Friday, 23 August 2013

The Book Week "Gruffalo" costume project

Or, a description of the steps behind the making of the costume.

Every year primary school students in Australia celebrate “Book Week”.  This is an opportunity for children to spend school time meeting authors of children’s books and sharing favourite books with one another.  Sylvie’s school traditionally ends the week with a dress up day, where students can dress in a costume relating to the year’s Book Week theme, or dress up as their most loved book character.

In Sylvie’s case, one her favourite characters is the Gruffalo himself, closely followed by the cheeky brown mouse.  This children’s book, (written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler) is both witty and clever, as the little mouse outsmarts all his predators, including “The Gruffalo”.  I can’t recommend it highly enough. 

Can you see Mr Mouse hiding in the pocket especially crafted for him?

Sylvie was very excited!  You can see the design allows the child's arms to protrude.

The costume is divided into three elements; the head (comprising a ‘hat’), the body (a ‘dress’) and the Gruffalo’s feet.

I won’t be providing any exact measurements; this post will be describing the process and hopefully some inspiration for you to attempt something similar.

This was quite a complex project that I began 3 weeks prior to the Book Week dress up day, I confess to thinking about it for quite a few more weeks prior to beginning.  I had some problems to solve, I wanted to include all of the features in the Gruffalo’s head, if I had Sylvie’s face beaming from the centre of a mask I would miss out on the “terrible tusks” and “terrible teeth in his terrible jaws”, not forgetting his orange eyes, black tongue and most importantly and completing his revolting ugliness, “a poisonous wart at the end of his nose”.

The reason I think I had lead myself along the path of a vision or plan that Sylvie’s head would poke out from under the chin of the Gruffalo costume, was perhaps a photo I took (and cannot find now) of Sylvie poking her head through one of the promotional items from the film “Where the wild things are”.

On thinking it through I realised this would mean that the design would have to incorporate some sort of structure to keep the mask above her head without toppling off and some very large shoulders would have to be constructed, too heavy and hot I suspected and so I ruminated further.

It is always in the first minutes on waking in the morning that if I’m going to find a ‘solve’ to a problem, it will be then.  Aha!  Finally I had it!  I would make the mask a ‘hat’, where the top of her skull would sit inside the Gruffalo’s head and if need be, I could add an elastic strap under Sylvie’s chin to ensure the mask stayed in place.

To make the mask you will need:
A copy of ‘The Gruffalo’ to work from
Scissors (paper/cardboard)
Scissors (fabric)
White gaffer tape
A wine carton (to fit 6 bottles)
Another piece of heavier weight cardboard to form the ‘brim’ interior of the ‘hat’
Lighter weight cardboard to make the ears
3 takeaway foil containers
Calico ripped into strips
PVA glue
White paint and brush
Hot glue gun
Peach felt
Tennis ball
Spray paint in white and pale orange
Acrylic fur (use the cut offs from making the ‘dress’)
Scraps of white fabric for the terrible teeth
A scrap of black fabric for the tongue
Hot glue for the poisonous wart
3 white pipe cleaners for the whiskers
Pink and green acrylic paint and brush

The wine carton makes up the basic form of the Gruffalo’s head.  I cut along either long side to make a bendable flap, cutting in at an angle to make the fold that makes up the eye socket area. Gaffer tape is used to secure the final shape.  You will need to cut a wide crescent shape to form the lower mandible, again, don’t be shy with the gaffer tape.  Cut from strong cardboard an insert that will fit inside the box, including a hole to accommodate the child’s head (the circumference around the skull).  Go wild with the gaffer tape to ensure it is firmly attached.

The ears are cut from a lighter weight card in a leaf shape, an incision down the centre allows you to bend the card into an ear shaped curve, gaffer into place.  Cut 2 peach felt ear inners and hot glue in place in each ear.  Cut one of the foil containers in half and twist (maybe use gloves) and mould into a smaller tusk (for near the jaw), repeat for other side.  Gaffer in place.  Use one entire foil container for each of the tusks on the Gruffalo’s head.  Gaffer well in place.  Dilute some PVA and soak strips of calico until they are completely wet.  Wind the calico strips around the foil tusks and smooth out, let dry.  Once they are dry, paint white. 

