10 Essential Items for the Costume Making Geekdad

Geek Culture Hacking the Holidays

The days are dropping from the calendar like acorns and your kids need to be [insert impossible costume here] for Halloween! Of course this Halloween is not unlike all the others and you cannot bring yourself to actually buy a costume, right?

If you are a typical modern-day geekdad, you will be digging into your ample toolbox filled with essential costume-making items, as well as pulling out that bookmarks folder for all your key references. My son wants to be Clone Commander Cody this year and, as much as I wanted to experiment with vacuum forming, I will confess, I resorted to the commercial option. But in typical fashion, I must hack it before he can wear it in public. (Although I’m still hoping he’ll want to be a knight next year so I can make some real chain mail.) My daughter though must try to top herself and challenge my skills every year. This year she wants to be one of those spirally energy-saving light bulbs. So are you sure you have all that you need if your kids get wacky? More costume-making info after the jump.

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Here is a list of the crucial items and info all costume-making geekdads should have at their disposal. (No, we’re not talking about turning props for your steampunk oscillating air rifle, so no lathes or milling machines required – but boy what you could do with those!) This list is certainly not exhaustive and assumes that you already have various glues, hand drills, and such as part of your gear.

Random toys and bits.
Never throw anything out without first imagining the possibilities. The number of kids you have only increases exponentially the discarded toys and parts you can claim as part of your bag of costume making tricks.
You never know what can find its way onto a good costume. Depending on the complexity, old toy motors, lights, wheels, and remote systems are always one Halloween away from a grand plan. I also never throw away old plumbing parts. Bits of pipe, various sockets and bushings are just too good to toss. Last year, an old bike helmet was the key part of my daughter’s seltzer bottle. This year, a cheap party giveaway will become my son’s clone trooper blaster.

Old clothes or remnants.

Like the toys, old jeans, sweatshirts, and sweatpants all have costume potential. A dip in some dye and a cutting session is probably all that’s needed. Worn adult dress shirts or suit pants can easily become the core of a kid costume with cuts and ties in the right spots.

Hot glue gun.

Give it a name because it is your friend. There’s no equal for the instant gratification a glue gun brings. Whether you use a low-heat crafter’s version or a high-heat industrial model, it’s quick and makes a good bond to hold up to just about anything. Thread shmead. The sewing impaired
(like me) will also find it useful when piecing together fabric and creating seams.

Rivet gun.

This is for the serious costume that you want to last beyond Halloween.
If you’re getting into vacuum forming your parts, you’ll probably want to graduate from the glue gun to the rivet gun.

Always have a couple of cans of spray paint or a few tubes of acrylic paints handy. Black, gray, and metallic spray paints are good for creating that realistic prop and most materials will take it well.

Parallel jaw pliers.

I have a set of these with a wire cutter on the side that I’ve had for a million years. They excel at crimping, bending, and grasping and apply uniform pressure. It’s like having a vice in your hands and can be used for finer work as well as bigger jobs. Apparently they are also essential for the deep sea fisherman.

An ample supply of wire coat hangers.

Your dry cleaning can have multiple benefits. The wire coat hangers when unraveled become the ideal armature for just about anything. I’ve found them without equal for making wide hoops.

Papier maché.
This is a skill worth making part of your arsenal. I know we all like the tools, but getting down with the crafting is sometimes the best option. The technique has about as many variations and mixes as applications but all you’ll need is some newspaper and paste. My daughter wanted to be a shoe one year and this turned out to be the best (and most fun) solution. I think I’m still scraping paste from my basement floor. Masks, hats, body parts, you name it, this approach can’t go wrong. One google search will land you a gajillion links but
this one in particular should set you off right.


Whatever it is you need, and not already in your spare toy or clothes box, will be offered by someone on eBay. Multiple yards of brown felt? Check. Ten feet of white pool hose? Double check. Minimal impact to my bank account? Check, check, and check!

Whatever you’ve imagined, someone else probably has done something similar and posted a step-by-step up on Instructables.com. For raw research for that skill or technique you need, it is perfect for starting you off in the right direction, especially when you need to make that Boba Fett helmet.

I could go on, but what have I missed? Any other favorite items and resources for making your own costumes?

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