Be a Costume Wizard This Halloween

by Leila Peltosaari

What will your kids be this year? Halloween fever starts as soon as the first pumpkin appears. The children will jump up and down in anticipation. Be a wizard and make a costume! That's how memories are made.

Lydie still resents her mom who made her into a fisherman twenty years ago when she wanted to be a ballerina. Michelle and David were crying when their mom was sick in bed but their dad saved the day by making them simple costumes; the year was 1951 and that memory is still treasured. With no money, Caroline got creative with a stack of plastic grocery bags and a roll of duct tape, making a princess costume that won a first prize for her daughter.

Because I was born in Finland and never heard of Halloween before immigrating to Canada thirty years ago, I have no good/bad/funny Halloween stories from my own childhood. Instead, I have put my fantasies in a new book, Illegally Easy Halloween Costumes for Kids.

When my children and their friends were small, I made costumes for them and, two decades later, they still talk about their dress-up games. Today’s kids are busy with computer games, but show them a few costumes and their eyes light up. When I was working on my new book, many kids were knocking at my door daily along with their friends to prove to them that I really do make costumes. I became very popular. What surprised me most was that even the shy kids became lively and animated. They couldn’t stop smiling and caressing the costumes as they jumped into a world of make-believe and created an impromptu play. They left the costumes in a big heap and I was exhausted yet unexpectedly inspired and energized by their endless enthusiasm.

So I knew kids love costumes; some reportedly take my book to bed with them, safely scared or fascinated, immersing themselves into imaginative fantasies as only children can. But would anyone make a costume today? Stores are full of them and parents are busy. Last year, in a big store, I observed a boy trying to squeeze himself into a flimsy costume, too small for him, and I don’t know whom felt more uncomfortable, the parents, the boy, the saleslady, or other shoppers. Kids come in all sizes, costumes rarely do. I imagined him in my Dracula cape or bat costume, proudly going to school and feeling great and getting compliments. So that's one reason; the costume would fit. It would also be original with mom's touch. Making a costume is easier than you'd think, and it's worth every minute of your time. Even without a sewing machine and using clever shortcuts for quick outfits, you can make a spectacular costume after supper that can be finished before tucking the kids into bed. Use fleece and other easy fabrics and simply hot glue the seams.

When choosing a costume, consider your time and budget, but most importantly, respect your child's choice. Get ideas and patterns from books, magazines, fabric stores, and libraries. Create lasting memories with handmade costumes, and let the children help. Kids love to participate in making a costume, accessories, and a special treat bag for the big night. And Halloween is no longer just one night since disguises are needed for celebrations at school, parades, and parties, not to mention those endless dress-up games. The best costumes can dress up many children and last many memorable Halloweens.

Make the costume a few days or even weeks in advance. The kids will enjoy showing it off to their friends and will try it on over and over. The anticipation of a mom-made costume is priceless and prolongs the joy of a happy season. Lars, age 11, used to rummage through old clothes and make himself into a hobo or a ghost. His mom doesn't make costumes. Two years ago, he really wanted to be a Ninja, so they went shopping but the costume he found was overpriced and, apart of nice photo, consisted of only a silly nylon scarf, hood and sash. I made him a Ninja costume, fancy but easy, with warm fleece pants, top, and helmet. I used spectacular sequined fabric to make a facial scarf, sash, and decorative patches on front, sleeves, and ties for leg ends. Lars, wild with joy, tried it on daily, checking to see if the sequined fabric is flashy even in the moonlight. His friends wouldn't believe it was homemade. That costume, with a photo of Lars, is now in my book to inspire others.

Whether you buy or sew, don’t hide the costumes after Halloween is over. Start a dress-up trunk or box with vests, capes, hats, discarded clothes, costume jewelry, scarves, fabric remnants, craft supplies, magic wands and other accessories, to make an irresistible magnet for your kids and their friends. Watch their eyes light up at the sight of costumes that feed imagination and provide good times without TV or computers. A trunk full of costumes will soon become a trunk full of unforgettable childhood memories.

My new book, Illegally Easy™ Halloween Costumes for Kids, offers exciting alternatives to store-bought costumes. It has just won first place in Writer’s Digest National Self-Published Book Awards (reference category) for "an amazing collection of 100 costumes you can make for kids, with simple patterns, no-sew shortcuts and last-minute solutions. Four-color illustrations on every page with step-by-step instructions." A portion of the proceeds will go to UNICEF to help needy children around the world. Copies are available for $19.95 from 1-800-363-6205 (free shipping), at some UNICEF boutiques, including the U.N. headquarters in New York City, and at most Jo-Ann's fabric stores. Patterns for 3 to 12-year-olds are simple and user-friendly with baby versions shown for some costumes. Instructions are well-organized. Creative and comfortable designs with no-sew shortcuts and last-minute solutions range from traditional and storybook characters, animals and clowns to celestial beings, country costumes, and cultural tributes.

coverLeila Peltosaari has written several user-friendly books on sewing, crafts, Halloween, and cooking, and is now working on a costume book for adults. Tikka Books, publisher of award-winning Illegally Easy Halloween Costumes for Kids. See Leila's website for more info, photos, sample patterns and ideas for last-minute costumes.

Copyright © Leila Peltosaari; Permission to republish granted to, LLC.