DIY Leather Trapper's Hat

Stay warm all winter with this handmade trapper's hat.

By Dennis Biswell
November/December 2018

Russell wearing leather trapper's hat

Now that I've shown you how to turn a deer hide into leather, the next step is to take that leather and create something useful. In this article, I'll show you how to make a practical, comfortable trapper's hat.

You'll need one-third of an average-sized deer hide to make the outer part of the hat. You can use a variety of materials for the liner, such as hair-on rabbit, fleece, or my favorite liner material: khaki-colored sherpa suede fabric. Once you get the hang of sewing the material, it'll take a couple of evenings to make the hat.

Tools and Materials

Deer leather is thin, so you won't need many specialized leather working tools for this project.

  • Leather punch or awl
  • Heavy-duty scissors or leather shears
  • Artificial sinew
  • Glover's needle
  • 2 stitching needles
  • Beeswax
  • Wig or hat stand
  • 1/2 yard of sherpa fabric, or whatever material you'd prefer for the liner
  • Quilting needle
  • All-purpose thread
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Light-duty work gloves
  • Sheets of paper
  • Pencil
  • Thin-tipped marker
  • Flexible tape measure
  • Ruler
  • Carpenter's square
  • Hammer
  • Medium-sized binder clips
  • Lighter or matches
  • Small round stone the size of a chicken egg, for setting the stitches
  • 2 large buttons (I like making these from deer antler)

Making the Liner Pattern

Take the following measurements and write them on a piece of paper.

  • The distance over your head from the middle of your forehead, just above your eyebrows, to the bump at the back of your head, just above the neck.
  • The distance around your head just above your ears and eyebrows.
  • The distance over your head from just above your right ear to just above your left ear.

Center strip pattern:

On a large sheet of paper, draw a rectangle the width of measurement A by 4-1/4 inches tall. Label it "liner center," cut it out, and set it aside.

Side pattern:

You'll use two formulas for this pattern: one to calculate the width and one to calculate the height. Use this formula for the width: Measurement B minus 8 inches, divided by 2. Next, use this formula for the height: Measurement C minus 2 inches, divided by 2. Draw a rectangle on a sheet of paper using your width and height measurements, and then cut it out. Label one of the long edges "bottom" and the opposite edge "top." Label the short ends "side." Fold the rectangle in half so the "sides" touch and the edges are even. Cut a gentle arc from the top left corner to the bottom right edge. Unfold the pattern, label it "liner side," and set it aside.

line side hat pattern

Earflap pattern:

Draw a rectangle 4-1/2 inches wide by 5 inches tall on a sheet of paper, and cut it out. Label one of the short edges "bottom" and the opposite edge "top." Label the long ends "side." Fold it in half so the "sides" touch and the edges are even. Cut a gentle arc from the top left corner to about 1 inch down the right side. Label this pattern "earflap," and set it aside.

Brim pattern:

Draw a rectangle 5-1/2 inches wide by 2-3/4 inches tall on a sheet of paper, and cut it out. Label one of the long edges "top" and the opposite edge "bottom." Label the short ends "side." Fold it in half so the "sides" touch and the edges are even. Cut a gentle arc to round the bottom corners. You'll create the back flap pattern later.

Sewing the Liner

Lay out your liner material. Using the patterns, draw and cut out one center strip, two sides, two earflaps, and one brim. Get one sidepiece and position it on a table in front of you with the straight edge toward you and the finished (fuzzy) side of the material facing down. Lay the center strip above the sidepiece so a long edge faces you and the finished (fuzzy) side of the fabric is facing down.

cut material pieces

Clip the arched portion of the side to the long edge of the center strip in several places so they line up end to end, fuzzy sides together.

clip line side pattern to center strip pattern

Using all-purpose thread and a quilting needle, sew the side to the center strip with a blanket stitch. Repeat these steps for the other side, and place the liner on a hat stand.

liner on a hat stand

To create a blanket stitch, begin a whipstitch, but before pulling the stitch tight, pass the needle and trailing strand through the loop, and then snug the stitch to the material.

sew liner

Use two strands of thread. When threading the needle, pull the needle to the center of the length of thread, even the ends, and knot the ends of the thread. The strand needs to be four times the length of the seam.

