Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween Costumes

Finished the girls' halloween costumes with two days to spare!
What a relief. I always feel that Halloween sewing is more
busy-crazy than Christmas sewing. In the wake of that earlier
drafting post, I thought I'd write a bit about how I sew
costumes/dresses/clothes in general since
it is a somewhat strange process.

Sewing any garment, for me, usually begins with a sketch.
I think that would sound almost arty if it weren't actually
done on some awful scrap paper lying around the house.
Mine also have bulbous lumps that are
sorry excuses for human heads.

Next, I mull over my ideas for a few days, particularly the
unfamiliar parts that I've never actually sewn before,
like layered sleeves.

Then I wait for a sale and go shopping for fleece.
I buy 1 yard for Kate (short) and 2 yards for Emily (tall)
and something in between for Jenna. I also buy one fancy/
pretty/annoying-because-frays-like-crazy fabric for each
of them for fancying-up purposes.

Then, I procrastinate by sewing other things, or getting the flu.

When I finally think I've delayed as long as I dare, I measure
the girls' dimensions. Because this will be for drafting, this is
a long list and looks like this:

  • Neck
  • Shoulder
  • Shoulder-to-waist
  • Chest/Bust
  • Chest (Front)
  • Chest (Back)
  • Waist
  • Armhole
  • Length of sleeve (straight arm)
  • Length of sleeve (bent arm)
  • Wrist
  • Waist-to-ankle
  • Hip
and it goes on an on.

Then I get out my brown drafting paper (has narrow lines on it)
and draw the sloper for each of the girls. There are three
different bodies and three different outfits (fairy, princess and
who-knows-what for Kate), but if I sew them the same kind
of dress, it will feel like mass-producing,
which makes me feel saner.

So I decide on a style - it is frigid here in October, so it will
have to be long sleeved and high-necked. They are going to
wear these dresses all throughout the year for dress-up, so
the skirt will be partially-circular for better twirling. That
decided, I modify the sloper, but not much, because
it is already long-sleeved and high-necked.

Emily's has the least variation from the upper-body sloper -
her sleeves are fitted but they are pointed at the wrist,
and have some leaf-shaped applique at the shoulder and
some random embroidery (a simple zig-zag stitch) lower
down. She is a fairy so I draw and cut a collar
that is scalloped to look like petals.

The rest of the bodice is awfully plain so I embroider some
more of that random swirl pattern from the sleeve.

The skirt is semi-circular, but hankerchief-hem-looking

so it flares out without seams but is jagged
enough to pass as fairy-like.

Where the skirt joins the bodice, there is some fancy trim.

For her hat, I measure the circumference of her head at
various positions, divide that by six and cut panels.

She decorates her own wings with glitter and Mod Podge

and off she goes.

Jenna's dress is typical princess.

Her bodice is two layers of fleece- the inner layer is the
boring round-necked sloper pattern itself. The outer layer
has the princess neckline in front

and a regular square neckline in back.

Her long sleeves are also pointed at the wrist and slightly
flared from the elbow. The puff sleeve is an extra layer
sewn onto the main long white sleeve.

Jenna's skirt is, again, semi-circular. I slash the skirt at
six places and insert godets. Again, where the skirt joins
the bodice, there is fancy trim. See a pattern here?

The clean lines are important to me when working with
bulky fleece. I want all the twirl of a full skirt without
the bunchiness of gathers.

When Jenna went trick-or-treating tonight, she borrowed
Emily's old
cape from two years ago.

Kate's dress is again a variation on the same style.

I am not sure of what she is, exactly - some sort of
wood sprite maiden is the closest I could come to describing it.

Hers has the same old uninteresting bodice, and flared sleeves.
I line the sleeves with coordinating flannel just for the
fun of it, and use the textured detail of the skirt as applique

which I repeat for the front of the bodice.

Her skirt is two layers of semi-circular fabric. And where
the skirt meets the bodice - you guessed it - there is fancy trim.

And here are the girls - can you now see the similarities in their dresses?

