Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mermaid Costume!

This is one of those projects where everything just came together.  I had very few problems making it, my daughter was thrilled (THRILLED!) when she opened it on Christmas eve, it FIT HER PROPERLY--it just all worked out.

I am so darn proud of this costume.  I think it looks adorable!  And Little Sister loves it.  She puts it on a few times a week to play mermaid.  She wants to have a mermaid party for her 3rd birthday coming up (I'm all in--"Turning Three Under The Sea!")  And while it's totally not perfect, I did come up with something that I think works so well for a little person's costume, so I definitely wanted to share what I did.

But first, don't you want to see a few more pictures of my little mermaid?  Depending on her mood, she may only answer to Ariel.


Whoa.  Balancing on your tail is
not as easy as it looks.


OMG. I'm totally a mermaid.
Rolling around in the "water"

Mermaids definitely swim on their bellies.

And sometimes, mermaids get cold and need to wrap up
in the "water."

She had to put her costume on as soon as she opened it Christmas Eve.  And once you're a mermaid, you've obviously got to go for a swim.  Good thing the S.S. Papa Barrie was there to help out!

Most of the  mermaid costume tutorials and patterns that I looked at used a similar concept to create the mermaid tail.  They were long skirts with an elastic band somewhere around the knee/calf area to pull the fabric in, so that when it flowed back out there was a "tail" effect.  Usually the fabric below the elastic was cut into a tail shape, helping the effect.  They look adorable, but I was worried that it might be uncomfortable/unsafe for a two-year-old to walk with her knees bunched together.  I had the idea of making a crossover skirt, sort of tulip-skirt style, so that there was actually an opening before the tail separated into its two fins.  And I think it worked out really well!  The skirt is made from two pieces of fabric that are only sewn together at the waistband.  They wrap around opposite sides of her waist, leaving an opening at the front and the back.  At the bottom of each piece of the skirt, I gathered the fabric and attached a gathered "fin" that hangs on each side of the skirt.

Crossover Skirt
Because there is enough fabric to wrap around her waist twice, the opening (usually) doesn't pull open enough to reveal her undies.  I figured it was no big deal since this is a dress-up costume to be worn around the house, but if I was worried about her exposing herself the skirt easily disguises a pair of pants or tights worn underneath.  However, when I suggested that, I was informed by Miss Mermaid herself that mermaids do NOT wear pants.  She has a point, I guess.

I will share how I made this, but I will warn you--this is not a very thorough tutorial.  I was figuring things out as I went, eyeballing things and just doing what I thought looked good.  I'm not sure how well I'll be able to explain it, but I'll try!

I started with these raw materials:

I had a formal floor-length skirt with two semi-iridescent layers that a friend had given me, and I was originally planning to use that for the body of the skirt.  But since Little Sister has been very adamant that mermaid tails are PURPLE, I decided to use the iridescent blue stuff for the fins.  I bought a yard of the purple ruffled fabric, which I had never worked with before but thought would be absolutely perfect for a mermaid, because it looks like scales if you use your imagination, but also because it's soft and stretchy.  Beware, this ruffled fabric is actually pretty see-through, but since the skirt ends up being mostly double-layered it's ok.  The top doesn't even seem seethrough once it's on, but when you hold the fabric up to the light, it's sheer city--just thought you should know. The bolt was pretty wide, and I probably could have gotten away with half a yard, but I wasn't quite sure how I was going to go about it yet.  It was $9 a yard at Jo-Ann Fabrics, but of COURSE I had a 50% off coupon, so not too bad.

I started by making the waistband for the skirt.  My daughter's waist is about 19", so I cut the waistband fabric 23" wide.  It was 9" long in the center and curved upwards towards the ends, so the "skirt" part of the waistband would be shorter in the back.

Hmm.  Maybe I could have ironed this.

Since I was using an old skirt, I made use of the existing hem whenever possible.  This way I didn't have to hem any fussy slippery fabrics.  I put the two layers wrong-side together and sewed the two ends, and used my pinking shears on the raw edges.  The top and bottom were left open.

Then I decided to go ahead and sew the top closed too, for a finished inside edge to my waistband.  Once I did that, I turned it right-side out.

I was using 1" wide elastic for the waistband, so I folded enough of the waistband fabric over to the back to make a casing for my elastic, then pinned it loosely in place.

Then I folded the two ends in to see where they would meet in the middle, and marked the side edges of the waistband with pins.

I would use these pins to line up the overlapped ruffled skirt fabric.

Cutting the ruffled fabric was a little tricky--I had to be really careful not to cut any of the ruffles as I snipped across the fabric.  I cut two panels, one for either side of the skirt.  Each panel should be wide enough to go all the way around the waist (so in this case, it should have been 19 inches wide.  Mine was actually 17 inches wide and I wished it had been a smidge wider.) and the length is up to you.  I made mine 15" long but maybe should have gone a little shorter to avoid so much tail draggage, but the fins spreading out on the floor are what help to make it look very mermaid-y, so...I don't know.  I'll leave it to your judgment.  The length should be somewhere between the wearer's waist-to-knee measurement and their waist-to-ankle measurement.

With the waistband right-side-down, lay your first right-side-down skirt panel on top of it, lining up the left edge of the skirt panel with the leftmost pin in the waistband.  The right side of the skirt panel should be hanging over the edge of the waistband.

Lay your second skirt panel facedown on top of the first, this time lining up the right edge of the skirt panel with the rightmost waistband pin.

