bicycle · bicycling · cap · cycling · diy · hat · sewing

Making a cycling cap

A cycling cap is useful in so many ways. It keeps the hair in place. Sweat is managed. It shades the head and face from direct sun. Can be micro-adjusted to block the glare from oncoming headlights. The thin fabric allows it to fit under a helmet. Pulled low over the eyes, it’s how I begin a nap. The sun protection will make your dermatologist happy.

Years ago, when my old columbus hat was starting to disintegrate, I knew there would be a long and difficult search for a replacement. My head is BIG (58cm), and few hats would fit it. And I was never was that happy about paying for a hat that gives free advertising to some business. And I find the bill on store bought cycling caps is always too small. It was time to figure out how to make a hat that fits me well and has a bigger bill. I have made about 50 of these caps so far. For a person who does not sew much, is not an easy project at first. Your initial caps will not be that great but they quickly improve with practice. I am satisfied with mine now, and they take about 2 hours to make. They last up to a year if you wear it a lot. Make lots, give them as gifts, it’s fun!

Rather than hunting for an online pattern, it made more sense to me to get the pattern from the old cap which I knew actually fit me. So I took it apart and had the perfect pattern right there. This 3 panel style would be easy to sew, compared to a more complicated 6 panel hat for instance. I had to figure out the steps of construction myself. There are probably other ways to put it together too. If nothing else, this type of project will help you appreciate the effort and complexity involved in making a garment.

The templates, and cutting the main pieces 

The old hat, disassembled.

I used the pieces as a template for making the new hats. With the visor, I drew an outline of the existing one, and then drew it a little bigger. The bills on traditional cycling caps are just too small for me.

The templates.
Templates from the top: visor, side panels, and center panel. They are made of picture frame mat board. It’s a thick cardboard like material, durable and easy to cut. When I make a new hat, I just lay the templates down on the new fabric and run a pen along the edge, and cut along the lines. The templates are all symmetric.
Fabric is cut. The 2 center pieces will be sewn together. I had to orient the bird pattern so they would be seen as upright on the front and back. With most fabric patterns, the center would be one piece. The yogurt container bill (hard version) sits on top of the 2 pieces of bill fabric.We have lots of light cotton material leftover from quilting projects. Shown here is this bird pattern fabric.

Making the bill (the hard plastic version)

(Note: these days, I prefer to use the soft bill version made of Pellon, described below). The top and bottom of the visor fabric is a lightweight, black wool with this hat, but you can use any fabric you like. The bill stiffener is cut from a 32oz plastic yogurt container. The container is just big enough for a generous sized lightweight bill. I set the orientation using the natural curve of the plastic, but get it mostly flattened out with an iron, set on low. If an excessive curve returns (like from having it scrunched up in a pocket), I can always iron it flat again. I don’t iron the plastic directly; and a piece of fabric on top of it.  It takes just a minute or 2 of ironing on medium, and I let it cool down with a book on top of it for 5 minutes, so it will have a slight curve when it cools off.

After tracing the visor line on the yogurt container, I cut it to its finished size. I make the ends rounded so they aren’t as likely to cut into the fabric. Then I make a chalk line of the visor edge on the fabric visor material. Then I sew the 2 pieces of visor fabric together. I make 2 passes; making the stitching as close together as I can. One pass may be enough with a zig-zag stitch. I want to ensure it will not come apart at the front of the visor.


Next I trim the visor material away, very close to the stitches.


Now I turn it inside out so that the seam is inside, and put the plastic visor stiffener inside. Then I pin it, so that the visor is positioned evenly and tight inside the pocket. Also I chalk a line on the inner edge to show where the inside of the plastic visor is. Notice that there is about an inch of fabric past the inside edge of the visor. I need that extra fabric when I sew the cap together. It provides a place for sweat to be adsorbed from the forehead.
Now I sew the visor in the pocket. I go slow, trying to sew right along the edge of the plastic. The sewing machine can sew thru the plastic; and while doing this, that will probably happen. Sewing thru the Pellon material (soft brim, described below) is also not an issue.


Then I trim the inner edge of the fabric so there is about an inch of material beyond the inner visor edge. This material will help absorb sweat.

