If you're up for a crafty challenge, this costume is for you. It's perfect for a dress-up day at school, or as a fun task for families to do at home together, says Teresa Howard.
I can vividly recall days playing dress-ups as a child, and the fun and excitement of attending themed parties involving fairy, wizard and witch costumes. I fondly remember the hours my mother and sisters spent cutting out and gluing cardboard stars to a purple sheet to transform me into a wizard. I remember my dad in fits of laughter as I used his oversized white skivvy, teamed with my sister's elastic belt, and bundled my hair into earmuff-like buns to create a Princess Leia look for the school dress-up day.
These days I enjoy watching my daughter and her friends spend hours rummaging through the dress-up box, and I look forward to receiving notes from school advising of upcoming theme days. When one such note turned up recently, I decided to forgo the usual easy route of buying a costume, and instead have some fun making something.
I was delighted and terrified when my daughter asked for a mermaid costume, but with the help of some iron-on bonding, glittery fabric and a whole lot of giggles and chatter, I discovered making a mermaid costume with my daughter much easier than I thought, and more fun and economical than buying one.
What you’ll need
- White T-shirt
- About 1-1.5m of glittery blue or green fabric for the mermaid skirt, depending on your child’s width and height measurements (1-1.5m should make a skirt for a child under five, but more material may be required for older children)
- About 1m of glittery fabric for the fishtail (again depending on your child’s width and height measurements). You can choose a lighter fabric for the fishtail, such as organza, or use both fabrics together to create a fuller fishtail
- 0.25m of glittery fabric in purple or pink for the mermaid top
- 0.5m of elastic for the waistband
- Iron-on bonding paper
- Sewing machine for all standard stitching
- Needle and thread (for gathered stitching)
- Newspaper or butcher's paper
- Black marker
The top comprises the full white T-shirt with iron-on brightly coloured fabric in shell shapes to give a bikini-top look.
Use a black marker and draw large shell shapes onto the paper side of the iron-on bonding paper.
Cut out the shapes and iron onto the fabric of your choice. If using delicate fabric that may not withstand too much heat, pad the fabric with a cotton handkerchief while ironing.
Peel off the paper. You will be left with the outline of the shell shapes on the fabric. Cut out the fabric, following the shell shapes, then iron onto a plain white T-shirt.
Once the top is done, set it aside.
Measure your child from their waist to about their mid-shin to obtain a length measurement.
To get the width measurement, measure your child's waist. Halve this measurement, then add 10cm. For instance, if your child's waist measurement is 60cm, then the end measurement will be 40cm.
Using the length and width measurements, draw a rectangle on the newspaper or butcher's paper, and then cut it out.
Fold the cut-out rectangle in half lengthways, then draw a mark 5cm in from the edge at the bottom.
Measure halfway down the length of the rectangle and place another mark right on the edge (make sure it is the edge that opens, not the joined one). Draw a curved line from this mark to the one at the bottom.
Cut along the curved line. Unfold the rectangle and you will now have your main skirt pattern piece.
Fold the fabric in half. Pin the pattern piece to the folded fabric. Cut out the fabric, following the shape of the newspaper or butcher's paper.
Unpin the newspaper or butcher's paper from the fabric. You should now have two rounded skirt pieces. Place one of the skirt pieces on top of the other, making sure the patterned sides are facing each other.
Pin the fabric together lengthways about 1cm in from the edge. Stitch the side seams together with the sewing machine, starting from the top of the skirt and finishing at the bottom.
To create a waistband, fold over about 2cm at the top of the skirt and pin in place. Starting at one of the side seams, stitch along the bottom edge of the folded-over fabric, stopping about 3cm before you reach the side seam at which you started, so that you have an opening through which to pull elastic through.
Cut a piece of elastic the same length as your child's waist measurement, and attach it to a large safety pin. Slide the safety pin into the waistband and use your fingers to guide it around the skirt from the outside. Make your way around the skirt until the elastic comes out through the same opening it entered.
Remove the safety pin and tie the two ends of the elastic in a knot so the waistband is fitted but comfortable. You can sew the opening of the waistband down or leave open so you can adjust the length of the elastic if you need to.
Measure the bottom of the skirt piece you have just created and multiply it by two to get the length. Take your child's measurement from their mid-shin to the floor to get the height.
Using these measurements, draw a rectangle on a piece of newspaper or butcher's paper and cut it out.
To create a ruffled fishtail to attach to the main skirt, you need to create a gather in the fishtail-fabric piece. You can do this with the sewing machine or by needle and thread.
Pin the rectangle piece to your chosen fabric and cut out the fabric following the shape of the rectangle. Using a needle and thread, gather stitch (a long-running stitch) about 1cm from the length edge of your rectangle fabric piece and pull gently to create a gather or ruffle.
If you prefer to use a sewing machine for the gathered stitch these video instructions may help.
Tease out the gathers until the length is the same length as the bottom of the skirt. Pin the gathered rectangle piece to the bottom of the skirt, making sure the patterned side of the fabric is facing inwards. Stitch together.
Turn the skirt the right way around to see the finished result.
Have some more fun and create some shell necklaces or starfish hairclips to complete the costume.
Teresa Howard is mum to three-year-old Amelie. They enjoy mother-daughter craft projects.