Introduction: Praying Mantis Costume
I banned costumes with wings this year. For the last five, I've constructed elaborate wings requiring harnesses and wranglers to keep them from accidentally swatting innocent trick-or-treaters.
So my daughter chose a praying mantis.
"The females don't fly!" she declared.
While true - the female Giant Asian Mantis' don't fly - they still have wings. But I relented, as her pet praying mantis had recently passed away and it was hard to say no.
So guess who still had to make a harness anyway? Not for the wings, though. For the bug's butt.
This was a big project, so I used a LOT of stuff. Thankfully, most of it I had on hand from other projects. I didn't use anything too crazy, tool-wise. Most things you can use what you prefer, but I've added links to the more specific items.
Lime Green Shirt
EVA Foam Exercise Mat Square (we had some on hand, only needed two, but this is what I mean)
EVA Foam (Quality matters, and I've had good luck with this item)
Chicago Screws (I had never heard of these, and they are AMAZING. I use them in like, everything now.)
Silver Permanent Marker
Hex Nuts with matching screws/bolts
Floral Wire and Floral Tape
Acrylic Paint and Gesso
Scissors (various on hand)
Drafting Triangle (Indispensable on the whole, for life. So glad I finally picked one up.)
Titebond 3 Wood Glue (went through a surprisingly large amount of this, but it works really well)
Fleece and Cotton fabrics
Clipboard (Had these for their actual purposes but they've come in handy being cut apart)
A friend with a 3D printer (not necessary, but was nice. He made the spikes for the mantis arms, using my model. Could also use claw beads, etc, or just foam to make spikes)
Glue Gun (with soooo many glue sticks)
I used so many things that I'm sure I've missed something when compiling this list, but I'm sure all the important things are here.
Step 1: Reference Pictures
Reference pictures. Seems like an obvious step, doesn't it? But when deciding exactly how realistic you want the costume to be, you'll be delving deep into bug anatomy. I wanted to find a nice balance between anatomically correct and something I could actually construct. So even if I found out all about where the mantis keeps its ear hole and other assorted body parts, I kept to what I thought was relevant: like the three eyes on the forehead, and how many abdominal segments the female had as opposed to the male.
Step 2: The Abdomen
The first major construction step involved the abdomen/butt of the mantis. Since a mantis is long and skinny, I needed to elongate my 9-year-old. I designed the mantis abdomen to jut off her own backside at an angle and length that would maximize her overall size. I used a reference photo for the abdomen, measured the width of her waist, and approximated the length and angle from her waist to a few inches above the floor. Then I printed out a basic diagram of the abdomen shape at that size.
What followed was a Frankenstein's monster of cardboard and tape. I looped long pieces of cardboard together, cutting and taping my way to victory. I made seven rings in total, in receding sizes, matching the diagram. Then I fitted them together kind of like stacking cups. With copious amounts of hot glue and tape, the initial first draft of the abdomen was completed.
Once I had that patterned out, I redid it with nicer cardboard, then used wood glue and brown paper strips to paper mache the whole thing. For the little doodads at the ends, I used plastic straws and cereal box cardboard to make the shape, then it was paper mache-d.
Afterward, I painted the whole thing with gesso and then a mix of greens.
Step 3: The Harness Prototype
In order to make the mantis abdomen wearable, a harness was required. Sigh. Using some random extra 1 inch wide ribbon I had on hand, I cut a bunch of pieces of varying lengths and hot-glued them together. I made shoulder straps and loops around the torso, kind of like a tank top.
Because the abdomen hangs low, I angled two pieces of ribbon off the hips and then secured them with multiple horizontal strips across the back. Two vertical ribbons connected them all, and that section is where I attached a long piece of cardboard to stand in for what would eventually be chipboard and foam. I sized it to fit against her back and hang where I wanted it.
There was a lot of fiddling to be done, with strips added and removed, etc, to account for comfort and fit. There's no right or wrong way to make the harness, so long as whoever is wearing it feels secure and comfortable, and the attached costume piece sits where you want it to.
