Costume Parade [Part Three]

Frodo at the Futureshop DVD Release Party

2003: Frodo

Frodo from head to tow, brandishing sting in his right hand, clutching the ring with his left
“The Fellowship of the Ring” inspired my son’s choice to become Frodo, which was possibly the most elaborate of all the costumes I’ve made. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think there were even mass produced Frodo costumes available at that time. I bought supplies at Malabars, which is where I found the elven cloak clasp and the batter operated “Sting” which glows blue when orcs are near…

But unquestionably the greatest resource that gave me guidance was an amazing Alley Cat Scratch website with an enormous amount of detail and advice about ever aspect of the Lord of the Rings costumes. From costume sketches, patterns, photos of the original costumes, discussions of the fabric and construction used by the production company…. this was an invaluable resource for making Frodo.

2004: Neo

3 views; hanging on the door
We were quite taken with the Matrix series, so naturally my son wanted to be Neo. The first step was to get a “Neo” haircut. Although Neo was armed and dangerous by the end of the Matrix, we agreed that any armaments would be inappropriate for inclusion in a school setting after the events of Columbine. And isn’t the underlying theme of the Matrix trilogy that guns are merely props; the real power is from within?
I had to learn to sew button holes for the coat (did I ever!). The coat was made with my favorite Arctic Fleece, but since it was used almost like a cape within the film’s choreography, I lined the skirt of the coat with a more rigid slippery fabric that added weight and allowed my son to do those classic Neo spin-arounds

2005: Zorro

my zorro poses at the movie theatre
I grew up watching a black & white Zorro on television. But as much as I loved Guy Williams, the Antonio Banderas’ Zorro was the one to emulate. This costume did double duty, as Hallowe’en coincided with the theatrical release of “The Legend of Zorro” which we thoroughly enjoyed.

2006: Captain Jack Sparrow


Johnny Depp deserved his Oscar for Captain Jack in the first (and only good) Pirates of the Caribbean movie. The richness of the character inspired my son to revisit the world of pirates.

This costume was another major undertaking, not least because I was emboldened to do far more original sewing than alteration work. It was gratifying that after Hallowe’en my son wore the pirate shirt to school more than once as part of his wardrobe.  This costume also required even more in the way of accoutrements than our first pirate outing had.

2007: Harpo Marx

collage: Harpo face, Harpo dancing with dog, detail suspenders amd coat  pocket

We began with a beige trench coat, but extra pockets had to be added to the interior so my young Harpo could secrete various bits of paraphernalia, magic tricks, a giggle stick and most important, Harpo’s signature horn. Even in black and white, it was clear that Harpo’s wardrobe was always bright, so we searched for the loudest shirt, and brightest suspenders we could find. We topped it off with a nice blond wig and top hat from a local costume shop.

In keeping with the characterization, my son wore the costume to high school, where he didn’t speak a word all day, only punctuating his non-verbal communications with honks on the horn. He was a little disappointed that only a few of the teachers even knew who the Marx Brothers were.

This article completes my overview of the costumes I’ve made for my son.  I expect to devote entire articles to the three most elaborate costumes, for Frodo, Zorro and Captain Jack. I am pleased to see that my son has taken to making his own costumes these days.

Costume Parade [Part Two]

left photo: the finished cat, right photo I'm face painting the cat

1998: Year of the Cat

Growing up with cat siblings, it was only natural that my son would want to be a cat one year. The cat costume made of thick fake fur was a particularly good choice for 1999’s bitterly cold Hallowe’en.

I left the face open and attached black raffia whiskers to the sides of the face. Large black craft foam claws were sewn to the costume’s front paws.

Two photos, one a head and shoulders shot and the other a full body shot of the pirate costume.ostume

1999: Dread Pirate

My son decided he wanted to be a pirate in the first grade.  For the hat, I transformed my wide-brimmed dressy felt hat into a traditional pirate hat, trimming the edges with gold ribbon to make the outline stand out. I used a sheet of white craft foam to cut out a skull and cross-bones.  The piratical striped shirt and bandana was part of his ordinary wardrobe already.

The cape is trimmed with the same gold ribbon, and held together with a chain clasp.  I also made a shoulder “swag bag” to hold all the accoutrements,  The two main weapons were a plastic cutlass, and a reproduction antique pistol (a non-functioning lighter).

