How to Create your own Katrina Van Tassel costume
So, you want to be Katrina Van Tassel for Halloween? That’s a lot of fun, but I’m sure you’ve noticed that Googling "Katrina Sleepy Hollow Costumes" and the like don’t give you anything. Never fear! Here’s where you can find all you might need for your journey. I’ve collected these tips and tricks from my own research and from other sites, so if the same ideas appear elsewhere, they were probably there first, and I take no credit for them. This is just a compilation of what’s out there.
To start, there are three adjectives in making a costume: cheap, perfect, and fast. We all love these adjectives very much, but the fact is that you can only pick two, or even one in some cases. You will need to weigh your options here. For instance, if you want your costume to be inexpensive, but be as close to the movie as possible, you can’t wait for the week before Halloween. (a big thank you to Alley Cat Scratch for showing me the light on this reality.)
For the I-Need-It For-Yesterday-And-It-Has-To-Be-Under-$20 people…
For those who want something fast and inexpensive, a good choice of costume is the yellow dress with the grey cape, for this reason: the cape will cover the rest of your costume, so the dress underneath doesn’t have to look anything like Katrina’s, it just has to be yellow. Or if you aren’t picky at all, you don’t even have to wear yellow, just a nice dress that looks fairly period. Another option is if you have any renaissance faire garb lying around, a basic bodice can look surprisingly good when paired with a long skirt (but please wear something under your bodice so nothing comes popping out. Katrina always had at least a bit of lace down there!). Check the links at the bottom for a capes-for-dummies instruction guide. If there’s no way you could possibly get to a sewing machine for this, you could try to find a white cape and dye it grey. Also, there are many types of appliqués in both sew-on and iron-on styles that could work in place of the rose embroidery.
If this costume isn’t what you had in mind, you will need to sacrifice a lot of authenticity. Katrina’s costumes can be very elaborate, and because they are period to the late 18th century, good substitutes are hard to come by on a budget. However, if you absolutely MUST wear the black and white striped dress, you might try going to a thrift store and buying a white dress, then putting on black stripes with fabric paint, or some other method. This will most likely be very messy and not very accurate, so be warned. You might also try looking at readymade 18th century style costumes or old fashioned thrift store dresses and see if you can alter them to look more like Katrina’s costumes.
Otherwise, the same advice goes for the other costumes: wear a renaissance bodice or other corset-style top, preferably with a shirt of the same color underneath, with a long skirt, then skip down to the hair and makeup section.
For the Every-Last-Button-Needs-To-Be-Perfect people…
Here we break into two groups: those who can sew and those who can’t.
For those who can’t sew, you will need to find someone to do it for you. This could be an extremely generous family member, or there are people who do this as a living and will custom make the dress for you. Note that if you go for this route, be prepared to pay at least $300, and you will need to give a few months notice. This is the case where you sacrifice both time and money to get the perfect. See links for some costumers.
For those who can sew, there is actually quite a bit of information out there, and we shall start at the beginning…
Getting started: research
So you’ve decided on which dress you’re going to make, and now what? Well, you need to do some research! Watch the movie and make notes, and also try the Costumer’s Guide to Movie Costumes (see links). If you want it to look right, you need to know what you’re dealing with. Find the answers to questions like, What sort of trim is used? Is she wearing any jewelry? If you’re not really picky, you still need to get a general impression of the shape, color, and texture, so you can find out what pattern and fabric to choose, and how to change it to make it more accurate. If you can’t find a decent picture, try looking at extant clothing from the period for ideas. Remember that although Sleepy Hollow is set in 1799, the costumes are styled more after the 1780s. Demode is a good source for museum pictures (see links).
Next you will need to decide your comfort level — if you want to truly look the part and be period correct, you are going to have to wear a bumroll, which will give your skirt the right shape, and possibly stays (the 18th century corset) as well. However, it can be possible to put enough boning in the bodice to do most of what needs to be done — this is the case with most commercial patterns. If the shape doesn’t matter so much to, you can leave out the boning, but it won’t have the smooth look and fit.
Then the spending starts…
Here you have a wide range of commercial and specialty patterns. Commercial patterns include the costume sections of Simplicity, McCall’s, and Butterick. These are not usually historically accurate (expect zippers), but are affordable and can be modified to fit your needs. Then there are the pattern companies that specialize in historical costume. These will usually give you a true period look, but expect to pay $10-$25 — there’s no 99c special at Joann’s for these. If you are a truly experienced sewer, you can scale up patterns from books such as Jean Hunnisett’s Period Costume for Stage and Screen or Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion, both of which can be found on Amazon, and possibly your local library.
