Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ghosts of Halloween Past

Here's a little piece I wrote back in 1999 about Halloween.

As you can see, October is a busy 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 Bradlees 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.

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 50s girl (this was when Happy Days was all the rage). But I secretly LONGED for a store bought costume. I lusted over Jill Yamin in her ready made Tooth Fairy get up complete w/sparkly wand. I envied Janie Nordblad her Saloon Girl outfit so much that I borrowed it the following year and loved every second in those smart and sassy duds.

Now some will claim it is cheaper, and hence, more thrifty 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. 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 and all, 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 I still work very hard to acquire ready made costumes. This year was mostly a success. Jonah wanted to be a scary clown. All that he needed from me was creepy make up. Bea wanted to be a black cat, BLESS HER!! Georgia gave me trouble by deciding she needed to be Moaning Myrtle from Harry Potter, the whining chick who was killed by the Basilisk while in the loo. I did end up in JoAnn, but it turned out to be almost pain free to make a Hogwarts robe for a ghost. "Frayed edges look spooky," I assured George as I refused to hem any of it. Me too Millie opted to be Hermione which was not tough at all, given how easily her hair can be frizzed. Here are the results:

(Jonah was helping run the spook alley and I couldn't get a good shot with the strobe light.)
(She insisted on crawling for full cat effect.)

(Moaning Myrtle & Minerva McGonagall)

(Hermione, with a fever of 102, who we didn't let attend the ward Halloween party,
but did let show up for the outdoor Trunk-or-Treat)

(So here's a glimpse of a Mormon spook alley. I love the juxtaposition of imagery.
Papa Boka Rocks!)


Rachel said...

That is a pretty cute bluejay if I ever did see one. We're not buying or making anything this year. Ooelsh is hell bent on Cinderella and I have that costume already, thank goodness.

EmilyCC said...

Ah, Bradlees, "the ugly stepsister of Target" to quote a wise person :)

SLP said...

Sewing is for the birds!
This year's level of effort is just my style...

Anonymous said...

so cute!

Robyn said...

I've rarely sewed a halloween costume myself: we scavenge around the house or take hand-me-downs. this year we lucked out when I was in Wal-mart a few days after Halloween and heard the loudspeaker (at 9:50pm) say, "All Halloween costumes are now $1!" WOW! My daughter has begged me to buy her costumes for the past many years and I haven't wanted to invest that kind of money for a wear-it-once outfit; she pouts, she gets creative and it all works out. So i loaded up the cart with one Adult Elvis white pantsuit costume (yea! we have the plastic huge hair already), 3 boys and 3 girls costumes, any size close to my kids. why not?! ONE DOLLAR speaks pretty loud to the lady who doesn't like to take the time to sew or spend the big money before the big day. We'll have costumes to share next year...