Monday, March 7, 2011

Tutorial Time!: Basic Wrapped Turban

"Woman in a Blue Turban" by Delacroix. Dallas Museum of Art

So you're looking for some awesome headgear? Hmm... well bowlers and top hats are all well and good (and done OFTEN). Fezzes are cool- but we've already covered their construction in a previous tutorial. Let's face it, folks, buying new hats can be expensive (but a joyous experience, one which I would recommend having with the folks over at Blonde Swan) and making them does take a certain degree of skill. But what I'm going to show you today is a hat that requires very little money, barely any sewing, and can be in a matter of minutes... with some practice.

Sikh troops in the British army wearing their dastar turbans.
As avid readers of this blog (or at least observant ones) might have noticed, turbans and similar headwraps come into play A LOT in the clothing of various cultures. While turbans are thought of as the stereotypical attire of Arab or Muslim-integrated societies, they were in fact far more widespread than that. European working women wore headwraps of white linen for centuries to keep their hair off of their necks and out of the way. Even in the late 18th and early 19th century, Western ladies in vogue wore fine silk or voile turbans decorated with feathers, pins, and veils. Post-contact Native Americans wore trade cloth turbans as well, particularly in the Northeast and Southeast regions.

It should be noted that this kind of turban is NOT a Sikh-style turban. That's an entirely different shape and method of wrapping (not to mention that it involves FAR more cloth). If you'd like to learn to wrap and tie a Dastar, I direct you to this helpful video. On a similar note, this is not a turban of state worn by some Muslim leaders in prior centuries which requires a framework or bolster underneath to get the correct shape.

Me in another one of my North African/Turkish inspired outfits. Photo by Mark Moore. Cookies by Katherine Moore.

- Sewing Machine (briefly, in fact you could probably hand-sew it with little hassle)
- Scissors
- A mirror... or a very clean window, in my case.

- 2-3 yards ( about 2.5m) of 42-45 inch (about 1m) width lightweight fabric. My personal recommendations: Cotton/linen/silk voile, crinkle cotton/gauze, cotton flannel. You'll probably want something that's a natural fiber- not because I'm a snob- but because it'll be much cooler to wear and the fiber won't slip against itself when you're tying the turban. My experience is that soft-folding fabrics work better than harder ones.
- Thread to match
- Scarves or sashes to be wound in (optional).
- Any additions such as veils, hat/stickpins, feathers, or broaches (optional... but fun).

Sewing Instructions:
-First of all, take out your length of fabric and wash it, either by machine or hand. It seems trivial, but it's necessary. Washing will make the fibers more pliable, and therefore a little friendlier to tie.

- Once your fabric is washed and dried, fold it in half lengthwise (as we learned in the previous tutorial, I prefer to call this 'hot dog' style. My elementary teachers would be proud). Sew along the edge where the two sides meet- basically you're making a long tube.

-Turn your tube right side out and there's your turban base!

Tying Instructions (with Optional Steps for Different Styles):
If you have long hair and don't want it peeking out, pull it into a ponytail or loose bun. If you have shorter hair, pin it or comb it back neatly.

-Optional step: If you would like to wear a veil with your turban, such as the style worn by Amazigh, Tuareg, or Bedouin peoples, do the following:

Using bobby pins or regular hair pins, attach your veil piece to your head, so it covers your head and potentially your shoulders. This is just to keep it from slipping around while you wrap.

- First step: Making sure that it's centered, place your turban on your head, unfolded. The longer edge of it should meet your forehead.

Seen here: What happens when your cameraperson says something odd.
- Second step: Keeping it stable and centered on your forehead, bring the loose ends of the turban behind your head and cross one over the other. Tie them together and tighten until it's comfortable. The knot should be right around the nape of your neck. Before you tighten it all the way, tuck any stray hair or your ponytail into the little pocket the knot has created- it's sort of handy like that.

In some cultures a white turban is a symbol of leadership. In the context of this blog it means that the blogger had to improvise because her usual turbans were packed away somewhere.

-Third step: There should be two loose tails in the back. Pulling the fabric taunt, bring one of the tails around the front of your head and tuck it over your ear.

-Optional step: If you have scarves you'd like to interweave into your turban (it does look pretty flash) then follow this step.

Tuck one end of your scarf or sash into one side of the base of your turban- again, a good anchor point would be either of your ears.

