Simple, Easy-to-Follow Directions for an 1800s-Style Powdered Wig
The frog footmen in our homeschool production of Alice in Wonderland needed powdered wigs - and there were three frog footmen! No way to keep the purchase of three wigs within budget, so I knew I would have to make them myself. I'd made a yarn wig for a handmade doll once, but that was more time-consuming than I wanted, and I didn't know how I would make the side curls needed for a proper footman's wig.
Googling around, I saw some people trying to do it with toilet paper rolls, but I just couldn't see that turning out well. Then I found a reference to someone making a powdered wig out of quilt batting, and I knew I had what I needed.
All photos copyright © tandemonimom (unless otherwise credited). All rights reserved.
The formal powdered wig, traditionally worn by a judge, barrister, or footman,
dates back to the peruke or periwig worn by most European men of the 18th century.
Photo source: Parrucche.com
Powdered Wig - Basic Materials - How to make a cheap powdered wig!
The basic materials are very simple. Besides needle and thread, you need plain white quilt batting, and either a baseball cap you can cut up, or a cheap painter's cap, which you can find for under a dollar at any hardware store. This forms the base of the wig that will sit on the head, and also gives you something to use for shaping the wig.
The first step is to remove the bill of the cap. This is simple to do with a seam ripper, or just a pair of sharp scissors. Do not simply cut it off, as you'll be left with a sharp and too-stiff plastic edge left in the hat seam of the hat.
Shaping the Powdered Wig to the Head - Fortunately the quilt batting is forgiving and easy to shape. I just worked it into the shape I wanted, rather than havin
Cut a square of quilt batting about 24" x 24" square. This does not have to be perfect, as we'll be trimming away a lot from the edges; just make sure you have enough to work with.
Since I am making a frog footman wig, I outlined a large widow's peak (in blue) to enhance the shape of the frog's eyes and face. If you are making a powdered wig for a human rather than a frog footman, a straight hairline will be much simpler to work with, so you don't need the giant widow's peak.
(You can see how delighted my nine-year-old son is to be my model!)
Cut out the eye bumps from the quilt batting and the cap as well; if you are making a straight hairline then just match the edge of the wig to the edge of the cap. Note that if your cap has a bright logo, as mine does, DO NOT put the logo in its place on the forehead! It may show through the quilt batting. I put the logo to the side, so that it would be well-covered by the roller curls.
Tack the quilt batting to the cap around the eyes but don't go further yet! This can be tacked at intervals of a couple of inches, but make sure you take SHORT stitches on the side that shows and put the long stitches on the inside, to keep from getting a "line" of stitches that shows.
Once the brow is tacked down, smooth the batting over the crown of the cap and down the sides. Begin tacking the batting around the lower edge of the cap. You will have a few lumps and wrinkles over the ears, but ease the bulk of the extra batting toward the back of the wig, to form the queue (or ponytail).
Again, tack your stitches every couple of inches, but keep the stitches very SHORT on the outside, and long on the inside.
All this bulk gathered toward the back will be shaped and curled to make the wig's queue, or ponytail, which will be tied with a ribbon.
Quilt Batting - A roll of batting for a twin-size quilt yields more than enough for several wigs.
Adding the Side Curls to the Powdered Wig - Each curl for the footman wig is rolled and attached individually.
Cut a piece of batting about 6" x 9", and roll it the long way, so that you have a 6" wide curl. On the side with the edge, do a loose in-out running stitch to tack the rolls together. DO NOT go all the way through the roll with the stitches; go through most of the layers to hold it together but NOT the outside layer of the roll, the one that will show on the wig.
Place the top curl on the line of stitching holding the batting to the cap. This will effectively hide any wrinkles in the batting. Stitch the curl roll to the wig WITHOUT going all the way through the curl, which would spoil the roundness of it. Tack it or use a running stitch, but keep the stitches hidden.
I created my wig with three curls on each side; you could use more (make smaller rolls for the curls), or just one or two, depending on the look you want. You could even make rows of shorter curls that go all the way around the head, or put more curls into each row to fall all the way to the shoulder for more of a traditional judge's wig (you'll need to start with more than a 24-inch square if you want the curls to fall to the shoulder).
BEFORE trimming excess wig, gather the back part of the wig and tie it off. This way you can easily see where there is too much, and where you need to leave the wig uncut. Trim the excess side wig away from the curls. Trim the curls to be the same width, if needed. Trim from the forehead hairline smoothly to the side curls. The edges do not need to be finished.
If the weight of the curls causes the lower ones to sag away from the upper ones too much, use a running stitch from the bottom of one curl to the top of the next.
Forming the Queue, or Ponytail, of the Wig
Once the rest of the wig is to your satisfaction, look at the tied-off back part of the wig. First trim the edge so that it is roughly even, slightly rounded (like the ends of hair), and you don't have a corner hanging longer than the rest. Then cut it into four or five sections, nearly to the tie. Roll each section lengthwise and use a running stitch to hold the roll closed. Don't pull it too tight, or sew all the way through the section, so that you don't mess up the smoothness of the curl.
The Finished Powdered Wig - A powdered wig fit for a king, judge, barrister, or footman!
The powdered wig is finished! Add a black ribbon and bow around the queue to match the rest of your costume, and you are set! I'll post photos of the frog footman costume, complete with wig, once it is done.
The Original Frog Footman - 1865 illustration by Sir John Tenniel
The frog footman and the fish footman, one of Sir John Tenniel's ninety-two original illustrations for Alice in Wonderland in 1865.
Public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons.
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Anonymous on October 04, 2015:
This site is great
anonymous on March 28, 2013:
This is such a great tutorial and suitable for several dressing up party themes for kids. Great lens!
anonymous on December 11, 2012:
Saved me a lot of money as need a British judge's wig for Murder Mystery Evening and had not thought of using quilting fabric - fantastic and very clear instructions too. Thanks!
debb-watson on October 14, 2012:
your instructions saved me! We quickly needed powdered wigs for my son's Revolutionary War debate. I did take a few shortcuts since I only had a few hours to make four. I ended up using a low temp hot glue to attach the batting to the cap and the curls to the sides. Thank you so much!
anonymous on January 18, 2012:
I'm having a birthday party for my piano students to celebrate W.A. Mozart's birthday on January 27th. I plan to make these weeks for the students to wear so that we will all have something like Mr. Mozart. Thank you for the wonderful instructions.
Chazz from New York on April 05, 2011:
Great instructions and pictures. Blessed by a visiting squid angel.
imaginemdd lm on April 04, 2011:
Very clever. Made me think of the show Law & Order UK, the wigs worn by judges in Britain.
Virginia Allain from Central Florida on April 04, 2011:
This is super and I need to lensroll it to my Literary Costumes lens. Great details in the photos and descriptions. The end results are fabulous.
Evelyn Saenz from Royalton on April 04, 2011:
Very creative and incredibly realistic looking. I bet George Washington's wig maker would have been in awe. Lensrolled to my costuming lenses.
Blessed by a SquidAngel.
Joan4 on April 04, 2011:
Your costume designs are wonderful! Simple, creative, inexpensive and impressive! I hope all theatre groups find your super costume pages and use them!
Susan Deppner from Arkansas USA on April 04, 2011:
I agree - very talented! I love the step-by-step details and pictures. My sons would have loved having a powdered wig to add to their costume closet when they were little. Your cast is going to look very impressive!
Treasures By Brenda from Canada on April 04, 2011:
Wow, you are very talented, Carma! Great lens.
Natalie W Schorr on April 04, 2011:
Wonderful and creative!!!
Dianne Loomos on April 03, 2011:
An innovative solution!