Introduction: Oscar the Grouch - the Costume
As Halloween approaches, my mind starts racing with questions and ideas? What character should I be? What materials will I need to acquire? What materials do I already have? How will I make this part and that part .. and then that other part? I brainstorm ... I sketch and make lists ... I pound the google pavement for reference photos and technical information. I stay up way too late working and when I try to go to sleep, my mind keeps churning. It's a week + of sleep deprivation, successes/failures, excitement/frustration, and daily trips to Lowes and Micheal's ... and it's totally worth it.
This year, I decided to go all out with another full body costume ... which then expanded into a set with lights .. we'll get to that.
One said, "Art imitates life."
Another said, "That is your Spirit Muppet."
Several others just say I'm a grouch.
Step 1: The Head Template
My research started with the head. When I made my Animal (from the Muppets) costume, I used a plastic globe for the head structure. This time, I wanted to use foam because ideally, I wanted a movable mouth. I also wanted to try something different to gain knowledge.
I found a puppet head template (both .pdf and .jpeg) created by a Mike Moore [Thanks Mike ... we should have a beer someday]. It was of course hand puppet sized, which wasn't going to work for my purposes. I needed to enlarge the image and after not finding an easy way to do it in Photoshop, I used Excel 2013 [Steps below].
This took some trial and error. Print the image, roughly cut it out, roughly tape it together, test the fit on my head, repeat. I did this a few times before finding the sizes that personally worked for me.
Foam = 350%
Fur = 380% (need the extra for the seams/my newb sewing skills)
The image prints out on multiple pages and needs to be taped together in order to form the larger image. I used a straight edge, self-healing cutting mat, and a razor knife to cut off one side of each mating edge. Be mindful of your alignments since any errors will be transferred to your project material(s).
Next, the large image is affixed to a rigid piece of cardboard using spray adhesive and then carefully/slowly cut out with a razor knife. We now have a solid template.
Enlarging the image in Excel 2013
Bring the image into Excel
Insert Tab -> Pictures -> Browse to the saved file -> Insert
Enlarge the image
Format Tab -> Enlarge the Size section (far right)
Right click on the image and select 'Size and Properties...'
Ensure you have 'Lock aspect ratio' selected and increase the percentage until you get your desired size.
Step 2: The Foam Head
Using the head template, I traced two copies of the pattern onto the 1/2" foam and carefully cut them out with my fancy fabric scissors.
These parts make up each hemisphere of the head. Picture #4 shows them side by side ... meeting at the top lip area.
I used hot glue to form my foam into a head, but you could use contact cement if you desire. I'm not sure if the order matters, but I'm overly methodical about almost everything, so here is my order:
1. Two smaller seams in the top of each hemisphere.
2. Attach the two hemispheres to each other starting with the far edges, working towards the middle in a few points, and then filling in all the sections.
3. Attach the cheek areas to the jaw area.
4. Connect the lower jaws.
5. Try it on and take a picture.
I feel steps 2 and 3 could easily be interchangeable.
Step 3: The Jaw Structure
I really wanted a moving jaw and the foam head was going to need some kind of internal support unless I wanted it to cave in on itself like some 97 year old with no teeth. No offense to toothless 97 year old people ... it's just a look I wasn't going for this Halloween.
Wood would be heavy, thin metal would bend/kink/deform, but I figured PVC would be a good solution. It turns out they make PEX in 1/4" diameter ... perfect. I think they came in 4ft lengths.
I got a rough idea of the length I'd need to make a circle to fit behind the upper lip area and just snuck up on the cut until I was happy with the fit. As an internal coupler, I used a section of 1/4" dowel. It had to be sanded down a bit to fit, but that was quick work on the oscillating spindle sander. I used Gorilla glue for the joint because hot glue, not superglue held.
For the jaw pivot points, I randomly picked two symmetrical points behind the opening in the actual foam head. Horizontal holes were drilling in the middle of the PEX with the aid of a space and a cordless drill. The pivot points were then connected with a small diameter machine screw/threaded wood as a nut, and a plastic washer between the PEX tubes.
