Halloween Costumes: Lessons Learned


The first thing that I ever sewed was that little pumpkin costume for my daughter’s first Halloween.  Now maybe you’ve just bought a sewing machine and you are excited about making your first project: your child’s Halloween costume.  I don’t recommend it.

First, Halloween costume patterns often call for the worst fabrics ever: acrylic felt (like the pumpkin above), slippery satins, polyester, fake fur, pleather, or the worst fashion offender of all — fleece.  All of these fabrics can be tough to sew for beginners and that fluffy fleece is a lint nightmare for your machine.

Second, making a Halloween costume requires a deadline.  This can be stressful if you are just starting out.  Who wants to stay up until three in the morning working on a costume that your kid will wear once or might even refuse to wear altogether?  “Mommy, it’s itchy.”  Or “Mommy, it doesn’t look like the one we saw at Target.”  Right, I know.

So, for your first project it’s smart to choose a simple cotton and a quick and easy skirt, curtains or pillow.  But if you have already bought your blue fake fur to make that cookie monster costume, go for it.  Relax and make it in advance.  Try it on your little booger before Halloween so you don’t end up with tantrums and last-minute costume changes.

Now, the pumpkin project pictured above was fairly straightforward and not really a bad idea for a first sewing project, but the acrylic felt was no fun for a beginner and I do remember getting frustrated with the hat.  I think it would have been super-cute in an orange cotton, linen or even a tweed (maybe with some interfacing).  A couple of years later, I made Dorothy and the Good Witch costumes, which were fun and it was great to see my then-two-year-old wearing that giant poster paper hat.  Then I made Wonder Woman and Super Girl costumes for the kids.  These were homemade costumes made without a pattern, complete with my custom digitized designs for machine embroidery for the logos.  The result?  Costumes that I probably could have bought in the store for much less heartache.  So if your kid wants to be Batman or Cinderella, it really might be easier to buy the costume.  Yes, I’m actually suggesting that you buy a costume rather than make it.

Then the girls dressed as Little Red Riding Hood and a mermaid.  The mermaid costume was fun to make with all the scales.  And the Little Red Riding Hood cape was very pretty — made with a wool/cashmere blend that I couldn’t resist.  My idea was that my daughter could wear it after Halloween.  But then of course she went to a Halloween party and got green “witch’s brew” all over the side of the cape.  And she thought the weight of it was too heavy for regular wear anyway.  Lesson learned: no fancy fabrics.  So, that’s my advice.

Having said that, my older daughter is insisting on dressing as Violet Beauregarde as a blueberry from the Willy Wonka movie (Gene Wilder version, of course).  Yes, this one is a challenge.  But I’ve already started, and so far, so good.  It won’t be as large as the original, but there are some practical considerations here — like being able to walk in it.  I’ll keep you posted.


Here’s hoping you have a Happy Sewing Halloween free of tears and tantrums (from both you and your children).

22 comments to Halloween Costumes: Lessons Learned

  • I couldn’t agree more. I always fall into the “I could make that” mode and then I kill myself trying to get it done, spending more than I would have to buy it anyway. Usually not worth it. I made a lovely lined Dorothy dress for my daughter’s wizard of Oz themed birthday party that was worn for about 30 minutes and will probably never see the light of day again!

    I will say though, that I made trick or treat bags that we will use every year, so not a bad time investment. This fabric is already laid out for the bags, so a great first project: http://www.quiltedmagik.com/cgi-bin/Store/store.cgi?product=Halloween_&productid=rjr72821&tracking5=froogle

  • cory

    oh how brave you are to say that OUT LOUD!!!!!
    Even I, who has actually worked in a theater costume dept., brace myself every year for that LONG walk past the halloween costumes and think, “willpower, willpower, willpower”….last year I gave in as it was the first time in eons the hubby and I had been invited to a party and I had the “perfect” idea. Needless to say, the mock up dress (for me) turned out perfectly, as we sewed it out of old cotton sheets. The fancy *simple* silver gown?? A nightmarish monstrosity cut on the bias that didn’t even make it from the cutting table to the sewing machine without fraying beyond the seam allowances!!! With much swearing (and fray check) we managed to build the dress, but I learned my lesson! Steer clear from the temptation!!!
    I do go pet the gossamer tulle with all the sparkles and the spider web patterns woven in…and then i put it down, and walk slowly away…..
    My 9 yr old has decided that he wants to be the dancing banana guy this year. We bought him a Luke Skywalker costume AND an OOD costume on sale last year–and he wants to go as a dancing banana?? Oh, send me change his mind vibes!!!!

  • I made a Violet Beauregarde costume for the Willy Wonka musical that my students performed in. I bought an inflatable sumo wrestler suit and then made the costume to go over that! It turned out awesome and I was a pretty bad sewer back then!! Good luck!

  • Gail

    The first costume I ever made was for my son who was about a year-and-a-half, it was a lobster costume. My friend convinced me that we could make these costumes with a pattern we drew ourselves. The costumes turned out great and it was relatively simple because we used red hooded sweatshirts that we already owned and we found some random red fabric for $1.99/yard. It was too bad though that we didn’t finish the costumes until 7:30 on Halloween night and our little ones were more than ready to go to sleep at that time. Of course we took them out anyway, because we had overcome so many times of thinking “we don’t have to finish, they’re too little anyway”.

