Friday, October 28, 2011


Our family has only fairly recently started watching the new Doctor Who series, but we are hooked!  Thus, Trevor's previously lackadaisical attitude towards Halloween this year suddenly took on new life when I suggested he could be a Dalek.  The Daleks are recurring villains in the series and one of the Doctor's chief nemeses.  They live inside armor shells, speak with mechanical voices, and generally want to EXTERMINATE anything that is not a Dalek.

This costume is (obviously) largely cardboard and duct tape.  A box that arrived conveniently last week was deconstructed to become the body.  A big piece of pipe insulation from the hardware store served as a base and was instrumental in maintaining the body's roughly circular shape (I originally tried doing this with coat hanger wire, but the pipe insulation was much more effective, and safer too!).  A metal bowl (with some of the leftover pipe insulation attached to the inside to make for a more snug fit) and some suspended cardboard rings (cut from frozen pizza backs) made a suitable topper.  Various other household objects were used as attachments.  And of course, duct tape everywhere!  It was mildly problematic coming up with enough egg cartons (we could have made do with fewer, but I think it looks better this way).  Fortunately I have recently started cooking eggs for the kids for breakfast most school mornings, and had a number of cartons that hadn't yet been recycled, and managed to get through a couple more in the last week before Halloween.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Katniss, the Girl on Fire from The Hunger Games

Our whole family has just been reading Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy. For those who aren't familiar with the title book, it describes a dystopian future in which each year two teenagers are chosen from each of twelve districts to compete in the Hunger Games -- a battle to the death (there can only be one survivor out of the 24 teens), played out on national television. The purpose of the Hunger Games is twofold: to entertain the masses (particularly those in the decadent Capitol), and to punish and cow the inhabitants of the subjugated districts. At any rate, the story follows sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers for the Hunger Games to take the place of her younger sister. Before the games start, she must take part in a parade to introduce her to the television audience, wearing an outfit designed by her new personal stylist. Because she comes from the coal-mining district, the costume that is designed for her has her in all black with a flaming cape, to represent burning coal. The outfit is a smashing success, and she is henceforth referred to by the tabloids as the Girl on Fire.

My girls actually weren't planning to do much for costumes for Halloween this year, and with Trevor reusing an old costume, I thought my costume-making days were pretty much over. When I casually suggested earlier this week that a Girl on Fire costume would be pretty cool and simple to put together, the girls were skeptical. It was only on Thursday evening, when we needed to get fabric for Trevor's pants anyway, that Karen decided she wanted to do it after all (I think she was still pretty skeptical that I could pull it off though).

We couldn't quite find the right fabric (the book says the cape was red, orange and yellow), but a shimmery black fabric with a shiny red flame pattern seemed like it would do the trick. I had neither the time nor the inclination to make a real cape -- we just used the unhemmed rectangle of material, and pinned it at the neck. I attached "flames" of orange and yellow streamers, using black duct tape, and used a red ribbon attached to more black duct tape as the supposedly matching headpiece.

The other important accessory was the gold Mockingjay pin, which Katniss is given by a friend back home and wears throughout the games, and which acquires layers of symbolic meaning as the trilogy progresses. A picture of the pin is on the cover of the first book. Because I was so busy with the rest of the cape and Trevor's costume, I didn't even start on this until after the kids had gone to bed Thursday night, so it came as a complete surprise for them in the morning. I cut the Mockingjay icon and the circle out of paper and thin cardboard, glued everything together, painted it with gold paint, and attached it to an old brooch of mine (actually I just tied it on with embroidery thread, so that I can reclaim the brooch again afterwards).

I thought everything turned out great, and Karen was very impressed and appreciative. She hadn't planned on dressing up for school on Friday, but with the costume completed just in time, I managed to persuade her to do so (I wanted her to show it off!). Then Allison had a Halloween party to attend today, so it was her turn to wear it (she'll wear something different to go trick-or-treating tomorrow though, since it's really Karen's costume). Personally, I'm very proud of this outfit -- it should be instantly recognizable to anyone who has read the book.


