All around Albuquerque, parents who are missing the Martha Stewart gene are panicking. Me? I’m grateful that those years are mostly behind me, and that my contributions these days are limited to hemming, driving teens to thrift stores and fabric stores, and identifying where things are stored in the attic. (The latter is the most challenging task by far).

That’s right. It is time to start thinking about Halloween costumes, if you haven’t already done so.

My favorite Halloween costume was a Tinkerbell costume of heavy moss green double-faced silk satin made by Grandma Sophie. It had a fitted bodice with a proper lining of moss green cotton flannel; layers of individual satin petals, each with a perfect point that was cut and trimmed by hand; and hand sewn wings constructed out of cardstock, gold peau de soie, and ribbon trim. The costume itself was jointly designed by my grandmother and her father, my great-grandfather, a retired clothing designer and pattern maker; the elaborate trim on the bodice and straps were hand sewn by my great-grandmother.

I loved this costume.

To complete my look, I insisted on wearing a silly looking blonde wig made from something akin to spun fiberglass. I pouted when my mother told me that it didn't matter how warm the night was, I had to wear a white turtleneck and tights under my costume. (I knew even at that young age that adding utilitarian white cotton to satin was a fashion no-no).

Looking back, I think I was the girl that mothers hated on Halloween.

It wasn't my fault that my grandmother was a seamstress par excellence whose parents were fashion designers - Mart and Marge's Smart Frocks of Los Angeles, California. My Grandma Sophie counted among her friends several women who did costuming for the Hollywood studios, including one who sewed “outfits” for California's most famous strippers. (I'm pretty sure I was the only 8 year old in my school who associated the name Carol Doda with outstanding sewing craft).

And it wasn't my fault that for 13 years I was the only granddaughter on that side of the family. And that by this time the family had a fabric and notions store that was the source of copious raw material for my grandmother's creative costuming, including exotic Polynesian fabric and every possible trim option you could imagine.

With more than a twinge of embarrassment, I remember seeing my best friend from third grade show up for trick-or-treating wearing a white terrycloth bathrobe that belonged to her father and a white pillowcase with cut out eyeholes, and asking her why her mother did not sew her a costume. (I still wince at my thoughtless 8 year old self).

And I'm old enough to remember that elaborate costumes for children were absolutely the exception, and not the norm, as they are today.

When I became a parent, the first few Halloweens were easy to handle sans sewing machine. I was living in a remote part of Wyoming where our nearest neighbors were figured in terms of miles, not feet. Instead of Halloween, we held a Fall Festival for the children of the valley at the one room schoolhouse they attended - my son was too young to fully participate, but I vividly recall the sensation of feeling transported to a different era. It was as old-fashioned as it gets, with apple-bobbing, pumpkin carving, and even a sing-along.

My son got by with being a cowboy for his first few Halloweens - an easy and safe choice in that part of the country. Years later we experienced a similar community celebration in Albuquerque's South Valley, complete with bonfire, hay rides, and bobbing for apples freshly picked from the orchard we were standing in. By that time my son had moved to a more sophisticated cowboy concept better fitting New Mexico - Zorro.

After my daughter was born and we moved to Barelas, I started itching to sew her a real Halloween costume. I’m no Martha Stewart, but I will confess to a harboring a secret desire to chuck my career as an academic philosopher and become a seamstress. I dream of beautifully constructed French fell seams and hand bound buttonholes - the amount of time I have spent finishing the interior (hidden) seams of my children’s Halloween costumes is embarrassing, to say the least. I'm a purist - I do not use a serger and believe in doing things the old fashioned way.

Since my 26 month old daughter was fascinated by ducks, I designed and sewed a little yellow flannel duck tunic, complete with wings and a hood, plus a beak of orange duckcloth. (I don't know if anyone else caught that inside joke, but it amused me greatly at the time).

As I measured, drew the pattern, sewed and fitted her costume, I couldn’t help but experience a flood of memories of being at my grandparents’ store and watching relatives draw patterns, adjust patterns for sizing, cut fabric, measure for alterations, and sew using ready-made patterns as well as those designed by family and friends.

As my children grew older and more creative, Halloween costumes became more challenging.

One year my daughter told me in early October that she wanted to be a disco ball for Halloween. After sewing duckling, snow leopard, tiger, and bunny costumes using vintage and contemporary McCall's and Butterick patterns, this request took me by surprise, especially since our earlier discussions that season had focused on flamingos. While I was keeping my eye out for feathery pink fabric on sale, she was dreaming of millions of shiny mirrors.

Just as I figured out how to design a disco ball costume - East Indian mirrored fabric sewn over a sphere and a hidden cassette recorder blaring Donna Summer – my son came to me with a request. He wanted to be the Turtle Man from the movie Master of Disguise. (At this point I began to yearn for his cowboy and firefighter days, which required much less creative initiative on my part).