Make a ball from some paper to form a nose, add some lightweight card to give the nose some shape and gaffer in place.  Use a bread knife to (carefully) cut a tennis ball in half.  Push the tennis ball inside out to reveal the smooth interior.  Paint the eyeballs white first and then in an orange to match the illustrations in the book.  Paint the pupils in the centre black.  

Once the eyes are totally dry, use the glue gun (apply liberal amounts of glue) and attach the eyeballs in place.  Take some stuffing and use your judgement to pad out the lower jaw line, gaffer in place.

In the base, cut out a hole slightly larger than the size of your child’s crown (the extra space is required to allow for the fur that will line the cut edges (later on).  

I used a glue gun to stick the fur onto the mask, starting with the ears, then the base where the fur was folded back and stuck on the inside, so the edges are fur lined, so it is comfortable to wear.  I then worked my way up the back and around the sides, always taking into account the nap of the fur and considering which way the fur would naturally lie, using the illustrations of  “The Gruffalo” as a guide.

Sew up some terrible teeth from white fabric, turned them out and stuffed them lightly.  I used some very stiff interfacing to give a solid look.  The teeth need to be inserted along the bottom jaw line as you add more fur, and then into the top mandible as you continue adding more fur. 

Before the fur around the nose was glued down, I trimmed the fur very short and sort of ‘sculpted’ nose with my scissors.  I made the incisions that would allow the pipe cleaner whiskers to be threaded through from the back to the front, and then glued this all in place. 

I painted the shortened fur in pink and let dry.  The poisonous wart was formed by gluing the hardened drips from my glue gun onto the end of the nose.  I painted the wart white first, then pink around the edges and then finally green on the top.

For the Gruffalo ‘dress’ AND feet you will need:
Calico to make a toile test run (before cutting the fur)
Acrylic fur
White fabric
Lining fabric
Brown thread
Thimble and needle for hand stitching
A sharp blade to cut the fur
A sewing machine

For the Gruffalo ‘dress’
20cm of purple shiny fabric cut into triangles (about 40)
Purple thread

I took measurements of Sylvie and mocked up a toile.  I ensured that there was plenty of stuffing space to accentuate the fat guts and bottom. The arms are actually stuffed and Sylvie’s own arms poke out from under. 
At this stage, I was still considering felt paws, but that changed later on.
Once I was happy with the toile, I unpicked it all and used the toile to cut from the acrylic fur, being extra careful to ensure that the correct nap was considered (making sure the fur will fall facing down on every piece).  I cut the lining out re-using the toile pattern.  Don’t ever cut fur with scissors, use a blade and make the cuts on the back of the fur, slicing just through the fabric that is the base of the acrylic fur.  The pieces will pull apart and each edge will have long fur.
I used a blade (very sharp) on a cutting mat.  The discs are weights.
The 40 or so purple prickles are formed by sewing along one side of the folded triangle (right sides together), turning out and stuffing, then sewing the base shut.  

The purple prickles, yet to all turned out and stuffed.

Once they are all made, I made incisions in the fur all over the back and hand stitched the prickles in place (or you can try machine stitching if you wish, but it’s kind of bulky). 

Showing the incisions on the wrong side of the fur and how the stuffed purple prickles have been stitched in by hand.

The purple prickles from the right side.
The tail is formed by taking a length of fur and hand stitching the longest edges together into a tube.  I then went wild with scissors and gave the tube a ‘haircut’, quite short, but leaving one end long and hairy.  I made a second shape to form the tip of the tail by sewing a heart shaped piece of fur together and stuffing it.  The two components are then joined, and the hairy end of the tube disguises the join and makes the tail tip even fluffier.  The tail is added to the back piece using the same method of attaching the purple prickles.

A photograph of the tail.

Adding the pocket
As Sylvie is keen on bringing her own beloved Mr Mouse dressed in a ‘Mouse’ costume to Book Week, I thought it would be a fun touch for Mr Mouse to travel in the costume itself, and so I added a welted pocket on the front.

