Thrift Store Costume Challenge

thrift-store-costume-challengeThe challenge? To costume as many literary characters as you can in 180 minutes. The catch? You can only use what you find on the racks of Nearly New consignment and thrift shop in Princeton.

nearly-new-clothing-rackFor those of you unfamiliar with Nearly New, it’s an independently-owned consignment and thrift store with tons of fantastic stuff. Toni Maher, the owner, is always helpful when I drop by looking for costume items for work (or, heh heh, just shopping).

nearly-newToni’s also extremely accommodating when it comes to more unusual requests, such as  borrowing a mannequin for this Cinderella dress design event, or hunting for teacups and saucers for this Victorian Tea program. She didn’t even bat an eye when I asked her if she’d be up for hosting the costume challenge.

The other major player was Princeton University sophomore James Jared. Last year, James designed and sewed the Mathamagician’s costume for our Day in Digitopolis program (you can see it in this post). He also works in the costume shop at the Lewis Center for the Arts. James is incredibly talented, and was totally game for the challenge. There’s an interview with him at the end of the post!

The big day dawned and Marissa and I headed to Nearly New with photo equipment and a long list of possible characters (we went with female characters because, as James so astutely pointed out, the women’s sections of thrift stores are much bigger than the men’s sections). James and 4 Princeton University students who agreed to model met us at Nearly New. Then it was full steam ahead. In 180 minutes, James costumed 9 characters. Are you ready to see his results?


#1 NANCY DREW

nancy-drew-costume


#2 VERUCA SALT

veruca-salt-costume


#3 THE GRAND HIGH WITCH

the-grand-high-witch-costume


#4 MS. FRIZZLE

the-frizz


#5 PROFESSOR TRELAWNEY

professor-trelawney-costume


#6 MRS. COULTER

mrs-coulter-costume


#7 DOLORES UMBRIDGE

dolores-umbridge-costume


#8 MISS TRUNCHBULL

miss-trunchbull


#9 THE WHITE WITCH

the-white-witch


James’ costumes look fantastic, but they’re even more fun when you learn some of the behind-the-scenes facts. Nancy Drew, for example, is wearing a belt in her hair because we couldn’t find a headband. Miss Trunchbull is wearing men’s shoes, men’s socks, and little kid’s jacket to make her look bigger and bulkier. Dolores Umbridge’s sweater was overwhelming her dress, but James expertly pinned it to a better length. Professor Trelwaney is holding a fishbowl. And the White Witch’s crystal daggers? Those are salad forks that she’s holding handle-side-out.

The other thing I didn’t really appreciate until we got there was the volume of items and how fast James had to sift through them. To find the perfect belt, James had to dig through dozens and dozens of belts while simultaneously looking for earrings, dresses, and boots. He did this while expertly delegating the models to bring him possible shirts, skirts, sweaters, and hats. Also, James could find an awesome dress, but if it didn’t fit the model, or match the personality of the character, it was out. Finally, I learned that it’s not easy to make pieces from different decades work together without just the right vision.


JAMES JARED

james-jaredWhat’s your costuming background?

I’ve always loved making Halloween costumes, but I officially taught myself how to sew in high school when I started to cosplay (make costumes based on characters from movies, tv shows, books, etc).

What was the costume challenge like for you?

I was very nervous going into the challenge because I’ve never done anything of the like before, and I was worried that the time constraint would prove difficult to work under. In the end, though, I had a fantastic time and I’m very proud of the costumes that we were all able to make together.

Did you have an overwhelming favorite?
I think my favorite costume had to be Trelawney from Harry Potter. There were so many scarves and shirts that fit the character in the thrift store that her outfit almost seemed to show up without having to look for it. It almost became less of a question of which scarf would be best and more how many scarves we could get away with throwing on her.

Which was the toughest character to costume?
The hardest character to costume was the White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia. Her character description includes a crown, which the shop didn’t have, so it took a while for us to come up with a way to mimic the crown. Eventually we found a circlet that suggested royalty, as well as some spiky earrings that were reminiscent of icicles to use as a necklace.

If you had more time, which character were you hoping to do?
I would have loved to costume someone as Kate Wetherall, as the Mysterious Benedict Society was one of my favorite books growing up. Unfortunately, her costume is fairly specific and there isn’t much room for leeway.

What’s your major at Princeton University?
I’m just starting out in the Electrical Engineering department.

