Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Listen To The Children- A Mermaid Tale Er.... Tail



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:

  1. narrow 1/4" to  3/8" elastic for the bottom edge of the tail. I used about 16" thereabouts.
  2. 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.
First, make the waistband. 


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


so that its width matches the circumference of the bottom opening of the tail itself. 

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. 

Finished!

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.


Repeat for the other two strips of elastic.


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.

Finished!


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)?



52 comments:

  1. Oh thank you for this tutorial. I will enjoy making these for my little Miss Pickiness. Bless you for your patience! I feel your pain!

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  2. You are the best mom! And your girls and their imaginations are so delightful!!

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  3. You did very well to try again! I had the opposite problem when I made a 'morphing tail' much like yours, only to be told I had it completely wrong as Mermaids don't have tails that let their feet out! Lesson: very important to sit down with your child, listen to their dreams and ideas and create together.
    Love the happy look on Kate's face, that must make it well worth the re-make :)

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  4. Thank you!!! You are always so generous with your tutorials!!! I know my daughter would love to be like Ariel so I will give it a try, although my sewing skills are little. You are such a great mom! Your daughters are lucky to have you! XOX from The Netherlands!

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  5. You have saved me! I have that green fabric sitting in the stash and Violette keeps asking me when I will make her a mermaid tale. I have avoided it until now not really knowing where to start... now I do

    THANKS

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  6. so cute and so fun, I wish when i was a little girl I had a mermaid tail.

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  7. The transformation from mermaid with tail to mermaid with legs is hilarious! Your girls are quite talented. Watch out Project Runway 2025!

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  8. What good fun- you are a very nice mum. Today my son announced that for Halloween (!!!????) he would like to be Flick from a Bug's Life. What?? How am I supposed to make that happen? Too bad he doesn't have a mermaid tail. Sigh.

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  9. Where oh where did you find your green fabric? It's just perfect!! Thanks.

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  10. Where oh where did you find your green scale fabric? It's so perfect!! Thanks for the great tutorial.

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  11. This is cute! I was just reminiscing about a mermaid costume I had in high school the other day. I even had a a little stuffed animal crab that I sewed onto the 'bra' strap! But the funny thing is I too missed that class about what the kids are talking about. This week my son has been begging for cous cous. so I made cous cous. What i apparently missed was that the cous cous he wanted was a whole meal that I cook with cous cous, turkey sausage, grapes, yougurt... So here I was thinking he was going to be all excited about dinner, but no. All I got was, this isn't the cous cous I asked for! HUH??? :)

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  12. I just got asked, "Mommy, make me a worm-maid tail!" So thank you so much for this tute! And I love the shells. I'll just have to make those too.

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  13. You are such a cool mom.
    FYI: at 22 & 24 years old, you still need to get down & dirty on deciphering what they are really sayin'.

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  14. Eleanor woke up and walked in on me reading this post. She has now requested the old version of the mermaid tale and the "seashell bra". You just never know, do you? Although you're spot on with the optimus prime. Seth has been trying for years to get me to make him an optimus prime outfit that actually converts to a semi truck.

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    1. Actually I would love to try Optimus Prime! But it's so much work - all those details. That's why I said I'm relieved I'm not likely to be asked to make him. No offence meant to boys - or moms of boys - but in this case I'm glad I'm a mom of just mermaids because they're so much easier to make costumes for, not to mention buy fabric for, that looks exactly like the costume already. I've yet to see robot-textured fabric in JoAnn! They're definitely missing a very important niche - hurry up, fabric stores, and start stocking boy-costume-print fabric already!!!

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    2. I've seen morphable optimus prime around on youtube, Don't really know if there is a tutorial, but its made out of cardboard! LiEr I bet that might make it sound interesting to you ;)

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  15. Awesome! I love these costumes and the little inspirational angels you had who provided the ideas and concepts. :) :)
    _______
    Lee Ann
    My blog: Crochet...Gotta Love It!

    Crochet...Gotta Love It!

    *********
    My website: Crochet...Gotta Love It!
    Crochet...Gotta Love It!
    *********

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  16. Just gorgeous! We bought a 'morph' style tail for our little Miss a few years back, she demanded that her feet be IN the tail. Maybe this will satisfy her grand dreams! Thanks so much for all your tutorials, I just love looking at all the cool stuff you make :)

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  17. You saved me a lot of trouble. My great neice just phoned and asked for a mermaid tail. I had started drafting it, but your tutorial saved me a lot of time,.

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  18. What a great idea,going to do this for sure.. but first let me tell you this I am so happy to see someone else feels about posting pics of children. my son is very strick about this matter.

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  19. Thanks so much for sharing! I love your story just as much as the idea and directions! Kids are too funny!

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  20. Just curious what you would estimate the cost per tail my daughter wants a mermaid themed birthday party and want me yo make these for her friends??

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    1. Depends on the fabric you're using. I'd say about 1/2 to 3/4 yard of tail fabric, and 1/4 yard scraps for the fins and other embellishment, and about 20" elastic for the waistband and about 16" elastic for the ankle portion. You'd multiply all those fractions by the cost per yard of fabric you're using and you'll have a cost estimate.

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  21. Oh my gosh these are amazing! Love your tutorial, text, photos, ideas, love it all! As a mom to 4 year old twin girls I can totally feel your pain! Awesome creation! What a rocking cool mom!

