Halloween is just around the weekend corner and some of us are feeling it. I think many sewists identify with a sense of power and obligation that comes at this time of year. As a young mother to four ghouls, this demand is particularly keen at Halloween.
The possibilities seem endless and my kids know it. So like a short order cook, every year I find myself taking rapid fire requests. From classics like a ballerina; to the more artistically liberal cat pirate of 2016. And while I always vow to be ahead of the game, it's inevitable that 2.5 costumes and an unnumbered amount of Dr. Peppers in, I’m left scrambling on a crunch to meet the demand of four bespoke costumes. Luckily, over the years I’ve gathered a few tricks up my magical sleeves to help keep time and cost to a minimum. So here, for your pleasure, are my top 4 Halloween costume hacks.
Cheat The Deets
While sewing is still the fastest method of assembling my pieces, the large majority of my time on any sewing project is spent in the finishing details, particularly hemming. However with a good supply of adhesive notions, my time is cut in half. Here are three I keep in easy reach.
Dritz Stitch Witchery (coincidence?) – Stitch Witchery is a fusible bonding web generally used for stabilizing fabric (think pockets and hems) prior to sewing. When activated by steam it bonds two layers of fabric together. I used Stitch Witchery for all the hemming on my sons General Kenobi robe and it is keeping everything right in place. Stitch Witchery is machine washable and can be kept fresh if dry cleaned.
Glue – Fabric glue is another no sew option. It is clear, machine washable and dryable. In a real pinch, I’ve also been known to use hot glue. However, though fast, it’s not ideal for garments you that you intend to put through heavy wear or a washing machine.
NOTE: Please bear in mind when using hot glue: IT’S HOT! DO NOT EVER apply hot glue directly onto the fabric while someone wears it. Even through layers of fabric, hot glue can burn and having fabric burned into your melted skin is no treat. Also, hot glue dries quite stiff, which will affect the final look of your costume.
Fray Check – Even when you are in a hurry, crisp clean edges are always a thing of pride. To avoid fraying, apply a small dab of Fray Check along your details as I did here to the appliques on my sons cloak. This will prevent any unwinding and potential breakdown.
Pick Friendly Fabrics
As with all sewing projects, fabric selection is vital to making a good costume. However, when possible, it can also be an area to cut corners in. Jersey fabric and felt for instance don’t fray and won’t require the added step of finishing/hemming if you don’t want to.
Fabric can also be a dough saver depending on where you purchase. While Joann might be your go to for regular projects, a run to Walmart might be all you need for some cheap alternatives. Bear in mind, when it comes to fabric, you get out what you put in. Cheap fabrics are just that: cheap. Cheap jersey will have poor recovery and will stretch with wear. So if sustainability beyond the holiday is a concern then don’t skimp here.
Get Familiar with Basic Alterations
Repeat after me: I am not above store bought costumes. While it may seem like a punch to the sewist’s pride, some years just might leave you too swamped in other realms to have the time for the late hours you generally spend making a personalized costume. After an overseas move, the loss of half my sewing arsenal and limited access to a fabric store due to COVID mandates, this year left me screaming “Uncle!” I managed to crack out two costume pieces for my boys using the tricks from above then found myself at the negotiation table with my girls. “I know Mommy promised you an Assassin Moonshadow Elf costume darling. But what say you to a pretty witch from Target and a pint of ice cream?” Remember, the point is fun. I believe half the zombie “costumes” we see trick or treating are actually overworked sewists. But I digress.
The fact is, store bought costumes have their place, even in the experienced sewists toolbox. They are fun. They are fast. In my case, they are generally way cheaper. But I don’t always love the way they look. This is where a basic know how in garment alterations (such as these for pants) comes in.
Alterations can be as big or small as the costume itself. For my daughter we found this adorable witches costume that fit her upper body perfectly but was about 8 inches too long and she kept tripping. All it needed was the removal of some excess fabric and a re-hem and it was perfect.
Finding a cheap alternative vest for my son however was proving futile so his rehaul took a little more work and creativity. Regardless, 3 bucks and about an hour’s work turned this oversized t shirt into the perfect assassins “vest”.
Work With What You Got
Now this may seem the obvious and only way to do Halloween but I feel it my obligation to give it an honorable mention. Many years ago when I first started costuming, I thought there was only one way to do it and that was the way my mother did it. Every September we would make the trek to our local Hancock Fabrics and spend hours flipping through the Simplicity catalogues to the back section titled “Costumes”. From there we could pick from that limited selection what we wanted her to make for us. She only ever used costume patterns. The Jasmine costume I wore as a cute four year old was straight from a Jasmine Costume Pattern. As I’ve progressed in my sewing, my approach has changed to using daily garment patterns and giving them a little charm. Last year, when my own daughter wanted to be Jasmine, I dug out a pattern I had already used for another outfit and created this fun Jasmine-esque version.
Then I used the same pattern for my other daughter who wanted to be Ariel with its own twist.
Don’t misunderstand, there is nothing wrong with using costume patterns. They are awesome! But if time is the name of the game, cut out the work where you can. Don’t spend hours trying to find the exact costume pattern you want then hours more printing, taping, cutting, etc. If you have a standby pattern you can hack into something, use it! A little embellishment has turned many a daily garment into a perfect costume.
Treat Yo’Self Right
So there you have it! My top four hacks to keeping your Halloween low cost and time friendly which will in turn leave you stress free and with time to enjoy the holiday the way you really want to: picking out the good stuff before the kids arrive. Happy Hauntings my enchanting sweeties!
-- Originally written by Veronica Bernham. Archived by Holly Hetzner