To position the earflaps, make a small mark in the middle of the center strip at the front of the liner. Measure 4-1/2 inches around the right side of the bottom edge of the liner and make a small mark. This is the place to attach the front edge of the earflap. Repeat these steps for the left earflap. Clip the earflaps in place on the liner, fuzzy sides together, and check for proper earflap placement. Once you like the position of the earflaps, use a blanket stitch to sew the earflaps to the bottom edge of the liner.

attach earflaps

To make the pattern for the back flap, put the liner on the hat stand and position it so you're facing the back of the liner. Measure the distance between the earflaps along the bottom edge of the liner. On a sheet of paper, draw a rectangle that width by 2-1/2 inches tall, label it "back flap," and cut it from the paper. Transfer it to the liner material, and cut out the back flap piece. Use a blanket stitch to sew it to the bottom edge of the liner, but not to the earflaps.

attach back flap

Pick up the brim piece you cut earlier and clip it to the front center of the liner, fuzzy sides together. Use a blanket stitch to sew the brim to the liner along the bottom edge of the liner. Set the liner on the stand.

Making the Outer Pattern

Because of the bulk of the liner, the outer will be larger than the liner and will need different patterns. Place the liner on your head or on a stand and repeat the measurement techniques used to create the liner. This time, label the measurements "D," "E," and "F."

The outer center strip pattern is a rectangle the width of measurement D by 4-1/2 inches tall. Draw this pattern on paper, cut it out, label it "hat center," and set it aside.

For the outer side pattern, use the same formulas as the liner side pattern to calculate the width and height of the outer side pattern. This time, substitute measurement E for measurement B, and F for C. As you did with the liner side pattern, draw the rectangle, cut it out, label the long edges "top" and "bottom," and label the short edges "side." Fold it in half so the "sides" touch and the edges are even, cut a gentle arc, label it "hat side," and set it aside.

For the outer earflap pattern, use the liner earflap pattern and make it 1/4 inch taller. The earflap pattern will also be used to make the earflap ties.

The outer back flap pattern is 1/4 inch taller than the liner pattern. Use the liner pattern and extend the height of the outer pattern 1/4 inch.

Sewing the Outer

The finished, or smooth, side of the leather is the grain side, and the side that was next to the muscle and is sanded is the membrane side. On the membrane side of the leather, trace the patterns for one outer center strip, one outer back flap, two outer sides, and two outer earflaps, and cut them out.

Clip one sidepiece to the center strip the same way you did for the liner. When finished, the seams on the leather part of the hat will be on the inside, so when preparing to sew the outer, always clip the pieces together so the grain sides are facing inward and the membrane sides are facing outward. Use a whipstitch to sew the leather outer. To begin, unspool a length of artificial sinew three times the length of the seam. Tie two half-hitches near one end, and, using matches or a lighter, singe the sinew to the knot. Thread a glover's needle on the other end. You'll be using a single strand for sewing, so pull about 6 inches of sinew through the needle. Hold the piece you're sewing so the edge is facing you. Begin sewing by poking the needle through all layers of leather about 1/8 inch from the edge. Pull until the knot is snug against the leather. Take the needle over the seam and poke it through the leather in the same direction as the first stitch, about 1/4 inch from the previous stitch and about 1/8 inch from the edge. Continue stitching along the seam, pulling each stitch snug as you go (Photo 8). When you're three stitches from the end of the seam, poke the needle halfway through all layers of leather, bring the trailing sinew over the seam, and wrap it around the sharp side of the needle three times. Then, pull the needle and trailing sinew through the wraps, creating a knot. Snug the knot to the leather and repeat two more times. After the last knotted stitch, remove the needle, cut the sinew about 1/4 inch from the knot, and singe it to the knot. To set the stitches, remove the binder clips and open the pieces of leather. Hold the stone on one side of the seam and the hammer on the other side, and gently tap the seam with the hammer while moving both the stone and hammer up and down the seam a couple of times. Sew the other sidepiece to the center strip, set the seams, and turn this portion of the outer right-side out.