To keep tension on the jaw (keep it closed), I decided to use elastic. Connecting the elastic directly two the upper and lower PEX wasn't very effective, so I decided to raise the upper connection point in order to get more leverage or tension. These were made using the same small diameter machine screws, sprinkler tubing as a space, the elastic, and then a section of dowel threaded onto the end of the bolt. Why wood instead of a nut? I didn't have any nuts that actually fit the bolts and the wood also acts as a safety cap.
I needed a strap for my chin do that the lower jaw would move in tandem with my jaw. I started with plastic plumbers tape/pipe hanging strap, which worked, but I later switched it out for elastic.
To provide "skeletal" structure for the head, I attached a PEX arch to each side of the jaw ring and then bisected that with a half arch attached to the back of the jaw ring.
As a stand alone concept ... this design works. However, in practice, it leaves a lot to be desired. The mouth opens a little, but after a certain point, the entire head just pulls down with the lower jaw. If I fabricated some kind of support from the jaw ring which rested against my shoulders and kept it from moving, it would work, but that would be very uncomfortable. I also wonder if the problem could be overcome by creating a tight enough fit to the head using foam ... downside of that is ventilation and possible overheating.
Anyway ... costumers ... let me know if you have the answer.
Step 4: The Fabric Templates
I like to make my templates out of something which will last. For woodworking, I use hardboard. If I were planning on making a run of these costumes, I'd probably stick with hardboard, but this time, I used dense cardboard.
For the pants template, I used my Judo Gi pants from 1995 (yes, they still fit). For the torso and arm templates, I used a baggy hooded sweatshirt. After tracing the actual garments, I refined the lines and then added 1/4" to the outline to accommodate for the seam when sewed. For the hands, I used the Animal costume templates, but enlarged them (there were a bit tight). For the head, I used the 380% enlarged template.
I used the cardboard templates to trace the patterns onto the fur fabric ... minimizing the number of seams, which will make sense in the next step. I did my best to carefully cut out all the forms by trying to glide the scissors through the fur and not cut any of it off. I'd say I had a 85% success rate, but there were a few fatalities as you can see in the last picture.
Note: With fur fabric, the fur/hair all goes in one direction. I needed to be mindful of that when laying out my templates to make sure the fur all flowed in the same downward direction for the finished costume. The only part which this was impossible (unless I wanted to do a ton more sewing) was the head.
Step 5: Adventures in Sewing
Sewing ... oh sewing. I haven't sewn since Middle School and my last attempt in 2013 led me to use hot glue in the construction of Animal's felt skin.
I will say that there is a certain amount of freedom when you don't know how to do something ... you haven't been given parameters ... therefore you really have no boundaries.
Example 1: Should the arms be made of two pieces with a seam on the top and bottom .. or can I just flip this template when tracing and make it all one piece with just a seam on the bottom? The hoodie had just one .. so I went with just one.
Example 2: Should the pants have a seam on the outside and inside like jeans do and my Gi does? Why can't I just flip the template when tracing and make it all in one piece with just an inseam? Less sewing is better right?
Anyway ... The first leg went flawlessly. With the second, I had some major thread bunching and then a broken needle. I determined that I needed to help the machine keep a steady feed rate so as not to have either of these things happen. I also determined that pins were a deciding factor in the success of my end product. Keep in mind I retaught myself to sew with a machine in a single day .. of course I had to take pictures of my pants in a mirror.
The head was a challenge, but I followed the same formula I used with the foam and it worked out. The fabric head slipped over the foam head in the same fashion as a pillow case ... a furry pillow case.
Are my stitches perfect? Nope. Are they straight? In some places? Can you see any of it under the fur? Nope.
Hemming ... that was another quandary. Instead of putting visible stitches though the exterior fur, I decided to use hot glue ... and it work very well. Did I need to? Maybe not, but I was concerned the mesh backing of the fur might tear if I didn't.