Once I was confident in the fit of the harness, I moved on to constructing it for real.
Step 4: The Final Harness
With the prototype harness on hand, I measured each section of ribbon and cut corresponding pieces in the 1 inch nylon webbing, and laid them out to match. Using masking tape to secure their positions, I sewed them together and attached the parachute buckles to the spots that needed to come apart. I used pliers to get the sewing needle through layers of webbing, just for ease of my fingers.
With a more accurate fit, it became apparent that a few further adjustments were required, which I quickly just nipped and sewed together in the same manner as before.
Quick tip: to prevent fraying, I melted the edges of the webbing with a lighter. Super-glue can also be used.
Step 5: Attaching the Abdomen
It was time for the cardboard piece that I had fitted to the prototype harness to come into play. Using it as a pattern, I cut the shape out of the hardboard, and another out of the EVA foam.
Next, I cut out a piece of fabric to wrap around the hardboard/foam, making sure I left about an inch of extra fabric to border each side, I sewed just one side to start.
Once I confirmed where I wanted the flagpole bracket, I used an awl to puncture the hardboard and fabric, then fastened the bracket on top of both fabric and hardboard with the Chicago screws. I then hot-glued the foam to the opposite of the hardboard, covering the back of the screws (for comfort). Afterward, I simply hand-sewed the fabric around the three remaining edges of the hardboard/foam combo.
All that was left was to sew the fabric/hardboard/foam combo to the harness where the cardboard used to be. The extra inch of fabric around each side was sewn directly to the vinyl webbing.
To attach the abdomen piece to the flag pole, I inserted a long wooden dowel into the abdomen and used round pole brackets on the inside, and screwed it in. I secured it further with hot glue and then again with twine, crisscrossing throughout with more awl holes. After, I applied paper mache to strengthen and hide the screws.
Step 6: Legs
The mantis has four back legs. Instead of pretending my daughter's legs were one of those sets of legs, we opted to have her wear black pants, theatre stage crew style.
For the two sets of legs, I figured out the sizing by rolling up random cardboard and paper bits and taping them together. The quick construction looked awful but made it easy to figure out where the joints of the legs had to be, along with the length and how the legs needed to be angled.
The final legs were made out of paper tubes I rolled up myself using a long wooden dowel, brown craft paper, and wood glue. To keep it strong, I rolled it several times
To connect the joints, I cut the tubes at my decided angle, then hot-glued small pieces of cardboard inside one tube then inserted it into a second tube and hot-glued them together. To keep it sturdy, I poked holes in it with an awl and tied it with jewelry cord, and hot-glued it yet again. Then I reinforced it with cardboard and more hot-glue. So much hot glue.
The base of each leg began as a triangular roll of cardboard, angled to fit flat against the leg base harness. I then connected it to another, smaller, tube using the same joint connection but in two spots, and reinforced it with cardboard. After, I used brown paper and wood glue to paper-mache it for further strength and durability. The smaller size tube allowed the leg to slide onto the main base for easy removal and wear.
Moving on to the "feet", I sliced the end of the leg tube open and compressed it, narrowing it down. Then, you guessed it, hot-glued it. The little prongs at the end are a succession of small tubes of cereal box cardboard cut at an angle and given a wavy design to mimic the mantis feet. Hot-glued yet again. It isn't shown, but later on, I narrowed down the very bottom of the foot even further, using the same slice, squish, hot-glue method. Then paper mache.
In the end, it all got painted with various greens and browns, as per how mantis legs switch between brown and green.
Step 7: The Leg Harness
I made the leg harness roughly the same way as the back. I figured out where I wanted the legs to sit on my daughter's frame, and patterned it out. Then I cut the shape out of hardboard and cardboard, and hot glued them together to make the base. The middle brown part is actually the hardboard, and it's backed by the cardboard with additional cardboard pieces on either end to account for the layer gap.
Where it got tricky was all the attachments. I sewed together a criss-cross of vinyl webbing, popped in some eyelets, then used the awl and some Chicago screws (super handy things) to attach it to the base.