Do you see any connections between your major and costuming?
Interestingly, I once told an employee in a fabric store I frequent at home about my major, and she said that she often thought of sewing as a type of engineering. Though I’d never have put the two together on my own, as soon as she said that I knew she was right, and I think it applies to costuming as well.

In both costuming and engineering you have to pull materials together using techniques you’ve learned to create a final product that’s more than the sum of its parts. I think I enjoy sewing and costuming so much for the same reason I like engineering, which is that it’s a great feeling to have created something new out of basic materials. And that’s something I think anyone can do.


A big, enthusiastic “Huzzah!” to James Jared, costumer extraordinaire, who aced the costume challenge with style and flair. Warm waves of gratitude to the Nearly New for letting us overrun your store and create chaos in your racks.

And finally, many thanks to models Amanda Blanco, Ailyn Brizo, Joani Etskovitz, Grace Turner, and Marissa Warren. It wasn’t easy to keep a straight face through it all, much less glower, growl, look haughty, or stare intensely into the camera wearing shoes that were at least one size too small for you.

outtake

Extroverted Ninjas

extroverted ninjasThey say ninjas should be silent, composed, and invisible…we are not those ninjas. Make a truly eye-catching headband, belt and tunic. And forgo the nunchucks in favor of some fantastic dancing ribbons!

We read Wink, the Ninja Who Wanted to be Noticed by J.C. Phillipps (Viking, 2009).
Wink is a student at the Summer Moon School for Young Ninjas, taught by the formidable Master Zutsu. Unfortunately, Wink can’t be silent, can’t stop dancing, can’t stop showing up in brightly patterned clothes, and just can’t stop drawing attention to himself. Expelled from the school, Wink happens across a young boy unsuccessfully training for the circus. When Wink offers to help him find his inner balance, he discovers that while his desire to be noticed isn’t great for ninjas, it’s PERFECT for the Lucky Dragon Circus!

You’ll need:

Our headbands were 2.25″ x 21″ pieces of poster board cut down to the appropriate diameter and decorated with patterned tape and self-adhesive foam shapes. The belts were also poster board, but slightly wider and longer (we started at 3″ x 28″ and then cut them down to the appropriate girth).

You can use a stapler to secure the headband together, but for the belt, we punched holes in either end and laced ribbon through the holes. Here’s a shot of the headband and belt from the back. Sorry this is a bit blurry (LOTS of jumping, dancing, and running that day!)

back of tunicTo make the tunic, cut a slit in the center of a big rectangle of plastic table cloth (I definitely don’t recommend going any bigger than a 39.5″ x 47″ rectangle). Stick your head through the slit and let the tablecloth drape like a poncho. Next, tie the poster board belt around your waist. Instant tunic! Trim the bottom and shoulders of the tunic as needed, then decorate it with patterned tape and self-adhesive foam shapes.

They kids had a great time putting together their costumes, but the REAL fun came when we made dance ribbons. These are the exact same dance ribbons I created for a Frozen magic project. All you need are 2 dowel rods, a metallic tablecloth, and tape.

let it go 2

I bought my metallic tablecloths from Oriental Trading Company (a 54″ x 6′ tablecloth costs $3.25). To make 1 set of dance ribbons, spread out the tablecloth and cut 8 ribbons from it. Here are my ribbon measurements (you can adjust yours according to the height of your child):

  • 2 ribbons measuring 2.25″ x 41″
  • 2 ribbons measuring 2.25″ x 49″
  • 2 ribbons measuring 2.25″ x 60″
  • 2 ribbons measuring 2.25″ x 66″

Bunch 4 ribbons (one of each size) together, twist tightly, and tape securely to one end of a wooden dowel with color masking tape. Continue wrapping the tape downward and around the dowel until it’s covered. Repeat the above steps with a second dowel. Definitely wait until the very end to make ribbons, because once the kids get them…it gets crazy!

ninja dance ribbonsWithout a doubt, this is a high-energy-get-your-wiggles-out-lots-of-fun story time project. So make sure you have plenty of space. For there will be bouncing, kicking, twirling and leaping!

leaping ninja

The Reference Reptile

the reference reptileWow I hear that new librarian is a total dragon. Like…literally.

