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How to Build an Ostrich

I have made some interesting and challenging halloween costumes over the years, but one of our very favorites (by unanimous family vote) is the ostrich costume that Little Man wore last year. It is also the only costume I have ever made that will be worn for (drum roll, please) TWO YEARS IN A ROW! I did have to promise to make some updates, aka improvements, in order to convince him to wear it again this year, but I decided that it would be much easier to make him backwards bending legs and wings that flap, than to start from scratch on some of his other proposals… Besides, I ADORE The Ostrich and would already be working on a way to stretch my run even longer…if not for the fact that Little Man’s current rate of growth will most likely make Mr. Ostrich a tight fit in the near future. So I will revel a bit in my success at a two-year run and mentally prepare for next year’s inevitable challenge.

The key ingredient in any costume I make is NOT a particular material or talent. It is the inspiration I get from the subject who will, in the end, be the proud wearer of each costume.

The key ingredient in any costume I make is NOT a particular material or talent. It is the inspiration I get from the subject who will, in the end, be the proud wearer of each costume. I don’t possess any special sewing or crafting skills beyond (a) what I learned in Home Ec class, (b) a few YouTube tutorials here and there, and (c) knowledge I have acquired over the years by simply diving in and trying things (and failure is just as good a teacher as success!). So, if I can do it, you most definitely can, too!

I will show some of the steps that went into making the ostrich a little later in the blog, but let me start with a confession: the best costumes always began with a sigh (and possibly a cuss word here or there) after discovering that whatever my child wanted (nay, needed) to be that year was either NOT a purchasable costume, or NOT a REASONABLY PRICED purchasable costume.

My Moon (at 11 years old): “I want to be Maximum Ride for Halloween.”

Me: “You want to be a what, now?”

My Moon: “Maximum Ride. She’s a character from a book.”

Me: “Let’s look online.”

My Moon: “They don’t sell them online. I looked. Besides, it’s easy. She always wears jeans and a hoodie.”

Me: “That does sound easy.”

My Moon: “Oh, and she has wings that open to about a 5 or 6 foot wingspan.”

Me: “…”

This is the part of the costume making process where one must fight the inner voice that is screaming “SERIOUSLY? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I CAN’T MAKE THAT!”

You tell that voice to shut up! Tell that voice that you can do whatever you want… and hold that thought for when you are crying into the bags of turkey feathers you purchased, and cradling your hand after having cut through the web of your ring finger with the fabric scissors (those things are freaking sharp).

…though, I am certain that after reading this, you will not make my same mistake of underestimating the fabric scissors. They deserve your utmost respect and attention.

There are also certain RULES that, if followed, will help make your whole costume creation experience much smoother… and dare I say, FUN!

RULE #1: Give yourself plenty of time. The more time you have… the more things you can try, and mistakes you can make and correct. I like to start asking my kids what they want to be for the up-coming Halloween while they are still recovering from their sugar comas… the day after trick-or-treating. But seriously, if they are like my girls, they will change their minds a million times from the moment they do decide (not Little Man: that boy decides on a costume and is like a dog with a bone even when I hope he will change his mind). Don’t be afraid to use some bribery to lock them into a decision… The time you will need really depends on the costume you decide to make and how long you want to be working on it on any given day.

It is important to remember that YOU MOST LIKELY WILL NOT HAVE UNTIL OCTOBER 31ST TO FINISH YOUR PROJECT. I was feeling great about my progress on the Maximum Ride costume right up until some kid decided to send out invitations to her costume themed party that would take place THE SECOND WEEK OF OCTOBER. And this, my friends, is how I ended up shifting into overdrive (one could say maximum drive, if one were in the right mood) and cutting myself… though, I did ultimately finish in time and was happy with my results, despite complaints that I did not bleed on the costume to make it more “post-apocalyptic” when I cut myself.

My first attempt at wings… which do actually open, as well.

Remember, there could be costume parties, trunk-or-treat events, …etc before the actual eve of Halloween comes around. So, plan ahead.

