How to create a ship-shape hat!

Create a fantastic and unique hat inspired by the sailor Joseph Johnson who took to busking with his novel head ware after being discharged. 

In this activity, created by Natalie Cooper, discover the history of black Britons and create your own ship-shape hat!

There have been black communities living in the UK for a very long time. The first Africans came to Britain thousands of years ago, many many years before the Romans travelled across the Channel. 

Do you recognise any of these people?

The Cheddar Man

The first known Briton, ‘Cheddar Man’ who lived in Somerset 10,000 years ago who still has descendants in the area in a number of families to this day.

Find out more about him from our friends at the Natural History Museum!


Septimius Severus

The powerful African Roman Emperor Septimius Severus who ruled the Roman Empire from York.

Find out more here

John Blanke

Famous trumpeter John Blanke, much loved by music lover King Henry VIII.

Find out more here

Bill Richmond

Trail blazing boxer Bill Richmond, an African-American who changed the way people boxed in Georgian England with his brilliant dodging style.

Find out more here

Olaudah Equiano

Eighteenth century world traveller and powerful freedom fighter Olaudah Equiano.

Mary Seacole

Scottish-Jamaican Hero Nurse Mary Seacole who didn’t take no for an answer when she was told she was not able to care for wounded soldiers because of the colour of her skin, and set up her own hospital on the battlefield.

Find out more here


Today you will meet Joseph Johnson - a merchant seaman, meaning he worked on ships transporting goods across the seas, and Greenwich being a busy dock was somewhere he knew very well!

Johnson became injured and was no longer able to work at this job. The Borough of Greenwich did not help him and he had to find another way to make a living.

That’s when he had a great idea to make a model of Admiral Nelson’s famous ship which he wore on his head! He’d wear his ship hat and sing popular songs whilst travelling all over England to raise money for his needs.

Follow the instructions to create your own hat.

coloured pens, coloured pencils, pencil, glue. scissors and paper

You will need:

Something to colour in with

Square of thick cardboard box about 3x3cm, with a hole punched in the middle

One chopstick/ wooden dowel

Hole punch

Glue stick

Paper Sails Sheet (download from this webpage) 

Boat outline template (download from this webpage)

Paper plate (or piece of cardboard cut into a similar shape)

Ribbon, string, elastic, or similar

Tissue paper: Optional

Step 1

(Source of 2D draft of a ship-shaped hat, colorful crayons Image)

Print out and colour in your boat outline. Then cut it out. 

Step 2

(Source of how to fold the 2D ship-shaped hat Image)

Now fold along the dotted lines, remembering that your decoration goes on the outside of the boat.

Step 3

(Source of how to glue the different sides of the 2D ship-shaped hat Image)

Apply glue to all of the grey areas and stick to the inside to make your boat.

Step 4

Three strips of coloured pieces of paper. Two have small holes at either end.

Colour in and cut out your sails. Use your hole punch to make a hole at either end. 

You could use coloured paper or card instead, as we have here. 

Step 5

(Source of how to attach the sails to the chopstick Image)

Attach your sails to the chopstick or wooden dowel by carefully pushing the stick through the holes you made. Make sure to thread the biggest sail first and the smallest last. 

Step 6

( Source of hoe to punch a hole through the cardboard square and fit the chopstick so that the sails are stacked on it Image)

Carefully punch a hole through the cardboard square and fit the chopstick so it only just pushes out the other end. Apply lots of glue to the cardboard square and press firmly into the space in your boat, making sure the sails are facing forward. You might need to hold it in place whilst the glue dries. 

Step 7

A piece of card cut into a circle. Two holes have been made opposite each other.


Now to create your hat!

Take your paper plate, or piece of card, and use your hole punch to make a hole on the left and right side, ensuring the holes are opposite each other. 

Step 8

Yellow ribbon is threaded through a small hole in a paper circle.


Thread your ribbon, string or elastic through the holes so that you have a strap on your hat.

Step 9

A circle has been decorated with waves and fish using paper and pens.


Decorate your hat! You could use tissue paper to make waves, or draw images on. Make sure to leave space in the middle until you are ready to stick your boat on the hat. 

Make sure to be gentle when sticking your boat down!

( Source of hoe to punch a hole through the cardboard square and fit the chopstick so that the sails are stacked on it Image)

Congratulations on creating your amazing ship-shape hat! Don't forget to name your ship and wear your hat with pride, just like Joseph Johnson!

You can share pictures of your hat with us using social media.