We had a lot of fun making all the pirate accoutrements for this one. The spyglass was made from two different sized thick cardboard towel rolls that could nest together with a clear Pringles lid attached as the “lens”  Then I made a piratical treasure map, which was painted it with lemon juice and baked in the oven so it would acquire the patina of antiquity.  There was also a pirate flag made with leftover black fabric hung on a bit of bamboo.  I made white foam skulls in appropriate sides to adorn the back of the cape, the flag, and the spyglass.

Harry flies his Nimbus 2000 through the graveyard on Hallowe'en

2000: Harry Potter

My son wanted to be Harry Potter before the first movie was made.  So research for this costume required my return to the source material of the books.

We needed a wand.  Since a visit to  Ollivanders Wand Shop was out of the question, a nice hollow piece of Bamboo — painted gold — was just the ticket.  Next insert a nice Phoenix feather (either a found bird feather, or one purchased from a craft supplier) and tamped down with an appropriately sized glowstick. The glowsticks I used were intended as earings, so there were two to a package, found at the Dollar Store. One of these glowsticks will last out the night, but it is always handy to have backups, particularly as such inexpensive glowsticks have a higher incidence of not activating).

The key element of clothing for Hogwarts students was a nice back wizarding robe to be worn over ordinary street clothes.  To make the costume more Harry Potter specific, I decided to make a Hogwarts crest for young Harry’s book bag.   There was a beautiful black and white line art rendering of the Hogwarts crest in the books. Since this drawing was uncredited, I assumed it to be the work of author J.K.Rowling (which seems now to be the consensus on the Internet). The books told me which colours were required for each of the Hogwarts houses.

I transformed a small straw broom into a Nimbus 2000 by removing the stitching to make it flat, then binding the straw in a circle. I stained the handle and painted “Nimbus 2000” on the shaft, then varnished it.

He loved the costume, but his biggest disappointment when Trick or Treating was that most people had no idea who Harry Potter was.

This costume was reused again later, when he attended a Harry Potter book launch with the addition of a Griffindor crest to the wizarding robe, which was somewhat shorter now, as he’d grown in the intervening years.

Left: sitting outside Wordsworth, reading the new book; right top, with Hagrid, bottom, full costume

left: aiming the long bow toward the sky, right: wielding the sword

2001: Robin Hood

For my own amusement, my son’s Robin Hood costume *had* to be based on the Errol Flynn costume from the Warner Brother’s classic. My research for this one involved searching through the film and making sketches of all the necessary bits.

I chose to diverge from the movie, following convention (and the movie poster) in making my son’s hat green, rather than brown. We used a fairly spectacular found feather for the cap. The crenelated tunic was a little bit finicky but not so difficult to sew. I am not the world’s best seamstress, and I try to make costumes durable, I use fabric that doesn’t fray and unravel easily, and it is always a bonus if the stitching can disappear into it.

I put gromets into the v neck of the collar to thread leather lace through, but the gromets never gripped the soft yielding fabric, and started pulling out from the start. After I had to remove them, the laces stayed in the holes just fine on their own.

Both Historically and cinematically, Robin Hood’s weapon of choice was the long bow, so that was an important bit. Since a long bow is almost as tall as it’s user, I pruned an appropriately long and skinny branch from the hedge, and used green twine for the bow-string. I wound a scrap of black leather around the centre of the bow to make a grip. I also sewed him a leather scrap wrist guard, such as are still used by traditional archers today, to protect the shooting arm from bow-string chafing.

I made a quiver out of green fabric, and by slitting the wide ends of some skinny bamboo garden stakes, I was able to push in large green craft feathers to fletch the arrows. The pointier tip ends were pushed into corks for safety. (Before letting him loose on the world I asked him to shoot arrows a leaf bag target, and after seeing how gently they flew, I asked him to shoot some at me for photographs. Even the ones that hit didn’t really hurt.

(Still, when he wore the costume to school for the fourth grade Hallowe’en party, he knew he would lose the weapon if he so much as pulled an arrow out of the quiver.) Sometimes a cork would break on impact, but then the arrow had to be retired until it could be re-tipped.)

He wore this (without the fleece under layer) later to attend the Robin In The Hood Festival.

