Earlier this month, we headed to Cobble Hill to spend the afternoon with Brooklyn dad and children's book author-illustrator Tad Hills. Best known for his Duck & Goose andRocket book series, Hills, father to Elinor, 17, and Charlie, 15, is also a pro at creating unique homemade Halloween costumes for kids. While his own children have long outgrown the days of dressing up, we enlisted a crew of local Brooklyn kids to model Hills' most popular costumes—everything from a lighthouse to the Eiffel Tower. Scroll through our slide show to get a peek at all of the different looks, then read on to hear tips from Hills on creating your own looks this Halloween.
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Tell us why you started creating such elaborate costumes.
We always made our own costumes when I was a kid. In kindergarten, I was a little old lady for Halloween! In second grade, I was a knight in full armor. When my daughter Elinor was nine months old, I made her a bunny costume and now, years later, I have an attic full of costumes.
Where did you get the ideas for the costumes?
When Elinor took violin lessons I made her a violin costume. Then she moved on to accordion lessons… The Empire State Building for Charlie was the start of a buildings theme. My kids would come up with an idea for a costume and if I thought it was feasible I'd go with it. If not, I'd steer them in a different direction.
Do you have a favorite?
It's tough to pick a favorite costume. I had fun making each one.
Have any of them been really challenging to make?
Each costume came with its own set of challenges. Sometimes the most challenging part is making the costume wearable. My kids will tell you that the costumes are not built for comfort! With the monster and cyclops costumes I used iPhones and an iPad for the eyes. On each device I played an hour-long video loop of my eyeball looking around and blinking. At one point, the monster's right eye started ringing!
How much time goes into creating a costume?
I usually start two or three days before Halloween. But by the time I start I've worked a lot out in my head so I have a pretty good sense of how to proceed. It's a pretty intense couple of days. I make a huge mess and end up with hot glue burns on my hands. Sometimes I've followed one of my kids out the door with a wet paint brush and finished the costume as they headed off to trick or treat.
Where do you usually buy your supplies?
Generally I use supplies that I already have. The costumes are mostly cardboard which, if I don't have stowed away in the cellar, I pick up on the sidewalk on recycling days. Sometimes I use Elmer's glue and newspaper or paper towels depending on the surface I'm after and acrylic paint. A great fabric store for fake fur is Gate 232 on West 39th street.
Have your kids helped over the years?
Since there's so little time to get the costumes done I usually just get a in a zone. I think it was more fun for the kids to watch me build the costumes from a safe distance.
Any advice to parents who are first-time costume makers?
A hot glue gun is the greatest tool for building costumes. When the kids were young, I sewed their fabric costumes on a sewing machine which was very time consuming and frustrating. For the more recent monster costumes I used hot glue. I even hot glue the zippers on! With a hot glue gun I can make a pair of custom fake fur pants in about seven minutes.
Your kids are older now. Do you still think about making costumes?
My kids don't dress up for Halloween anymore. It's bittersweet because I really did love making the costumes. It was challenging and exciting. But it was exhausting too!