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  22. I love this! Thanks for the tutorial! I made one from it! Here is my version: http://www.firefliesandjellybeans.com/2012/04/mermaid-tail-for-dress-up.html

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  23. I love this! I am just learning to sew, but I think I can do most of this. I'm costuming "The Little Mermaid" show and would love to be able to make most of the costumes. Thanks so much!

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  24. thank you, thank you and your daughters :D
    we got the musical 'the little mermaid' now performing in the netherlands and guess what i was asked to make :D
    this skirt version has been approved and i'll make a hot pink one tonight
    super this, thanks!

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  25. Thank you for this brilliant version!
    The mermaid-virus has arrived here as well as we are going to see disney's 'the little mermaid' in a couple of weeks. So I was happy to see this great idea.
    http://freyalise.blogspot.com/2012/05/diep-in-de-zee-diep-in-de-zee.html
    It is in dutch but the pictures say the words ;)
    The fluffy boa is a hairband and i went all out with bling on the yoke ;)

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  26. Thank you so much!!! My soon to be 10 year old daughter has a new mermaid fixation and wanted a mermaid tail for her birthday. I had to do the tail a bit different, as she wanted something more like your first go around, but the top was such a life saver, as I had NO CLUE where to start with it!!! Thanks Again!!!

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  27. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! Your help was priceless!!!

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  28. Thank you so much!!! My soon to be 10 year old daughter has a new mermaid fixation and wanted a mermaid tail for her birthday. I had to do the tail a bit different, as she wanted something more like your first go around, but the top was such a life saver, as I had NO CLUE where to start with it!!! Thanks Again!!!

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  29. I'm starting to try and make a mermaid tail for my daughter for halloween, more like the one with fins you posted. She'll be 6 months around halloween, any suggestions or patterns?

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  30. I've been looking all over the internet for a mermaid tail pattern for a infant (6-7months-ish) I think the picture of the sewed up tail one might work for me! Do you by any chance have a pattern you would be willing to share?

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  31. Hi!
    Look here:
    http://crafttime.blogspot.it/2012/07/una-sirena-fra-noi.html
    What do you think about? :-)
    Many thanks for the tutorial!

    Chiara (Italy)

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  32. I'm pretty sure this page stole your photos! They even call the yokes "headbands" LOL
    http://www.jandofabrics.com/newsletters/fish-tale-how-to-make-a-mermaid-tail-without-needle-thread/

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    1. Thanks, Anonymous. Yes, they did, so I contacted them and they've taken the photos down. Thank you for watching my back!

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  33. Thanks so much for posting these photos and how to's. I went to the fabric store this past week and found fabric like the Green skirt you posted but mine is in pink. I wondered how to make the tail and now I know. My daughter wants to be Barbie Mermaid Merliah for halloween. She is 6. Im even making a wig out of yellow yarn and sewing or knotting it around a headband.

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  34. Thanks for this great tutorial. I actually found the same green fabric at joann's. I just wrote a blog post about the mermaid costume I made for my daughter. http://hopeandmegan.com/2012/mermaid-costume/

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  35. Bless you for your hard work and generosity! Making this for Halloween :) THANKS sooooo much!

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  36. This is great, thanks, ikatbag! This year for Halloween, my girls and I are going to be mermaids and make Daddy be the fisherman. :) And, btw, the awesome green fish scale fabric she used is 50% off right now online at Joann's! http://www.joann.com/halloween-spirit-fabric-mermaid-foil-green/zprd_09226242a/

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  37. My daughter is going to be a mermaid for Halloween (today!). I was going to make her tail, and had an idea EXACTLY like your original tail, but my sewing skills are limited, so I thought I had better see if I could find some instructions in blogland! I hit the jackpot when I came across your site! I showed my daughter the tail, and, of course, she didn't like the tail, but LOVED the mermaid skirt you made. I followed your instructions as best as I could, and the skirt turned out soooooo adorable! I also made the sea shell bandeau, and I am going to make a blog post soon, and I will, naturally, link to you and give you all the credit! Thank you soooooo much for this post! Happy Halloween!

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  38. so fun, and cute!!! ill make it for my little sister!!!

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  39. fantastic - thank you, one sad 4 year old is soon to become a happy mermaid

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  40. Oh, thank you! My daughter wants a mermaid outfit that she could walk in. I showed her this, and she thinks it is perfect!

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  41. These are great! I'm the costumer for our high school musical and we need mermaid tails! Your's are perfect. Just have to figure out how to make the for teenagers, but that will be easy! Thanks for sharing and making my job easier!!

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  42. Hi LiEr - just used this for a tail for my little girl. I have photos over here: http://www.shelleymade.com/2013/08/a-mermaid-costume.html

    Thanks so much! She loves it.

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  43. Wendy from Princeton, NJSeptember 20, 2013 at 11:43 PM

    Thank you so much for the great directions, tips, and photos! Don't laugh, but my daughter who is in her 20s needs to make a costume for her Halloween party at work! They have a tradition that everyone has to make their own costume. She'll be wearing a tank top with a fishtail skirt and some embellishments. Thanks to you, I have confidence her costume will turn out great!

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  44. You have saved me! My daughter's are very into mermaids right thanks to the tv show H2O. One wants to be a mermaids for Halloween this year and thanks to your post I might actually pull it off!

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  45. I LOVE THEM!!! So cute! My daughter also wants to be a mermaid for Halloween but I think its a little too cold here in Wisconsin for her to wear that.

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  46. Thank you! Just made these for my 2 little girls for my eldest's 6th birthday. They turned out so so so so well. They both wanted to sleep in them that night too. And they had fun yesterday outside with the hose (we're heading into southern hemisphere summer). A great project.

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