How to Make Willy Wonka’s Hat…

I’ve been making a few odds and ends with the kids over the holidays in preparation for this September’s Scarecrow Festival (yes, I know it’s still only August!). Last year I managed to rope in friends on my street to do Alice in Wonderland scarecrows.

This time our scarecrows will be characters from Roald Dahl’s books, in celebration of what would have been his 100th birthday. I’ve got grand plans for our tableau (which will be a character and scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), and one of the things I wanted to include was Willy Wonka’s iconic hat, laid casually on his desk as if he’d just popped away for a moment.

You only need cardboard and glue for this quick but impressive make – soon we’ll all be rockin’ Wonka Hats!

Making the Willy Wonka hat turned out to be surprisingly easy – read on to see how I did it!

I was inspired to make my own Willy Wonka hat by this ace Instructables tutorial for a Burton-esque Mad Hatter Hat. If you are thinking of making one of these yourself, I highly recommend checking it out (along with the über helpful comments) – the Mad Hatter hat is a slightly different, bigger and more exaggerated shape than Wilder’s Wonka hat, but the basic construction is the same.

While the instructions there (and here!) may seem pretty detailed, don’t be put off as this is actually an easy make with everyday materials and an impressive end result, and is something the kids can (with a little bit of help) even do themselves.

a top hat just like Willy Wonka's, with a copy of 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'
Making your own Willy Wonka top hat is as easy as pie-flavoured gum…
Film poster for 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' featuring picture of Gene Wilder wearing a top hat.
The best movie-Wonka by far!

Materials Required

To make Willy Wonka’s hat, you will need the following:

  • Corrugated cardboard (width and height will depend on the dimensions of your hat)
  • Double-sided sticky tape and/or glue
  • Scissors and/or craft knife
  • Compass and ruler
  • Pencil
  • Stiff paintbrush and water
  • Fabric or other material (such as crepe or tissue paper) for the covering.  I used felt.


Making a Wonka hat – Instructions

Stage 1 – Measuring and Scoring the Tube​

Your first task is to make the TUBE part of your Willy Wonka hat. For this, you will need a rectangular piece of corrugated cardboard. Let’s call it your TUBE PIECE.

To work out the size of this rectangle, take the following measurements:

  • Measure the circumference of your head and add 2 centimetres for an OVERLAP. This measurement will be the width.
  • Decide on the height of your hat. Add 6 centimetres in total. This measurement will be the height of your tube piece. Note that the extra 6 centimetres are for the following:
    • 2 centimetres to allow for a slight outward bulge at the top of your hat (not as exaggerated as the Burton Mad Hatter hat though!). You can omit this for a straight up/down top hat.
    • 2 centimetres for tabs at the top (to attach the top of the hat)
    • 2 centimetres for tabs at the bottom (to attach the hat brim)

Cutting, marking, and scoring

Cut out your rectangle to this height and width, and ensure it’s free of any sticky tape or plastic from its previous life as a box. Trust me, it’s worth taking time to do this!

Draw two horizontal TAB LINES across the full width of your tube piece, positioned 2 centimetres from the top and 2cm from the bottom of the rectangle, as a reference mark showing where your tabs will end.

Using your pencil, score vertical parallel FOLD LINES, pressing through only the top layer(s) of your corrugated cardboard (but NOT all the way through. At this stage, the last layer should remain intact to hold all these strips together). These fold lines should be at roughly 4cm intervals, as shown in the picture below.

Mark the last 2 centimetre-wide vertical strip as the OVERLAP (used to join the tube together).

​These fold lines will allow your cardboard to curve smoothly to form the tube.

the first stage of making a Willy Wonka hat
The scored and cut TUBE PIECE, with a fringe of tabs top and bottom.

Next, snip all the way through your fold lines at the top and bottom edges, just to those tab reference lines you drew before. This will give you a fringe of tabs at both ends of the tube.

The bottom fringe (let’s call it the BRIM FRINGE) will fold outwards to attach the brim, whereas the top fringe (let’s call it, imaginatively, the TOP FRINGE) will fold inwards to support the top of your hat.

Willy Wonka hat ‘bulge’

Final task before joining your tube together is to decide where you want the outward bulge of the hat to begin.

Mark this with a horizontal line (faintly – so as not to score or dent the cardboard).

