Monday, October 27, 2014

Max Wild Things Costume- Simplicity 2506

This is my first real Halloween costume. I feel like such a mom!

My mom always used to make our costumes. Actually, I remember it as being really stressful for her... it was always last minute, and her sewing machine had this quirky problem where the tension would go batty and there was nothing you could do about it. It was sure to happen when she was desperate to finish the costumes, early in the morning on the 31st of October! Years later when I learned to sew on that machine, I struggled with the same thing, and I tried everything to fix it with no avail. She eventually just bought a new machine!

The stress of the experience (my stress of watching her struggle!) made me promise myself that I would just go buy costumes for my kids. You only wear them for one night anyway! But she would have none of that-- never, ever did she allow us to go out in some plastic K-mart concoction. Now that I have my own daughter, I can't imagine sending her out in one of those plasticky things either!

So for Lilly's first two Halloweens, I found costumes at the great used kids stores in town, or made them up from easy materials that required minimal sewing (last year she was a black cat and a zombie, for different events). But this year I just sort of wanted to make her a costume. She is 2.75 years old, almost 3, so I figure it is probably the only year where she is going to get lots of opportunities to wear her costume and still doesn't have much opinion on what it is... so I get to choose!

I also wanted to make a costume that would have great dress-up potential and would have a life beyond Halloween. Somehow Max from the Wild Things came into my head, and there was no going back!

After the initial idea, things just started to fall in place. Any fleece sleeper or animal costume pattern could potentially work, so I ended up with Simplicity 2506 since my Joanne's had Simplicity patterns on sale for $1. In retrospect I can't say it was the ideal pattern, but I'll go into details on that later. I also found almost everything else I needed in a single trip to Joanne's, which is practically unheard of for any of my other sewing projects! I guess making costumes is a strength of such chain stores. I used a sheep-fleece "fur" for the outer fabric, and a microfleece for the lining. There is an 18 inch zipper up the front, and big oversized wooden buttons just for show (they were sort of a splurge, $3.50 each for 3 of them!). The claws are made from the microfleece, and the ears from the sheep-fleece. 

I made a bunch of alterations to the pattern. The pattern had cuffs on the arms and feet, and I ditched the cuffs and added length instead. The feet have elastic to keep them in place. 

The pattern had the zipper in the back, and I moved it to the front so that she could get in and out of it by herself. The pattern had a separate hood, but I attached it at the back of the neck.

The sizing of the pattern seemed off to me. I made the 3T size since that seemed closest to her measurements, and the 4T seemed much to large from the printed measurements on the pattern envelope. But the torso seems to just fit... I would have made the 4T if I had realized how short it was. And she isn't even in diapers, I don't think it would fit if she was! In fact, I added a "gusset" to the crotch to give it 2 more inches of room. 

The hood was sized S-M-L and I chose the Large, and it is also rather small. This might be due to my alterations though... the hood pattern is a 3 piece pattern, and the two side pieces had darts in them. I sewed up the darts and hated the look... it would be great for a mouse (which is one of the animals on the pattern envelope!) but was overly round for a good Max costume, which should look more like a cozy hood in my opinion. So I taped the darts closed and cut out some new side pieces, which gave a much better shape to the hood, but I suppose also caused it to lose volume. Anyway, it just fits, but I had to rig a closure for the under-chin part with elastic around an over-sized button. 

I also ran into trouble attaching the hood to the body. Naively, I just sewed the back of the hood to the back of the bodice, and as might be expected, this made the hood barely fit over her head. So I added a gusset, a sort of oval of fabric that gave an extra 2 inches to the back of the neck. This seems to have solved the problem. 

The back of the costume. You can sort of see the gusset I added between the costume and the hood, to give more room to move hear head around!

The original pattern didn't call for a lining. I can see why it might be practical not to line something that is meant just as a costume, but the sheep-fur fabric had a yucky poly back that I wasn't fond of. Also, I meant this costume to be more than just a one-time Halloween costume... I am hoping she'll play in it, and maybe snuggle up and sleep in it on a cold winter evening. So I made a lining by cutting all of the pattern pieces from the fleece. I used techniques I learned in lining a jacket (bagging the jacket lining) to attach the lining mostly by machine. I ended up hand-sewing the lining to one side of the zipper, everything else was machine-sewn.

