Wanna wow your kid? Take a humble hoodie (or a fancy velvet one) and convert it into a wearable, costume version of their favorite critter! This is especially fun if their “spirit animal” is a bit obscure.
For example, our second-born, Elliott, (superhero alias “Manta Man”) has loved sting rays of all sorts for several years. Here he was as a newly-minted seven-year-old at Lake Chelan. What a cutie! I mean, cool dude. (“Cool” is the new “cute” when you are a grown man of seven.)
I really wanted to make Elliott a special costume to celebrate his seventh birthday and his deep, deep love for rays. So, I went to Goodwill in search of inspiration and raw materials. As usual, it did not disappoint!
I couldn’t believe my luck in finding this magical, teal blue hoodie in stretch velour. Its crushed, multi-directional “pile” gives the material incredible softness and sheen. (Which is also why it photographs so differently in nearly every shot!)
First of all, I had “Manta Man” try on the hoodie. I was glad to see that it was a bit big. I was pretty sure I could open the sleeves to convert them into the ray’s pectoral fins. It took some examining and brainstorming, but I figured it out! To widen the sleeve, I cut it straight up from the underarm seam to the top of the shoulder, careful to only snip through the top layer of the sleeve.
Then, I smoothed the sleeve perfectly flat and pinned it along its underarm seam. Stabilizing it in this way allowed me to easily slide the scissors down the top of the sleeve, snipping it open as I went.
One sleeve open!
Next, I repeated this process to open up the right sleeve. I checked the shoulder measurement to my first cut on the left sleeve, so that both sleeves would match. Then, I pinned the right sleeve and cut it open. (Please excuse my jankity eczema fingernails. It took getting a low-dose steroid shot in my derriere to finally help me get on top of my crazy hand problems. GAME CHANGER. 10/10 would recommend!)
At this point, I asked “Manta Man” to check my progress!
Things were looking good, so I asked to borrow his stuffed manta ray to help me visualize how to fashion the sleeves into sweeping, curved fins.
Of course, I could have just done an internet search for manta rays, but nothing beats having a 3D object to study and manipulate!
Before shaping the sleeves, I decided to remove the ribbed cuffs and use them to create “handles” inside the fins. This would allow Elliott to hold onto them from the inside and keep the fins stretched out.
Snip, snip! This knit material doesn’t ravel, so I didn’t worry about hemming the sleeve edges.
Before plotting the sleeve cuts, I folded the hoodie precisely in half, lengthwise, so that I could cut both sides at once.
To achieve the desired shape, I trimmed a an angled bit off the top of the sleeve and a larger wedge from the bottom. Then, I flipped the larger wedge 180° to re-attach it to the base of the fin. This would widen it and augment the curved shape.
A quick seam in zig-zag stitch did the trick.
Okay! Back to those hand straps. As you can see, I jumped around a bit on this project. (That’s what happens when I’m making something up as I go along!)
I only needed one of the ribbed cuffs to make both hand straps. First, I cut it in half and zig-zag stitched each side to the wrong side of the sleeves. (The last, bottom-right image shows the stitching from the right side of the finished costume. It’s barely noticeable.)
Time to make the ray’s white belly! I found the exact middle of the hoodie, lay it on top of some white polar fleece, and pinned it at the top and bottom of this center line. Then, I spread out my newly-created left fin and cut the fleece to match its shape.
I transferred the center line pins from the hoodie to just the fleece. Then, I folded it in half to cut around it and make the right fin.
To attach the belly to the hoodie, I pinned the right side of the fleece, down the top edge of the fins, to the back side of the hoodie. Then, I did the same along the bottom edge of the fins and stitched.
To put the belly back to the front of the costume, I pulled the fleece panel over the top of the hoodie, which turned the seams neatly into the inside.
Now, it was time to attach the bottom sides of fins to the sides of the hoodie and then to the belly.
Here are some images of the finished fins, to give more views of how they were pieced together. It’s a bit hard to explain! There’s a bit of puckering along the side seams, but I decided it wasn’t noticeable enough to re-do them.
