Make your Halloween more sustainable with these (almost) zero waste Halloween costumes, including some general tips that can be applied to make any costume more eco-friendly. These step-by-step tutorials for Captain America and Elmo costumes are so easy anyone can complete them.
You probably already know what your kiddos are wearing for the Halloween festivities this year. If not, you still have time to whip up one of these super easy costumes that anyone can make.
I have pretty mixed feelings about Halloween. I don’t want my kids to miss out on the fun, but I also don’t look forward to the loads of sugar pouring into the house around the holiday.
More bothersome for me, I cringe at the excessive levels of poorly made, one-time use costumes that flood store shelves and (ultimately) our trash cans and landfills. I also prefer to put my kids in costumes that are comfortable and feel like regular clothes.
While I recognize I make it harder for myself, I refuse to succumb to the wasteful and uncomfortable costume craze. I wanted my boys to love their costumes, but I was willing to invest a few hours of my time to make them costumes that would stick around and be useful for longer than one night.
Solid Basics from Primary Kids
I decided to use pieces from Primary Kids as the base for the costumes, knowing I could reuse these pieces as normal clothes after trick-or-treating. Primary makes great basics for kids in solid colors across the rainbow.
Although they don’t share a whole lot of information about the sustainability of their production process, the products are high quality (based on our experience) and make great staples that will last in my boys’ wardrobe. Considering it as an alternative to cheaply-made one-time use costumes, it is certainly a better alternative. And in my opinion, “better is better”. Small steps toward more sustainable and responsible living make a big difference when compounded by all of us.
Guiding My Boys To Costume Ideas
With my personal “rules” about costumes in play, my boys were technically a bit limited in what I would make for them. I didn’t tell them they were limited, but I gently pushed them in certain directions that made my “production” process easier. I know as they get older, they’ll start to be more specific with their requests. But for now, I’ll go with what works. 🙂
I asked them several times what they wanted to be, and when they offered answers like “a fighter jet” or “Blaze” from Blaze and the Monster Machines, I accepted the proposal but didn’t encourage it. Then I’d ask the next day or listen for them to talk about other characters that might be easier.
Ultimately, I encouraged the ones I liked and that could most easily be made with Primary pieces. The boys got to ultimately pick what they wanted, but I definitely directed them down certain paths that better suited by Halloween costume “rules”.
A couple weeks before Halloween, T settled on Captain America and J opted for Elmo. I ordered the sweatpants and joggers from Primary online, stopped by JoAnn’s to pick up the felt and embroidery thread, and got to work just a few days before the big day. I was pretty pumped when I found Eco-fi felt, which is made of post-consumer recycled plastic bottles.
Both of the projects below were quite simple. The Elmo costume only takes about 20 minutes to make. The Captain America costume took a couple of hours (and I completed it over the course of two afternoon naps), but none of the steps are especially difficult. All the supplies are everyday items you can find in your local Target or craft stores.
Let’s start with the Elmo costume which, I promise, is ridiculously easy.
Easy DIY Sustainable Elmo Costume Tutorial
- Red sweatshirt and red joggers (ours are from Primary Kids)
- Red, gold, white and black felt (one of each piece) – We used Eco-fi felt, which is made of recycled plastic bottles
- Permanent fabric tape
- Temporary adjustable hem tape
Using a plain red sweatshirt and red sweatpants from Primary Kids as the base, I cut a red circle of felt for the face. I traced around a mixing bowl to get a more accurate shape. For the rest of the pieces, all made from felt, I cut freehand.
Each of the white, black and gold pieces were attached to the red felt circle with permanent bonding fabric tape. In order to preserve the sweatshirt for future use, I adhered the red felt circle to the sweatshirt with temporary adjustable hem tape.
That’s it. So simple. And J, who loves Elmo, thinks it’s just the greatest thing ever.
Done and Done. One down, one to go.
On to the second costume…
Easy DIY Sustainable Captain America Costume Tutorial
This costume was a bit harder than the first, though that’s not saying much. Like the Elmo costume, I started with a solid blue sweatshirt and joggers that I knew the boys would continue to wear as regular clothes.