This year Trevor decided to reuse Allison's leopard costume from several years ago. We still had the top, but the day before yesterday's school parade, we discovered we were missing the cylinders of fabric I'd originally pinned on to Allison's pants for legs. So I ended up having to redo that part at the last minute (they really wouldn't have been long enough anyway). Fortunately, it wasn't hard to find more of the identical fabric at the store, and I just tacked it on to some pants that have gaping holes in the knees (I have to admit, that describes an impressively large fraction of his long pants -- it's a wonder that boy has any skin on his knees at all!) and will be thrown away as soon as Halloween is over this year.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hooded cloak

Allison wanted to be her character from a fantasy role-playing game she plays. It was a very simple costume, requiring her to dress in earth-tones, have a hooded cloak, a sword, and a cat familiar. I had made the sword for her last Christmas -- since she uses it in the game, it has to be safe for hitting other kids with. It is a basic two-chambered broadsword consisting of a bamboo core covered with pipe insulation and duct tape, and some of my own decorative touches. The only thing we didn't already have was a hooded cloak, and since she wanted to be able to continue to wear it for the game, I wanted to make her a proper cloak, not just something that would make do for Halloween.

As it turns out, I have recently acquired a sewing machine, an old Singer picked up at a yard sale for $40. Since I've never used a sewing machine before, Google has been my friend, helping me figure out what the controls are, how to thread it, etc. This seemed like the perfect simple maiden project. Armed with 3 yards of fabric on sale at Joanns, and an online pattern (which I adapted somewhat because we wanted a somewhat shorter cloak than the adult size, and she also wanted it slightly fuller than the semicircular one in the pattern), and despite a few missteps w/ the sewing machine, I was able to turn out a respectable cloak in fairly short order for under $20 (for the fabric, thread, and frog closure that we use to fasten it). Of course, now the other two kids will want one too! Heck, if I had someplace to wear it, I'd want one too!


OK, so a ghost is about the easiest, most stereotypical Halloween costume out there. But Trevor could not decide what he wanted to be, and rejected all my suggestions, so when it got to be the weekend before Halloween, it was going to have to be something easy. I didn't quite do just the traditional sheet with holes in it, but close. I'm not sure where we got it, but we had a fitted sheet made out of very coarse muslin -- too coarse to be used as an actual sheet, possibly it was supposed to cover a mattress protector. At any rate, I thought the elasticization along the edge of the sheet made for an interesting effect, so I stitched it up the front (leaving an open bit up top for an eerie-looking mouth, and then just tacked up the back so it wouldn't drag on the ground. Holes for eyes and arms, and a white turtleneck underneath completed the look.

Munchkin reprise

This year, Karen, following in her siblings' footsteps from last year, decided to be a Munchkin. She wanted to reuse Allison's Very Long Pike, and of course the Cute Shoulder Dragon. Her armor choice was Junk Mail, and she hung a Wishing Ring from a cord around her neck.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


We're all big fans of the card game Munchkin -- it's a silly take-off on D&D where the monsters you battle and the treasures and equipment you collect are just plain goofy, with all sorts of awful puns and humorous illustrations mixed in. After we finish a game, Allison often offers to draw a picture of the winner, with all his or her equipment.

At any rate, both Allison and Trevor wanted to be Munchkin characters for Halloween this year. We searched through the cards, looking for equipment that would be easy to make and wear.

Both kids have Horny Helmets, Paper Plate Armor, and Spiky Knees. Allison is also wearing the Shield of Ubiquity (on her back, where you can't see it in the photo) and a Cute Shoulder Dragon (+4 bonus for females!), and carrying a Very Long Pike (bad pun alert!). Trevor has a Cheese Grater of Peace attached to his belt and is carrying a Two-Handed Sword.