For the life of me I couldn’t remember how to make a welted pocket and a quick search resulted in one of the clearest explanations I have ever seen.  I highly recommend this video, for beginners or a simple reminder.

I made two sets of paw claws (5 claws on the paws and 4 claws on the feet) from white fabric, turned them out and stuffed them.

Adding paw’s claws
The paws’ claws are attached to the lining.  Here’s the trick:

Turn the arm lining out the right way and insert the claws, pin in place and sew a seam across the bottom of the sleeve, right across, following the curve of the fabric.  Turn out and the claws should neatly pop out the bottom of the lining, and the underarm seam should be visible from the outside (keeping in mind that this is a lining, so you want the finished side on the inside).  Repeat for the second arm.  In my pattern, there is a gap in the underarm seam to allow Sylvie’s little arms to pop through.  Sew the front and back lining pieces together.

At this point, complete the lining by adding both sleeves to the joined back and front lining pieces.  Turn the lining so that all the seams on the lining should be on the inside.  Set aside this component and move onto fashioning the fur into a dress.  Join the fur back and the fur front together and then set in the sleeves.  I found it easier to pin the seams, then baste in place before sewing the seam in place with the sewing machine.  I used a slightly longer stitch than the standard 2.5.  Don’t turn out yet, leave the fur on the inside.

Adding the lining
Insert the lining into the fur dress, so the fur is on the inside and the finished side of the lining and the fur are facing together.  Pin the neck in place and then baste, remove the pins and make the seam to finish the neck.  Turn out.  Fit the arms of the lining into the fur dress.  Finish the raw edges of the “armhole” by turning the lining under and slipstitching to the edge of the fur. Stuff the arm on the outside edge of the sleeve.  Slipstitch the claws to the fur at the paw end of the sleeve, to the point where the lining meets the white fabric. Repeat for the other arm.

Slip stuffing in the cavity of the back, especially around the bottom, and also in the front.  Turn the raw edge of the lining under, pin to the bottom edge of the fur and slipstitch closed.  Dress complete!

For the Gruffalo ‘feet’ you will need:
A pair of old slipper boots
A pair of the child’s slip on style shoes (think Crocs)
White fabric for the turned-out toes

Glue the white toes onto the front of the boot and then glue pieces of fur to fit the boot to cover the feet.  I made the length of the fur around 10cm too tall for the boot, allowing me to turn the fur inside the boot and slipstitch in place.  Gruffalo feet complete!

Making the mouse costume (for Mr Mouse)
Here is Mr Mouse.  He is one of Sylvie’s most treasured toys.  He is one of the many millions of mice produced by Ikea.  He is both literally and figuratively speaking, one in a million.  Sylvie has 3 Gosig mice, but only one of them is "Mr Mouse".  The other two are known as club members...

Mr Mouse has a knot in his tail and goes about sans whiskers...
Mr Mouse in his 'mouse' from "The Gruffalo" costume.

Have a great Book Week dress up day Mr Mouse! xx
Mr Mouse is a beloved companion who Sylvie has imbued with many personality traits ranging from very inquisitive to downright naughty.  So instead of making a Gruffalo mouse from scratch we would include Mr Mouse in the thrilling Book Week dress up day by making a costume for him, knowing this would appeal to Sylvie’s high sense of the ridiculous.  Mr Mouse will attend Book Week with Sylvie Gruffalo, accommodated in the Mr Mouse pocket on the front of the costume.

Ikea mouse GOSIG, $1.95, 14cm

Take a look at the gruffalo site.  I only discovered this yesterday, but there is a section for 'fans' where you can send in jpegs of photographs of Gruffalo costumes you have made.  I'm going to send photographs of Sylvie's and let's see if it will be posted.  It was interesting to see how other parents created their child's costume, worth a look.

Sylvie wore black stockings underneath and a singlet.  I tied her hair into a low bun.  She had a change of clothes packed in her bag in case the costume was either too hot or too uncomfortable to wear all day.

I sent her off to school wishing her a super fantastic best Book Week dress up day ever!

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