 The claws were pretty easy. For the hands I just made some mitten-like pouches and sewed on some stuffed triangles. There is velcro to hold them out of the way while playing or eating.

For the feet I made a detachable claw that sits above her feet. It velcros in the back. There is an extra piece of velcro that attaches to a piece of velcro on the back of the leg of the costume to hold it in place. 

For the tail, Joannes had this amazing fur that was just the perfect racoon-y looking stuff, luxuriously furry. I drew out a simple tail, slightly wider in the middle than at the ends, sewed both sides, and stuffed it very lightly. I sewed a loop of 1/4 inch elastic to the top of the tail. 

On the costume, I made a slit in the seam where I wanted the tail to go, and sewed around it to reinforce it and prevent further unraveling. I sewed a button to the seam allowance just above the hole. The idea is that if I want to wash the costume, I can remove the tail, which might not hold up so well to the rough handling. The hardest part of making the tail was all of the bits of fur all over the place, and that was even after trying really hard not to cut too many of the fur strands (I cut the fur from the back, with my rotary, trying to cut mostly through just the backing).

The button on the inside of the costume where the elastic for the tail attaches.

For the crown, I drew a crown pattern on paper to match the circumference of head, then cut it out of the fabric with a seam allowance. The fabric is a gold poly-brocade with dragonflies on it... when I saw it, I knew it was perfect (and it was on sale, too!). 

Once sewn and lightly stuffed, I traced the points and circumference with another line of stitching, to "quilt" the stuffing in place. The back has a bit of elastic in it, but I neglected to leave extra fabric to allow the elastic to stretch, so it didn't end up being adjustable. 

But it fits her well, and she loves it... she'll wear it around the house for hours. The fur trim is hand sewn onto the bottom of the crown. I also sewed velcro to the inside of the crown and to the costume, so it will stay in place over her "ears" when she wears the costume. 

I had a hard time deciding what to make the whiskers out of. Pipe-cleaners seemed the obvious choice, but seemed too thick and quite honestly, a bit dangerous floating around at eye level among other toddlers. I think I would rather no whiskers! Someone online mentioned using bits of a plastic broom. None of our brooms were black plastic... but in keeping my eyes open, I found a broom in one of the places I frequent that had just the right plastic "straw" and I pilfered a few strands. I washed them up well with soap and water. To stabilize them in the costume I poked them through the hood in between the outer fabric and the lining, then tied a knot in the plastic. After closing the seam, they seem relatively secure.

The whole costume cost $50 in supplies from one Joanne's trip, and took perhaps 8 hours or so to make. That's just a guess, it might have been longer. It took up my sewing time for the past 3 weekends, but that isn't saying much since one of those weekends had almost no sewing time, and minding a toddler generally doesn't leave a whole lot of uninterrupted project time. There is someone on Etsy who makes amazing Max costumes, and her design was an inspiration to my own Max costume, but rather out of reach at $275. 

I'm actually surprised at how much I enjoyed making the costume! It helps that my sewing machine, while not fancy, is predictable and reliable (it was a gift from my mom!). I think it also helps that after 2 years of making all of my own clothes, I'm rather comfortable sewing with all sorts of materials and making linings for jackets and dresses. 

Also, it occurs to me that when sewing for my work/play/formal wardrobe, I feel pressure to make things look "finished" in a way that is professional, so it is sort of refreshing to make something that is whimsical and where flaws might be seen as adorable rather than embarrassing. And finally, I left myself enough time-- here I am blogging it a week before the 31st! (Okay, so we had a toddler Halloween party to attend last Saturday, but no I wasn't up all night the night before). 

Of course the greatest joy is seeing Lilly wear it! She told me straight out that she really likes it. However a bit of shyness is creeping in... we had a hard time getting it on her for the party, she just wanted to be herself and play all the games without the encumbrance of a costume. In her defense, the costume is rather warm for indoor play. This would actually be a good year for seasonally cool weather for trick-or-treating!