Crafts for the Uncrafty

Homemade Halloween Costumes Win Forever and Always

This photograph was taken in 1988, in case the crimped hair didn’t tip you off.

Every year when I was a little girl, my mom would start making my Halloween costume in September. I might want to be a can-can dancer, or a character from Little House on the Prairie, or Cher (oh yes)…whatever it was, my mother would somehow pull out confusingly professional sewing skills that she apparently reserved solely for Halloween, and whip up a masterpiece of glitter and ruffles and perfection.

I am simultaneously sad about and relieved by the fact that kids these days (“kids these days”!! I’m so old) don’t want homemade Halloween costumes. There was something grand – even heroic – about the fact that despite having no particular interest in crafting and exactly zero time to spare, what with her whole “being a lawyer” thing, my mother just rustled up her reserves and knocked it out of the park, year after year. And even when she didn’t – my Cher costume consisted of a stretchy tube of sparkly fabric and the most unfortunate wig you have ever seen…it was still the only costume of its kind out there. It was mine. Made by my mom. I loved that.

1980s sparkly cher halloween costume homemade

Thanks, Mom.

Now Halloween is way fancier, all insanely detailed rubber masks (can we stop with the terrifying clowns please and thanks?) and elaborate princess dresses and note-perfect replicas of whoever the coolest superhero is this year, but it’s also kind of…predictable, you know? My daughter is going to be Snow White – well, to be specific, she wants to be a Snow White Fairy Unicorn, but still: she’s going to be in the same Disney-brand dress that ten million other girls around the country will be wearing. My son will be a ninja, and will be wearing the costume that anyone between the ages of four and ten who decided they too wanted to be a ninja will be in, as well.

Sometimes, though, a store-bought costume isn’t only not what you want – it’s not even really an option. I have this friend, E – he has seven children, and lost his wife several years ago, and his youngest son, who is good friends with my son and just the sweetest, sweetest child on the planet, wants to be Spongebob Squarepants for Halloween. E was telling me how he’s having trouble figuring out what to do, because for whatever reason decent ready-made Spongebob Squarepants costumes are hard to find online, and there aren’t really any good DIY tutorials, and with everything he has to do the last thing he has time for at the moment is…well, this. And so I said (before my brain could inform me that I do not know how to make a Spongebob Squarepants costume) “Oh, I’ll do it!”

It’ll be fun!

(Those would be the so-called “famous last words.”)

A couple of days later, E dropped off the supplies he’d been planning to use – a roll of mattress-topper foam, an ancient oversize pillowcase (or maybe a costume for an adult? It was unclear) with Spongebob’s face on it, and a large, rectangular cardboard box. After he left, I stood there staring at them for awhile.

I folded the foam in half, then unfolded it. I cut a pool noodle into pieces for no especially good reason.

I sketched out a few ideas, all of which worked zero.

I texted E wanting to know whether his son wanted his head to be exposed or located inside Spongebob, as if both (or either) were totally doable options.

I Instagrammed pictures with the words “help me” written across them.

And you know what happened? Help arrived, in the form of my friend Erin. Not to spoil the end of the story, but Erin and I have now decided that in the event of a zombie apocalypse or similar, we need to stick together, because apparently when we are together we can do ANYTHING.

how to make a homemade spongebob squarepants halloween costume

My girl, taking the costume for a test-run.

I mean, HELLO.

So: Here is how we made a totally awesome Spongebob Squarepants costume for the price of some mattress foam and a little glue.


Start with a box the approximate size of your child, minus a few inches in the height department. (Our box was 8 1/2″ x 24″ x 17″, and we fit it on my daughter, who’s about the same size as my friend’s son.) Tape together one side securely, and leave the other side open. Cut off the flaps on the two narrower ends.

how to make a homemade spongebob squarepants halloween costume

That flap, and then the one opposite it. Cut those off. (This is pretty basic make-a-costume-out-of-a-cardboard-box stuff, but still: good to know.)

spongebob squarepants costume made with a box and foam

Next – and again, you need to do this for pretty much any cardboard box costume – use a bowl to trace a circle in the center of one end, and use an X-acto knife to cut it out. Cut a slit in the part of the circle facing the flaps so you can get the costume off and on. Then cut out an armhole on each side.

(You’re going to want to cover the exposed edges with masking tape or something similar so that they don’t irritate any little necks and arms.)

spongebob squarepants costume made with a box and foam

Cut pieces of mattress foam to fit the front of the box, the two flaps on the back of the box, and the top of the box (cutting a hole and a slit for the head to match the one you cut on the cardboard). Use a hot glue gun to affix them.

spongebob squarepants costume made with a box and foam

Here’s where we got to cheat a bit, courtesy of that random Spongebob pillowcase-thing: We carefully cut out the eyes, teeth, and pants, hot-glued them to the foam…

spongebob squarepants costume made with a box and foam spongebob squarepants costume made with a box and foam

spongebob squarepants costume made with a box and foam

And then just drew on the remaining details.

Really, though: You can totally just make these elements yourself with some felt or paper and regular old markers.

how to fasten a foam and cardboard box costume so it stays on

Final step: since the back kept opening up when we tried it on my daughter, we used a small pair of scissors to make holes down the back and across the shoulders, and then poked through pipe cleaners that could be twisted together to hold the costume shut when it’s being worn.

how to make a homemade spongebob squarepants halloween costume

I’m sort of “eh” on Spongebob in general, because oh my god, that voice … but I think I have just grown a big old soft spot for him.

Look at that happy face. How could you not?!

spongebob squarepants costume made with a box and foamhow to make a diy spongebob squarepants halloween costumehow to make a homemade spongebob squarepants halloween costume

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