King Richard kneels to the left of young Robin Hood, gripping the sword

2002: Captain Jean Luc Picard, U.S.S. Enterprise,
Star Trek Next Generation

By this point I had pretty much established that my son could be anyone he wanted to be for Hallowe’en so long as I there was enough advance notice given. For this one, his dad sent away for a Star Trek Next Generation badge/communicator which provided a lovely touch of authenticity to what was essentially a simple costume..

For the tunic and pants I again used my favourite costume fabric, arctic fleece, which has a bit of stretch capability but is quite forgiving for those of us who really only take on one of these projects once a year. Unlike most of the other costumes I’ve made, this one had to be pretty form-fitting, so it wasn’t revisited in later years.

It seems my son is as much a purist as I, as he insisted on having his head shaved for this one. The hairdresser was uncomfortable going all the way, so after a buzz cut the final close shave was undertaken by Dad. Even then, my son’s dark roots were clearly visible under the translucent skin of his perfectly smooth scalp, so a layer of flesh tone make up was required.

Standing in front of a poster of the starship Enterprise

forward arrow

Forward to Part Three

Costume Parade [Part One]

One of my main reasons for starting this blog was to have a place I could share the cool costumes I’ve made for my son over the years.

Sewing isn’t really my thing, so buying articles of clothing have often saved me time and energy in costume making. With the variety in pre-owned clothing stores, from Goodwill to Value Village, if the right clothes aren’t part of your child’s wardrobe, quite often they can be purchased quite economically.

Full shot of my one year old wearing his first Hallowe'en costume

1993: Mickey Mouse

When Aunt Cindy came back from her Disneyland vacation, she brought my son Mickey Mouse ears with his name embroidered on them. This became the first piece of my son’s first Hallowe’en costume.

For Mickey black tights and a long sleeved black cotton turtleneck were essential base pieces.

We wanted the classic original Mickey look, so my son’s red shorts were just the thing. I just needed to sew two large white buttons on the front, and another two on the back, where I also attached a piece of (untwisted) black raffia for the mouse tail.

Mickey wears 1930’s era white gloves, so I altered a pair of the little stretch gloves that can expand to fit adult fingers. Since Mickey (like many cartoon characters) has only three fingers, I removed one finger from each glove, so two fingers have to share a finger in the glove. Then I used a black marker to draw three black lines on the back of the hand part of the glove.

Opa and Oma helped out with the classic Mickey Mouse shoes. Using stuffing and yellow felt, they made over a pair of toddler slippers into the bulgy yellow shoes Mickey Mouse wears.

my son in Thunderbird costume, and detail insert showing the International Rescue logo on the sash, and the pilot hat

1994: Scott Tracy, Thunderbird One Pilot
Both my husband and I grew up watching the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson supermarionation “Thunderbirds” television series. As a science fiction fan, I had been looking for a chance to see it again for years, but it was only reissued here when our child was small, so he grew up watching it too.

Blue turtleneck and sweatpants formed the costume’s base. I used a vinyl fabric with a fuzzy white backing to make the sash, and glued on velcro for the closure. The sash also had a belt loop to hold tools (a yellow flashlight went there) and a plastic friction-spark gun was just perfect to serve as Scott’s ray gun that fills the holster on the other side of the sash. The glue did not hold up very well, and has been repaired with clear packing tape at this point. More of the vinyl became boot covers, which can be pulled on over ordinary shoes.

I used acrylic paint to recreate the International Rescue logo on the sash. The oval IR logo on the hat was made by painting the black outline over metallic silver paper, then glued onto the pilot hat. The hat was fairly simple to make for a novice. The hardest part was incorporating more blue vinyl as piping. To help the hat stay on, I attached a bit of elastic that ran unobtrusively behind his head under his hair.

He was very proud to trick-or-treat as Scott Tracy, but was annoyed at how many people had no idea who he was supposed to be.

Being held in the air by Kookoo the Klown at Pizza Hut

1995: Mickey II

Two years later, when he had a better grasp of Hallowe’en, since we had moved (and had a new audience) my son chose to reprise the role in the new neighborhood. The slippers no longer fit, and he chose instead to wear ordinary running shoes. After trick-or-treating, we went to the Brampton Pizza Hut Hallowe’en Party, where he’s pictured above with KooKoo the Klown.