Then, snip right down along each of your fold lines, starting from the top (so continuing the top fringe cuts) until you get down to that horizontal line. This time cut right through all the cardboard layers, just as you did with the fringe.

At last, you can now join your tube together by attaching the overlap to the opposite edge of your tube piece – I used double-sided sticky tape, but you could glue it.

cardboard rolled up to make a Willy Wonka hat
The tube piece turned into a tube! Note the fringe of tabs are turned in at the top,and out at the bottom.
cardboard Willy Wonka hat being made
In this picture you can see how the top of the strips have been cut right through, to about a third of the way down, and the strips then gently bent outwards.

You can see in the pictures here that I originally made my hat far too tall for a Willy Wonka hat (following the Mad Hatter instructions too closely!), and later trimmed it down by about a third. However you should get the general idea.

Once you’ve formed the tube, gently bend the top strips (where you snipped all the way through to make the bulge) outwards, being careful not to make too definite a crease – you want a gentle outward curve. You should find that your tube now looks a bit like a chimney pot.

If you haven’t done this already, then now’s the time to also bend (with a sharp crease) your top fringe tabs inwards, and your brim fringe outwards, as shown in both pictures above.

Stage 2 – Top and Brim

Now it’s time to cut out the top of your Wonka hat, and also cut out the brim.

​For the top of the Willy Wonka hat, you’ll need your compass to draw a TOP CIRCLE roughly two centimetres wider than your original head circumference measurement. You will need TWO of these – but If you have enough corrugated cardboard, I recommend cutting out three and setting one to the side to use as a template for the covering later on.

You will also need to cut out the BRIM. Start by drawing an INNER CIRCLE (your head-hole!) the same circumference as your original head measurement. Check that this matches up with the bottom of your tube as you will be joining these two together…

Centred on this inner circle, draw the outer circle of the brim, approximately 5 centimetres wider. Cut out inner and outer circles to leave you with a cardboard donut shape – this is your brim. Do not discard the inner circle piece you’ve cut out though – you will use this very shortly to level out the top of your hat, so put it aside with those two top circles.

Cardboard being used to make a Willy Wonka hat
The top circles and the brim.
However for a Wonka hat, the brim should be circular and not oval as shown here!

You’ll notice in the picture above that my brim is oval as I was still following the Burton hat instructions  at this point. Later on, I trimmed this back to the circle that you can just faintly see is marked in pencil.

 Stage 3 – Attaching the Top and Brim

Take one of your top circles, and attach it to the top of your Wonka hat. Note that the tabs need to be folded over on TOP of your top circle (see photo). This will create your bulge and make your Willy Wonka hat look suddenly much more hat-like!

Stick on that inner circle piece you saved from before as well, filling most of the gap in the centre of your bottom-most top circle. This will create a level surface to glue the final top circle onto (so tabs and inner circle piece are sandwiched between those two larger top circles). This gives you a perfectly smooth top to your hat.

making a Wonka hat like Gene Wilder
Fold the top tabs on top of the top circle of card, and then glue a smaller circle into the centre for a flat surface.
Nearly finished - DIY Willy Wonka hat
Attach a second top circle on top, sandwiching the tabs into the middle and creating a smooth top to your hat.

Attach the brim to the bottom of the hat, on TOP of the tabs this time (see pictures). Yes, my incredible magic hat is short and Wonka-sized above, and then suddenly tall and Mad Hatter-ish below (or scarily Number-Taker like if you’re a Cbeebies parent).

I didn’t take a short-hat picture showing the brim tabs being glued, but hey, this way you can see what a Mad Hatter Hat would look like too!

Mad Hatter or Willy Wonka hat tutorial
Slide the brim over the bottom tabs and glue them underneath the brim.
Half-made cardboard Mad Hatter or Willy Wonka hat
As you’ll be shaping the brim, you don’t want it too thick so do not sandwich a second layer to hide these tabs!

Once your brim is on, you’re almost done with the structure of your Willy Wonka hat, but there is just one more thing to do before you can move on to covering or painting.

Stage 4 – Shaping the brim

The last thing to do on your cardboard hat skeleton is to shape the brim into that distinctive Wonka curve. This is not as tricky as it might sound!

First off, you’ll want a nice rounded edge to the brim to soften the otherwise rigid straightness of the cardboard. Using your paintbrush and water, thoroughly dampen the outer edge of the brim (only up to the tabs), and then gently roll between your fingers. You should create a roll of damp board about the thickness of a drinking straw all around the edge.