Step 6: Oscar's Face
For Oscar's face, I started with the eyes, which were harvested from a solitary 4" styrofoam ball. First, I cut it in half and sanded the cut lines smooth. Second, I cut each half down to about 2/3 of their original hemisphere. After that, it it was just a matter of reducing their overall size until they were proportional to the head. Once I was happy with the size, they were spray painted white.
For the pupils, I used black felt. I used a quarter for the template and cut them out.
Oscar's eyebrow was made from a cut off of green fur ... spray painted brown in several stages. I recommend light coats .. the more the better or you will get glopping like I did.
Each eye has an embedded plastic wall anchor and from inside the head is a pan head screw and large flat washer. The eyebrow is attached to the top of the styrofoam eyes using hot glue.
For the mouth, I used a see through black fabric. I have no idea where it came from, but I'm running out .. please help. The tongue was made from red felt ... scaled to size and cut with scissors.
I attached the fur to the foam around the base of the head in numerous locations, but not everywhere for fear of bunching .. since they aren't a perfect fit.
Foam was added to the inside of the head in layers in order to achieve a somewhat snug fit against my cranium.
Step 7: The Trash Can
Oscar needs a trash can .. and I can't fit in a trash can these days. First order of business was to cut the bottom out of a trashcan. Since I also wanted to be able to walk around in/with this trashcan, I decided to ensure I left some tabs for hanging.
I made my layout using painters tape and a sharpie. Once the tabs were determined, I tapped them with a nail and hammer ... and then enlarged that hole with a drill bit. Sharp edges were knocked back with a rat tail file.
All of the waste material was cut out and filed smooth using an angle grinder.
Since I wanted to be able to descend into the can, I needed to make a hinge for the trash can lid. I made this using scrap plywood, scrap poplar, and 1/4-20 bolts/nuts/washers. The hinge pin part dimensions don't really matter ... you just need to sneak up on the length of your link so that you don't cut it too short (like I did the first time).
Nylon rope was threaded through two tabs on each side ... and I added sections of dowels for handles in case I wanted/needed them. I had some random nylon and plastic clips in a drawer, so I used those as a way to hang the can from the harness I made.
For the harness, I had a random ratchet strap which I never use ... so I cut it up. It was just a design on the fly things, but somewhat of a challenge. Gorilla glue didn't hold. Epoxy didn't hold. Leather punch and rivets didn't work out. Leather punch and plastic zip ties DID work.
Step 8: The Sign and Set
At some point in my delirium (probably during sewing or trying to sleep) I decided I needed a street sign ... which then expanded into a full set.
The sign post was fabricated from a scrap 2x4 and is held together with 2 screws. The actual sign is made from scrap 1/4" plywood and cut out on the bandsaw. The stencil is just standard paper, printed text from photoshop and cut out with an exact-o knife.
I stuck painters tape around the perimeter, cut it back to a 1/4" reveal, applied the stencil with spray adhesive, and applied several coats of white spray paint. It's a little rough, but it works.
The stage was built using scrap 2x4 in my shop and everything is screwed together so that it can be taken apart and reused. The top was sheathed with OSB for strength and all vertical surfaces were sheathed with cardboard. The left side is cut open so that I can stand and my legs are concealed.
Step 9: The Transformation
Some pics putting on the costume and guarding candy.
2. Pants and suspenders
4. Strap on the can ... somewhat challenging without help
Step 10: Glamour Shots
Some glam shots putting on the costume, naked Oscar, standing in his can, and the can on the platform.
I'd say the costume took 45-50 hours to make. 10-12 of that easily going into the everything involving the fur (templates, cutting, pinning, sewing).
Fake fur - Mongolian Olive Green [Amazon] = $22.70/yard. 4 Yards = $90.80
1/2 foam [JoAnn's Fabric online] = $18.49 (that includes shipping)
1/4" Pex tubing [Lowes] = $1.76
Green thread [Micheal's] = $1.30
Brown spray paint = $3.68
Suspenders = $6.50
4" Styrofoam ball = $1.25
Galvanized trash can = $24.98
Total = $148.76
Materials I Had
Nylon strapping salvaged from a ratchet strap
Nuts, bolts, screws.