Do you ever feel that motherhood involves learning a whole new language? I mean, when the kids say something, they're very seldom being literal. For instance, a couple of years back, they asked me to make a mermaid tail. So I made a mermaid tail.
It turns out that I completely missed the point when I made that particular tail. Apparently, I was supposed to make A Mermaid Tail That Morphs Into A Skirt For When The Mermaid Is Being Her Land-Walking Alter Ego. I swear, I never saw that coming. Remember when you were recovering in hospital postpartum, there were these delightful classes with titles like Breastfeeding 101 and Bathing Your Infant and How To Understand Your Baby's 57 Different Cries? Well, I'm convinced that that last class had a follow-up module called How To Understand Your Child When She Starts Speaking English. It must have clashed with one of the other seminars because, clearly, I missed that one.
So, beautiful as that tail was, it was a failure as far as the girls were concerned. And sometime last year - like some kind of demented penance - they had me make them Proper Tails. I made one for Emily and one for Jenna, but I held off making Kate's because, well, she already had one (albeit non-morphing), right? Last week, though, I gave in and made her a new one, because she looked so forlorn trying desperately to play Mermaid Games with her sisters, and being sorely handicapped.
And Kate is very happy with it. She said, "I like this tail. Thank you, Mum."
The girls normally don't wear long-sleeved Tshirts with their tails, incidentally. This get-up was purely for modesty and weather-appropriateness.
How does it morph, though?
Well, as I understand it, the whole thing hitches up all the way to one's waist and hips, and becomes an avant-garde skirt.
Don't ask me - the girls designed it, and I just obeyed.
The girls do the Skirt thing when they're being girls, and the Tail thing when they magically morph into Mermaids, ostensibly to save the world or something like that.
And, while we're on the topic, what is it about morphing that appeals to kids? This is the third morphing costume I've been asked to make, after the Butterfly Fairy Morphing Skirts and the Musketeer Princess Morphing Gowns. But I'm trying to look on the bright side - if I had sons, I'd be sewing Optimus Prime outfits, right?
Back to the tails now. Naturally, one of them is pink (or, shall we say, coral?).
I thought I'd share the how-to, in case this Morphing Mania isn't limited to just our family.
You'll need two kinds of elastic:
- narrow 1/4" to 3/8" elastic for the bottom edge of the tail. I used about 16" thereabouts.
- wide (1.25" to 1.5") elastic for the waistband. Use as much as you need to comfortably fit around your child's waist with some hug.
You'll need fabric pieces that look like these:
- One waistband - measure (comfortably) your child's waist and don't add any ease allowance. It's going to fit just right, since it's a Smooooooooooth Waistband. See here for how to make it.
- Two pieces of the main body. Use a stretchy fabric, like knit or velour. Not cotton.
Remember to add seam allowances. Draft the pattern yourself- the top edge is half the (comfortable) waist measurement. The widest part is half your child's (hip+2" ease) measurement. This widest part is as much lower than the top edge as your child's hip is below her waist. From this widest part, taper slightly to the bottom edge so it's just about the same (or an inch or two) narrower than the top edge. You'll be gathering this bottom edge with elastic later, so it will be squished anyway.
- One long strip for the tail fin - this should be about twice the width of the bottom edges combined.
- Several scale-shaped pieces of fabric for prettying up the waistband. Cut enough to overlap in a pretty pattern.
Next, sew the two body pieces together along one side seam. Layer the scale pieces along the top edge and top-stitch them down.
Sew the other side seam to make a tube. Attach the waistband. I won't explain how to here, because you can read about it in the Smooth Waistbands tutorial. The only thing I will add is that I didn't top-stitch the bottom edge of the waistband the way I did in Step 8 of that tutorial, because this slinky fabric doesn't take top-stitching.
Here is a shot of the waistbands of all three tails. Their embellishments have only one thing in common -they're made of fabric that doesn't fray.
Q: Instead if cutting and overlapping individual scales, can you just make a continuous scalloped/wavy strip for the embellishment?
A: Yes, if you're using fabric that's stretchy, like knit. This is because that row of embellishment has to stretch along with the waistband when the tail is put on and taken off. Overlapping the scales allows some give and separation between them as the waistband stretches. The pink tail in the photo has stiff, vinyl scales and the blue tail has a continuous strip of jersey scallops.
Now attach the tail fin. Gather the top edge of the tail fin
With the tail fin in the configuration above, turn the tail upside down, and line up
- its bottom edge with the top edge of the tail fin (see Left Picture below). Their right sides will be together.
- its center back with one short edge of the tail fin. We will not be sewing the tail fin into a tube- when everything is scrunched up in gathers, the opening in the back is not noticeable at all. We will, however, position this opening in the center back of the tail.
Peel back the top layer of the tail to expose the wrong side, and lay the end of the narrow elastic on the stitching line, at the center back of the tail (see Right Picture below). Stretching the elastic, sew zig-zag stitches to attach the elastic to both layers (tail and tail fin). Continue stretching and sewing all around the circumference, leaving about an inch of elastic to overlap the ends.
The girls, however, had just begun. Not content with just wearing swimsuit tops with their tails, they designed The Mermaid Yoke (what they called the bra):
What's a mother to do, I ask you? I'd always encouraged the girls to sketch their designs, and now that they actually did, I couldn't go back on my word and refuse to make them. So bandeau bras it was.
Join in the madness with me? Here goes -
First, cut a random bit of knit (I guess you could use cotton for this, since it's going to be heavily elasticized, but knit is nicer on the skin). Mine was 8" wide and about a yard long. From the picture, you can see that the width was along the selvedge, so the length was along the direction of greatest stretch. On the W.S., mark off the midline (4" mark) and 1.5" to each side of that. Draw lines along the entire length of the fabric.
Cut narrow elastic (mine was 3/8") at a length that wraps comfortably around the chest of your child, with overlap allowance. Cut three equal lengths, as shown.
On the W.S. of the fabric, sew one elastic strip along the midline you marked off earlier. You'll need to stretch the elastic as you sew, to match the length of the fabric. Use a zig-zag stitch. This is exactly like shirring, except you use actual elastic instead of elastic thread.
Wrong side Right side
Fold the fabric along its midline, with the right sides together, and sew it into a long tube, with open ends and the elastic on the inside. Turn right side out.
Sew the ends of the tube together to get something like a giant, loose scrunchie. Use whatever method you like - I recommend my old scrunchie tutorial (specifically Steps 3,4 and 6) for getting the ends tucked away neatly. I'd also recommend doing a fit test on your child before sewing up the ends.
Now make the shell embellishment. I used two pieces of felt with a layer of matching fleece (you could use batting, but batting is white and glaringly unmatching) between them. I prefer to cut one piece of felt to shape, sew that onto the other two, much bigger, layers and then trim everything to size.
Then attach the shells to the bandeau portion by top-stitching radial lines as shown.
Also made the other two.
They're very comfortable, I'm told.
So that was my lesson from The Children - when required to make something, the question to ask is never "What do you want it to look like?" but "What do you want it to do?"
The Mother had the last word, though. We made a trio of cardboard surfboards for when the girls were land-walkers (and wave riders).
Can you tell we miss the beach (and the sun, and the sea)?