Six Must-Haves For Making Amazing Costumes

It’s mid-October, which means we all have two things on our minds — candy and costumes!  Halloween is just over a week away, and you might be like me, spending late nights painting, glueing, and sewing cool stuff to make costumes and props. I’ve made my share over the years, because sometimes you just can’t find what you’re looking for in a store.  In honor of Halloween and those late night costume-making adventures, I thought I’d share a throwback to one of my ambitious Imagination portraits from a costume perspective: Grant-Man

Grant-man was inspired by Grant’s love of playing with his father’s vintage toys.

Grant-man was inspired by Grant’s love of playing with his dad’s vintage toys.  I happen to have grown up in said vintage era, so this was very near and dear to my own heart. It brought back memories of my brother and I with our friends playing with some of the same toys! Two years ago when I designed this shoot, I couldn’t find any store-bought costumes for kids that fit what we wanted.  So, I made each of the costumes and props by repurposing store bought items and/or crafting them from fabric, fur, and foam. 

In addition to being fun to design and execute, I learned a ton from this challenge.  I became a photographer because I couldn’t draw, paint, or sculpt. Luckily, I’ve found some great resources that have helped me create pieces that work great and look really cool.  In honor of all the parents still finishing up costumes for Halloween this week (or for the school play, or special class days, or just for make believe time at home), here are my top six “must haves” for making awesome costumes: 

  1. Pinterest.  Yes, I said it.  Pinterest, the joy and despair of creative moms everywhere. There is so much cool inspiration on Pinterest! While the images and projects on Pinterest can sometimes seem overwhelming (who doesn’t dread the “Pinterest Fail”), if you know what to look for it’s a gold mine.  Here’s how I make it work for me. First, I make an inspiration board for my project. Then I search Pinterest and pin anything that looks interesting to me. I don’t limit my board to what seems doable — I just want to find what I like and how I’m conceptualizing the project.  For these costumes, I pinned lots of drawings of vintage characters, as well as the coolest costume pictures I could find (even if I knew trying to make something similar would be way out of my skillset, budget, or timeline). But most especially, I pin INSTRUCTIONS and anything that has a how-to explaining how the person made that cool thing I liked.  As I pin the how-tos, I read and carefully evaluate the steps to decide if they are within my abilities, or if I might need help (and who can help me).  I think the reason I think I’ve had a lot of success with DIY projects from Pinterest is that I’m pretty good at picking the projects I want to try and figuring out which steps or projects I want to outsource. I’ll pin multiple sets of instructions for making/doing the same thing and compare them to figure out which is the easiest or best fit for me.  I still keep them pinned even if I don’t use them — they are all slightly different, and you never know when you’ll run into a mid-project snag that a different creative has solved.
Flat lay of skeleton villain armor, hero gold cuffs, and art supplies.
  1. Stuff that’s already made. As I evaluate and plan my project, I think about whether I might already have or be able to purchase an item that will serve as a base for something I’m making.  For example, when making the skeleton villain’s breastplate, I realized that if I bought leather straps I wouldn’t have to worry about making those out of some type of faux armor, they would look great and be easy to secure. Similarly, I didn’t try to draw or sculpt the skull heads or bones  — I found inexpensive plastic halloween decor I could cut and repurpose. For the Sorceress costume, I used a white corset top provided by the client as a base for gluing on feathers.  Check out – they have a whole advertising campaign around making Halloween costumes from their colorful, basic pieces. 
Skeleton villain with glowing eyes kids costume
The skeleton mask and blue bodysuit were store-bought, as were the halloween skeleton decorations and the light-up ram’s skull. I sewed the hood from a velveteen fabric, and created the armor out of foam, leather, and elastic pieces. I then used the deconstructed halloween decorations for the armor ornamentation.
  1. Silhouette machine.  I can’t even express how much I love my Silhouette machine.  I bought mine several years ago when I was making decorations for my kids’ birthday party and I don’t know how I ever made anything without it!  I’m not good at cutting straight lines or circles, and now I don’t have to! In addition to being able to directly cut out card stock pieces and felt, I can also use my silhouette to create and cut out templates and stencils for creating items out of other materials.  There are lots of models out there, but this is the newest version of the one that I have.
Close up of Orko/Ghost costume
I used my Silhouette to cut out the “O” on the ghost’s t-shirt.
  1. An Expert. One of the coolest things about the Internet is that knowledge is everywhere. I was searching on google for information on how to create faux armor and I somehow stumbled upon Kamui Cosplay’s website. It is a treasure trove of costume making information! If you like costume design, definitely check it out — her creations are nothing short of spectacular.  Thankfully, she is very generous with her knowledge, sharing it through online tutorials and blog posts. I purchased all of her e-books and patterns at a very reasonable rate that more than made up for what they saved me in time and materials trying to figure this out myself.  She told me exactly what materials to buy and how to use them.  Her patterns were exceptionally helpful because they gave me a clean and easy starting point that I could then modify for my needs.  For example, to make the sorceress’ headdress we used one of Kamui Cosplay’s patterns to create a foam helmet. (This sounds harder than it was — all we had to do was trace and cut the pattern pieces out of the foam and then glue them together with rubber cement.) From there, we slightly modified the cut of the front piece a little, then painted the helmet and glued on the feathers and eyes (cut with my Silhouette). For the beak, we took the moldable foam, shaped it to look vaguely like a costume beak I’d pinned on Pinterest, painted and glued it to the helmet. Without the pattern, however, I would have been scrambling to figure out a base for the piece. 
Winged costume of a woman as a hawk; inspired by He-man Sorceress.
  1. EVA Foam.  This one is really a continuation of #4, because I would never have discovered EVA foam, or the super amazing moldable foam, if Kamui Cosplay hadn’t told me about it. Where was EVA foam when I was making props and costumes back in high school? You can cut it with scissors, shape it with a Dremel, paint it, glue it, mold it — the possibilities are almost endless. With each piece we created it was easier and more fun to use. Just be sure that if you do work with it, follow the safety procedures and protocols that Kamui Cosplay outlines in her materials. 
Flat lay image of Skeletor prop and foam armor gauntlet with rubber cement and spray paint cans
I created the skeleton villain’s staff and armor using EVA foam and repurposed Halloween decorations.
  1. Friends. A really good friend to help hold your foam as you mold and glue it together, cut and paint the tricky pieces, encourage you, and take down the measurements you need to make sure it all fits right.  Thank you so much to my dear friend Sarah for all her time and help crafting these costumes!

What costume projects are you working on this week? 

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Vivlio Photography is a child and family photographer in Little Rock, Arkansas. I help parents in Little Rock and all over Arkansas to capture their kids' wildest dreams and imagination and bring them to life in creative custom portraits.

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