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Posted on Wed, Oct 24, 2012 : 10:36 a.m.

Halloween costume tips from 'Evil Dead: The Musical' design team

By Jenn McKee


Hannah Bradburn and Kira Hettmer (daughter of Dave Hettmer) show off their homemade costumes from a previous Halloween.

While some Halloween fans plan each year’s costume months in advance, many people ritualistically find themselves rooting around closets or rushing to a store the night before, scrambling for an idea.

Whichever camp you belong to, you might want to consider these tips from costume designer Kristi Kuick, and special effects guru Dave Hettmer, who have both been working behind the scenes on the Dexter Community Players’ current production of “Evil Dead: The Musical.”

Homemade almost always trumps pre-packaged costumes: Kuick bristles at many of the costumes she sees available in stores. “They’re really bad. I understand that people don’t want to spend a lot on a Halloween costume, but I wish people got back to doing their own," said Kuick. "Even if they’re a little rough, because they’re homemade, it’s better then the store-bought ones. … I recently saw a sexy Big Bird costume for women, and I thought, ‘Oh, come on.’”

Thumbnail image for KiraSoda_02.JPG

Hettmer created this soda can costume from a collapsible hamper one Halloween.

Like many people, Kuick is drawn to simple, clever Halloween costumes that demonstrate creativity. “I always appreciate seeing something that’s a pun, or references current events.” By way of two examples, Kuick noted having seen, in the past, two people wearing sunglasses, carrying a collection cup each, with a sign that read “From Venice” (they were Venetian blinds); and a man in puffy pants and a trench coat was Christopher Columbo. (Plus, I'm pretty sure we'll all see binders and other politically jokey costumes during this election year.)

Hettmer also prefers homemade costumes. When his daughter wanted to be a soda can one year, he bought a collapsible hamper and sewed silver fabric onto the the top and bottom, adding a diagonal stripe with the felt letters "S-O-D-A" sewed onto it.

Avoid full face masks for kids: “They’re just a bad idea,” said Kuick. “They can’t breathe, they’re hot, and the kids just can’t see out of them very well.”


Hettmer's daughter as Gumby

Photo provided by Dave Hettmer

Cardboard box costumes are fine, but consider using foam: Hettmer's daughter wanted to be a vending machine one year, and while they could have made the costume from a large box, he instead got some foam from a fabric store, cut out large pieces that would fit around her body, and hot glued it together, covered it in purple fabric (leaving holes for the arms), and glued pictures of various snacks on the front. More trouble than cardboard, yes, but the costume has more give and comfort. (Hettmer also, in another year, made a Gumby costume from foam.)

Use caution with Halloween makeup for kids: “My daughter, when she was little, had sensitive skin, so I avoided the cheap facepaint stuff,” said Kuick. “If you’re going to use makeup, and your child has sensitive skin, it’s better to use stage makeup or regular make up. … The little packets of Halloween makeup are often bad for your skin. They would make my daughter break out all the time.”

A go-to, last-minute easy costume: “Where's Waldo,” said Kuick. “You buy a striped shirt, blue pants, and a stocking cap, and that's pretty much it.”

For those about to be undead: With the popularity of “The Walking Dead” and other hit zombie books/movies, you can expect to see some undead out and about this year. To make yourself into a zombie, Kuick recommends visiting a thrift store to buy some cheap clothes. “Make them look all dirty and bloody, and rip them in places," she said. "Do your face up with cuts and scratches and make your skin look really pale or green.”

Some ideas for those who can sew: “Capes are the easiest thing,” said Kuick. “They take a lot of fabric, but they’re super-easy. Two or three long seams and you’re done.” Plus, they’re versatile, in that everything from a superhero (famous or made-up) to a king or queen could use a cape.

Hettmer tossed out another idea: “If you can do basic sewing on a machine, then you can use patterns from the store as a starting point and modify them a little bit. For example, one year my son wanted to be Godzilla. I found a pattern for a ‘cute’ dragon with a tail, and instead of using bright, happy colors, I found fabric with a sort of snakeskin pattern. I cut the spine plates out of sheet foam from the fabric store and attached them using hot glue.”

A note about face accessories: “Kits that have you glue things to your face are fun, and can be thin mask latex appliances or fancier ones made from foam latex,” said Hettmer. “The foam latex ones will fit your face better in many ways, but are more expensive. The colors provided in the kits are a special formula called rubber mask grease paint. Regular grease paint doesn’t cover rubber as well.

“These generally recommend using spirit gum to attach the pieces to your face. This works OK, but requires using an adhesive to get it off your face. I discovered a great product called Jim Howle Restickable 'That' Adhesive that was designed for clown noses. This stuff will stick incredibly well to your face and allows you to remove the prosthetic simply by peeling it off your face. I would recommend that people use the restickable glue instead of sprit gum. I’m using it for many of the demon masks in ‘Evil Dead: The Musical.’”

Don’t forget to plan for the cold: “Because we’re in Michigan, I need to account for the chilly temperature when making costumes,” said Hettmer. “My oldest daughter wanted to be a princess a couple of times, but I resisted until I realized I could just make the costume slightly larger to make room for warm clothes underneath. Using a pattern from the pattern store, I determined what size would be correct for her. Then I cut it out using the proper lengths - for example, length from shoulder to wrist on a sleeve - but used markings for a couple of sizes larger when cutting the width. It made for a puffy princess, but a warm one.”

More on Halloween:

• Check out's complete guide to Halloween events and activities.

Tips on homemade Halloween decorations from special-effects guru Dave Hettmer

The search for Michigan's best haunted house visits Brandywine Cemetery

The search for Michigan's best haunted house explores Night Terrors at Wiard's Orchards

Jenn McKee is the entertainment digital journalist for Reach her at or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.