Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Rabbit in a Hat

I am one of those people who plans their Halloween costume years in advance (I already have 3 ideas for next year, plus a bonus or two for the dogs!). If I can wear multiple costumes in one season, I consider it a year well done.

Anyway, I'd been ruminating on this year's costume for so long that I can't remember where I got the idea from, but I wanted to be a rabbit...in a hat!

I've been accumulating materials for this costume for months. Early this year, I found two furry vests at the thrift store, which I thought would be perfect for my costume—plus, in the off-season, they could serve as cheap-o substitutes for the shaggy faux fur stuff I'd been coveting. They ended up being too short and short-haired for that latter purpose, but I was able to make use of both in my costume. A few months before Halloween, I went to Home Depot and bought some plastic tubing that I thought might serve as boning (I got this idea from a couple of tutorials I read online suggesting it as a cheap alternative to real boning).

The first week of October, I started work. The whole project took me almost a month, putting in a few minutes to an hour almost every day. I was going to share every little detail about how I made the hat, but I realized that that might be a tad boring, so I'll give you the short version, and if you have any questions, I'm happy to answer them!

I used my tubing from Home Depot to support the inner and outer edges of the brim, in concentric circles kind of like the picture above (this was an early approximation of how big I wanted the hat to be). I later added boning to the bottom edge (what would be the top of the hat if it were on a head) as well.

A previous roommate had left behind a few sheets of black fabric, and one was a glittery floral I thought would be perfect for this purpose.

I sewed most of the parts of the hat together, creating casings for the boning, turning all the strips of fabric into tubes, and adding a lot of darts along the brim to convert it from a rectangle to a circle.

However, I also used a good bit of hot glue for some of the more awkward spots, such as attaching the brim to the crown.

As it turned out, aquarium or electrical or whatever kind of vinyl tubing this was is not rigid enough to support the weight of a 3-foot-wide hat brim, so I had to use coat hanger wire inside it to give it a bit more support.

I found a wooden dowel that just happened to be an almost perfect fit inside the tubing. I cut it to about two inches in length and inserted it into both ends of the tubing to join them.

To suspend the hat from my shoulders, I was going to use wire. I fortuitously found the wire lying in the road on my way home from work one day shortly after I'd put picture-hanging wire on my shopping list. So with traffic whizzing past me, I retrieved the mass of wire and took it home with me—at least one part of this costume was absolutely free!

Originally I tried just making big loops of wire and draping them over my shoulders, but I found they dug in a little uncomfortably, so I decided I needed to make a harness out of fabric to distribute the weight. The fabric I chose was a canvas apron that had come with my house (another free costume element!)
I cut it into a couple of strips, awkwardly sewed some loops at the end to hold the wire, and then connected the two strips with another strip that would rest over the back of my neck.

It was quite a labor of love getting the suspension wires attached to the hat, because I had to poke them through the fabric and then twist them closed in such a way that the pokey ends of the wire wouldn't injure anyone. Eventually, though, I had this:

Once the hat was done, I was ready to focus my attention on the slightly easier bunny costume.

By this time, I had acquired a fuzzy sweater from another trip to the thrift store, and I had a hard time deciding which garment (vest, vest, or sweater) to wear on top. I finally settled on the fur-lined knit vest with a hood, mainly because the hood would help disguise my green hair, which could be confusing in the context of a bunny costume. 

To make the vest look more like a mammalian body and less like an article of clothing, I removed all the leather and wood toggle closures and sewed it shut with the right side wrapped over the left side. Since the left edge was now covered, I was able to remove the fur from that side, to use for other parts of the costume—primarily, the ears!

I made wire frames for the ears out of my free salvaged wire.

I folded the raw edges of fabric over so that the frames were completely covered.

I left a few inches of wire poking out the bottom of each ear, so I could wrap it around a metal headband. Somehow one of my ears was noticeably smaller than the other, but rather than make the other one even shorter, I opted to just mount the smaller one higher off the headband. The ears also ended up being a little off-center. Both problems are visible if you look closely, but I was banking on no one looking too closely.

To keep the wire from poking me during use, I then covered the headband and wire with a white ribbon (the string tie from the apron). Here you can see it being held in place by binder clips while the glue dries.

Hat: check! Ears: check! I had enough of a costume now that I could be reasonably recognizable, but I still had one fur vest and a fuzzy sweater...so I decided to make arm- and leg-warmers to add to my furry appearance.

To begin with, I completely deconstructed the fur vest. Had I known that this would be its fate, I probably could have saved money by just buying fur fabric, but the thrift store only has a 7-day return window, and I was about 7 months too late, so I figured I might as well use what I had.
I decided to use the front portion of the vest to make arm warmers, and the back portion to make leg warmers. I wore these to look more like a white rabbit when I wasn't wearing the hat, as it was too bulky to carry around all the time, but I didn't get any pictures of my "naked" rabbit costume.

To make appendage warmers, you wrap a strip of material around your forearm or lower leg, inside-out. [Note: for optimum realism, make sure that the "grain" of the hairs points downward, toward your hand or foot]. Then you use pins to mark where a seam should go, approximately following the line of your arm or leg. Be sure to leave about a 2-inch slit for your thumb to poke through on the arm warmer. Two inches seems like a lot for a thumbhole, but you need that space for full articulation of the joint. Sew a seam along the line of the pins.

While doing this, I learned a trick for cutting fur fabric: Fold it in half so the hairs are all pointing straight up or down, then cut along the "part." This will help you avoid cutting too many hairs short.

The last part of my costume, the tail, was  an afterthought, completed the night before I was to wear it. I grabbed a piece of leftover fabric and bunched it up into some semblance of a rabbit tail, stitching it to a safety pin to hold it all together.

I attached the safety pin to a white skirt, and I was done! Finally! Can you believe that was the short version of this story?

As with most of my costumes, I constructed it almost entirely from salvaged items. My only expenses were:
  • Two rolls of aquarium tubing (at something like 4$ each), 
  • Three shirts I bought from the thrift store (which probably totaled about 12$)—even though I only used two of them, I don't think I'm going to be able to return the third.
  • The negligible cost of crafting materials I already had, such as glue and thread.
So overall, my rabbit in a hat probably cost me 20$. I was aiming for a costume contest prize that would earn it all back, but this year, that was not to be. While I didn't earn any cash prizes, I did enjoy a wealth of compliments while I wore my creation.
It had its debut (and probably final appearance as well!) at Nightmare Festival, a Halloween extravaganza of dance music. The outdoor venue (a campground) even had a small ropes course, so I showed my athleticism by playing on the tire swing in full costume!

Hoppy Halloween!

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