For Carrie Brooks, making a Halloween costume is less about the outfit and more about the process.
"We are all about recycling and trying to find inexpensive materials," said Brooks, who is the lead educator at the Whatcom Museum's Family Interactive Gallery - or FIG - a tactile place of education and exploration for children inside the museum's Lightcatcher galleries.
Brooks said the average reveler's costume retails for $75 and it costs about $25 to find used items at a thrift store. She likes to see if she can beat those prices.
Once, she made herself into a hot-air balloon for less than $5.
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"I was trying to come up with something cheap and easy," she said, when she found a bucket for $1 at the Dollar Tree store. She cut out the bottom of the bucket and stepped through it, putting the rest of the hilariously goofy and colorful outfit together with a $1 length of rope and some long balloon that cost less than $1 a package. She used the balloons to fashion a sort of turban on her head for the upper part of the outfit.
That same year, her daughter put together a realistic-looking bomb disposal technician's uniform for less than $12 with items from Dollar Tree and a thrift store.
"We use supplies that you can find around the house, so you don't have to spend so much on art supplies," Brooks said. "There's just so many different things you can make. There are so many ideas out there and they don't need to be expensive."
Cardboard boxes, tempera paints and papier-mâché (newspaper and flour-and-water paste) can be used to make creative masks and costumes, she said.
For example, a cardboard box can be transformed into a robot using aluminum foil and flexible dryer-vent hose. Plastic milk jugs can become a pachyderm's face, she said.
"You can cut those out so the handle is in the front and you can be an elephant."
"Papier-mâché is cheap and easy to do," she said. "You just start layering" over a balloon to start a mask and then pop the balloon to create an opening for your head. Cut out the eyes with box cutter, X-Acto knife or scissors.
A section of an egg carton can be used to make an animal mask, using scissors to cut out the eyes or a nose and string to tie it in place. For a hand print mask, trace your hands on cardboard or card stock and overlap, using string or elastic to hold them on your face.
"You can put little jewels or feathers on them" or paint with tempera, Books said.
At a family activity day at the museum last year, she helped kids fashion superhero capes from a roll of plastic tablecloth that cost $1.
She's even seen discarded and battered umbrellas used for such costumes as a bat, a jellyfish, and octopus.
"Go through your own recycling," she said showing a photo of a child wearing George Washington-style locks that were made from the white-painted cardboard centers of old toilet paper rolls.
Brooks advised parents to involve their children in both the costumes choices and construction process. She said FIG employees are happy to provide suggestions for costumes.
"We have take-home activities, so families could come and get lesson plans to take home," she said. She hopes to have those activities on the museum website soon, she said.
Carrie Brooks shares her top three places to find the makings for an inexpensive Halloween costume. All three embrace her vision of making an outfit on a shoestring budget, and she encourages parents to let their children do a lot of the work:
1. Dollar Tree has great deals.
2. Thrift stores offer inspiration.
3. Your home is full of items that can be used creatively. Don't forget your closet, the attic or garage, and the recycling.