Today as a part of Make It Handmade and Feathers Flights Handmade Halloween Series I am sharing my best tips and tricks for successful and sane costume making. Every year I make hundreds, no I’m not exaggerating, hundreds of Halloween costumes. I’ve been asked to share my costume bits of advice in various places across the interweb but for a long time I’ve wanted to write a big fat posts here with the best homemade costume tips and all the secrets and things I’ve figured out with my crazy costume making. I come from so many different angles, costumes for sale, costumes on a budget, costumes at the last minute, costumes to expand my sewing skills, and more so I’m hoping that there will be something for everyone.
Some Questions to Ask Yourself BEFORE You Begin
If there is one piece of advice I can have you take away from this post it is to have clear expectations for your costume before you set out. Know who it’s for and what it’s for and let that dictate how much effort goes into it and the quality that is needed.
- Who is the costume for? A child who will be messy, complain that everything is itchy or maybe an adult who will want it to be flattering and doesn’t mind a little discomfort to get a certain look, etc? When you identify who the costume is for you can figure out how durable it needs to be, how comfortable it needs to be
- When will this costume be used? Think about how long you need the costume to last. If it’s just for one night or the weekend make sure the time and energy you invest is proportional. Unless you are entering your costume in a contest, want it as an heirloom or you’re using it as an excuse to improve your sewing skills you don’t need to go all out. Costumes worn for a day don’t need to look pretty on the inside. Most costumes are going to be on kiddos in bad lighting moving very fast so the detailing might not even be noticed. Don’t kill yourself trying to reach perfection if these are just for a day or two. On the other hand if this is something that you want to be able to loan out, pass down, or that may be used for dress up every single day you want to invest a little more into the quality and the workmanship just so it holds up.
- Where will this costume be used? Is it mostly going to be in the dark, will it be worn to school where there are regulations or where kids will have to function a normal day in it including using the restroom on their own. What will the weather be like? I always get so sad when I see super cute costumes covered up by huge Winter coats. Here in Utah it often snows on Halloween. I like to make costumes that can be warm and have layers but if it happens to be warmer or if we’re going to where them inside certain layers can be left out or omitted.
Figure Out Your Own Limitations
- What’s your budget? An awesome costume does not have to break the bank. In fact some of the best costumes are those born out of creative cheapness. One time in college I was a burning bush. I was in an Old Testament class at the time and it was a big hit. All I did was wear green and pin strips of that orange cellophane all over and add some plastic vines from the dollar store. So cheap but people thought it was great.
- Repeat after me, “I will not buy costume satin” that stuff is pure crap. It’s a nightmare to work with and then once you wear it it’s terribly uncomfortable, unflattering, and snags on every thing. Just use a coupon and buy fabric when it’s on sale.
- Buy stuff when it’s on sale. Craft stores ALWAYS have sales. The patterns cycle on sale every other week. The fabrics you’ll use for costumes will also go on sale. Start early and keep your eyes on the flyers so you can catch the deals. There is no reason to pay full prices on costume supplies.
- If it’s something you love, a dream come true a cosplay costume you’ll be wearing to cons feel free to spend a little more. I’m not saying you have to be cheap but I hear too many times of people spending WAY more than they have to or for that matter way more in proportion to what they will get out of the costume.
- What are your skills? I personally do not think that October is the time to learn how to sew or tackle much harder patterns than you’ve ever done before. If you’re purpose is learning that’s one thing. But I think most of us make costumes just to have the costume. When you have a deadline like Halloween unless you start way way early I really recommend sticking to your current skill set and level.
- Most costumes can be simplified. Try to be creative. I mentioned in my cosplay costume tips post from earlier this week that when you’re trying to represent a certain character what’s most important is that you have the key identifying elements. Often times that comes down to using the right colors, incorporating the emblem and simple stuff like that. My favorite example of this are all those popular tutu costumes. Really any girly (or even not so girly costume) can be made with some creativity and a tutu. Cat ears, a black leotard and black tutu = a cat. Don’t believer me, here’s a whole post full tutu costume ideas and a tutorial on how to make a easy tutu.
- You don’t have to sew (or sew much). I remember one time a friend was making a chiquita banana costume and she was trying to figure out how to sew the fruit onto to the head piece until I said, “why don’t you just use a glue gun”. My nieces dwarf costume above is mostly just cut out. I sewed the shoulders and the side seams the sash is just a strip of fabric. and the hat is just a piece of fabric folded and sewn. BUT my default skill is sewing. In the cosplay session I went to at Salt Lake Comic con they were talking about using cardboard and duct tape and spray paint. Sewing is just one way to make a costume.
- What are your time constraints? Be realistic about how much time you’ll have to work on this costume and then I suggest cutting that time in half and assuming that’s what you have to work with because life happens, invites to early costume parties show up, and sadly but truly you will run into some bumps.
- Try and start early. I know this is really hard for so many of us but really if you start early you will have a much less stressful experiences, you can take advantage of sales and coupons, and you’ll have time to react to unexpected difficulties and events.
- Assume it will take you longer than you think. In most cases it will. I think most of us are bad at guessing how long a new task will take. Whatever you think it will take add some extra time onto that.
- Assume you will need it sooner than you think. You might just want to use the costume for Halloween but there are always opportunities to dress up sooner. If you’re going to be making a costume might as well get the most out of it and have it ready for early parties or activities. And let’s be honest kids and spouses aren’t the best at relaying when they will need a costume it’s better just to try and get it done early.
- Take all of that and make a realistic plan. With the time you have to work with how detailed can you get with your costume?
Some Random Tips and Reinforcement
- Again DON’T BUY COSTUME SATIN! The stuff is evil.
- Fur is a pain to work with and messy but it can be worth it. Just know that going into it.
- Buy your fabric and patterns on sale. These things always go on sale. Don’t pay full price. Sign up for the coupons and use them.
- Don’t under estimate the power of embellishing pre-made clothing. Try to use items you already have or can purchase from a store. It’s easier, faster and you’ll probably get more wear after the trick or treating is done. You can sew or glue fabric or felt to a sweatshirt to make a contrasting tummy, owl feathers, dinosaur scales or more and you’ll probably get more action than a lot of other costumes.
- Some times just a little bit of a cool fabric in a simple pattern can do the trick. Like with my Mermaid Pants, they are so fun but really what makes them is the awesome fabric.
- Most big name patterns (the ones you’ll find at the fabric stores) will be way too big. Make sure you measure the person the costume is for and pay attention to the finished measurements which is given on the back of the envelope. I really advise measuring the pattern pieces too and that will give you a guess on how big the garment will be. For kids and looser fitting outfits it’s not that big of a deal but even for the Gummy Bear costume I made I picked a size down from one the kiddo usually wore and she was still swimming in it. I hate to say it but you might want to make a test version out of some cheap fabric if you’re uncertain or plan on using pricier fabric.
- I think the best part of making your own costumes is that you can literally be ANYTHING. Help your kids think outside of the box, do they have a favorite TV show (like when T was obsessed with She-Ra or Avatar)? Have fun with it. You don’t have to be limited to the same old staples.
- Use your imagination, think outside of the box and have fun!
I hope you found some of those helpful and if you have any others to add please share them in the comments section I know we can all learn from each other’s experiences and expertise! In my “costume” category I have lots of tutorials and handmade costume ideas I hope you’ll take a peek. Also don’t forget check out the other fun Handmade Halloween ideas in the series here and here. In conjunction with the series there is a fun giveaway to help you with all your costume making needs enter below!