Before you proceed with step four, experiment with different ways of winding your sashes around the untucked tails of your turban. That's really all I can tell you. It's fun to play with the different colors and textures, though- just be sure to leave enough at the end of the sash to be able to securely tuck it near one of your ears.

-Fourth step: Next, take the second tail and repeat on the other side of your head. Be sure to free your ears if you like and make sure any unwanted flyaways are tucked away- although I have had fun with little beaded braids sticking out from the turban or my usual casually elegant errant curls. (Note: This is what the blogger calls her hair when it misbehaves... which it often does.. in an attempt to not look like a slob. Use it for your own hair! Hooray denial!)

Keeping a hand along the base of your turban can help keep it stable as you tuck.
-Fifth step: Fluff and tuck where needed until you have the desired effect... and voila! A simple wrapped turban perfect for anyone from zouaves to airship pirates, ladies of leisure or craftsmen.

You can also pull folds down gently to cover your hairline if need be.

-Optional step: If you want to have fun...


Not bad, kinda snazzy.

Admittedly this is the best part. Tack or pin on tassels, add feathered pins or hat pins, brooches, goggles, hamsters- the sky's the limit!

There you have it! Wasn't so hard, was it? Admittedly, tying any sort of turban takes practice to get it down quickly and smoothly, but after a half-dozen tries you should get it! Here are a few more ideas for this style of turban:

-If you like how your turban came out and want a more permanent hat, then with the turban still on your head (be careful! Or have a friend help you...) tack the folds down with needle and thread. Then transfer it onto a skull cap or a baseball cap with the bill torn off.

-Sometimes with how this turban is wrapped, there's a sort of 'empty space' near the back of the head. With the help of a very careful friend and some pins, you could tack a fez or similar hat in place there. It looks very swank and lets you show off that fez you made using Miss K's handy tutorial.

-Note: Unless tied very tightly or pinned in place, excessive physical activity such as hanging upside down or falling on the ground because you were in a stunt-fighting workshop will result in a de-turbaning. Luckily they're so easy to tie!

I love wearing these even when I'm not at a costumed event. When it's humid and hot in August or I have a day of cooking or propwork ahead of me I like to wear these to protect my hair and keep the back of my neck cool. Give it a try sometime and enjoy your turban!

Note: It's important to get roommates involved in your creative process, particularly if they're tipsy. This is Josh. I'm keeping him quiet by having him hold the stem of my feather cluster.


  1. I am a stalwart fan of the turban, especially for strenuous days in the kitchen when long hair is a pain in the... well, you know.

  2. This is an awesome idea! As much as I love top hats and bowlers, they do get a lot of overuse. This is an excellent tutorial!

  3. Thanks for this, hopefully I will have a hold of this by next convention. :D

  4. Turbans have been growing on me, and with a very modern, not so steamy haircut, I've been looking for a hat that would look more appropriate. I've been resisting turbans since I saw them in Andrea del Sarto's 1513-14: The Artist's Wife. They seem to be popular among the Florentines during the renaissance. I guess I'm going to have to break down and try it now, especially if I can use them across the centuries.

  5. I wear head wraps quite often this time of year. It is still too cold for bareheadedness but too warm for a wool or fur cap. They also keep my hair from blowing about in the wind!

  6. Try another simple version. Instead of starting the winding with the turban centered and knotted in back, knot on the forehead, drape one end over the top and down the back of the head to shoulder length. Wind the other end as you describe. This results in a short "cape" that will protect the back of your neck on bright sunny days.

  7. Yay! I'm planning on incorporating this (and possibly the "with a fez" version) for my Teslacon Character - because anyone with that much attitude needs a really big hat!

  8. Love what you're doing here...ya definitely look stylin' in a turban. BTW, I think (from what I've heard), the prevalence of the turban (on a slightly funny note) prayer rugs in early Renaissance art was due to the immense level of influence from Muslim culture and learning present in the area at that time. So, a turban wouldn't be to much a stretch, especially given the attempts to expand the definition of steampunk, especially with this being a blog on multiculturalism for/in steampunk. As always, I love what you're doing and I definitely encourage you to keep it up.

  9. Awesome tut. Thanks!

  10. I'm a black chic who is into steampunk and I wear turbans as part of my steampunk look all the time. Mine are more like Erykah Badu except with all the height. Maybe more like black slaves and sharecroppers wore them during that era. Loved this. Thank you!