Spiderman (Bakshi animated version)

1996: Spiderman

The costume is based on “the real Spiderman” which to me is the Spiderman from Ralph Bakshi’s animated 1970’s television series. Conveniently, my son agreed. The costume was created from a red sweater that Nanny would have sent to Goodwill had we not snagged it. Blue sweatpants formed the base, and I cut up the sweater into bits I then sewed into the head, sweater, boot covers and gloves. I used a bottle of black silk screen paint to make the web detail work.

Preparing to fly in a red satin mask, a dark blue sweater (with a red letter across the chest) and a red satin cape

1997: Superkid

At this age my son often spent time drawing pictures and making up stories about his own super namesake, so that was who he decided to be for next Hallowe’en. This was kind of fun because I had a lot more freedom of design.

forward arrow

Forward to Part Two

Art, Murals and Contests

Although art competitions ostensibly exist to benefit the artists, the contest holder is always the chief beneficiary, as shown by a local hardware store’s mural contest a few years back.


The Victor Clothing Company’s Anthony Quinn mural in Los Angeles was quite impressive when I saw it years ago. Since then, murals have come into vogue in Southern Ontario.

Creating a mural is not easy, nor cheap, and requires maintenance. Currently the the stunning mural created by Eloy Torrez in Los Angeles is in serious need of restoration after 27 years.

Murals Come to Elmira

A competition was announced: five local artists were selected to design and create their own original 6′ x 6′ murals on the blank wall facing the Elmira Home Hardware Store parking lot.

1. Linda Brubacher

Elmira's enlisted - Lest We Forget

#1. Linda Brubacher

2. Trevor Martin

Sugar Bush

#2. Trevor Martin

3. Pat Lackenbauer


#3 Pat Lackenbauer

4. Jo Oxley

A quilt of local family names

#4. Jo Oxley

5. Paul Wilson

Sprts team logos in the 4 corners, fountain of memories etc

#5. Paul Wilson

The way the contest worked, interested folks could vote for their favourites, but voters had to pay for their ballot. In this way, the Home Hardware campaign “raised about $2,500”.

California’s Victor Clothing Company commissioned artists to create the now famous murals.

In comparison, Home Hardware got a wall full of free murals, a reputation both for “supporting local artists” and for providing the community with public art, a  charitable donation, and all the accompanying publicity.

The community got some nice public art which remains in reasonably good condition almost seven years later.

And the artists?

They had to undergo a selection process, then conceive an idea, plan out the design, and then actually paint the thing.

Trevor Martin’s winning mural paid him $500; not a terrible return for work he estimates took about 24 hours.

The other four artists each received $100. If it took them each ten hours to paint their murals, they may just about have managed to earn minimum wage.  My guess is that each mural took well over ten hours to paint, so except for the winner, none of the artists are likely to have even earned minimum wage.

Pretty good deal, right?

The rest of the money raised was donated to charity.

An argument is usually made that the artists get exposure from a contest like this.  In some cases it can be valuable, but artists still need to eat.  Plumbers need exposure, too, yet I can’t recall anyone suggesting that they should donate their work for it.  Perhaps in future supporting local artists might mean paying them a reasonable amount for their work.

But even if exposure is an important consideration, is a contest like this one the right kind of exposure?  Particularly when there is a “winner”, well, we all know what the word for a non-winner is. Does that kind of exposure really help an artist’s career? And who are the judges?


These days you can find all manner of art “contests” online.   The artist is generally required to herd their family, friends and fans to the contest venue to get them to vote.  Most of the ones I’ve seen don’t require a simple voting, but repetitive voting over time.  And before people can vote, they have to register, and give up a lot of personal information. (Guess where SPAM comes from…)  So again, the voters pay the price. Do you really want to do this to your fan base?

So I have yet to wonder about any net benefit to the artist.  Although a contest dangles a prize, is that prize worth the price you have to pay for it?

know what you’re getting into

Before even creating a contest entry, let alone posting your work, always read the contest rules. Any contest submission will necessarily transfer or sharing at least some of the artist’s rights to their own work to the contest holder. [As does posting your work to any website that you yourself don’t control.]   Be very sure that you know what you are agreeing to. And that you can live with it. For artists, the main advantage to the proliferation of art contests is that there is always another contest.

