It’s nearly that time of year again. As September wraps up and October looms ahead, kids between the ages of three and 13 start brainstorming about what they will dress up as for Halloween. Meanwhile, moms everywhere give a collective sigh, because they will be responsible for conjuring up yet another costume.
In Halloween costumes – and in life – I’ve always been a do-it-yourself mom. For one, it usually costs less money to build a costume out of makeshift materials than to buy one from a big-box retailer.
Sometimes the individual elements can even be repurposed after the holiday, so it’s less wasteful, too. If you buy a pair of gray sweatpants to go with a shark costume, they don’t have to be shoved into your dress-up box on November 1st. Your kiddo can wear them all through the winter.
I also just like making things myself. Costumes, cakes, curtains, you name it. While I’m not really a fully-committed “Pinterest Mom” (my husband might disagree with that, so don’t ask him), I do find enjoyment in turning a pile of old clothes, a stack of felt, and some hot glue into a costume that vaguely resembles a Ninja turtle.
As a stay-at-home mom, my days are often filled with the menial kinds of tasks that keep a household running but leave me feeling awfully unproductive at the end of the day. DIY projects make me happy. And my kids, so far, have appreciated the one-of-a-kind costumes I’ve been able to put together for them.
Without any judgment on the moms who toss a costume into their Target cart, pay the bill, and get on with their day, you might be someone who looks at those $39.99 prepackaged costumes and thinks, “Huh, I could probably make that myself for at least half the price.”
Whether you want to avoid shelling out big bucks for an overpriced mermaid costume or simply want to get your hands dirty with pipe cleaners, rhinestones, and scrap fabric, here are some tips to make your Halloween stitch-witchery a little easier.
Give your kids a deadline for making a decision
If your kids are like mine, they start proposing costume ideas in July and change their minds no less than a dozen times. You know what’s worse than scouring eBay, Amazon, and the craft stores for all the supplies needed to make a Dora the Explorer costume? Having your kid decide she actually wants to be Doc McStuffins instead. Let your kids entertain a million different ideas at first, but tell them no take-backs once it’s October.
Look around your house before you buy anything
What do old sheets, aluminum foil, muffin tins, wooden curtain rods, cardboard paper towel rolls, and bungee cords all have in common? They can be re-purposed into any manner of costume parts or accessories, and they’re probably all lurking somewhere in your basement. Shop local first – as in your own house – before you start searching elsewhere.
Get thee to a thrift store
Used clothes are the perfect foundation items for homemade, no-sew costumes. Hoodies can be turned into anything requiring a headpiece (like many animals), skirts and dresses can be refashioned into everything from cloaks and capes to princess and fairy outfits, and a T-shirt turned inside-out to hide a logo or graphic is basically a blank slate for whatever you need it to be.
Bonus: you’ll feel significantly less guilty about taking a pair of fabric scissors to a gently-used $3 sweatshirt than one you just bought, brand-new, for $14.99.
Invest in a glue gun
This step is essential. I have never once used a sewing machine (or even a needle and thread) to make a costume for my kids. Instead, I hot-glue everything. Truly – everything. Buttons, felt, fabric, velcro closures, PVC piping, cardboard. It works on nearly every kind of material. Fabric glue and Krazy glue work only selectively, under certain circumstances. Hot glue is the most dependable and versatile option.
Felt is your friend
You can use felt for anything. A swath of soft, flexible felt can be bought by the yard and used just like fabric. It cuts more smoothly and bonds together better with hot glue than its cotton, flannel, and fleece counterparts. It’s very forgiving.
Stiffer felt, usually sold in rectangular sheets, is perfect for decorative accents: animal or character facial features, superhero emblems, letters and numbers, flowers and leaves, headbands and hair accessories. The stiff kind is also the easiest and most comfortable way to make a partial face mask. (Just cut two holes on either side and attach with sewing elastic.)
Leave yourself enough time
This is probably the toughest part. Depending on your level of craftiness, it might take two hours or two days to whip up a Captain America or Lego Ninjago costume for your kiddo. I know you’re busy, but don’t wait until the night before to get started. It’s unusual for everything to work 100 percent as you expect it to, so you will need to have a backup plan (and the time to execute it) for any element that doesn’t quite work on the first attempt.
Head to Pinterest
There, I said it. Maybe I really am a Pinterest Mom. Just remember: you don’t have to copy another mom’s butterfly or gumball machine costume tutorial to the letter. You can adapt, modify, skip steps, and take shortcuts. Find some inspiration and do what works for you. After you’ve racked your brain trying to figure out how to turn an old plastic container into an astronaut helmet, you might have a total lightbulb moment while perusing Pinterest tutorials.