The Alicorn and the Tulle Skirt

Why making a homemade Halloween costume is a supremely bad idea that will bring your child immense joy.

My daughter announced she planned to be an Alicorn for Halloween. Yeah, I didn’t know what that was, either. It’s a magical combination of a Pegasus and a unicorn.  “Pegacorn” makes more sense to me, but 12-year-old girls are not to be argued with.

Here was the rub: Anya also announced that she intended to home-make her entire costume, including the underpinnings (that’s fancy fashion-speak for leggings and a white tank top).

I call this one “Sugar and Spice,” (but not in that order). My son was a Harley biker dude. I didn’t have to sew anything for that costume, thank goodness. I don’t think I could handle stitching black pleather pants with zippers.

The linchpin of the costume was a white tulle skirt. I’ve never seen a unicorn or a Pegasus in white tulle, but I try not to ask too many questions. I firmly refused to make a white tank top, knowing that either a.) she has one in her drawer or b.) we could get one at the thrift store for somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.49.

Now, I’ve been down this crafty home-sewing road before. Readers of this blog may recall the great grey Gandalf cape fiasco. I learned my lesson that time: It’s way more time consuming and, frankly, more expensive, to make your own costume. I vowed after that confounded cape, I would never, ever make a Halloween costume again.

Never say never.

I don’t want to be the wet blanket that stifles youthful creativity, but my daughter’s killing me. She utters this phrase so often— “Mom, I have an idea!”—that I’ve banned it from any conversation after 8:30 p.m.

Against my better judgement, we walked into Jo-Ann Fabrics to do some reconnaissance. And what do you know? We walked right by a pre-fabricated white tulle skirt on sale for $14.99. It was perfect!!!! Problem solved.

“No, it’s not right,” Anya said. “It has a bow on it.”

“We could cut the bow off,” I suggested.

She ignored me and marched straight for the fabric aisles. We gathered up bolts of satin and tulle as well as elastic for a waistband. Some of the tulle had sparkly gems on it. We knew how many yards of everything we needed because I’d ordered a Simplicity pattern online for $9.95.

While I sewed and sewed, Anya organized the spools of thread.

At first, Anya had insisted we didn’t need a pattern. “I have an idea how we can make it…[without a pattern]” The idea involved safety pins and some sort of complex fabric origami. I explained sewing patterns are like recipes, and you wouldn’t make a cake without a recipe. (Actually, my kids once made a cake without a recipe and it was just awful.) “No pattern, no skirt,” I said.

We walked out of the fabric store, past the $15 tulle skirt, with $30 in fabric.

And that’s when the fun stopped. For four days, I cut out those little tissue-paper pattern pieces, cut tulle, pinned satin to tissue paper, and read and re-read the directions about 100 times. Pattern directions completely perplex me. And you try gathering eight yards of tulle on a single bobbin thread. It’s ironic that those patterns are named “Simplicity.”

Just when I would have a moment of clarity on some section of the pattern (“with wrong sides facing, pin the yoke to the casing, inside out and backwards, then baste” Basting? I had to Google that), my husband would walk into the dining room, where we had the sewing machine set up, and start asking me unrelated questions. Like I can multitask with following a Simplicity pattern and scheduling next week’s piano lessons. Aaaaaack!

We didn’t have a pattern for the wings, so you know, we were winging it.

In the end, I spent four full days of sewing, two trips to the fabric store, and $40 on the skirt. I drew blood from pins and needles on five different occasions.

But the skirt, it was beautiful. And my daughter was so happy. She was so engaged in the process, she would sit by my side for hours at a time, snipping threads and winding bobbins. She was in charge of threading the needle, because who can see the eye of a sewing machine’s needle? Not me.

Anya totally organized my sewing boxes, one of which I inherited from my mom. I have a staggering number of thimbles and spools of thread for someone who can barely sew.

Next year, if I have my way, she’s going to be a ballerina…in a sparkly home-made white tulle skirt.

I really have no business owning this many spools of thread.



  1. Jeff Olsson says:

    Loved it!

  2. Robert H. Olsson says:

    I’ve always known who runs that household… obviously not you or Jeff. Love the story, thanks for sharing

  3. Clare Burns says:

    Loved the story Helen! Made me laugh and smile 🙂 Loved the photos of the spools of thread as well – brought back memories from our youth!

  4. I have to bow to your dedication Helen! Can I share a teeny secret with you? Some of the best costumes I’ve made are “hacks”. Step 1 – go thrifting. Lots of great stuff is available in thrift stores. This year we picked up not 1 but 2 crinolines made for an adult woman and created the skirt for the queen of hearts with some quick snipping and tucking and a bit of pinning ( I wanted the fit the skirts but the wearer (Natalie) said safety pins worked fine). The hearts were made from a beautiful red wool blazer that we completely destroyed. The mad hatter’s blouse came from there, we chopped off the bottom to make the bow tie (had to Mcgyver some pipe cleaners in there) and then the pin striped blazer also came from the thrift store, converted into a sort of “morning coat”. Of course I still spent approx $30 at JoAnn’s but it saved me a lot of pain and suffering and swearing and the girls made a fantastic team! Of course my own costume never happened. Your sewing box looks very neat and tidy. I need to employ Anya for some organizing!

Speak Your Mind