Kate's doesn't fit her as well as the other two girls' dresses do.
It might be me being picky but as long as we're
deconstructing dressmaking here, let's be honest. I drafted
her sloper and then started to second-guess myself because
I forgot she was a round-tummied toddler and I thought her
dimensions weren't quite proportionate. So I changed the
sloper and made her waist a little smaller and the bodice
itself a little longer. Very foolish. Yes, I was drafting with
a woolly brain, thanks to the flu but I should have
remembered: The Sloper Is Supreme; Trust The Sloper.

And that, gentle readers, is how I sew a garment from
a sloper. Everything else is embellishment, which is
something I find myself saying a lot nowadays.
The sad thing is that while these dresses fit the girls now,
Emily's fairy dress will not fit Jenna as well when she
inherits it, nor Kate, Jenna's princess dress. None of
these dresses is quite a 5T,3T or 18m! But at least the
girls will wear them for dress-up all year!


  1. Those turned out really cute! great idea using the fleece! I see these dressed being used a lot this winter!

  2. Lier!!! Those are amazing!!! The girls looked beautiful! I hope they had a good time last night. :) :) :)

  3. Your costumes are stunning! And I love that you've managed to make princess/fairy costumes weather-appropriate.

  4. Those are the prettiest costumes I've ever seen. Great job! I love the detail in each one. You are amazing!

  5. Absolutely Amazing costumes!!!! I love the idea of using fleece so they stay toasty warm will trick or treating.

  6. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous ! I don't know how you found the time to sew all - what with 3 little ones , flu & all ! I salute you , Supermom!

  7. You did an amazing job again!I love all those details!!!How lucky are your girls.

  8. I love that, it´s beautiful work!!!!!
    Tanks from Spain.

  9. You inspire me Lier! I have to start trying to make slopers for myself and my kids and venturing down that avenue.

  10. Amazing, and thank you for sharing!

  11. Amazing costumes! Great detail on them all. I love that they are all warm too (I'd pick warmth over fashion any day!)

    Question: did you sew muslin mock-ups of your slopers or just jump in with the dresses?

  12. Lier- so adorable... And your girls costumes are cute too! : )
    I am amazed!

  13. Gorgeous costumes - no surprise there! Whatever you wave your Nutella-coated wand at turns to gold! :) I have a question about your dress construction because I'm really digging your drafting/sewing class tutorials (more please!) A dumb question to be sure, but what is a sloper?

  14. Thanks for explaining your process. When I sew costumes for my kids I use a very similar technique. Except I use some of their favorite clothes for patterns. You way makes more sence. And the adorable costumes will last a hundred times longer than any piece of pass-off they sell for a costume in the stores these days.
    Well done!

  15. Beautiful costumes! And fleece too - how perfect. Too many freezing little girls this time of year. :)
    Oh yeah, can you just come to my house for a couple days, sit next to me and teach me about the whole sloper/ drafting thing? Your last couple posts on it are totally intriguing and I can't wait to give it a try with my girl. She's way too skinny for most patterns.

  16. I love that you used fleece. Too many kids with big coats over their costumes that you didn't even know what they were. Come on, we live in Canada - you have to either make a warm costume or one that fits over a snowsuit.

  17. Oh my goodness. These dresses are adorable!! I would have never thought of using fleece, but it looks great and I bet it keeps them toasty. She princess dress especially caught my eye, as I'm attempting to make a toddler princess dress this year.

    I ran out and bought fabric just to commit myself to making this costume--a lightweight taffeta (bodice and skirt) and organza (puff sleeves and "bustles" on hips)in light blue, and a lightweight satiny fabric in white. I was so excited until I realized I have no idea how to make puff sleeves (and I have a hard time forking out the money for a pattern just for the sleeves). I've looked all over the web for a tutorial, but they all start with a regular sleeve pattern. This is my first item of toddler clothing ever, so I don't even have a regular sleeve pattern.

    And now to top off the fact I have no idea how to attempt these puff sleeve, you've taunted me with your amazing puffed sleeves with contrasting insets. How did you make those?? They look very impressive and custom--nothing like the cheapo store bought princess dresses Any info you could offer would be welcomed. Again, amazing costumes!

    mrs_apple_juice (at) hotmail (dot) com


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