My son and I made this costume together back in 2012 when he was 7 years old. Over the years since publishing this video of the costume we have gotten many inquiries from people wanting to make there own. So, finally... welcome to my first Instructables....The Amazing Roly Poly costume.
My son loves insects and spent his childhood telling people that he was going to be an entomologist when he grew up. He decided to be a Roly Poly for Halloween long in advance so there was a great opportunity to get to know the critter. We scoured the internet for pictures and facts (did you know that a Roly Poly is actually a crustacean that breaths with gills?), we caught them in our back yard, studied them and even dissected them to see how their cleaver shell was constructed. Then we got to work on the costume with the conviction that the costume must be able to roll into a ball just like the real thing.
This project was not made with the creation of an Instructable in mind, so I will apologize if advance for not having better photo documentation
Step 1: Step 1 :Getting the Size Right
To be a convincing Roly Poly (aka Wood Lice, Pill Bug, Potato Bug, Grammarsaw, or Chuggypig, Moneky-Peas, or....) you need to get the shape right. Catch a few Roly Polies and measure their length and width. Divide the length by the width - this gives you the aspect ratio of the bug. You need to get this aspect ratio right to look like a real Roly Poly. Get a large piece of cardboard or paper and trace the body of the person to wear the costume. Measure the length of from the top of the head to the mid-calves or so. Now, multiply this length by the aspect ratio to find the width of the costume. This will also be the approximate diameter of the Roly Poly when it is in a ball. Have your would-be costume wearer crouch down and make their body into a ball as small as they can. Make a rough measurement of the diameter of their crouched body - will it fit into the width you calculated from the aspect ratio. If so, congratulations, you have the costume size. If not, you will have to make the Roly Poly a bit wider until it's width is the diameter of smallest ball the person can crouch into.
Step 2: Step 2: Making the Paper Mache Shell Pieces
Since you want to end up with a costume that can form a ball, each shell piece needs to be molded on a ball. We found a large exercise ball and inflated it to until its diameter was the width we calculated in Step 1. We first coated the ball with a thin layer of petroleum jelly so the paper mache would not stick to it. Each of the seven shell pieces were formed on the ball, dried, removed and trimmed. I recommend you use white glue rather than paste to make the paper mache as we did - it takes longer to dry, but produces a stronger shell. We used white construction paper from our local craft store and put 3 layers of paper on the ball for each shell. (Yes, this stage is a bit tedious...er...I mean time consuming. You don't need to cover the whole ball- maybe a third of the circumference in one direction and a little more than half in the other direction. This will make shell pieces you can trim down to the final shape. Two of the seven pieces should cover about a half of the ball rather than a third - these are for the first and last shell pieces.
Once you have formed all seven pieces, trim them to size and shape. Be sure to have ample overlap of the shell pieces. You can use a real Roly Poly, pictures on the internet, or pictures here to help guide you. As you trim them lay them on your drawing from Step 1. We then added another layer of paper mache folded over the trimmed edges to reinforce the edges.
Once you have they all trimmed, give them a coat of grey paint.
Step 3: Step 3: Assembling the Shell
Layout the shell pieces as in the first picture. Each shell section should tuck under the section above it. You will need something strong but flexible to use as the "backbone" of the shell. I used the 1/2" diameter flexible plastic rod you can see in the foreground of the first picture. Drill a single hole through each shell and corresponding location on the flexible backbone and pop rivet the shell to the backbone. Be sure to use washers (also called "back-up plates") on the outside of the the shell so the rivet does not easily pull through the shell. You can see the ends of the pop rivet protruding through the shell in the first two photos.
Find a backpack with a comfortable set of straps that you are willing to sacrifice for the project. Remove the bag leaving only the backpad and attached straps as in the first photo above. Attach the backpack to the inside of the shell at a height that holds the top edge of the top shell close to even with the top of your head.
Now pad the inside of the shell with scraps of foam rubber (trash picked or thrift store cushions are a good source of foam rubber. By far the best way to cut foam rubber is with an electric turkey knife.)
Step 4: Step 4: Making the Head
The head is made in the same manner as the shell pieces and trimmed to shape. We made the eyes out of the bottom halves of hallow plastic Easter eggs spray painted black and hot glued in place. The antennae are made by taking a heavy wire (a straightened-out coat hanger will work), wrapping it in foam rubber and taping the foam rubber on with a band of masking tape every few inches. Spray paint the head and antennae gray. You can bend the antennae into any shape you like. The Roly Poly head actually sits on TOP of your head - like a hat rather than in front of your face like a mask. We attached a cowling of soft cloth to the Roly Poly head that would slip over the head of the wearer. We also added some strips of industrial strength Velcro on the head and the top shell piece so the head could be attached to the shell directly.
Step 5: Step 5: Making the Legs
The six additional legs finish off the effect and add a bit of fun motion. Pick a soft gray cloth and sew six tapered tubes. Stuff these tubes with pillow stuffing you can get from the fabric store then sew the fat ends of these tubes into a large flat piece of the same material. Wrap this around the torso of your of the wearer and mark the location where vertical Velcro straps should be sewn to hold the legs on firmly.
Now make a couple removable Velcro bracelet. Using monofiliment fishing line, tie each bracelet to the top legs. the tie the top leg to the second leg, etc. As the wearer waves his or her arms, all the Roly Poly arms will follow their motion like magic!
Step 6: Step 6. Have a Blast!
Have a great time surprising people with this costume. On Halloween, my son liked to ring the doorbell then collapse into a ball before the door was answered. People would open their door to find a large gray ball on their stoop. My son would then quickly open and stand waving his eight legs. People freaked! He got a LOT of candy that year! :-)
Please send me pictures of your Roly Poly!
Second Prize in the
Halloween Contest 2018