Sew Many Halloween Memories…

by Diana Mavetz Petrich

Dress up, walk around as somebody else and get free candy? Any holiday that had candy involved was my favorite – especially Halloween.

Halloween in Ely was terrific during the 1960s and 1970s. There were so many kids born during the Baby Boom time period and the city streets were filled with kids trick-or-treating. It was safe to go out without your parents and I’m sure most parents enjoyed being at home for a couple of hours without the kids minus the doorbell ringing incessantly.

On Halloween in 1970, my sisters and I went trick-or-treating. We were going door to door on the east end of Ely. We went to each house, screamed, “Trick or Treat,” and lined up single file while holding our bags open for the drop.

When I got up to the door of this one house, I watched the older brother in the family toss a small white treat bag into my bag. As it hit the bottom of the bag, I knew I got something heavier and better than my sisters did. I sneered to my sisters as they only got a fun size candy bar.

After a couple hours, carrying a heavy bag of candy and logged a few miles on our short legs, I could hardly wait to get home to see what was in that little white bag. I had visions of and hoped it was a solid milk chocolate pumpkin. I never saw a solid milk chocolate pumpkin, but I knew I wanted one.

Once we got in the house, the ritual was to dump our bags onto the living room carpet and start the celebration. I can still remember the aroma that came up from the candy, which was a combination of chocolate, fake banana of BB Bats, spice from Necco Wafers and mint from a few York Peppermint Patties.

I sorted my way through my stash to find my special “treat.” I quickly tore open the end of the little sack and turned it upside down. As it fell on top of my candy mountain, my heart sank when I realized I got a rock - a dull gray rock. As an active rock collector back then, I can tell you it wasn’t even a pretty rock. At the tender age of nine, I was served the disappointing trick part of Halloween on a small gray platter.

That incident didn’t sway my love for Halloween and I carried that love and excitement to my two sons. When Nick was three, he was a huge fan of dinosaurs and desperately wanted to be a Tyrannosaurus Rex for Halloween.

I looked for the perfect T-Rex costume and hunted high and low. Shopping in those days was labor intensive and you had to be prepared to put the miles on when searching for specific items. Since there was no Internet, that meant no global search was possible nor could we even imagine a world where you could “type” an item into your home.

I went to the local malls, Frank’s Nursery & Crafts, Leewards, Target, Ace Hardware and Snyder’s Drug Store just to name a few. I subscribed to mail order catalogs that carried costume paraphernalia. These catalogs were few and far between and you had to first know they were in existence. I couldn’t find a T-Rex or any dinosaur in his size, so I resorted to do what really good mothers do and sew one.

I took sewing in Home Economics in seventh grade taught by Miss Shar Sivertson. I made the classic turtle pillow, pin cushions, hand puppets and learned most of the basic sewing techniques. My sewing lessons in school ended with a crescendo as we created an outfit, which we modeled during a fashion show in front of our parents.
Since I had experience in creating apparel, I asked myself how hard could a small costume be? Once I decided I could take on this sewing mission, I went to a local fabric store called Minnesota Fabrics. I found a Butterick pattern that was exactly what I was looking to find. I located the fabrics, threads and items necessary to create the perfect T-Rex costume.

I borrowed a sewing machine from a friend and sewed into the wee hours of the morning for a few days. I worked at 3M and remember being so tired trying to not doze off at my desk. My fingers were wrapped in Band-Aids – not a good idea to sew your fingers onto fabric with a sewing machine.

I finished the costume and made a three-year-old a happy little dinosaur. The costume turned out just as the photo on the pattern cover.

The following year, Nick was obsessed with spiders. He liked them so much that he decided he wanted to be one for Halloween. I found a spider costume in a catalog, but it was $44.99. I said out loud, “I can make it for less,” so I went back to Minnesota Fabrics, found a pattern for a spider costume and purchased black fabric and thread. That evening I called my friend to ask to use her sewing machine, but she given it to Goodwill earlier in the year.

I resorted to an old Singer machine hiding in a closet, but it did not hold the bobbin tension. I had brought it in to be serviced, but the tension problem still existed and after a few hours of working with it, I knew it needed to be retired. It was time to go on the search for a new sewing machine. I found a Singer on sale at Minnesota Fabrics for about $200.

I cut out the pattern, laid it out on the fabric and cut out the pieces. I was able to put together the body of the spider without much ado, but then I needed to go back to the fabric store to pick up boning (the stiff strips that make the spider’s body stay puffy), netting fabric for the web, macramé cord for the spider’s webbing, stuffing for the antennae on the headpiece and a few odds and ends.
Who knew that 12 yards at $6.50/yard would cost $78.00? THAT WAS JUST THE BONING! All the other items with the boning came to $112. I couldn’t breathe.
If I thought I lost sleep over a T-Rex costume, I had no idea what a sleep stealing expert this spider would turn out to be. This project was way over my head and certainly passed any of my sewing skills.

I got down to the wire and actually didn’t totally finish it in time for the party at Nick’s daycare. I included a photo of the “almost finished” arachnid and you can see by Nick’s face how much he disliked the fit of the headpiece.
I stuffed the antennae with fill that wasn’t the right weight. I bought the heavier choice – they were the same price and I wanted this to be the best. In hindsight, I should have followed the instructions exactly - the lightweight fill was specified for a reason. Spider’s antennae should stand up straight and not sit on a kid’s shoulders.

In summary, here was the total cost of one (1) small child (age 3) spider costume and the breakdown:

Spider costume pattern $3.50
Fabric for spider body $14.00
Thread $2.50
Macrame’ cord $3.95
Veil for webbing $4.00
Stuffing for antennae $5.00
Boning for the spider body $78.00
New Singer Sewing Machine $200.00
Grand Total $310.95

If I had bought the costume from the mail order catalog, I would have saved the following:

Many hours of sleep, tears from a spider with antennae needing fabric Viagra, tears from spider’s mother, loss of blood from numerous needle punctures, gas, lost lunch hours, aspirin (for the headaches), electricity (for late night lights and sewing machine power) and the most important thing – time. Oh, did I forget to mention the $265.96?

I learned much and earned more. This lesson was expensive on many levels. I earned more stripes as a mother – not because I went over the top to outfit my son, but stripes of a different sort. The ones you don’t share with others like admitting you were wrong and made bad decisions. Stripes that make you admit you can’t do everything right. Stripes you got by leaving a comfort zone and did a new thing. My father referred to some of these earned stripes as “tough pills to swallow.”

As parents, we try to do the right things and make what we think are good, sound decisions that sometimes end up with us falling flat on our faces. I experienced frustration and embarrassment after making a well-intentioned money saving decision only to end up quite the opposite. I did, however, end up with a funny story to share with my grandbabies.

This Halloween marks 32 years since the spider debacle. The only sewing I do these days is repairing clothing even though I still have an interest in advancing my sewing skills. Any future sewing projects I attempt will most definitely be steered far away from the animal kingdom.