Making the bill (soft version using Pellon)

An alternative to the plastic bill is a soft bill. You can make them using faux leather; lots of folks on Etsy seem to like to use it.  I like to use Pellon (Pellex ll, ultra-firm 2 sided, fusible). It’s a firm poly material that you can bond the fabric to with a hot iron. I get it from my local fabric shop (Mill Ends, Portland OR). Now I just make the same fabric bill pocket described above, and insert the Pellon that I cut to fit. Then I use a hot iron which fuses both sides of the cloth on to the Pellon bill; a minute or so on each side, with steam, and the result looks great. Lightweight but substantial enough, it can be folded without cracking or damage. It can still go in washing machine. It’s best to avoid putting the hats in a dryer though; let them air-dry. It’s a soft bill that holds it shape well even after stuffing the hat in my pocket.
 Above center, the white Pellon material cut into brim shape. Easy to cut with scissors. The brim on the left is ready to iron. The pins in the brim set the material where I want it. On the right after ironing, you can see the inside of the brim, and how the fabric is now fused to both sides of it.
Plastic bill advantages: It can keep a curved shape. Easy to find material for it.
Plastic bill disadvantages: Plastic can crack or break eventually. Edge of plastic can dig into fabric and protrude from the fabric bill over time.
Pellon bill advantages: More durable, longer lasting, and will not deform. You can stuff the hat in your pocket and it will not wreck the bill. Since the cloth is fused to the bill, the hat will last longer, since the bill is usually the first thing to fall apart. It is easier to make a clean front edge with the Pellon bill.
Pellon bill disadvantages: Material is not as easily found, not all fabric stores carry it. The bill tends to stay flat, which may be what you like, but if you want a curved bill I don’t know if that is possible with Pellon. When you put the hat on, it will curve around your head, but this curve cannot be adjusted with heat, like with a plastic bill.

Sewing the liner to the bill

Now I sew a strip of elastic band liner material along the inside (bottom) of the visor, slightly overlapping the visor stitches. I pull the elastic material slightly while sewing, to give it some built-in tension. I go slow, doing several stitches and stopping to reposition as needed. 


Thats a 26″ long strip of elastic material. Fabric stores sell this by the yard or the roll. This one is probably nylon, and cotton blend versions can be used. About 4″ extends out from the short side.


With the bird pattern, I need to sew 2 identical pieces together for the center panel section. Otherwise the birds would be upside down on one of the ends.


Now I am sewing the 3 hat panels together with a simple straight stitch. I go slow, trying to make an even seam; about 3/16 inch. You could use a serger to finish the seam; or just leave it alone. In my experience, caps made from lightweight cotton don’t last long enough to benefit from having the edges finished. A loose thread here and there on the inside of the cap is not an issue for me.


Panels sewn, hat is taking shape!

Next I sew the edge of the cap. I roll the inside edge about 3/16 inch and sew all along the edge of the cap.

Putting it all together

Now I need to sew the cap on to the visor. First I center the visor and cap. A chalk line along dead center of the visor, and a pen dot in the middle of the front edge of the middle cap strip. If it is not well centered, it will be obvious when all is done. 
Starting from the center, I sew the cap on just slightly in front of the existing stitches, so no stitching will be visible on the top of the bill.
It should look like this. I don’t want to see the visor stitching when I pull the material back. 
Then I sewed the other side, going from the center to the edge. Cap and visor are connected now.
View underneath.


Now I sew the rest of the elastic band along the inside of the cap. I pull it a little as I sew, to add some built-in tension. You can see how the edges a bit puckered/wavy. This makes the cap gently hold on to my head.


At the back/inside of the cap, I fold 3 layers of elastic together along the length of the back part of the center panel. I pin it in place, and try the hat on, making adjustments to how firmly it holds to my head as needed.


Now I sew the 3 layers along the pin line, on each side. 


Now I stretch the material with the elastic and sew it down the middle. I do the same thing, 2 more times.


The goal is to have an even looking puckered area along the back of the cap, like this.
There are lots of ways to finish the back to get it to hold on to your head. You can make a cutout that a ponytail can go thru, or use velcro, or use a strap.
Finished. It fits well and improves with use.
From my hat drawer. My favorite hat is the next one I’m gonna make.



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