Elfie Hat


This was the first year I’ve been away from family for Christmas. I wasn’t able to get enough time off to make the trip worth the high cost of holiday-season flight tickets, so I settled for visiting remotely via the Skype app. I knew for a while that I would want to do this, so I started building a hat that would allow me to visit, cook breakfast and open gifts, all hands free. 

Inspired by Dr. Suess and the Ron Howard ‘Grinch’film, I did a few quick sketches to get an idea of proportionality.

I find it helps to list out features and practical requirements. Considering these will help define some specifications I want a project to have. Sometimes actually writing these things down helps get the design process started. This step is especially important for costuming, when you have to consider comfort, stability, heat dissipation, etc. 

The aspect ratio Skype uses helped to determine about how far from my face the arm would need to hold the phone in order to include enough of the hat and my face in frame. I had more general guidelines about practicality, since I know I’m really only going to wear it on-and-off for one day. 

I knew that the arm being extended and supporting the (not counterbalanced) weight of my phone, along with an extra battery, would mean the hat needed more than just gravity to stay secured to my noggin. A chin strap would have worked, but aside from holding a Skype device, I want it to have a very Who-ish elf aesthetic, that I felt like a chin strap might not work with. Instead, I thrift shopped until I found a baseball helmet with adjustable internal strap, a lot like a hard hat, which would stay tight and distribute any strain from the arm. 

The bent-over cone that makes up the selfie arm would need to be as light as possible, but also very stable and well-attached to the helmet. Almost every option would require some sort of sturdy framework to hold the weight of the phone, so I know a wire-frame is a good place to start.

I cut off the bill with a Dremel and drilled some holes around the helmet where it begins to curve. I used heavy duty coat hangers for the  main structure. Weaving them together with the neighbor wires and criss-crossing them together added extra stability. 

Before I got any further with this part, I needed to address the most important feature: the phone holder. Because this project is subject to my already-thin holiday budget, I picked up some dollar store selfie sticks. These are also what I used in my Attack on Titan costume (to hold the sheath boxes to the 3D gear in back). 

The spring-loaded phone holder is set up to hold phones horizontally for a landscape shot. I wanted my phone to be held in the vertical orientation, so it took some modification.

The holder is screwed onto the arm via the small gold fitting you see here, so I just slide it out of the socket and glued it onto the back with epoxy putty and a piece of wood. 


My apartment is pretty dark, so I figured it could also use a light. I used a small LED run by a button battery with a tea candle base for a e as a reflector dish. 


The light made by the LED is a little too direct, so I cut a circle from some packing foam for diffusion.

No diffuser (above). With diffuser (below).

The light was also too blue, so I cut a circle from some transparent orange folder dividers to offset the hue. Just to clean it up I used a little paint, black tape and an apple juice lid. 

Now, back to the structure of the hat. I cut the first segment of the selfie arm off because I didn’t need that much length. This still left enough to extend the parascoping arm. I used a lot thinner wire (white) to make sure it was stable without adding much weight. 

I also wanted to fill out the shape without adding the weight paper mache would add. I used a technique I call tape-er-mache. By crumpling newsprint and using packing tape, you can get a lot of the structure without the weight of glue and flour. I used this technique to fill out the Wile Coyote ski jump dummy.

Filling in the space between wires added a lot of stability. I made sure to tape only to the top level of the selfie attachment so that it can still be extended. 

I hot glued felt onto the structure to complete the Dr. Sues feel. 

To get a good fluffy bobble on the end I wound a bunch of yarn around a magazine

Cut the ends 

Tied around the middle

And trimmed. 

The last feature was the ears. I started with foam core cutouts.

Adding ridges to help keep the structure when sculpting it later.

Next I covered it with paper clay. I absolutely love this stuff. It is light as balsa wood and smoother than anything I know how to make at home. It gives great detail, takes almost any paint, and isn’t particularly brittle. 


After that has dried, I matched some latex acrylic to my skin tone as best I can for a base coat. I used a lot of light washes of watercolor over this for redness and dabbed browns for texture. Below is a before/after. You can see how it added a lot of dimension.



A little more foam core and felt work as a mount for the ears.

Screwing on the camera holder, it all comes together


Thanks for reading! Keep checking in for more details on the projects referenced in this post.


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