Next, I located where I wanted the leg base to attach to the main harness and added D-rings to those vinyl webbing straps. I positioned one set at her waist and another at her chest. The vinyl straps on the leg base were then looped through and sized to fit, and secured with velcro.
Step 8: Attaching the Legs
To attach the upper legs to the harness, I poked matching holes in them and the harness base with the awl, then screwed them together using a 135-degree corner bracket and nuts and bolts. To prevent wiggling, I hot-glued it where it connected.
Then we did a test run, slinging the leg harness through the D-rings on the main harness. I fine-tuned the velcro attachments during this process.
Once satisfied, I concealed all the screws and gaps with paper mache, then painted.
Step 9: The Back
The mantis "back" was by far the easiest part to make, and coincidentally it was my favorite piece. I modified an anatomy picture of the thorax/back to fit my daughter's size. Then I cut it out of an EVA foam exercise mat square. I then cut the edges off at an angle to begin rounding them out.
To bulk up the back, and complete its overall design, I patterned out the smaller pieces, traced them on the main back piece, then cut them out of the same EVA foam. After trimming the edges, I went over each piece with my Dremel smoothing them all out until they were nicely rounded.
After gluing the small pieces on top of the large piece using Barge All-Purpose Cement, I heat-gunned it all to seal the foam, then I painted the whole thing with a mix of green paints.
But I wasn't satisfied with the gaps between the pieces. I could have just left it, but I opted to fill in and smooth them out with spackle. Then I repainted.
The final step was to glue small rings of thin EVA foam to the underside. I used a heat gun to get the shape and used Barge to secure them. To wear the back piece, I simply looped two green ribbons through it and tied it around my daughter's chest.
Step 10: Chest Piece
For the mantis chest piece, I wrapped my daughter in saran wrap and duct tape for the fit, then made a paper pattern out of it. Then I kind of fiddled with the overall design based on mantis anatomy and constructed it out of a thin white EVA foam.
I made it wearable by making a small foam piece at the shoulder/neck and one at the waist, that connected everything with velcro. Velcro was sewn on, then reinforced with hot glue and an even thinner layer of EVA foam to back it. Then I painted. I didn't bother with the heat-gun here, as it wasn't as effective with the thin, less dense EVA foam that I used.
Step 11: Arms
Oh boy, the arms. I sized a mantis arm up, then modified the size of it to fit my daughter's arm. I built it in three separate pieces: the bicep, forearm, and claw.
I made everything out of cardboard first. It was a lengthy process of matching it to her arm, keeping the overall mantis look, and making it fit the other pieces when she moved her arm. I added paper, cut paper, etc, until I got the shape I desired.
When I was done, I made a final pattern and cut the shapes out of EVA foam. I rounded out the edges with the dremel, then heat gunned them into shape. Only the claw needed to be glued together using Barge.
The claw itself was an articulated joint. Using one finger, my daughter could open and close the forearm and claw together like she was catching prey.
I fitted the top of the claw to the inside of the bottom of the forearm piece, popped matching holes in the sides with an awl, then attached them to each other using Chicago screws. Have I mentioned my love for those yet?
I then popped a thick square of EVA foam into the base of the claw, with a foam loop for my daughter's finger, all glued with Barge.
The spikes on the mantis arms were 3D printed. I traced out the mantis arm spikes from a reference picture, then modeled it with some playdough. My friend then took that and modeled it with his 3D printer. For this step, I could have gone a few different ways. There are acrylic fang beads I could have used, or I could have simply made them out of foam. I opted for the 3D printer because it was available and my friend likes to figure that stuff out.
The spikes were attached with hot glue. I tried other glues and processes, but ultimately hot glue ruled the day. They were then given a thin coat of green. The arm pieces were all painted with the same green acrylics.
With the addition of velcro super-glued to the foam, the armbands could then be attached to the fleece arm wraps she wore underneath.