Because, after all, the main beneficiary of any contest is always the contest holder. After all, they get to make the rules.

The back wall facing the parking area with 5 finalist murals

and the winner is?


19th Century Advertising: Seagram Distillers sign

When I was a child I didn’t much like downtown Waterloo because of the pervasive smell of the Seagram’s Distillery that hung over the city core.

Those days are long past, as manufacturing that decreases the quality of life is better relegated to more isolated locales. Waterloo today enjoys the reputation of being one of Ontario’s more livable cities.

Seagram loft windows with cheery blue probably decorative shutters

The Seagram industrial complex was remade into upscale loft housing some years back.

Barrel Warehouse Park sign

Originally there was an enormous pyramid of old barrels out front, making a wonderful historic bit of historic public art, but that has now been replaced by the more sedate “Barrel Warehouse Park”.

Seagrams Public Art

These days the park is graced by public art consisting of a few gigantic bits of miscellaneous machinery that presumably were once employed in the distillery business.

manmade waterfall in concrete

There is also an odd little man-made waterfall cascading out of a featureless concrete wall…

walled on the left side and at the back, a sloped concrete floor goes down to where a forlorn puddle forms beneath the waterfall

… to the floor of a sloped concrete enclosure. Presumably the puddle at the bottom is intended as a wading pool for local children.

ows of windows under the brick dentition at the top of the original exterior wall

But it is the ranks of identical windows flanked on one side by identical blue shutters that provides the real art to this architectural gentrification project.

rows of shutters

Copying Art

Back in the days before copyright existed, it was not only common for artists to paint copies of famous art to learn how to paint, to learn their craft, but sometimes because that was the only way they could get access to the subjects they wanted to paint.

Take monarchs, for instance.

This is one of the many anonymous copies of the official portraits of Henry VIII.
[I felt that the framing of the digital image was a bit too tight; there wasn’t enough head room. So I’ve digitally reframed the picture, extending the space between the top of Henry’s head and the frame.]

Sitting for a painted portrait was a gruelling task, magnitudes worse than having your photograph taken. Still, it was one of the things that was expected of a monarch in the days before photography. In the 16th Century, the King of England was expected to take some time out of his busy schedule to pose for a official portraits on occasion.

But the King wouldn’t just sit for any artist, he’d only sit for the best.

In the same way movie stars and presidents and monarchs vied for a chance to be immortalized in black and white by Canada’s world class portrait photographer Yousef Karsh in the 20th Century, Henry VIII wanted only the best. Hans Holbein the Younger was a portrait artist good enough to be appointed King’s Painter, and his work immortalized both Henry VIII and his court. The most famous and perhaps most regal painting that Holbein created was on a mural on the wall of the Privy Chamber of the new Whitehall Palace.

Kinh Henry's official portrait made him look taller and more impressive

“Portrait of Henry VIII … is one of the most iconic images of Henry and is one of the most famed portraits of any British monarch.”

WIKIPEDIA: Portrait of Henry VIII

Henry himself was pleased enough with this work that he encouraged other artists to copy the portrait. What that means to both artists and historians of today is that the work was not lost, even though the original of that iconic painting was destroyed by fire in 1698.

But the painting lives on, and continues to be famous today because it was widely copied.

None of these artists would ever have been able to get access to the king, yet being able to copy official portraits undoubtedly gave them the means to make a living in the art field. Many of artists who made these copies never achieved fame of Hans Holbein the Younger, and many of the surviving copies of this and the other paintings of Henry were in fact painted by artists whose names have been lost. The attribution customarily given the copies is “after Hans Holbein the Younger. But although their names have been lost, an important work of art is preserved for the sake of both our history and our culture.

I don’t know any artists who want to see their work lost. Had the copyright laws of today been in place back then, this work would in fact be lost forever.

2011 in review

angel doll head and shoulders

Happy New Year!

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,600 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 60 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

car and horse and buggy meet on rainy night

It’s been a pretty busy year here in the forest, so there haven’t been as many new posts as we would have liked to see. But it was good to see the blog stats hold up regardless. With a little luck there will be many more posts for 2011.  Because after all, art is still all around!

Thanks for visiting Lothlaurien’s Lore 🙂

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