Everything that we didn't already own was simple to make, requiring little more than cardboard, glue and duct tape (note that the pike is wearing fabric recycled from the dinosaur tails back when Allison was in Kindergarten!), but we had a lot of fun coming up with it all!


A devil is a pretty simple costume, not requiring a whole lot of creativity. Nevertheless, I had fun with it. I had an old red satin-y shirt from back in the '80s that had a big tear in it but which I'd kept, figuring I could use either the shirt or the fabric for a costume some day. I cut off the arms and sewed up the openings and the tear to make a red cape for Karen.

This was actually a three-coat-hanger costume. For the horns, I snapped the curved ends off of a plastic coat hanger, covered them with red fabric, and attached them to a headband. Then I took two of those coat hangers you get from the dry cleaner where the bottom part is a thin cardboard tube, and removed the wire. One of the pieces of wire was covered with the fabric from one of the old shirt arms, attached to a belt and became the tail (with an old shoulder pad added where the wire would otherwise touch Karen's back). The other piece of wire was twisted to become pitchfork prongs. The two cardboard tubes became the shaft of the pitchfork (I found a thin piece of plastic to act as a dowel between them, so they would hold together), and I then wrapped the whole thing in duct tape. Yes, I know you can buy a plastic pitchfork for under $4 at the drugstore this time of year, but this was way cooler!

I think Karen makes an adorable devil!

Saturday, October 18, 2008


I'd never heard of InuYasha before Allison became interested in it. It's a Japanese manga/anime series, and InuYasha is a half-dog-demon. This is what he looks like.

Allison already had the Chinese robe (we ignored the fact that it has a dragon embroidered on it), and the red pants were recycled from another dance costume of mine (safety-pinned at the waist so that they weren't falling off her!).

Allison made her own ears -- just paper stuck to a headband, and of course she already has the blonde hair. She borrowed the sword and scabbard from Trevor. Interestingly enough, the trickiest part of this costume was the necklace, which is important to InuYasha, and Allison felt it was important to get right. She made the wolf teeth herself out of white sculpey. We had a strand of Mardi Gras beads about the right shape and size, but when I took them off the necklace, I discovered that they'd been glued, so couldn't be restrung. So there I was, reduced to drilling small holes in a couple of dozen Mardi Gras beads! I wondered if anyone would know who she was trying to be, but apparently InuYasha is more widely known than I'd realized, because she tells me that at school she was instantly recognizable.

Fairy Tale Prince

Trevor told me he wanted to reuse Allison's or Karen's wild cat costume from the previous year, so that was going to be easy. Except that the weekend before Halloween, he changed his mind and said he wanted to be a knight instead. I had to throw something together in short order. He already had the dress-up breastplate, arm guards, sword and shield, so that was easy. The old fabric that had been the Shoyru costume was repurposed into a tunic for him (minus the Shoyru head!). My previous year's dance costume had included arm pieces in a shimmery, stretchy blue fabric, which I thought would be perfect for Trevor's legs. And in the dress-up bin we had a sparkly, silvery, fur-lined dress that was way too small for anyone (it was a full-length halter-top dress for a preschool girl, leftover from when I actually had a preschool girl!). I cut it up a little and converted it into a cape. So not a very authentic knight, but definitely a handsome fairy tale prince!

Native American Warrior Princess

I was very pleased with how this costume turned out, as it sounded so simple, but was quite effective. I just took one of my husband's old tshirts, turned it inside out and cut off the sleeves and neck. I folded part of it over in the back and stitched it up a bit so that it was a better fit on Karen, and cut a fringe around the bottom. I also sewed some turquoise beads onto the front in a more or less chevron pattern. Karen wore this tunic over a sweater that was roughly the same color, and we reused the pants that we had bought for Allison's colonial costume the previous year. She decorated her own headband (I just stitched it up for her) and found her own feathers. I made her a bow, and a few arrows out of sticks, with cardboard points and feathered tails fastened with rubber bands. Her quiver was made of felt we had at home. I also made the black face makeup by burning paper and grinding the ashes with vaseline. In the end, I didn't spend a cent on this costume, as it all came from stuff we already owned or could gather from outside!

