9 yards of braid when I was done.
Of course, finding vintage straw braid like this was a HUGE stroke of luck, and I doubt that I'll ever find anything quite like it again. I looked around online a little to see if anybody sold wide, decorative straw braid, but I didn't come up with much. It is possible that you could take apart another hat though and reuse the braid if you like the "rustic" look of this type of open braid. About halfway down this page, you can see a natural open weave hat that might give you a somewhat similar look, or you could always use the more common solid braids too.
All in all, it was a very fun and surprisingly easy project. I hope this little tutorial will inspire others to give straw braid millinery a try!