So we headed to the nearest thrift store, found a large green tweed sports coat, added a patchwork quilt turtle shell with some crazy quilt elements, stuffed it with batting, and (as part of the whole costuming effort) watched the Master of Disguise a minimum of 3 times a day until the costume was finished.

My days of being Chief Costume Designer are long gone. Now my children are in charge of costuming. This year my adult son is going as one of the Blues Brothers, and my teenage daughter has finally decided that being the Cheshire Cat better suits her than going as a Harujuku Girl.

Yet I’ve still got my sewing machine at the ready for any last minute requests and folks in Barelas know where to find the “Las Posadas angel costume lady” just in case there’s a last minute Halloween crisis. I’m even considering hanging out a shingle.

I’d love to hear your memories of Halloween costumes – what was your favorite costume?

Views: 55

Comment by Adelita on October 26, 2009 at 8:34pm
Not the most original costume, but I still love the pumpkin costume my Auntie Mary made for me!

Comment by Edith Grove on October 26, 2009 at 9:56pm
Oh, I love Halloween. I have a commitment this year that means in all likelihood, I won't be dressing up and heading out to enjoy a rare weekend Halloween night. I've been quite a hodge podge over the years. I've been a pirate, a cowgirl, a CSI, a werewolf, a punk rocker, Keith Richards, Tangled Up in Blue (that was high concept), Elvis and probably quite a few other things I can't recall offhand. Dolly Parton was a memorable one - I put so much "enthusiasm" into my costume, that I discovered it was a little difficult to drive with such prominent assets.

I would love to see some pics of the costumes you've described in your post - do you have any photos around you could share?
Comment by mombat on October 27, 2009 at 9:55am
Adelita, I had almost that exact pumpkin costume in 3rd grade, made by my mom and then my children were given a similar costume a few years ago. It is too small now,but they hung up from a rod on the porch this year.

BB, as always your posts rock. I love the Disco ball with music costume. And yes, pics would fantastic.
You and your family are so creative.

I loved making costumes for the kids, starry wizard capes, a unicorn with silver shoe covers and a shiny, sliver horn with small iridescent beads intertwined through the horn, an eagle with large white felt headdress, a few princesses, a guinea pig, a mermaid, and few fairies.
This is first year I told the kids they were mostly in charge of costumes, I would help and they had a $5 dollar budget plus access to the fabric, beads, yarn and dress up clothes already at home.
So we havePaul Stanley, $ 3.50 wig , clothing already at home;Janis Joplin, $4 dress at Thrift Town and NO bottle of Southern Comfort, in spite of a suggestion from Grandpa and the witch from this great story; $2 broom from Thrift Town, my graduation gown and a hat from the dress up trunk.
Comment by Monica on October 27, 2009 at 11:06am
my nickname growing up was "pepper" and my mom thought it would be a great idea to get salt and pepper shaker costumes made for me and my sister. I had to have been 6 years old which would've made my sister 9. I loved it however, my sister was less than thrilled. I'm sad to think that we don't have any pictures from that halloween :(
Comment by Barelas Babe on October 27, 2009 at 12:04pm
Alas - my pix are in NM and I am in dreary drizzly Washington DC for another 36 hours. Will try to post when I'm back in the land of sunshine and blue sky.
Comment by abqmom on October 27, 2009 at 9:29pm
back in the late 70's, my awesome Mom made me a spider costume out of a black leotard, black nylons stuffed with fiberfill and tied with black yarn to my arms and black tights on my legs...I ADORED that costume and was thrilled to win a prize, even though a store-bought Mr. Peanut costume won first place...
fantastic post B and a Happy Hallowe'en to you! safe travels...
Comment by Barelas Babe on October 28, 2009 at 4:49am
@ Mombat - I think Grandpa's suggestion is on the money! (teehee)
Comment by cc on October 28, 2009 at 3:10pm
Dressing up is so fun and this is the only holiday for it - boo hoo.
It is so fun you shared your family's costumes and making-history, BB!!

I must confess I too have seamstress aspirations, and keep trying more complicated projects as the years go on, for our daughter. Her first Halloween as a 3 month old, she had a terry cloth bunny hat. 4 years old it was the little mermaid with red and green tiny-sequined knit. Last year she had the hardest project I have ever attempted - Alice in Wonderland. This year the Max suit from towels is Daughter's first pattern she is commandeering, with my coaching. If I had more than one kid, whew ... a lot harder twould be.
Comment by cc on October 28, 2009 at 3:14pm
And my fave costume was my dad's cut-off jeans, old navy sweatshirt turned inside out, his old flannel hat and burned cork on my cheeks - Hobo -grunge-person totally enjoyed by me for a few years!


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