The time had finally come.
A boyhood dream was screaming to be realized, and it could be ignored no more.
A hat, special and magical, needed to be brought into this world to usher in a new age.
Alright, maybe I'm exaggerating things a bit, but it's true that ever since Junior High when I first discovered Warhammer 40k I've wanted a leather commissar hat. I had leather, I had (some) skill, I had tools. The time was now!
Having set my mind to the task, but not having any clue where to begin, I decided it would probably be best if I had some kind of mock up or model to reference. I grabbed a big block of foam and started carving! I decided I should probably do it in two pieces, one piece for the top of the hat, the big pointy awesomeness, and another piece for the hat band so I could make sure it was the right size and wouldn't end up either too big or too small.
Here's my foam model with a sturdy construction paper brim!
Now that I had a model made of foam, I somehow needed to magically transform this into leather ensuring it was hollow allowing my head to fit snugly inside! I grabbed a 3' length of 1/2" PVC pipe and waved it over the foam model chanting arcane phrases in Pig Latin but nothing happened. It was still just a foam model.
"Damn you Harry Potter! You lied to me!!"
Having failed at my attempts at arcane transmutation I grabbed a few sheets of construction paper (red of course, it's makes the project go fastah!) and started to pin it down to the foam. One piece of paper wasn't big enough for each section, so I grabbed my PVC wand, waved it over the paper shouting "Paintus Tapicus" and taped two pieces together. Oh my god, it worked! I now had double sized pieces of construction paper big enough for each section.
With the paper pinned down to the foam I took a sharpie and traced the edges. Removing the paper, I moved onto the next section and repeated the process. When I was done I had 3 pieces of taped together construction paper with wobbly lines drawn on them. This isn't going to work, I thought. Then I realized I should cut out the patterns drawn on the paper and maybe I could arcanely transmute them to leather!
Resize the image so the grid on the green mat is 1" squares and these template pieces will be accurately sized!
No dice. I waved my wand frantically and said the stupid words, "Clatu, Veratu, Necktie!" but they were still just pieces of paper. Screw it, I'll just trace these on leather and cut them out. Having done so, I was left with paper templates and leather pieces. I wanted to make sure the leather could actually be assembled into a commissar hat, so I took small binder clips and clipped the leather together how it would be sewn.
Horatio, my skull assistant, modeling the pieces for me
It looked more or less correct. I was seeing some minor shaping issues that could be easily fixed with my magic PVC wand and some forceful clubbing of the leather along with the magic words, "Get.
*whack* Into. *whack* The. *whack* Right.*whack* Shape.*whack* Damn you. "
Leaving the clips in place I started stitching the leather up using my trusty
finger gouger leather awl. The first thing I did was stitch the hat band together so it was a circle (and checked to make sure it still fit!), and the brim together. With those pieces done it was time to stitch them together. The top piece would go on afterwards because stitching the brim and band with that top piece already in place would be very difficult. You really need to be able to get your hand inside.
Horatio once again lending a skull to the process
The brim was only glued on in this picture. It actually extend up the inside of the band about an inch, and to the the leather curved into the right shape where it bends up behind the band I soaked it in water and pressed it into shape. When it dries it will hold the shape perfectly (that's a pro tip for anyone wanting to get started in leather working!). With the brim shaped it could easily be sewn into place as well.
Speaking of soaking leather to change the shape, it was time to fix the shaping issues I mentioned earlier. There were two main problems, one practical and one aesthetic. The practical problem was the angle of the top piece didn't leave any room for the crown of your head! The back of the hat sat really high up since there wasn't enough room, and that wouldn't do. I soak the top piece using a sponge on the inside and when it was good and wet, stretched it over a metal mixing bowl. I was careful to keep an eye on the profile of the hat to ensure it didn't start looking bulbous in the back and to preserve the look of a commissar hat.
The other problem was just in the look. The back of the hat was sticking almost straight out from the hat band and when you wore it, that made it look like it was hovering an inch or two above the ears. It looked a little wonky and seemed to sit too high on your head even though the hat band was in a good position. Once again I soaked the leather and bent it downwards until it was almost even with the bottom of the hat band. Now when you wore is, the curve of the edge of the brim went down into the ear instead of hovering above them and it looked much better.
With stitching and shaping done, it was time to dye the leather!
Horatio was so impressed at this point he put on his lower jaw for the picture!
Now it was really starting to look like a proper commissar hat! It only needed cap badges. Looking through picture after picture of commissar hats I decided to make perhaps the most iconic one of all - Commissar Yarrick's hat! The design wasn't overly complicated and I had some molds that I could repurpose for use.
I took my Crux Terminatus mold and poured in just enough resin to cast the skull in the center. When it was still curing I set two small bolts into the resin so they'd be part of the casting. When it was fully cured, I punched to holes in the front of the hat and bolted the skull in place. Next I took styrene plastic sheets and cut out laurels. Using a dremel with an engraving bit I carved the leaves into the styrene and painted them using acrylics. To connect the laurels to the hat I drilled holes in them along the "stem", the center of the laurels from where the leaves connect. I then sewed them to the leather around the skull.
Commissar Horatio, ensuring the morale of his troops
It was really starting to come together now, but there were still some details missing. I cast two small skulls with laurels that I used in one of my Imperial Guard medals of honor. I also grabbed some cord used to hold curtains open. Cutting the cord into two pieces just big enough to reach from temple to temple, I took big balls of green stuff and stuck the ends of the cord into. I then pressed the resin skulls over the top to create end caps for the cord. Using very small screws with flat heads I screwed the buttons in place making sure the cords were pulled tightly and wouldn't slip down the hat band. I also decided the brim needed some reinforcing, so I took a 1" wide strip of leather and wrapped it around the edge of the brim, sewing it in place.
The final result -
A hat worthy of Commissar Yarrick himself! Horatio volunteered to hold it for him until he comes to pick it up, and I just couldn't say no. He's so happy wearing it, just look at that smile!
Till next time, I hope you enjoyed the write up. If it inspired you, don't be afraid to try and make your own! Be artsy! Even if it doesn't turn out how you want I promise you'll learn some new things that will make your second attempt even better!
Feel free to ask me anything about this build or my others in the comment section! I'm happy to help.
NOW BACK TO THE FRONT LINES YOU WORTHLESS MAGGOTS!
FOR THE EMPEROR!!
(but first why don't you "Like" me on Facebook. The Emperor favors those who do!)