Carefully remove the pins holding your waistband casing in place and slide the skirt fabric up inside the casing.  When you sew the casing closed, you want to make sure both layers of your skirt are sewn into that seam.

But you're going to need to close up the skirt in the back, so when you sew the casing closed, leave a few inches open at both ends of the casing.

 Once you've sewn the majority of the casing closed, flip your skirt right side out and turn it over to the back.  Tuck the remaining fabric at the top of the skirt panels into the part of the casing that you left open, and topstitch it closed.  Since the edges of my waistband were finished, I just left them open to slide my elastic in--that way I can easily make it larger when necessary.

Before slipping my elastic into place, I gathered the skirt of the waistband in front (just by using a basting stitch without backstitching, then pulling the bobbin thread to tighten the gathers), then sewed the gathers down to hold them in place.  I did NOT sew the gathers to the purple ruffled skirt.

As you could probably see in the pictures of my daughter in the finished costume, I added gathers to the sides of the waistband as well.  I don't know if I'd recommend doing that--it seems like it makes the waistband more likely to flip up.

Next was attaching the fins.  Again using the existing hem from the skirt I was upcycling, I cut two 9"x22" panels from each layer of the skirt (one of each fabric for each fin).  Much like I did on the waistband, I placed the layers wrong-side together and sewed up the two edges, this time leaving both the top and bottom open.  When I flipped it right-side-out, I gathered the two layers together using the same technique I mentioned above.

I then laid the skirt out on it's side, so that one side skirt panel was laying face up flat on the floor.  I laid the fin wrong-side-up and upside-down, so that the raw edges of the fin lined up with the bottom of the skirt panel.

For some reason I stopped taking pictures of the skirt at this point, so bear with me.

I bunched up the purple ruffle fabric, pinned the heck out of the two pieces to get them as lined up as I could, and sewed them together.  After I flipped the fin down into position I sewed another row to flatten the raw edges of the gathered fin out as best I could.

Once I saw the fin attached, I thought it needed to lift up more in the center, so I gathered the fin along the front seam as well.  You can kind of see what I'm talking about in this photo:

Repeat for the other fin, insert elastic the same length as your child's waist measurement, and the skirt is done!

The top was relatively straightforward.  I cut cap-sleeves from the iridescent fabrics.  Totally didn't measure, just made them a little wider than I wanted them to be because I was going to gather the centers for a slight puff.  Oh, but I did measure after the fact so that I could share this info with you:  they are 10 inches wide, and 2.5 inches tall in the center (obviously curving down to the edges).

Two layers cut for one cap sleeve

I sewed the two pieces together, right sides together, then flipped them right side out and marked the middle two inches of the sleeve.

That's where I did a small gather.  Repeat for the other sleeve.

Two cap sleeves in search of a top

I used a well-fitting top as a guide for the mermaid shirt.  Since it was dress-up though, I wanted it to be loose-fitting (easy to get on and off, and maybe it will fit for longer!) and a little shorter than a regular shirt so she didn't have to worry about tucking in.

All lined up
 I did have to be verrrrry careful when cutting this fabric so that I had a complete ruffle along the bottom edge, since I was planning to leave that raw.  Also I cut the neckline very carefully because it would have looked strange to have some snipped ruffles in there.

The actual size I cut
 I cut the back exactly the same as the front.  Then I laid them right-sides-together and stitched the shoulders and sides together.

After flipping it right-side-out, I pinned the wrong-side-out cap sleeves on, lining up the top gathered edge with the raw armhole of the shirt.  Then I sewed the cap sleeve in place and flipped it into position.  You may or may not want to topstitch it into place at that point--I honestly can't remember whether I needed to do that or not.

Almost done!  It's looking like a shirt!

The final touch was to bind the armholes and neckhole.  I wanted it to remain stretchy (and I have tons of it on hand because I use it to make headbands), so I chose to use foldover elastic for binding.

I followed the tutorial I found here.  Basically, fold the elastic over the raw edge and pin in place, then sew together using a wide zig-zag stitch.  Worked beautifully, and the neckline and armholes are still very stretchy.  If you don't have foldover elastic or you just want to do a different binding method, that link I pointed to above is actually a link for 7 different kinds of binding, so use what works for you!

And here's the finished top!  I just left the bottom edge raw.

And tada!   You're finished!

I know it sounds like a lot of steps, but I really didn't feel overwhelmed by this project at all while I was making it.  Maybe because I was inspired, maybe because I knew how much she would love it and I couldn't wait for her reaction, or maybe just because it wasn't actually that hard.  But I think the final result is pretty impressive!

BTW--I was a little bit appalled at some of the mermaid costumes being marketed to toddlers when I was looking at images online for inspiration.  Ca-RAY-zee!  I'm sorry, but babies and little girls do not need to be wearing padded shell bras in order to play mermaids.  ANyway, digression over.

Did you have any favorite holiday crafts or gifts that you made this season?  I'd love to see them!  Post a link if you've got it!


  1. Beth, I think it's very clear you know what you're doing. :) The costume is adorable! Can't wait to see pictures from the party.

    1. I do keep getting better at figuring things out--but it is still a crapshoot most of the time! But still, the more I do it and try things I haven't done before the more confidence I get with my sewing, which is half the battle. Thanks so much!

  2. very cute, the most appropriate toddler mermaid costume on pinterest that I have found!


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