We read The Library Dragon, written by Carmen Agra Deedy, and illustrated by Michael P. White (Peachtree, 1994). Miss Lotta Scales, the new librarian at Sunrise Elementary School, is, in fact, a dragon. A dragon who takes her book-guarding duties very seriously. The students (and the staff) are all but exiled from the library, lest they face the wrath of Miss Scales and her fiery temper. Then one day, little Molly Brickmeyer wanders into the library, looking for her lost glasses. She happens across a book and starts reading aloud. Shocked but entranced, the other students gather in the library to listen. Mean Miss Scales moves in to grab the book…but then stops. Hmmm. The children appear to be enjoying themselves in the library. And the book is about a magic dragon so…Miss Scales finishes the story herself. And as she reads aloud, her formidable scales fall off, revealing Miss Lotty, the new, and very kid-friendly, librarian.

We transformed into dragons with wings, tails, and heads with crackling tissue paper flames that activated with a quick puff of air!

dragon in the libraryYou’ll need:

  • 1 box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 9” – a large tissue box works too)
  • 1 dragon head left section template, printed on 8.5″ x 14″ paper
  • 1 dragon head middle section template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ paper
  • 1 dragon head right section template, printed on 8.5 x 11″ paper
  • 2 sheets of green poster board
  • Dragon decorating supplies (more in this below)
  • 2-3 rectangles of orange & red tissue paper (approximately 4.5″ x 7.5″ each)
  • Hole punch
  • Green yarn
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

First, cut the lid and tabs off one side of a box (or, if you’re using a large tissue box, just cut the entire top off). Set the box aside for a moment.

We spent quite a bit of time figuring out how to make the dragon head template fit easily over a box. The final template turned out to be over 22″ long, so I broke it into 3 separate pieces to create a printable template for you.

Print all 3 paper template pieces and cut them out. Place the middle section down first, then lay the left and right sections on top of it, using the curves of the dragon’s nose as guides. Secure the 3 template pieces together with tape.

assembled paper dragon templateNext, lay the paper template on a piece of poster board (we ultimately decided to use light green). Trace the template on the poster board, then cut the entire thing out as one big piece. You’ll notice that there are 2 dotted lines on the paper template. Fold the poster board template downwards along the dotted lines. Then slide the poster board template on top of the box, and hot glue the sides of the template to the sides of the box.

dragon head step 1Next, hot glue the middle section of the template to the top of the box.

dragon head step 2Trace the forehead template onto green poster board, and tape it to the front of the dragon’s head.

dragon head tapedNow decorate! We used markers to create spots, slivers of self-adhesive foam for nostrils, some embossed foil paper for hair, 2 sparkle stems for horns, gold mirror board pieces on the forehead, and a craft tie curly whisker. Our eyes were 2 jumbo pom-poms with self-adhesive foam pupils. You could also just use markers or construction paper to decorate the head.

decorated dragon headTo create flames, cut 2-3 rectangles of tissue paper into flame shapes, then staple them together. Hot glue (or tape) the flames to the underside of the nose. Make sure to attach the flames to the end of the poster board nose, not the end of the box. Otherwise, the flames won’t flutter properly. Here’s a shot of the underside of the box, so you can see where the flames are attached.

attached flamesTry your head on. If it’s a little loose, stuff the back and front of the box with sheets of tissue paper. To breath fire, simply blow upwards and outwards on the tissue paper flames!


Now for the wings and tail! Unfortunately, the templates for these were too big to fit on a printable page – you’ll have to freehand them. We drew half a wing, then traced it onto a folded piece of poster board. Unfolded, our wings were approximately 12″ x 22″. Bendy straws make awesome wing ribs, and so long strips of mirror board. Punch 4 holes in the wings and run yarn through them. Knot the yarn around your shoulders like backpack straps!

finished dragon wings with bendy strawsHere’s our dragon tail, which was roughly 6″ x 19″. We decorated ours with a couple pieces of mirror board (some kids went with drinking straws or just markers).

dragon tailYou’ll notice that the tail in the above photo has a 2.25″ fold at the top. The folded end tucks into the back of your pants (or, if you’re wearing a dress, punch a hole in the tail and run a yarn belt through it).

tail tucked in placeIf you’d like dragon claws (and some kids really liked this part), wrap a 3.5″ x 4″ piece of green paper around your finger, then secure the tube with tape. Wrap one end of the tube with green masking tape and cut the  masking tape into a point. Here’s Marissa modeling a fine set of claws and a truly awesome dragon onesie.

dragon clawsNow go forth dragon, and guard some books!