Luckily, Katrina’s costumes are all very similar, so one pattern can be modified to make a variety of looks. Here’s a few that might work (this is by no means a complete list)…
5041, the "American History" pattern. This can work for the black and white dress (view C with view A sleeves). Don’t expect anything too fancy, this one looks easiest.
4092, the "POTC/Marie Antoinette" pattern. Could make a good start for most of the costumes (don’t use the side hoops, these weren’t in style this late in the century).
5794, a cape pattern.
B4669, renaissance corset. Front lacing, could work as a base for the yellow dress (pattern does not include sleeves, but a basic pattern would work — most normal, un-poofy sleeve patterns are all basically identical.)
B4484, underpinnings. 18th century stays.
B4315, the "Royal Vampire" pattern. This one is actually very close in form to Katrina’s costumes.
B4252, corsets. Has 2 different stays.
B3640, 18th century dress. This one could be a good base without all the hideously large poufs.
B3071, "Revolutionary war" pattern. Also a good start, includes a decent overskirt.
B6196, renfaire garb. Bodice could possibly be modified to fit the yellow dress. (sleeves for the bodice not included)
Recollections of JP Ryan: Historically accurate, has very good reviews. Includes the versatile Robe l’Anglaise, which can be modified to fit many Katrina costumes, and stays. Price: $11-$18 each.
Fig Leaf Patterns: Dress circa 1770. Looks like it could work, but I don’t know a thing about it. Price: $25.
Patterns of time: Polonaise w/ petticoat looks about perfect for the black and white gown, but with 3/4 sleeves. Price: $15. The Gentry gown is also very similar. Price: $19. 1776 ladies dress, same comments. Price: $16.50.
Mantua Maker: 1720-1790 stays. Mixed reviews. Price: $9.
Pegee of Williamsburg: Ladies dress, good base, but mixed reviews. Price: $15.50.
Period Impressions: Polonaise dress, good base, but I don’t know anything about the pattern itself. Price: $14.
Where to Shop.
Now we’re at a more fun part, getting the materials you need. For fabric, be creative! You aren’t limited to your town’s fabric store. Go to Joann’s or Fabric Place if you have a coupon (don’t forget the Home Dec section — there’s some great stuff over there!), but venture out too. Every so often something shows up at Walmart for $2 a yard. Thrift stores can yield great, inexpensive finds such as old tablecloths, and old plus-sized skirts can be gathered for a smaller person. This is also a great place to find shoes and accessories. There are a lot of reputable sellers on Ebay as well; and they might have something unique at a good price. And don’t forget the Gone With the Wind/Sound of Music approach! Those ugly old curtains are just begging to be replaced, aren’t they?
Another place to go is not so apparent: Home Depot! If you are going to be making stays, or putting boning in your dress, or using any other kind of hardware, this is the place to go. Period clothing had whale baleen used for rigidity, but seeing as that’s illegal (save the whales!), the best modern equivalent has proven to be…cable ties! That’s right, those long plastic strips that are used to bundle things and make temporary handcuffs on Cops. Just cut off the securing end and you’ve got durable boning for an unbeatable price! A pack of 100 14" cable ties is about $10. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
I can’t really say much here, because the actual construction depends on the pattern and type of fabric you choose, but I will stress this: always make a mockup first. A mockup is simply a test version of the finished garment made of muslin, or unbleached cotton. Muslin is very inexpensive. This is where you can tinker with the fit and make all the marks you want so you don’t wreck your good fabric. The mockup can also be used as a lining later. The mockup is extremely important because any pattern not draped on your own body is not going to fit perfectly, and if you want the finished product to do so you will need to experiment a bit. You can make all the mistakes you want here and not have to worry about buying more expensive fabric.
If you get stuck, you might look at fabric stores near you for classes — my local Joann’s, for instance, has an "open sew" on Monday and Wednesday nights, where you bring in whatever you’re working on and can get help. This usually costs about $10, but it might just save your costume.
Also check Demode (see links) for invaluable tips that are especially good if you’re going the completely nitpicky historical route.