RULE #2: Look around the house for things you can repurpose. This will not only save you time and money, but could have the added bonus of clearing out some clutter… For example: several of the costumes I have made involved the use of hoodies that the kids almost never wore. The two I made into werewolf tops actually got used more after I sewed ears and fur onto them, because the girls thought they looked cooler… and the one I used for a Little Man giant squid costume reduced the amount of sewing I had to do enormously. Instead of having to make an entire suit, I just made the head, and sewed it and some “tentacles” onto the hoodie. Then, I found some matching sweat pants and added feet. Since I had started the costume fairly early, I had time to add on the suction cups when the idea occurred.

I also learned, through trial and error, that old backpacks are fantastic for making wings and other appendages, like spikes or cobra hoods. When making the Maximum Ride costume, for example, I cut the straps along with the cushioned back support off an old backpack and sewed them into the inside of an old hoodie. I then fastened the base of the wings into the backpack piece, and she simply had to slip her arms through the straps and into the sleeves to secure the wings onto her back. This was much more stable than the flimsy elastic straps attached to the wings they generally sell in the stores.

Have you finished any backyard projects and been left with extra chicken wire? I LOVE chicken wire. It is light and resilient, and can make a costume voluminous without the extra weight. Just make sure you bend and cover any pointy pieces (I like to coat any arm holes in the wire…and edges in general… with layers of duct tape to avoid scratches). Old bread twisty ties are great for fastening the pieces together where needed. Chicken wire was definitely the key material in the last three Little Man costumes I made: Sharknado, The Cobra, and The Ostrich. And… I kind of wish I had experimented with chicken wire for the top of The Giant Squid back in the day. It would have made his hood much lighter.

Another great thing about chicken wire is that it is easy to fasten things to it… like suspenders! I fastened suspenders onto the chicken wire in both Sharknado and The Ostrich so that Little Man could wear the costumes nicely balanced on his shoulders, and still have his hands free for collecting candy… and other things…

Because even ostriches need hobbies

Rule #3: Don’t be afraid to try new things. In the months before October, I can sometimes be seen wandering the hardware stores looking for ideas. Sometimes they pan out… sometimes they don’t. And sometimes I see future costume ideas that I can try to subliminally plant in the kids’ heads (PS: this never works).

A foam board joint fastened together with a split pin seemed like a great idea… until the bottom portion of the board bent and I had to perform ostrich surgery and splint the legs with balsa wood…

Anyhow, the point is… don’t overthink it and don’t stress. Remember the parts that cannot be seen don’t necessarily have to look “finished” or “perfect”. The mechanism that Little Man uses to flap the wings is just a couple pieces of thick wire attached to the inside of the wings and pushed through the chicken wire into the inside of the body. I duct taped round tinker toy connecters to the ends of the wires to make them easier to grip. Definitely NOT pretty upon close examination… but functional!

RULE #4: Have fun! Time for another confession… When Little Man first told me he wanted to be an ostrich, a frantic internet search ensued. Most of what I saw was pretty expensive and didn’t even look that great. I ended up finding an adorable little costume that made it look like the wearer was riding an ostrich. I happily showed Little Man the picture… already envisioning him wearing a cute cowboy hat as part of the ensemble… but was quickly, and quite unceremoniously SHOT DOWN.

Little Man looked at the picture and then turned his disappointed, what-am-I-going-to-do-with-you gaze upon me.

“Mamma,” sigh “I don’t want to ride an ostrich for Halloween. I want to be the ostrich.”

Yes, it would have been easier to throw in a bribe and click the “purchase” button under that sweet little ostrich cowboy pic. But in the end, and through the little bits of ostrich feather that will most certainly be found throughout this house long after the children have all left for college, I had a blast making The Ostrich!

Another upside of these years of making costumes for the kids has been its apparent contagion. For the past few years, My Moon and My Sun have enjoyed making their own costumes, and I’ll admit that it is not only fun to watch them create… but a little more relaxing to only have to worry about one costume, myself.

I will end this with something that Little Man told me recently when I was struggling to get through the day: “Mamma… you built and ostrich. You can do anything.”

…and some pics of the process:

Love me some chicken wire!

A layer of black felt means less feathers to add! Adding one of those alligator snapping heads, makes it possible for Little Man to move the ostrich’s head and open its mouth. (I also “got rid of” an annoying toy in the process! shhhhh)

Found the perfect ostrich hand puppet!

Year one fitting… before the legs and wings were added

Some of our Boo at the Zoo friends were not quite sure what to think.

In the end, even Jeff got in on the fun!


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