Colonial Gentleman

This wasn't actually for Halloween -- it was for a class simulation of colonial America. Allison had purchased the hat on a class trip to Colonial Williamsburg. I loaned her one of my white shirts, and picked off all the patches from her old brownie vest. She already had white tights, but we picked up the pants and the shoes at the thrift store. I made the buckles with cardboard and aluminum foil. I thought she looked great!

Harry Potter

The Harry Potter bug bit our household with a vengeance! I didn't actually make this cloak. My mother-in-law offered to make one for Trevor, but didn't get around to it, so sent us this store-bought one instead. I would have made one for him, otherwise. I did knit him the Gryffindor scarf, and make the broomstick and magic wand. The glasses were nerd glasses from the party store, with the lenses popped out. Just add Hedwig onto his shoulder, a lightning bolt scar on his forehead, and he was ready for Hogwarts!

It's hard to tell (and it was hard to tell even when the kids weren't blocking me!), but I was attempting to be a spider.

Leopard and Ocelot

Allison really wanted to be a tiger for Halloween this year, but believe it or not we could not find any natural-looking tiger fabric at Joanne's (although they had tiger stripes in all sorts of exotic colors like green and purple!). So eventually she relented and decided to be a leopard instead. Karen chose a slightly different wild cat fur fabric and declared that she would be an ocelot.

I used an existing hooded sweatshirt as a pattern and made sweatshirts out of the fur fabric, adding ears and a tail (stuffed with fabric scraps). Unfortunately, I'd skimped a bit too much when buying the fabric, and didn't have quite enough left over to cover their legs (I wasn't actually up to making trousers -- just cylinders of fabric to pin to and wear over sweats). We made do with what we had.


Allison had been reading the Guardians of Ga'hoole series, so was very into owls. Not only did she want to be an owl for Halloween, but she came to me with a drawing of exactly what she wanted, obviously having more faith in my creative abilities than is strictly warranted. She had fairly detailed specs for the wings, so we went shopping for the right fabric, and I did my best to reproduce what she wanted, stuffing them with the last of the batting. I actually thought they came out rather well. I added elastic to hold them to the forearms, and just safety-pinned them at the shoulders. The brown sweatshirt is one I've had for years and hardly ever worn, but kept because I felt sure it could be turned into a Halloween costume one day, so I was very excited to be able to use it finally! I twisted wire from a coat hanger into a heart shape, and threaded it through the space for the hood tie, so the owl could have a heart-shaped face like a barn owl. I thought this was a brilliant touch, but sadly it was overly subtle and lost on most people! I found the pair of big yellow socks at a yard sale and cut the ends off so they could become legs. Do owls have yellow legs? Well, probably not, but that's what I found. The beak was orange felt glued onto cardboard, but Allison didn't like it and ended up ditching it. I admit, she wasn't immediately recognizable as an owl. At school, someone asked her if she was a turkey. Oh well, I did my best.

I dressed as a witch to accompany the kids. The only thing hand-made about my costume was the broomstick, but at least everything I wore was something I already owned.


Karen's costume was also very easy. She had been a possum for a play over the summer, and wanted to reuse the same costume. I made the cap by cutting the bill off a gray baseball cap (my husband seems to have a limitless supply of baseball caps!), cutting it in half, and sewing the two halves on top as ears. I also sewed some of the extra gray fabric from the part of the bill I wasn't using to cover up the beer logo on front (!). Karen loves this cap (which has since been declared a cat cap), and still wears it semi-regularly even several years later.

I probably would have opted for the gray turtleneck, but she insisted on being a black-and-white striped possum, so had to go with the striped turtleneck. She's wearing two layers of black tights, and my black scarf was temporarily converted into a fluffy tail.

Although she insisted she was a possum, this could just as easily have been declared a cat costume.

