Sew What?!


Here’s a little piece I wrote back in 1999 about Halloween and my inability to sew:

 October is a crazy month. Those of you planning on making Halloween costumes for your kids better get started. I know that many Mormon mothers have an aversion for store-bought generic costumes (let’s not even get into the “mask” debate here). There is something that goes against one’s pioneer heritage in schlepping to Target or Toys R Us and simply buying a Cinderella or pirate or whatever costume. So many of us feel it is more–dare I say “industrious?”–to buy fabric and have needle and thread or hot glue gun at the ready to hand make our little pumpkin suits or ladybugs. Now some will claim it is thriftier and hence more righteous to make a costume. A friend of mine recoiled at the Disney store price for a Sleeping Beauty costume, so she set out to make one of her own. In the end, not counting her time or sanity, she spend $10 MORE on the homemade version than if she’d bought the store one.

When we were kids, my mom would NEVER buy a costume (nor would my mom buy Skippy peanut butter, not matter how much we begged, instead she bought the bishop storehouse tin can kind that had 3 cups of oil on the top and ripped the bread when you tried to spread it–as if my very salvation depended on my not having that extra spoonful of sugar in the Peter Pan that made it so delicious). But she didn’t make our costumes either. So we always had to find stuff that we could turn into a costume, like a black leotard would make you a cat, or a swinging skirt and cashmere sweater a 50’s girl (this was when Happy Days was all the rage). But I secretly LONGED for a store bought costume. I lusted over Jill Y. in her ready made Tooth Fairy get up complete w/sparkly wand. I envied Janie N. her Saloon Girl outfit so much that I borrowed it the following year and loved every second in those smart and sassy duds.
But there is something special in a one of a kind, homemade costume that (even if the kid could care less) makes you feel proud. And many women LOVE to sew and find great satisfaction in these creative endeavors. I can’t sew at all. Now I know many of you say the same thing, but secretly you DID have a home ec class in 7th grade and have made aprons or “tres facile” dresses. I’ve heard many a woman swear she can’t sew and then I find out she not only has a machine but knows how to do zippers and linings and buttons–oh my! But when I say I can’t sew, I mean I have to get the instructions out every time I need to thread the darn thing and still have to wind bobbins by hand (this is the one time a year when I drag out my sister’s old Singer to make a costume for Jonah). But even so, I still feel compelled to MAKE a costume for him.
Last year he was a lion and I spent 20 hours and 3 yards of felt trying to get his hat/mane right. Then on Halloween I go to put it on him, he cries and rips it off his head and I say, in all seriousness, “You will wear this or I will BITE you.” He cried even harder and I finally had the sense to bribe him with Smarties to get it on. Am I evil or what? This year when I asked him what he wanted to be, I hoped he’d say something that I could get off the rack. Homemade schmomade, I’m pregnant and working and I can’t sew. Please say Winnie the Pooh I was thinking. But no, he tells me he wants to be a bird. Maybe he wants to be Big Bird, I think, maybe there’s a Sesame Street store… But no. Jonah announces in the next breath he wants to be a Blue Jay. A Blue Jay for heaven’s sake. My husband Dave is an avid birder and has been training Jonah since birth to be the same. By 2 Joe could identify morning doves while I still thought I’d heard an owl.
Okay, I think, I can do this (he is my first and only so I am still too acquiescent to his wishes). So I drag out the many bird encyclopedias we have and look up blue jay and draw a simple sketch. Enter Dave, master birder. “Um, Heather, that’s nice, but the head is shaped more at an angle, and the beak needs to be pointier and shorter. And be sure to remember that Blue Jay’s feathers are iridescent so the fabric will need to shimmer.” Next thing you know I am in JoAnn fabric in the BRIDAL section looking at chiffons and taffetas for a 2 1/2 year old’s Halloween costume that he will wear once (that is unless he refuses to wear it…).
Once the fabric is cut it is too late to turn back and so now I am trying to figure out how on earth to do this thing. So far I have some blue felt pinned together for the head with a toilet paper roll cut to resemble a beak but it just looks like a toilet paper roll with black felt on it. I am too scared to attempt the wings at this point. I will most likely wait until the 29th and do it in a rush when there is no time too worry if it looks good enough and no time to do it again if it doesn’t. So if any of you out there were thinking of making a costume, think long and hard and then run to Party Needs while they still have your kid’s size. A sewing free Halloween sounds like quite a treat to me.
Ten years and 3 kids later, you think I might have finally embraced my pioneer heritage and learned to sew.  Over the years I’ve learned how to operate all sorts of things: snow blowers, drills, airsoft guns, crock pots, hedge trimmers, Photoshop. My next goal is our chainsaw. But the sewing machine?  Still scares the crap out of me.

