When does your family start thinking about Halloween? Me, I start hounding my kids for costume ideas over the summer. I love DIY costumes; having them take forever to make, not so much. Hence I was thrilled this past August when Essie announced she’d be a ghost for Halloween. How hard can it be to make a ghost costume?

Then Kimmie decided she’d be a ghost, too. Bonus! Make a ghost costume times two. How lucky am I? Can’t get any simpler than that. Two white bedsheets, here we come.

Want to make a ghost costume out of an old sheet for your kid this Halloween? Be forewarned: it's a LOT harder than you would think.

September: Get ready to make a ghost costume x2character-themed-sheets

1. Acquire white fabric

Our corner of Suburbia U.S.A. has not one, but two thrift stores within a mile of our house. My mission one September morning, after getting girls off to school: Find two white sheets.

thrift-store-fabric-boltsOf course I found every color of sheet except plain white. I suspect a cartoon-character-printed ghost costume isn’t going to cut it.

But even better, I found an entire bolt of white fabric! Since it was Half-Off Day, $7.50 later (surely the $15 original price means there’s plenty of fabric for two ghost costumes, right?) I was on my way. That was almost too easy.

2. Consider logistical challenges

One reason I like lots of lead time for making costumes is so I can stick them on the mental back burner, until I figure out a good way to accomplish the desired effect.

But the more I pondered the bedsheet-with-two-eye-holes-cut-out scenario, the more I realized it was going to be harder to make a ghost costume than I’d imagined.

Think about it: How do you know where to cut the eye holes? And once you’ve got them cut, how do you get them to stay in place on the kiddo’s head while the kid is walking around?

3. Do some research

So I began hunting online for instructions on how to make a ghost costume. This site has the best step-by-step directions I found for Ye Olde Basic Sheet-Based Ghost Costume That Won’t Fall Off. (The secret is attaching a light-colored hat inside the head part of the sheet; the hat is what holds the costume in place and keeps the holes where they belong.)

By now it was mid-September. Figuring I had this problem solved, I stashed the bolt of fabric in a closet.

fleece hatsBut I still needed to find white hats. I briefly contemplated crocheting some with bulky white yarn while waiting in school drop-off and pick-up lines. Instead, I found a couple of pastel plaid fleece caps at the tail end of this fall’s Baby Consignment Sale event. Cost: about 25 cents each. Score again!

black-cheeseclothI also stumbled across some black cheesecloth at Secondhand Crafting Supply Store. One of the websites I’d consulted on how to make a ghost costume suggested sewing black mesh behind the eye holes, so that the costume gives the appearance of black holes without having to paint big black circles around one’s eyes. To me, sewing on black mesh sounds way easier than trying to apply (and then remove) eye-area black grease paint on a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old. Even though the bundle contained lots more fabric than I needed, at $2.25 it was still a bargain.

Second Week of October: Try to make a ghost costume x2

1. Make time, collect goods

supplies-to-make-a-ghost-costumeWith three weekends remaining until October 31, I decided I’d better make the costumes already. So Sunday afternoon I cleared off the dining-room table and gathered my supplies, including some narrow white elastic; I figured I’d add some wrist straps to help hold the fabric in place. Then I cut the tape off the bolt of fabric, and unrolled it to see how much fabric I had.

My 54-inch-wide bolt of fabric contained approximately two yards (72 inches). That’s it.

Enough to make a ghost costume, but not enough to make two ghost costumes.

2. Make first attempt anyway

First attempt: too much fabric for Essie's costume

First attempt: too much fabric for Essie’s costume

But this was my Chunk Of Time To Make A Ghost Costume x2, darn it! So I folded the hunk of fabric in quarters, marked the center, and hunted down Essie, who was playing in the living room.

Turns out, the optimal fabric size for a 40-inch-tall child’s ghost costume is less than [54 inches x 72 inches]. At its current size, the fabric would definitely drag on the ground at the corners. Yes, I could just trim off the corners – but in theory, good uber-thrifty type that I am, I’m going to repurpose each costume into linings for baskets or tote bags or something. So the less I cut the fabric, the better.

Next I hunted down Kimmie, who was in the basement indulging in Screen Hypnosis. She was not happy to have her Mulan/Mulan II binge-watching marathon interrupted by being asked to stand up and having a piece of opaque white fabric draped over her eyes.

