The countdown to Derby is on and that means the countdown to getting your hat and dress is on, as well. Many local ladies design their own hats, often to coordinate with their outfits. Many ladies, like me, also have absolutely no idea how to design their own hats, but would like to try. I went to see the DIY hat designing experts at Dee’s, a locally-owned craft store. They held classes through February and March twice a week to show ladies how to design their own Derby hats.

I attended a class last Thursday, which was completely full. The other classes have all been at capacity, as well. I was so totally impressed by the ladies who are doing their hats this far in advance. This takes Derby outfit planning to another level for me.

An Easy Guide To Making Your Own Derby Hat

Lorie Laughead is a manager at Dee’s and teaches the class. She is a wise and fearless woman, not afraid of the glue gun or ripping apart hats to make them work. Laurie’s job also involves a touch of therapy, coaxing people out of their fear of crafting and design (finger pointing at myself here).

She describes the hat designing process as a great way to “express your personality” and “let yourself show.” In past years, hat decorations were placed at the back of the hat. It was as though you knew you had to wear a hat to Derby, but you wanted to hide the decor or make it more subtle. Lately, all decor is towards the front of the hat, putting it front and center of your focus. Derby now is “all about the hat.”

An Easy Guide To Making Your Own Derby Hat

Glue guns and mannequin heads are ready for action. 

She gave me an easy breakdown of how to make your own hat, step by step. Begin by repeating this mantra in your head the entire time you are working on your project: Anything you want to do is right!

1. Pick your hat or fascinator base.

An Easy Guide To Making Your Own Derby Hat

New hats in every color for sale.

An Easy Guide To Making Your Own Derby Hat

Fascinator disks come in every color and can be paired with a headband or a barrette. These come in small, medium and large sizes. This is a large disk pictured above.

An Easy Guide To Making Your Own Derby Hat

Here’s an old hat that is going to be deconstructed and made new.

2. Pick from three elements of decoration: Flowers, feathers and netting


Flowers are a way to set the tone of color on your hat and also a way to have a center focal point. With a flower(s) in the middle, everything can get built out from that.

An Easy Guide To Making Your Own Derby Hat

Lillies for the fillies.


Feathers are expensive and a little goes a long way. There are so many ways to manipulate feathers into shapes that you want. Feathers come stick straight and do not look good in your hat stick straight. Lorie “breaks their spines” with her fingernail to curl them. She also uses curling irons and scissors to create a custom look. Feathers can be up to $12 a piece, so choose carefully. Like a flower, they can be a good foundation for a hat.

Also like flowers, feathers can be a good way to add an accent of color without the entire hat being that color.

An Easy Guide To Making Your Own Derby Hat

These feathers come in a bunch. They can be separated out, plucked, curled or used as the center point in a hat.

An Easy Guide To Making Your Own Derby Hat

Lorie curled this feather with a curling iron.

An Easy Guide To Making Your Own Derby Hat

This feather was snipped with scissors.


Netting softens the entire look of the hat. There is Russian veiling, or netting with wide or small weave. This comes in all colors and varying widths of the weave.

An Easy Guide To Making Your Own Derby Hat

An example of Russian netting with a wide weave.

There is also crinoline, or “crin” for short. While fun to use and beautiful, the fabrics “have a mind of their own” and have to be manipulated. There are ways to pull it apart, distress it, tie it together or cut it for effect.

An Easy Guide To Making Your Own Derby Hat

The threads in crinoline can be taken out to manipulate the fabric.

3. Mark your hat and start building

Put your hat on and mark the front of the hat with a small piece of scotch tape. Decide which side you want your decorative elements on and mark that with another large piece of tape. If you are using ribbon to make a hat band, you will start and end the ribbon at this “point of design.” This is the point that will be the center of your design, not the exact front of the hat. You will use a glue gun to attach all of your elements. Use minimal glue, just a few well-placed dots, rather than a big smear of it.  If you can sew, then by all means do that, but gluing for these purposes is faster and easier.

Add flower or center element first. Then netting. Then feathers, if they are accent pieces.

Lorie recommends adding everything at an angle and tilting your elements for more interest.

An Easy Guide To Making Your Own Derby Hat

All elements for decor have been placed with hat. It is now ready to be decorated.

An Easy Guide To Making Your Own Derby Hat

Tape placed at focal point. Now wire ribbon is being wrapped around to make a hat band.

If you have a fascinator, decide which side of your head that the decoration will be. Glue the disk onto the headband. Start adding elements just like a hat. First the center flower or feather grouping, then netting, then accent feathers or pieces. You can use more than one fascinator disk. You are not limited to one.

An Easy Guide To Making Your Own Derby Hat

Double fascinator disks that are folded. Level of difficulty=high.

Best advice:

  • The hardest part of this process is deciding how you want to design your hat and what elements to use.
  • Build hats from inside out, meaning start at your focal point and go outward from there.
  • If you love your hat from years ago, just deconstruct it and add fresh elements.
  • All decor should be added to the front of the hat but not directly in the front. Usually aim for an offset angle (about 1 or 2 pm on a clock, if you need a visual cue).
  • Always use wired ribbon. Flat ribbon is too hard to control and always looks wrinkled.
  • Use low temperature glue guns. Put glue to item, then put that item to the hat.
  • The most flattering hat style is the turned down brim hat.
  • Just because you are designing a fascinator does not mean you need less decorative elements. You would be surprised how much you can fit on one disk.
An Easy Guide To Making Your Own Derby Hat

This is my cousin Molly, who just happened to be taking the class when I was there. She said she would kill me if I put a picture of her in the story. But, she was just too cute and crafty to pass up. Love ya, Molly!


  • Don’t like what you did? Run a hairdryer near it and it will pop right off. Just a word of advice, go easy on the glue when you are making your hat. Just a few dots will do.
  • Hat too big? Use sizing foam, which are small foam inserts that go inside the hat. They are glued on around the hat to fit your head.
  • Starts to rain? Cover that hat up if you have feathers. Most are not color fast and they will stain your hat.

An Easy Guide To Making Your Own Derby Hat

Fun Facts about Dee’s:

  • They sell about 100 hats in March.
  • They sell about 8,000 hats in April.
  • In April, they hire 7-8 full-time seasonal workers just to help with hat design.

An Easy Guide To Making Your Own Derby Hat

The average cost of a hat and the supplies is $125 to $150 if you do it yourself. If Dee’s makes the hat for you, add another $35 to $70 labor upcharge to that. Dee’s will help you design your hat; you do not have to do that yourself. Most women bring their outfits in to help in the process.

Unfortunately, there are no more classes in the month of April. There is simply no time in their busy season to teach them.

And, of course, there are always many beautiful hats for sale at Dee’s that are pre-made.

An Easy Guide To Making Your Own Derby Hat

So I’ll leave you with this: A girl in the class was going to try to affix this Maker’s Mark bottle and horseshoe (which was seriously heavy) to her hat. Any ideas on how to do this? Let me know if you see her at Derby so I can give her a virtual high-five:

An Easy Guide To Making Your Own Derby Hat

An example of decor brought into to be affixed to a hat.