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13 Responses

  1. FoxyJ says:

    My husband and I have become masters of the new-sew homemade costume. I don’t have a working sewing machine right now; even though I know how to sew I just don’t feel like putting that much energy into something they’ll wear one time. Thankfully my husband is an artist/creative type and worked for several years at a job that involved decorating. We’ve discovered that fleece is perfect because it won’t ravel and so you don’t have to sew it. Our kids still play with their superhero capes and masks from a few years ago; we just cut them out of fleece. Last year my daughter was a black cat, so I just bought her black leggings and a black shirt, and then we bought some ears and a tail from a party supply store. Yeah, I could have made a tail but it wouldn’t have been any different. Our two-year-old wanted to be a bat, so he wore black clothes and then for the wings we used a large black napkin with a hole cut in the middle and the corners safety pinned to his sleeves. I hope as they get older they won’t get too picky; if they are, I’ll tell them they have to start making the costumes themselves 🙂

  2. EmilyCC says:

    I love my four year old because he wanted to be a “flying ghost” this year. We just cut the hole in the sheet, and he was thrilled.

  3. Kristen says:

    I think the Blue Jay costume looked just fabulous!

    I have definitely fallen into the sewing/craft challenged for most of my life, but with the help of some good mentors, and learning to not care so much when I inevitably make a stupid (or not so stupid) mistake, I’ve actually gotten quite a bit better. I even can mostly remember how to thread my friend’s machine. See? If I can do it, anyone can! No reason to be afraid 😉

    (I made my daughter a jellyfish costume this year. Lots of time, lots of risk taking, lots of learning. But gosh, I am so proud!)

  4. Caroline says:

    I’m one of those people who have a sewing machine, but have no idea how to wind the bobbin.

    I have no shame about buying my kid a costume, but I really do appreciate the effort and creativity other people put in to making them.

    My goal this year is to get my 3 year old to actually wear the dragon costume he claimed he wanted. He was supposed to wear it today to preschool, but of course when it came down to it, he said the dragon scared him and that he didn’t want to wear it…

  5. Sofia says:

    I just say, work with what you have. And homemade creations are the most rewarding because you save money and feel proud… That’s only one way to do it though.

  6. mraynes says:

    I don’t really know how to sew, I don’t even know where to start with a sewing machine. That being said, I have had some weird compulsion to make my children’s Halloween costume. I hand-sewed my son’s first costume, a red m&m, which was easy enough to do because anybody can sew in a circle. I had the foresight to make it big enough that he wore it two years in a row and now my one-year old daughter is going to wear the same costume this year. I may feel compelled to make the costumes but I feel no compunction in getting my full investment out of them. Also this year I had my sister do the major sewing on my son’s tennis ball costume, leaving the easy fabric painting part for myself. 🙂

  7. X2 dora says:

    My 7 year old nephew will be wearing the spiderman pj’s with hood (and silver spidey eyes) hat that I gave to hime 2 years ago for Christmas. Yes, I may be the coolest aunt ever.

    And yesterday, I was chortling to myself all day as I made a Wild Things hood and vest to wear this weekend. It’s all very raw, but there is something to creating something … making it with my own hands … that is intensely satisfying.

  8. Kelly Ann says:

    I want to learn how to operate a chainsaw too to trim some trees in my yard. Who knows if I will sew my kids costumes … If I want to I will but I won’t feel obligated too. For myself, I have the same four costumes that I rotate year after year.

  9. DenzelWE says:

    Hola , Did you have a happy Halloween?

  10. D'Arcy says:

    For me, my biggest fear was having buckets and buckets of wheat that I was supposed to know how to grind and turn into food that would save my entire family during the great calamaties of our time.


  11. Kelly Ann says:

    D’Arcy, it is odd for me as I have stepped further away from the church in the past year, I actually embraced food storage and emergency preparedness more. Maybe with the thought that I couldn’t turn to the church anymore. Although I am stepping back slowly, in terms of service, I now find myself more community oriented than church oriented.

  12. Two of Three says:

    I try not to connect my self esteem with what I sew/cook/clean. But it is lovely when your wee one looks up at you and says “Mom, this is GREAT!!”

  13. Dava says:

    Heather, this article totally entertained me! You are a hoot.
    I can sew, but I am not creative…..since I think I’m not creative, I disliked the whole costume thing when I still had children young enough to need my help. I was a Halloween Grinch. I encouraged my kids to invent their own out of stuff around the house. They used and altered old dresses of mine, old dance costumes of older siblings, etc. We’d take a trip to Rite Aid and get accessories! My mom made a couple of costumes for the kids. And on occasion I purchased a whole one if my child was goofy enough to like it. 🙂 I sure love what my grandkids are doing for Halloween, though..and I admire their mothers and fathers who help them….so I am trying to imagine myself as a mother again….would I be more interested? Nah.