  • B

    THANK YOU for absolving me of the guilt that has plagued me for days since I ordered my son’s Luke Skywalker costume. You are absolutely right – it would cost me more in effort (and probably fabric, too) than the cheap store-bought version and he is more than thrilled with the catalogue costume. It’s important to recognize that our ego (“I could make one that looks nicer than that!”) is sometimes a silent factor in these decisions.

  • What a great post! I agree! I agree! Far less heartache to buy than make, in many cases. Unless your child wants to be something unusual, like Lowly Worm. And it gets harder and harder as each subsequent baby grows old enough to want a costume for him/herself. I did dress-style costumes for my eldest the past two years (she’s now 5) – mainly because it’s frigid going trick or treating in the midwest on Halloween. There was no way we could have worn the store-bought kinds even with a turtle-neck or whatever underneath. So yes, it had to be fleece. But it was comfortable, soft on the inside (all the fancy scratchy shimmery fabric was on the outside) and she wears them all the time throughout the year for dress-up purposes so it was worth the time. It’s three? four weeks away from the deadline now this year and I haven’t even started! Ick.

  • My son wanted to be a blueberry a two years ago. Who knows why. Anyway, used the pumpkin pattern you show above, just done in blue fleece. Turned out fine. Picture at: http://moretimeplease.blogspot.com/2007/11/blueberry.html Hated doing all those panels. He wants to be a robot this year, but that’s cardboard & paint – no sew!

  • I can’t wait to see that blueberry costume! You are braver than I!

  • thelongthread

    Yes, Samantha! Yours turned out to be very cute. I’m doing something very similar to that, but am using knit with a rounder shape so I skipped the panels. It will have elastic at the bottom to make the shape. I added sleeves, a mandarin collar and brass buttons. Haven’t stuffed it yet, so we’ll see how it turns out.

  • Kristine

    My 9yo is still planning to be a (Blue Satin) coelecanth for halloween – including a big papier mache head. Oh my. Any ideas out there for something fishy?

  • Oooh! Good luck! That is actually my selection this year as well! I’m 7 months pregnant, so I will be Violet in the process of inflating, my 15 month old daughter will be an Oompa Loompa and hubby might be convinced to be Willy or maybe Augustus!
    I can’t wait to see your final result!

  • Violet in the process of inflating! That’s hilarious, I love it!

  • I must say that the pumpkin costume is adorable. I can’t believe it’s your first ever sewing project!! Can’t wait to see how the Violet costume turns out!!

  • I second that! I don’t have kids, but as a “crafty person” I’m expected to make my own clever costumes – and I usually do, and then look back at the PILE of cash I spent and think of what a nice costume I could have BOUGHT for that! I’m slowly learning to substitute fabrics (a great lesson) and to buy simple pieces rather than making everything (why spend hours making a black skirt from scratch when I can get one at goodwill for $4?). Save yourself the time and money, use your creativity and efforts on a few details or “upcycling” a storebought costume and you’re still a crafter 🙂

  • Loved this post. I have actually enjoyed making Halloween costumes for my kids, although they have varied a lot in how elaborate they are. But I do sometimes wonder what I’m doing, since I know I could spend less for a perfectly good costume. One thing I like about using ickier fabrics (the fairy costume this year involves tulle and satin and various sheers) is that it gets me off the hook when I’m sewing “real” clothes, since my daughter would ALWAYS opt for sparkly and shiny over cotton and washable. Once a year I don’t mind it.

    And I’m honestly lucky that my kids are very appreciative recipients. That makes all the difference.

  • I don’t do a lot of sewing, but invariably, the sewing machine gets pulled out every October. I made a fuzzy eyeball one year using a pumpkin pattern, but using fake fur. My sewing machine hated that! Last year I attempted a tin man, but the fabric just wouldn’t cooperate. Instead, I ended up upcycling a thrifted ladies green suit jacket into a leprachaun outfit. (It was easy and it looked great!) This year, my youngest wants to be Dorothy. I’ve looked at the store bought costumes, but ewwww… the fabrics are so yucky. I’m feeling confident that I could make the dress, but will she ever wear it again? Probably not. I’m still trying to make a decision on this one.

  • Please post pics of the Violet costume reveal! You’ve sparked my curiosity :o)

  • Heather F

    Love this post…. especially since one of my first sewing projects was my daughter’s bird costume two H’weens ago… that involved a fleece “base” if you will, and then hand sewing boas to cover the costume.

    Then last year, she wanted to be a pink kitty… so that involved pink shimmery fur. I’m still finding shreds of it around the house.

    This year? A mermaid. The good news is that it’s entirely completed already. Whew!

  • This is a great article – it should be published in parenting magazines! I so absolutely agree with you – especially about the fabrics. 🙂 And I so would have bought and used the beautiful red wool cashmere.

  • amy

    We’re working on a Violet costume as well, using an old bean bag. What are you planning to stuff yours with?

  • paula

    I would love to see the blueberry costume, my daughter is going to be Violet and we are looking for ideas..

  • Suzanne

    You imparted such sage advice. The fact that it comes from your experience makes it even better.

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