Step 12: Arm Wraps
With saran wrap and duct tape, I made a pattern of my daughter's bicep and forearm. I then cut out the pattern in black fleece, giving myself a few extra inches on either side so that they could wrap around her arms almost twice. Several strips of velcro were then sewed to the fleece so that it could be a secure fit. After, more velcro was fitted to the fleece armbands to attach the arm pieces.
Step 13: Wing Back
There is a spot between the mantis abdomen and thorax (the bottom and the back), where the wings attach. This prothorax area was created out of two bands built to look like the abdomen. The difference was that it strapped on rather like a low-hanging belt, connecting on either side of her waist just outside the leg harness, by way of velcro. Initially built from cardboard, its final form was the white foam hot-glued together and painted green.
For the four wing attachments, I stacked EVA foam together in a cone formation with Barge, pierced each one with the awl twice, and strung them through with thin twine. I put holes in four small, empty playdough cups, then shoved Chicago Screws through each one, secured with hot glue on the inside. An excess of hot glue was then poured on top of the cones and they were shoved inside the cups.
I poked two holes for each cup into the prothorax wing band, then strung each cup through (slapped hot glue quickly underneath the cones to adhere to the foam beneath) and tied it. Annnnnd more hot glue.
To smooth out the seams, I applied spackle. And more green paint.
Step 14: Wings
The mantis has two pairs of wings. For each set, I made a pattern of one side, then cut two of each out of the foam wood underlayment. It comes in a giant roll and is very light and easy to work with, as well as being slightly see-through.
For sturdiness, I outlined the wings with a very lightweight wire, hot-glued right to the edge. I trimmed off any excess.
I eyeballed the majority of the veins on the wings and sketched them out on my patterns. After, I finalized the sketches with a marker. The rest was a blur of cutting off each marked section and tracing it onto the foam wings like they were stencils. Silver permanent marker made the job easy.
To get the pale green color, I slathered each wing with watered-down green paint and let it dry. The very tops of the wings were painted a little darker.
I patterned out little wing tops out of thin EVA foam and hot-glued sets of them to the foam wings and painted them green.
I attached the wings to the thorax/belt by poking holes in the little wing tops with the awl (my other favorite tool), then fastening them onto the Chicago screws of the playdough cups and capping them off. This left them mobile and prone to the wind, which looked like a mantis taking flight, something I liked.
Step 15: Mask
The main event: the mask.
I looked at so many mantis heads. So. Many. Mantis. Heads.
The mantis mask took up the most time. Using one-inch strips of cardboard and tape, I formed a helmet of the overall head shape of a mantis. The initial mock-up I deemed too wide, so I narrowed it down in the second mock-up. I checked my daughter's head shape and her visibility throughout the entire process, aiming for her comfort and fit. When I was satisfied, I mashed together a giant eyeball shape out of cardboard and sized that up.
I duplicated the eyeball using the saran wrap and tape method and taped that to the other side of the mask. After, I used strips of brown paper and wood glue to paper mache the whole thing. Later on, after being a bit unhappy with the shape, I added a few strips of cardboard to reconfigure it, then did paper mache again.
The mandibles were made from straws cut into pieces and glued into shape, then covered in paper mache.
I rolled up thin cardboard for the little eyes between the antennae, then paper mache-d.
For the antennae, I wrapped different thicknesses of floral tape around two lengths of floral wire then poked the wires through tiny rolls of cardboard, which I glued to the forehead of the mask, then paper mache-d.
After painting everything green, I opted to differentiate the eyes from the rest of the head by smoothing on a slight thickness of spackle at the outline. After it dried, I neatened it up and painted again.
I wanted to add a thin layer of green tulle where the eye holes were, to hide my daughter's eyes, but she didn't like seeing everything in green. For those not bothered by green, I recommend doing so.
I could have made the head even smoother, without any noticeable lines, but opted for the easy version. For anyone who wants to take it further, you can cover it with a thin layer of drywall joint compound and then sand. For the more adventurous, resin is also an option.
So that's it! Hope you all enjoy!
Thanks for the read!
First Prize in the