To position the earflaps, put the liner on a stand and then put the outer over the liner. Position the outer and liner so the seams of the outer are on top of the liner seams. Place the outer earflaps over the liner earflaps, and make a small mark on the inside of the outer at the front and back of the earflaps. Remove the outer from the stand, and sew on the earflaps using a whipstitch.

Sew the back flap to the outer using a whipstitch. Place the outer over the liner on the stand, and check the fit.

set over liner to check fit

To make the two earflap ties, trace the bottom 1-1/2 inches (the curved portion) of the earflap pattern onto the leather. Make the strip for the tie 1 inch wide and at least 12 inches long. Clip each tie to the bottom of an earflap with the grain side of the tie touching the membrane side of the earflap.

cut two ear flaps from leather

Mark holes along the top of the tie about 1/4 inch apart, and then use an awl or leather punch to make holes through all layers of leather. You'll be making a saddle stitch with one strand of sinew, so thread a stitching needle onto one end and pull the sinew through the needle a few inches. Your strand will need to be four times the length of the seam. Pass the needle and half the length of sinew through the first hole and even out the ends so there's an equal length on both sides of the leather pieces. Thread a stitching needle onto the other end of the sinew so there's a stitching needle on each end of the sinew. Consistency is key to making a good saddle stitch. Pass the needle on the left side through the next hole in the seam and out the right side of the leather. Before pulling it tight, pinch the sinew toward the front of that hole. Pass the needle on the right through the back half of the same hole and out the left side, being careful not to snag the sinew already in the hole. Then pull both lengths of sinew tight to the leather. Repeat this along the seam, always pushing the needle on the left side through first and then passing the needle on the right through the same hole. Upon reaching the last hole of the seam, stitch back along the seam three holes. At the fourth hole, push the left needle through the left side of the hole and, rather than passing it through the right side, angle the needle and push it out from between the pieces of leather. Pass the needle on the right through just the right side of the hole and out between the pieces. Remove the needles and tie the sinew ends together with two half-hitches, pushing the knot into the seam. Clip each strand close to the knot and carefully singe the sinew to the knot. Set the stitches with the hammer and stone.

sew ear flap into place

Bringing It Together

Using the smallest setting on your leather punch, or with an awl, punch holes along the edge of the leather outer. Make the holes 1/8 inch from the edge and 1/4 inch apart. Go along the edge from just behind the brim all around the earflaps and back flap. The only edge that doesn't need to be punched is directly behind the brim, because the brim will be flipped up and tacked in place.

Insert the liner into the outer, and clip them together in several places. Use a blanket stitch and artificial sinew to sew the outer to the liner. Sew the hat together in this order: The back half of each earflap starting at the edge of the tie, and then the back flap. Then, the right side beginning at the earflap tie and ending just behind the brim. Repeat this on the left side. Next, flip the brim up and over the front of the hat and tack it into place with one button on each side.

tack the brim into place with buttons

Cut each earflap tie into three even strands, each 1/3 inch wide.

cut earflap ties

Braid the strands together. Stop the braid about 1-1/2 inches from the end, and bind them together with sinew.

braid the earflap ties

With your handcrafted trapper's hat, your head will stay toasty on cold mornings while you're running your trapline or doing chores.


Gritty's Tips

  • When doing a whipstitch or blanket stitch, use light-duty work gloves to protect your hands.
  • Before threading your needle, run the sinew or thread over beeswax a few times.
  • Always test your patterns using bulky material, such as denim, fleece, or felt. By testing, you can practice sewing bulky material and adjust your patterns before cutting any of your home-tanned leather.
  • Use needle-nose pliers to push the needle through all layers of leather. Once the needle pokes through, use pliers to pull the needle through the leather.
  • I make better stitches when working the needle toward me from the opposite side. When you practice stitching, find what works best for you and stick with it. (Just don't stick your finger!)

gritty in leather trapper's hat


Dennis Biswell works for Grit and its sister publications as assistant information technology director. He's an avid outdoorsman, and presents on tanning and leather stitching at Mother Earth News Fairs.




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