My earliest memory of Halloween is as a little Dutch girl. I wore a smock dress, that iconic starched bonnet and wooden clogs. My mother sometimes dressed me in wooden clogs for ordinary trips to the grocery, it was a strange childhood. It was also an enchanted one, because every fall my mother would ask “What do you want to be for Halloween?” a question only limited by my imagination. One year I was a cat in a ball gown, another year my idol, Frida Kahlo. Then, like so many children in the fall of 1990 I was the Little Mermaid.
No matter the character my mother could make the costume, she’s just that good. It must have started when she was a girl, sewing clothes for her troll dolls. She grew up to be an incredibly accomplished sculptor. So when it comes to constructing a costume she knows the art of spandex, wigs, wire armatures and papier mâché. When my Frida Kahlo needed a heart, she sculpted one. When my Ariel needed a fishtail, she made one that fanned out with wire and glistened with phosphorescent paint.
The tradition of a homemade Halloween so much defined my childhood that I wanted to pass the memory on to my son. So for his first Halloween, Dorian became Bilbo Baggins from the Hobbit. Now, as his second Halloween approaches the tradition continues. Here’s a look at his very first costumes and how I made them.
Related: DIY Family Halloween Costumes
To transform Dorian into baby Bilbo I needed a cape, a vest and some big, hairy feet. Felt is such a wonderfully versatile material for costumes, so it was off to Joann Fabric to get the material for
his cape and vest. I also bought a pair of brown corduroy pants at the Goodwill. Then I scavenged my jewelry box and found an “elven” looking clasp for the cape.
The Hobbit feet were the best part. I used a cardboard cereal box for the sole and the bridge of the foot. I wadded newspaper to make the toes and built up the bridge of the foot with strips of newspaper dipped in wallpaper glue. Next I sculpted paper pulp on top of the newspaper and the feet really started to take shape. After painting, the final touch was a bit of hair I clipped from an old wig. My six-month-old baby Bilbo looked adorable even as he tugged and writhed, determined to tear off his costume.
This Halloween Dorian is 18-months-old and one of his favorite words is bug. That’s where I got the idea for Bug Boy. I chose a beetle for inspiration because I love the shape of their arms and the metallic color of their wings.
After sketching a design, I decided on black felt as a base for the body, with shiny polyester for the arms and wings. The appendages and wings are stuffed and I also inserted pipe cleaners into the appendages to keep them from slumping.
Wow, the costume looks huge on him! I think he could wear this one for years to come. But what I love about homemade costumes are the imperfections. It’s funny to see Dorian scurry around in his giant, ill-fitting bug suit. The lopsided asymmetry adds to the charm, while the hours and hours and hours I spent sewing means this bug suit is a keeper. I’ll always remember making these costumes for my son, just as I remember my mother turning anything I could dream up into something that exceeded my wildest expectations for Halloween.
Selena Reder is a mother, writer and part-time video producer living in Cincinnati, Ohio with her son Dorian and husband Tim. Dorian loves chasing Selena and Tim’s tailless cat, making messes for dad to clean up, squealing loud enough for the neighbors to hear and staring at strangers until it’s uncomfortable. Tim loves Dungeons and Dragons, Margaret Atwood and writing meticulous grocery lists.
Selena loves washing cloth diapers, binging on British TV (Top Gear, Only Fools and Horses, Doc Martin, etc) painting and knitting super fancy baby sweaters. She also loves working part-time with her video editor husband (special shout out to her parents and in-laws for being great babysitters!).
If Selena were stranded on a desert island with only one thing to do for the rest of her life, she would nurse her son in their favorite chair. It’s the best thing in the world right now.