From here on out, you’re on your own with your sewing machine, until we get to…
Finishing Touches — Hair
So your Katrina dress is complete, but there’s still more to do. Here again you need to figure out how perfect you want to look, and how comfortable you want to be. The fact of the matter is this: Katrina Van Tassel is has blonde, slightly curly hair. If your hair is short and black, this could be a problem. Of course, this is your preference — you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. But if you want to have Katrina hair, there are a lot of things you can do, some of which are…
1. Buy a wig. This is the easiest route, especially if your hair is the wrong color and length. There are many wig suppliers online, and at Halloween they’re in just about every party store. But be prepared to hunt around quite a bit for the style you want. In the worst case scenario, you might have to try lightly curling a straight-hair wig yourself. Do NOT use heat rollers if you do this; the plastic hair can and will melt.
2. Fake Ponytails. This is for people with a length, but not color issue. You can find decent fake ponytails in Sally’s Beauty Supply and other similar stores, even CVS. You can also make your own using fake hair in a bag, which you can blend with other colors to get the color you want (see links for details).
3. Hair Dye. I don’t know the reliability of this method, but there are a number of hair dyes which wash out in about a week, and others that will simply give you highlights, which might look more natural. This will probably not work if your hair is very dark, unless you get a very light blonde dye. You can find a vast ocean of hair dye at any drug store.
Katrina’s makeup is very minimal. You shouldn’t use so much that your makeup becomes obvious. However, if you are very tanned or have naturally darker skin, you might want to lighten your skin tone; again, this is your preference — if your skin is very dark this might look awkward, and you don’t have to look like a Christina Ricci clone if you don’t want to! If you do choose to do this, you can try regular foundation, or use theatrical/Halloween makeup, which requires either a sealer or powder to stay in place. I use a stack of flesh tones — I don’t remember the brand, but you should be able to find it in any Halloween store. Cinema Secrets has a good line of products that pop up everywhere around Halloween as well.
Katrina’s shoes are hardly ever visible, but a good choice would be to use some black, strapless shoes with a very short, chunky heel. If you’ve ever gone to a private school with uniforms, then you are undoubtedly very familiar with these. If you’re lucky you might find some buckles to put on them. Another good option is simple black boots in any length — Katrina’s boots in the movie are in a more Victorian style, but anything could work. But if you can’t find any, never fear. The truth is that hardly anyone is going to look at your feet, especially with your skirts covering them, and you want to be as comfortable as possible, so you can even wear sneakers if you want. In fact, that would be the best choice if you’re going to be running around in the middle of the night, so you don’t trip and ruin your costume.
And that’s it.
Now you truly look the part, and can go to whatever Halloween party you want where you can make everyone who bought their costume at Party City jealous. For maximum effect, try using a slight English accent (I know it doesn’t make sense, since Katrina is Dutch and inbred, but that’s how it is with everyone in the movie.) And if you are over the traditional trick-or-treating age, it is perfectly acceptable to follow your five year old neighbors around on Halloween night and beg for candy. You’ve earned it, and you can always pretend that you are their babysitter. Have fun!
The Costumer’s Guide to Movie Costumes (www.costumersguide.com) — Includes tons of pictures and tips on making your own costumes.
Demode (http://www.demode.tweedlebop.com/realvict/1700s.html) — An excellent source of links to pictures of real women’s clothing from the period. There are also some great sewing tips to find if you poke around a bit.
Alleycat Scratch (www.alleycatscratch.com/lotr) — A Lord of the Rings costuming site, but includes sewing tips and links to places that sell wigs, makeup, etc.
Fashion Fabrics Club (www.fashionfabricsclub.com) — Some very good deals on fabric.
Fabric.com (www.fabric.com) — More great deals on fabric.
Cheep Trims (www.cheeptrims.com) — Every kind of trim you could want.
Costumer’s Manifesto (http://www.costumes.org/classes/254pages/projects/extentionshairrolls.htm) — The Extensions and Hair Rolls Project — the last style shown here is very similar to Katrina’s hair style. Also poke around for more information that might be lurking here, if the unorganized layout doesn’t drive you insane first.
Last Homely House (http://www.councilofelrond.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=Crafts&file=index&req=viewarticle&cartid=398) — LOTR site, has instructions for a "patternless, practical cape".
Nehelenia Designs (http://www.nehelenia-designs.com/Ye_Olde_Online_Shoppe/Movie_Costumes/movie_costumes.html) — reproduction costumes, including the black and white dress.
Past and Present Creations (http://www.moviegowns.com/moviesleepyhollow.htm) — reproduction costumes, including the black and white dress.
© Morgana / Indeppth.com, 2006.
Good luck with making your costume!