- Blue sweatshirt and blue joggers (from Primary Kids)
- Embroidery needle
- Embroidery thread in red and / or white
- Red and white felt (4 – 5 pieces of each, depending on size of the costume) – We used Eco-fi felt, which is made of recycled plastic bottles
- Permanent fabric tape
- Temporary adjustable hem tape
1. Measure the desired height of the red and white wasitband that will wrap around the waist. Height is optional and depends on the size of the costume, but it should cover from the bottom hem of the sweatshirt to just about the belly button.
2. Create rectangles in both red and white felt that are 3 -4″ wide. These will be sewn together to create the waistband. After sewing together, the striped felt strip should be double the width of the sweatshirt when it’s laid flat. Thus, create enough strips to cover double the width of the sweatshirt, including about 1/2″ seam allowance on each rectangle.
I ended up needing to add two extra strips in the back, so you can add width, if needed, as you sew the rectangles together.
Note: It’s important to perform measurements for these pieces based on the sweatshirt and not the person wearing the clothes. You’ll want to be sure felt pieces aren’t too tight and don’t scrunch the fabric too much when worn.
3. You can sew together the felt rectangles with a sewing machine if you have one. To keep it simple (and because my machine was in storage when I made these), I used embroidery thread and hand stitched the edges of each rectangle together to create a strip. There were some uneven edges which I trimmed up once they were together.
Here’s a closer view of the stitches. I included a bit more about the stitches down below.
4. To create the sleeve covers, cut a white layer the length from the wrist hem up to about 1″ under the armpit. You can create these layers to your desired length, however, depending on the size of the clothes and the child. To ensure proper width, fold the white felt in half and measure it wide enough to cover the sleeve as it lays flat.
5. Cut a red rectangle, folded in half, to cover about 1/2 of the white sleeve cover, as shown below.
6. Use the permanent fabric tape to attach the red rectangles to the white rectangles
7. Fold the red and white sleeve covers in half (like a taco) and stitch the ends together. Stitch around the edges all along the length of the sleeve. Shown below, create knots at the beginning and the end by threading the thread through the loop from the previous stitch.
8. Pull the top end of the sleeve cover through the middle of the tube and out the other end to turn the entire sleeve cover right side out.
9. Similar to the white sleeve cover above, fold the felt in half and measure wide enough to cover the width of the pants, laid flat. The top of the leg cover should start an inch or two under the knee and continue to the bottom of the leg hem. Trim off the excess felt.
10. Hand stitch along the open edge of the leg cover, tying knots at the beginning and end, as described above.
11. Pull one end of the cover through the middle to turn the cover right side out.
12. To create the star, draw the star on the felt and cut around the edges. The ink will be on the back of the star, so as long as it’s not too dark, it won’t show through to the front.
13. With my son wearing the sweatshirt and joggers, I put the waistband strip, leg covers and sleeve covers on the clothes. Having the clothes on him made it much easier to determine where they should sit. I attached each of the pieces with adjustable hem tape. The adjustable tape won’t hold up against washing and tough wear, but I didn’t want the full costume to stay together beyond Halloween.
14. Although there are no tutorial photos, my son made the Captain America shield out of cardboard from a diaper box. We cut out a circle and taped a small cardboard strip on the back to use as a handle. He painted the brown side with red and blue circles. We added a white star from regular printer paper. He loved the ever-so-simple, upcycled shield to finish off his costume.
If You Try It…
If you give it a shot, let me know how it goes. I’d love to see you share any similar costumes on Instagram and tag me (@honestlymodern) so I can see them.
Other Sustainable Halloween Tutorial Ideas To Try
If you like this tutorial and want to take steps toward a more sustainable Halloween, also check out either of these DIY drawstring bags. The white bag requires a sewing machine. The blue ones are really simple, no-sew drawstring bag alternatives using the same permanent bonding fabric tape I used in these tutorials.