Now that the fleece was flipped to the right side, I turned over and pinned its raw edges at top and bottom. Then, I asked “Manta Man” to model it to make sure that everything looked good.
After verifying that the fabric layers were smooth, I zig-zag stitched across the top edge and bottom hem of the fleece belly panel.
But, of course, not before Eliza “helped” me with some of the pinning!
With the main body of the ray complete, I could turn my attention to the distinctive add-on pieces. Check out this blue, stretch velour I happened to have in my stash! I still remember finding it at a yard sale, way back when Emma and Elliott still rode in our double stroller. Bonus surprise piece of purple velvet rolled inside? Yes, please! *Sets it aside for a future project.*
This is the point where I would normally make a paper pattern/mock-up for the tail. However, I decided to just fold a bit of the material in half and eyeball it! (I’m trying not to second-guess myself, so much.) I re-folded the tail, lengthwise, with wrong sides together. Then, I zig-zag stitched down its length, leaving the top open.
I turned the tail right side out and stitched it to the base of the hem, on the back of the hoodie.
Now it was time to tackle the part of the project that intimidated me the most: Creating those alien-like cephalic lobes protruding from the ray’s head. (And, yes. I had to look up what they are called!) Fortunately, Elliott had more ray toys to guide my design process.
There was no way I was going to “wing it”, as I did for the tail. This was going to take a bit more experimentation. I lay the hood of the hoodie on a piece of printer paper and traced around its edges. Then, I sketched a series of lobe shapes to test and compare as potential pattern pieces.
At this point, if you feel like this array of shapes is kind of awkward-looking and you want to giggle…You are not alone. *Ahem*.
Moving right along…I settled on using the smallest shape. As ever, my faithful apprentice, Eliza, created her own “pattern pieces”, alongside me.
Next, I traced my pattern piece of choice onto a folded piece of paper to generate two of them. I figured out how long I wanted the lobes to be, and generated another set of pattern pieces that would have curved bases. (These would be the interior, white part of the lobes.) These curved lobe bases were designed to be attached to an elongated oval shape that would lie across the top of the head.
It always feels so good to be done with creating pattern pieces! I used them to cut two exterior lobe pieces out of the blue velour, one center piece, and two interior lobe pieces from scraps of the white polar fleece.
I recently replaced the foam pad on my ironing board and saved the old one for such a time as this! (“This” being the need for some padding/stiffening in costume pieces.)
So, I cut another set of all of my pattern pieces out of this thin foam. Then, I zig-zag stitched a foam piece to the wrong side of each of the corresponding fabric pieces.
This anchored each of the fabric and foam pieces together, before stitching the cephalic lobe sections together.
Placing right sides of the fabric together, I pinned and stitched the blue, outer lobes to the white, inner lobe pieces.
Then, I turned the lobes right side out and stitched the white interior to the white center piece.
To help the lobes stand more upright on top of the head, I decided to enhance the curve at the base of the white, interior lobes, where the seams join them to the oval, center piece. Stitching this tuck in the material pulled the lobes upward.
If you’re still reading, congratulations! You’ve made it to the final step! I hand stitched the assembled cephalic lobe piece to the hood of the hoodie by turning the raw edges under and catching it with small, “invisible hem” stitches.
To do this, I pinned the front edge of the cephalic lobes piece to the front edge of the hood. As I went around the base of each lobe, I continually checked and adjusted the hood material so that the protruding pieces would look even on either side of Elliott’s head.
Eliza helped me with this step by pulling the needle through after I inserted each stitch.
Sooo close! I used a measuring tape to check the placement of each lobe piece for side-to-side symmetry. Additional stitches down the white, interior seam of the lobes helped them to stand even more upright.
And that, my friends, is IT!!! Here’s a sneak preview of one of the pictures I took of Elliott…I mean…”Manta Man”, wearing his brand new manta ray costume! I will share more images from our Lake Chelan photo shoot in my next post. Bye for now!