Many, many years ago, I bought Brian a copy of The Hobbit in graphic novel form.
Never could I have imagined he would someday read the book to our 3-year-old and that 3-year-old would get so into the story that it would inspire a family Halloween costume.
Obviously Everett had to be Bilbo Baggins, and Brian had to be Gandalf.
Lydia and my costumes were less clear. At first, I thought I would be a generic elf woman and Lydia would be adorable as Smaug the dragon. But then I thought: just because Tolkien wrote this epic story with NO WOMEN in it doesn't mean I have to relegate myself to being a boring, no-name character. I wanted to be a character with power! So I became Smaug the dragon. And Lydia became Beorn, the man who turns into a bear (more on the hilarious pun we made with her costume later).
I'll start by describing the easiest costume I made. My own. I scored the crushed velvet medieval times dress from a friend.
I went to the fabric store looking for more crushed velvet to make my wings out of, but instead I found this awesome reptile scale fabric. It was a little more expensive than I was hoping ($17.99/yd), but it was just so perfect I had to get it.
I cut the shape I wanted and hot glued ric rac to the top edge. I didn't do this simply because I love ric rac (I do), but the medieval times dress has ric rac, so I went with it.
I used small gold safety pins to connect the wings to the dress. I thought the pins would add texture (they didn't really), and I wanted to be able to easily detach the two parts. I plan to make the wings into dress-up dragon wings for Everett and reuse the dress for future costumes.
The mask turned out so much better than I expected. I bought the largest mask of that shape at the craft store. It was originally a bronze color which probably added a bit of shine. I used Tacky Glue to attach a piece of the reptile fabric. When that was dry I cut off the excess.
I used gold acrylic paint (Liquitex Basics) to paint the stripe down the nose. Two coats. Everything I painted gold I did at least two coats.
I had the idea to make the dragon horns and . . . gills? (What are those things?) out of aluminum foil. The horns are straight foil. The ribs of the gills are pipe cleaners. They have a loop at the interior edge. I had no idea aluminum foil painted gold would look so great! I glued the horns and gills to the back of the mask with hot glue.
My "claws" were classic witches' nails painted red and gold.
I love projects that are easy to make but have big impact. My Smaug costume was certainly that.
On to adorable Bilbo.
I was so happy to find this seersucker suit at our local children's consignment store. At first, I felt bad about my plans to "destroy" it but decided that its life as Bilbo's suit (and in our dress-up stash for years to come) would be even cooler than being worn to a few weddings.
I used Rit dye to make the jacket green and the pants browny-orange. Dying is hard! Much harder than mixing paint colors. For example, I thought I had a lovely, deep green color for the jacket; it turned out much lighter. All the pieces had spots and smears from uneven dying. Luckily, hobbits are earthy creatures who like to garden, so I didn't get hung up on the suit looking a little "dirty."
The vest is a muscle tee from Everett's closet that I Tacky Glued a couple pieces of scrap fabric to and sewed on a few buttons. I also used Tacky Glue for the hem of his pants. I was so impressed with Tacky Glue during this costuming season! Smooth and strong.
The hairy hobbit feet were an old pair of flip flops painted pink with acrylic (I had to repaint them every time he wore them because they would crack and flake). The hair was that strange hairy string you can find in the yarn section of the craft store. What is it for besides hairy hobbit feet?!? Ok, I googled it. It's called "eyelash yarn," and there are many creative uses. Forgive me.
He needed Sting! Bilbo's trusty sword that glows blue when goblins and orcs are near. I found a dagger at the costume store and painted the blade blue then silver for a little shimmer. I thought about painting the hilt to look more like the one in the book or movie, but then I slapped myself across the face and said, "that's going too far!" I sewed the sheath directly to his pants.
His "one ring" is a silver ring I made in a jewelry fabrication class. I painted it with gold acrylic paint.
Lydia was the easiest costume by far. I didn't even buy the thing. My good friend Anna knew I was looking for a bear costume, found this at a thrift store, bought it for me, brought it to me. Couldn't have been easier! Thanks Anna!
Although it was the easiest, Lydia's costume made us feel the most clever. In the story there's a character named Beorn who can turn into a bear. He's like a were-bear. There is a baby carrying device called a Baby Bjorn. So we borrowed a Baby Bjorn from our friends Heidi and Shaw, stuck Lydia in it, and . . . Baby Beorn! We crack ourselves up.
And last but definitely not least, Brian as Gandalf. His costume was the most expensive, the most labor intensive, and the one most demanding of my brain power.
We bought the hat, wig, and beard. From the start, I knew I wouldn't feel comfortable trying to make any of those things. And luckily there are branded LOTR Gandalf accessories for purchase, even at our little, local costume shop. No trouble looking Gandalf-enough (no one's going to look like Ian McKellen with those things on).
For Everett's baby shower many years ago, Brian's parents purchased yards and yards of muslin for a canopy. They generously donated all the fabric to us for this projects (and for many more in the future). I dyed the fabric before sewing to avoid any shrinkage or other strange effects on the final pieces. Getting the right color was a challenge! Grey and black together was too purple. The next thing I tried made it too brown. I can't even tell you what did the trick. I just used my color theory knowledge to add green or yellow or red until I was happy. Luckily, Gandalf's robes don't match his hat perfectly in the movie, so I gave myself a break.
For being basically unskilled folks, Brian and I are pretty darn good at creating patterns and sewing. We learned this last year making the Curious George head and Man with the Yellow Hat's spats. Gandalf's robe I modeled after a choir robe with a flat yoke that is open at the front and tied together with a shoelace. I lined the yoke with some really hefty material since I needed to attach so much fabric to it. The material was pleated in the front and flat in the back. Since we didn't have a pattern, the sleeves are sewn most of the way around but left open at the armpits since the circumferences don't match perfectly. Shhhh. Don't tell anyone.
Like last Halloween, Brian did almost all the machine sewing, since my Singer is very temperamental and prefers him. At the end of the project, it stopped working entirely, and I had to run over to my parents' house to have my mom finish the last hems on her machine. My parents gave me a sewing machine for my birthday, though, so no more machine issues. Fingers crossed.
The hood of the cape is almost a rectangle, but I lengthened the top seam so it's a bit pointier. The robe itself started as a big rectangle. I pleated around the neck, connected the hood to the robe, and cut off the extra material in the front so it hung straight from shoulders to floor.
There was a lot of trial and error in this project. I think that's one of the cool things about being more of a crafter than a seamstress. I'm willing to do weird things that pros would consider just plain wrong. And I'm ok leaving things unfinished if they won't be seen. But I also take way too long doing things a pro would find simple. You win some, you lose some.
The seams in the hood and around the neck are unfinished and frayed, but that was ok with me since Gandalf is supposed to have a weathered appearance. If we were really committed, we would have weathered the material all over, but I want to be able to reuse this costume for something else in the future. Who knows what.
The tie for the cape is braided scrap material. The belt is CROCHETED scrap material. That project took way too long. But I wasn't willing to learn macrame or some sort of knotting technique that would have been faster.
The pipes are sticks I found in our yard with little papier-mâché bowls attached. I papier-mâchéd down the whole stick for a consistent look. I painted them, glued some crumpled orange paper in the bowl, and painted black on top of it to suggest embers.
Brian's staff was a stick he found in our yard, cleaned, and whittled a bit for a good look.
What a fun family costume! I wonder what we'll come up with this year?!