No-sew modular Halloween costumes

Hedra sent this Halloween costume hack, and it's so good I had to post it right away so you can make a fabric store run this weekend! For all of us who want to make a costume but can't (or don't want to) sew:

Over time, my costume-making has evolved into a fairly simple hack. I put together four fabulous costumes in about 45 minutes, without even pulling out the sewing machine! Bonus, the older kids thought the costumes were so cool, they wouldn't take them off. I'm really looking forward to getting the school photos back (the Fire Wizard wore his to school on picture day). My kids haven't figured out that I mainly make the same costume over and over in different fabrics with minor variations.

Here's how it works:

There are three main costume parts: Cape, Tunic, and Overtunic. A costume can be any one or more of those parts, plus other clothing they already have (solid or patterned pants, teeshirt or turtleneck, belt). Robin Hood? Tunic, belt, and bow. Knight? Tunic, overtunic, sword. Wizard or princess? Velvet cape, overtunic, belt (tunic optional). Pirate? Tunic, belt, bandana, sword. Evil-bad-guy? Cape with ends cut jaggedy, tunic, belt.

How to make:

Cape: About a yard of 'swingy' knit fabric (panne velvet, poly knit, etc. – edges can be cut with scissors and no hemming is required). For younger kids, cut a square about as long as shoulder to heel (it will bunch up at the neck and be shorter). Connect by tying top corners, or using a hair elastic, or pinning with any kind of pin (even safety pin).

For older kids, same measurement, but drape the square over their shoulders so the top two corners come down over the chest, and attach the flat sides together with a pin or any fastening you think you can pull off (two buttons and an elastic band or chain, hook-and-eye-clasp, etc.). Then, have the kid stand on a chair so you can cut the corners off the back in a curve, so they don't drag on the ground.

All done! Any color, any pattern – velvet, shiny, sparkly… many options.

Tunic: Slightly oversized polo shirt (about two sizes up, depending on costume goal), solid color to match the costume…

If you really want, you can size the shirt down to them more closely (for a more refined look) by laying one of their comfy teeshirts over it (line up at top and center), and marking the armpit seams from the tee (sleeve and side) on the inside of the oversized polo shirt. Sew along those seam marks, cut off the excess fabric an inch outside the seam marks and down to the hem and cuffs, and you have a long, narrow, long-sleeved tunic with a split hem. About 15 minutes of sewing, including setting up the machine.

Overtunic: Long rectangle of knit or mesh fabric, or fleece (anything that won't unravel at the cut ends), narrow dimension from shoulder width to a couple of handspans wider, long dimension any length that can be belted front and back. Cut a small slit in the middle just big enough for their head (horizontal across the narrow dimension for most of our costumes). Just like a narrow poncho, really. A half-yard is usually enough if the fabric is 'wide' enough to hang where you want it to.

Total cost can vary, but this year the cape fabric (crushed/panne velvet) was $4.99/yard, they skipped tunic shirts this year, the overtunic fabric (open knit silver mesh) was $6.99 a yard (half-yard needed). Add in a ribbon belt ($2.99 for the whole roll of ribbon), and a really snazzy clasp for the capes ($5.99-$7.99), and the whole thing still comes in at under $20 each kid (I overbought, and have leftover fabric!). Picking costumes out at a store would have taken as long, and cost as much, with less overall satisfaction.

Give me a costume I can make nothing more complicated than scissors and maybe needle and thread, AND that my kids will love… I'm happy!

Anyway, if you've got kids who love playing dressup, or if you really don't like those mass-market costumes but can't sew all that well (or at all!), this may be a useful hack.

MAY be useful? Are you kidding, hedra? This hack should be bronzed.

More: Easy Halloween tips


  1. Jill says

    Don’t overlook sweats! My skeleton has black sweatpants and a crew neck black sweatshirt. With help of Google, we found a picture of a skeleton and he’s been using fabric paint to paint on the bones. We bought him a store mask to put on when he reaches the doors (no walking around in a mask).

    My lion has an oversized hooded gold sweatshirt. I made “pom poms” with gold yarn and tacked them onto the hood with needle and thread. Fabric glue might have worked too. We’ll use some face paint to add whiskers.

    They can wear the sweats all winter (without a hood they can be worn to bed), so the cost was minimal.

  2. hedra says

    Sweats are a great idea – good for cooler weather, and available in almost any color. Fabric paint on any of the cape/tunic costume parts could really enhance the look, too.

    And if you imagine that paints would be too messy for your child, there are fabric pens that work pretty well (especially on lighter colors), and if you have 24 hours to let it dry, the puff-paint is also handy for any color fabric (I find the ‘crayon/pastel’ type colors way too light, color-wise, for costumes). They’re usually about $1-3/bottle of puff paint, but for most things you’d likely only need one or two colors.

    I have to keep the paints idea in mind for year-after-next… the twins may be old enough to not make that overly challenging by then…

  3. AnnMarie Johnson says

    Also take a look at regular clothes. My daughter was a ninja–black pants (already had), black turtleneck (2 sizes larger to be sure it hung down over pants, rummage sale 25 cents), black shoes (rummage sale, brand new $2). She’ll continue to wear all of these clothes this winter! (We added in a black headband and handmade some throwing stars.) This also could have been a burglar outfit or with a tail and ears a cat or dog, etc.

  4. hedra says

    Just though to add a tip for the fabric-store run: Good scissors. Makes a difference in how fast you’ll get the job done (I swear by Fiskars, but any fabric scissors from the fabric store should do).

  5. Serene and Not Herd says

    Fiskars are fine for the occasional crafter, but a real seamstress or seamster (that’s me) should invest in a pair of Gingher brand scissors. They hold an edge longer, and won’t flex while you cut through heavy fabric.

    Also, pinking shears, which cut a zigzag line will prevent/reduce fraying on all but the loosest weave fabrics. That will open up your fabric choices without requiring sewing.