But good news: the rectangle in question works much better on a 48-inch-tall child than a 40-inch-tall one.

Given the girls’ level of engrossment in their various activities and my own inertia, I decided that investing the rest of the afternoon in a trip to the nearest fabric store was not the best choice. So I packed everything away and got out a piece of paper.

ghost-costume-calculations3. Do some math

Next thing I know, I’m sketching out rectangles of fabric and trying to remember the Pythagorean Theorem (you know, the formula used to figure out the long side of a right triangle) so I can figure out how much fabric I need to make Essie’s costume.

Several calculations later, I had a rough sense of what to aim for. (In case you’re curious: for a 40-inch-tall child, I figured I’d need either 1.75 yards of 45-inch-wide fabric, or 1.25 yards of 54-inch-wide fabric.)

Third week of October: Try again to make a ghost costume x2

Second attempt: too long in front and back, not long enough on the sides.

Second attempt: too long in front and back, too short on the sides.

1. Acquire more fabric

First stop after preschool drop-off on Monday: the thrift store a half-mile from home. They had several bundles of white fabric for a few dollars each. But the bundles were all taped up, the store doesn’t allow returns, and they also don’t generally allow you to un-tape bundled items before you buy them.

I convinced a salesperson to make an exception under the circumstances. After opening several bundles, I found one that looked workable. It even came with already-somewhat-uneven edges.

Brought the piece home to find it’s actually about 40 inches x 80 inches – not really wide enough, and too long. Cutting off some of the length and adding it onto the sides seems a better bet than having a big seam right down the middle of the thing, but still…

Guess I’ll be hauling out the sewing machine after all. I actually love to sew; I find it soothing and relaxing. But finding the unencumbered time in which to do it, without staying up half the night, is the challenging part.

2. Success, at long last

So much for this being a fast-and-easy process. I eventually got Kimmie’s costume done in an afternoon, and Essie’s done the following afternoon.tracing-faceholes

The actual steps to make a ghost costume

The basic steps go like this:

  1. Mark center of fabric. (I did this by folding it into quarters and ironing in creases.)
  2. Put hat on child, center fabric on child’s head, and secure center of fabric to top of child’s head with safety pins. Use additional pins to secure fabric around the edges of the hat.
  3. With hat on child, locate and trace where you want the eye holes and mouth hole to go, using kiddo’s eye sockets and mouth as a guide.sewing-on-the-elastic-wrist-straps
  4. Cut out said holes.
  5. Cut mesh (black cheesecloth) to go behind the holes, and secure to the inside of the fabric.
  6. Sew elastic wrist-straps at the side creases to help keep the costume in place.
  7. Final tips and tricks
  • Putting hat on child/safety-pinning fabric to hat is easier said than done. After that step, tracing and cutting the face holes was easy-peasy.

    Kimmie, wearing her finished ghost costume, demonstrates why the wrist straps are especially useful.

    Kimmie wearing her finished ghost costume

  • Since I had the sewing machine out anyway, I did a quick zigzag stitch around the edge of the fabric, and a basic satin stitch around the cutouts, to avoid fraying.
  • Easy as it sounds, the satin-stitching around the holes actually proved tricky for Kimmie’s costume. So before I cut the holes in Essie’s, I fused some scraps of stabilizer to the inside of the fabric.
  • I also cut a single piece of cheesecloth, large enough to cover all three holes, and then folded up one corner before folding and stitching a basic hem around the edges. Hemming kept loose threads from tickling the girls’ faces; doubling up one corner made the mouth hole extra-dark, while still maximizing visibility through the eye holes.
  • I used fusible interfacing to attach the cheesecloth to the inside of the ghost costume, rather than trying to sew it on. This both avoided visible stitches on the costume face, and minimized the amount of sewing through hard-to-manage cheesecloth.
  • The girls agreed that adding elastic wrist-straps inside was a useful addition.

Are you making costumes for your kiddos this year? What was your most challenging DIY costume to date (especially if you didn’t peg it as such at the outset)? Let us know in the comments!

Want to make a ghost costume out of an old sheet for your kid this Halloween? Be forewarned: it's a LOT harder than you would think.


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