Homemade Costume How-to

Making costumes doesn't have to be hard -- hint: get the kids to help.

I run a dance and gymnastics studio and spend a lot of time designing and sewing outfits for kids of all ages, so I'm often asked for advice about Halloween costumes. I always tell parents to begin by asking their child for ideas. Kids have an amazing gift for creativity, and you can make the process of putting together a costume as rewarding as actually wearing it (maybe even more rewarding). It's a gift to share this process with your children, and the pride they'll feel when they put on a special costume is well worth the effort. Here's my three-step plan -- and remember, you don't have to be a great seamstress to create a unique get-up!

1. A few weeks before Halloween, come up with a costume idea with your child. Get an art pad out, and ask your child to draw her ideas. Use watercolors, pastels, or crayons to color in the proposed outfit, and hang this design in an area where it will inspire you. (Later, when the costume is finished, take a picture of your child all dressed up and holding the original design drawing.)

2. Make a list of supplies needed to create the costume, including patterns, fabric, ready-made clothing items, thread, glue, and decorative accessories. Schedule a special time to take your child on a "hunt" for the items on your list. Help your child understand that you may have to alter your design based on what you can find; being flexible is part of the fun. If you aren't experienced at sewing, look for easy-sew patterns, "one-hour" designs, and patterns with a small number of pieces. Avoid buttons, zippers, and complicated design features (after all, it's a costume, not clothing!). Use Velcro for closures, and look for Fabri-Tac adhesive at craft stores; it bonds fabric as well as a hot-glue gun but is used at room temperature.

3. Begin the sewing/construction phase of the costume, allowing your child to help. Try to do this in 10- to 15-minute sessions rather than one sitting so you don't exceed her attention span. If you're using a pattern, your child can lay the pieces on the fabric (kids love to do this; it's like working on a puzzle), and then place cans of soup around the edges to hold the pieces in place. As you cut, talk about how each piece will fit into the costume. Let your child take the lead in adding decorative details such as patches, belts, wings, headpieces, and other items that make the outfit unique.

As the mother of two daughters, I've found that collaborating with my girls to make Halloween costumes has carried over into many other creative projects and activities. Seeing them beaming as they wear their designs is worth the effort.

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