More Shoyru

Trevor made my life easy this year, by wanting to use Allison's Shoyru costume from last year.


I don't think NeoPets has become quite the universally known phenomeon that Pokemon has, so I feel compelled to post a picture of what I was aiming for here. This is Shoyru, a cute dragon-like creature. It comes in different colors, but we went for the purple version because we had plenty of purple.

When the girls told me they had to be Shoyru for Halloween, I admit to being a bit stumped at first. I'd given up on papier mache, and wasn't willing to risk having another costume destroyed by rain. Hooded jackets seemed to be the way to go.

The wings were quite the undertaking, and I was very proud of them. I repurposed the purple and silver sparkly velveteen fabric from two of my previous year's dance recital costumes. I deconstructed several coat hangers to form the wire frame, and wrapped them in the silver fabric, adding safety pins liberally to hold everything in place. Although I later stitched everything instead, I suspect there are still quite a few safety pins lost in there somewhere. Then I stitched on the purple fabric as webbing, and finally added strips of the purple to serve as a harness so the wings could be worn. I used more purple fabric to form the tails, and stuffed them with the batting I had saved from the dinosaur tails several years earlier. The head piece was cardboard covered in more purple fabric, and sewn on to the hood of Karen's purple jacket. Allison's purple hooded jacket turned out not to work well, so instead I took the one-armed top of that same purple dance costume, sewed up part of the neck to leave a face-sized opening, put cardboard in the one sleeve and sewed it closed so it would sit on top of the head, and cut slits for arms in the appropriate places -- she could then wear this over her purple jacket. The big manga-style eyes were drawn on paper, cut out, and glued to the sides of the heads. Karen already had purple leggings -- I picked up some purple pants for Allison at the thrift store.

Finally we were all ready to go trick-or-treating!


This year, Trevor wanted to be Ash. He could have used the cap I made for myself the previous year, but we had friends who gave us the real thing, so he used that instead. He didn't have any green gloves to cut the fingers off, so I cut the ends off a pair of old green socks he'd outgrown and added a few stitches to make finger holes. Add some layered clothing in roughly the same colors as Ash's jacket (the vest is inside out to show off the blue lining!), a poke-ball toy and a pikachu, and he was in heaven!


This was the year of Pokemon. Allison had had a Pokemon-themed birthday party a month earlier, and, being resourceful, I kept the head from the Pikachu pinata. But of course Karen wanted to be Pikachu too, and I only had one head. I looked carefully at how the pinata head was made, and tried to more or less reconstruct it using cardboard, tape, and yellow tissue paper. In some ways, I actually thought it came out better than the pinata head -- at least it fit a bit better. I bought the girls both a yellow fleece sweatshirt, figuring they could rewear it afterwards. And I bought some yellow RIT dye to turn some old, about-to-be-discarded tan pants and white sweats yellow. The tails are made of painted cardboard, stapled on to the sweatshirts, and supported at the top with yarn attached to the sweatshirt tags (despite how it looks, don't worry, it's not around their necks!). I also attached brown felt cutouts (using washable glue, so they could be removed afterwards) to the backs of the sweatshirts to make Pikachu's stripes.

I dressed myself as Ash, using clothes I already owned, but I made myself Ash's cap by gluing white fabric (from an old tshirt) onto a red baseball cap, and adding the design with a green marker. My poke-ball is something that one of the kids made, and I just attached it to my costume with a safety pin. Trevor is wearing the one store-bought costume we've ever actually purchased -- we bought it for one of the girls when they were younger, and I just didn't have it in me to make another pokemon costume for him this year (but I think we told him it was a ladybug pokemon).
Unfortunately, this was the wrong year for costumes made out of cardboard and tissue paper, as this was the one Halloween we've had since the kids have been trick-or-treating where it rained. Trick-or-treating in the rain was unpleasant enough, but it's worse when your costume is falling apart. No-one protested cutting the evening short. You can see the miserable state of the two heads by the time we got home.