Next, to create the iconic Wonka undulation, dampen down the two opposite sides of the brim (this time from the rolled edge right up to the inner circle). Pin these back with a peg or bulldog clip, and then leave both rolled edge and pinned sides to dry.

Nearly finished cardboard Willy Wonka hat
Rolling the edge of your brim softens the lines and gives it a more realistic hat look.
cardboard Willy Wonka hat - brim pegged back to make a curve
You’ll need to leave your pinned sides to dry before finishing off the hat.

Once your board has dried, remove the clips and you should find the brim now permanently bent into that Wonka undulation. Congratulations – your Wonka hat is all done but for the decorating!

Stage 5 – Finishing Touches

I chose to use orange felt for my Wonka hat – admittedly not perfect colour-wise (I’d have preferred an orangey-brown to the outright Leprechaun orange I ended up with), but it was the closest I could get and is not quite as day-glo as it looks in the pictures!

To attach the felt, I cut it into strips a little wider than the original strips in the tube piece, and fixed double-sided tape onto the hat itself. You could just as easily (and in fact in may even work better) use a white glue such as PVA.

I attached my strips around the edge, with a little overlap onto the top, and with enough length to cover the underside of the brim and slightly up into the hat tube. I covered the top of the hat with a circle of felt (cut using that template you put aside at the beginning!).

Any gaps (and there are likely to be a few, as you’re applying straight lines to curves!) can be filled with snippets of felt and glue once you’re done.

covering a cardboard Willy Wonka hat in felt
Use glue or double-sided tape to attach fabric to your hat.
Cardboard Willy Wonka hat covered in orange felt
Cover the top of the hat with a circle of fabric – leave until last though!

Finally, to soften the edges of the felt where they met, I teased them with my nails to fluff them out, and then damped them down with a clear glue. The lines are still visible, but much softer – I quite like the effect! 

You could cover your Wonka hat with a single piece of fabric around the tube section, but be warned that this will be quite fiddly because of the way the hat curves.

Alternatively, applying squares of paper and glue all over would give you a better surface for paint, if you didn’t want to bother with fabric at all.

A DIY Willy Wonka hat made from cardboard and felt
Aaaannd, breathe… all done!

So there you have it – a Willy Wonka hat, created from an old cardboard box and a bit of felt! Now all I need are the Wonka bars…

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How to make a DIY Willy Wonka Hat

More from Rhubarb and Wren

Looking for more bookish inspiration? We’ve got plenty to keep you entertained…

Would you like to see how our ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ Scarecrow Festival display looked? Check it out here – there are plenty of other crafty makes on display.

If you’re more of an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ fan, take a look at the Alice Scarecrow Festival display we did the following year, featuring one of the Queen of Hearts’ playing card gardeners and some half-painted roses…

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Off with their heads! Our scarecrow Playing Card gardener is busy at work painting those white roses red…

Or for Potter heads, we’ve got a Harry Potter themed party bag full of crafty DIYs, and our top tips for visiting the amazing ‘Making of Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio Tour’, just outside London.

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The following are affiliate links, which means if you click through and buy anything, I will receive a small (everlasting gum-sized) amount towards the running of this website. Thank you so much for your support!

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  1. I’m doing the hat for a state garden club luncheon –
    “Dinner and a Movie” – tablescapes competition – our garden club chose the movie “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”. I will send a photo of the finished table.
    Thank you,

  2. This is a fantastic guide. I’d usually buy something like this but you’ve broken it down so well I’ll definitely give it a go. Thank you 😀

  3. Hello, which height do you use for your hat? It looks very nice!

    • Rochelle @ Rhubarb and Wren

      Thank you! My hat is 18cm tall and 21cm in diameter – but you can make it any size, and obviously the diameter will need fit your head 😉

  4. This hat was easy to make for my son’s school music program. I made mine from poster board and it turned out fantastic! I haven’t covered it yet, but plan to follow your instructions for that part as well. Thank you for sharing your instructions as it’s saved this mum a lot of stress!

  5. Thank you a very good and easy to follow tutorial.I just finished making my daughters hat for her book character parade.

  6. I have no words to EXPRESS the beauty of your help n directions …. Commendable💖

  7. This was great and very easy to follow. Thank you!

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