October 19, 2010
Halloween 2010 - Homemade Thomas The Tank Engine Costume
Darren's been pretty heavy into Thomas the Tank Engine lately, so we thought it would be a good costume for Halloween this year. I'm not a huge fan of the pre-made Thomas costumes, and I thought I'd have a good time making one, so what's what I decided to do.
I liked the idea of using cardboard boxes and suspenders to basically hang Thomas around him. So I found some boxes that were just about the right dimensions -- 9in wide x 8.5in tall x 13in long each. (Keurig K-Cup boxes, for the record. I had to drink a lot of coffee).
Just laying out the boxes, I could already see a basic train form. I was optimistic.
I taped the boxes together with clear packing tape, and cut a hole for Darren to stand in. I had him try it on, and he seemed to be into it, both literally and figuratively. That was a good sign, because I'd like to avoid having to carry it around the neighborhood after he refuses to wear it. Let's hope for a warm Halloween, though, as there isn't much room in there for a jacket.
I needed a tube to create a nice curve along the top and circle at front. It took a while, but eventually I found an 8" cardboard tube intended to be a form for concrete columns. It was just about right. I got mine at Home Depot, but Amazon sells them as well.
I cut a 2¼-inch slice off the tube with a hacksaw, leaving a "tab" that will extend back along the top, giving the impression that the whole tube extends back. In train lingo, this is known as the "caboose."
Next I cut a circle in the top of the tube for the smoke stack. This proved to be strangely time-consuming, since this was tough cardboard. I went slow, since I wanted to have a tight friction fit, so I wouldn't need tape on the outside.
The smoke stack itself is just a paper towel tube. Amy wanted to have cotton "steam" coming out, but I had other plans. More on that later.
For the face, I traced the big tube onto spare cardboard, and cut a circle. A Google search for Thomas, a bit of Photoshop magic, and the "Print" button gave me the face. Here's the high-res Thomas face, for anyone trying to make this costume. It's not as sharp as I had hoped, but it still looks good.
I attached the face/smokestack/boiler piece to the rest of the train with some packing tape, hidden along the top. It was a bit shaky, so there's room for improvement here.
I made cardboard circles for wheels. Squares wouldn't have worked as well. Amy wanted them to be spinnable, so I attached them with small nuts and bolts instead of tape, my original plan.
I made a small slender box out of a manila folder to serve as the red part on the front (not pictured). On a train, this piece is called the "conductor".
I applied a spray paint primer to everything, which was probably overkill, but I didn't want the printing on the boxes to show through the final product. I got one of these spray paint trigger thingies, having learned my lesson on last year's Back to the Future costume. If you're going to be spray-painting for more than 30 seconds, I recommend one of these.
The blue paint I found was good, but lighter than what I wanted, but I suppose Thomas the Tank engine graffiti isn't too common, so the paint manufacturers aren't making any yet. The Red was a better match. (The Amazon links to the left are the exact colors I used)
After the paint dried, I cut slits for the shoulder straps. Amy found a nice ribbon in her sewing supplies, and I threaded it through the slits.
The last step was to apply the detailing. For this we just used construction paper and spray adhesive.
This spray stuff is great. I've used it on a few projects now. Everything sticks well, yet you have several minutes to reposition things if needed. Just make sure to do the spraying on a tarp or something, since the surrounding area may get sticky.
Amy did pretty much all the detail work, and it came out great.
I took the liberty of adding a few bells and whistles. Amy had a suggestion of adding a whistle sound to the train by getting one of those Hallmark recordable cards, and recording a sound from one of Darren’s Thomas toys. I thought that was a great idea. I went to Hallmark, but all the cards play a song or other sounds after the recordable part, which wasn't helpful. So I went to Amazon and found this, for $1 more:
It’s a keychain that can record and play sounds (presumably so you can record where you parked your car and then play it back later). This thing was great, and it disassembled easily, which made it even better.
I recorded a whistle sound from one of Darren's toys, and then took the keychain apart. I found the buttons on the circuit board, and soldered a wire to each connection for the "play" button, which were fortunately wide enough apart that my lack of soldering skill was not a problem.
I used my new Dremel to make holes in the casing to accommodate my new wires, and reassembled the keychain. If I had thought ahead, I could have had the wires come out the holes where the keyring attaches, since I didn't need that anymore.
Next, I attached two buttons in parallel to the other ends of the wire, so that pressing either would be the same as pressing the "play" button on the keychain.
I taped the pushbutton to a hidden spot that I thought Darren would be able to reach, and I put the other one… well, let me digress for a moment.
At some point during construction, I realized that the smoke stack was just the right size for a piece of candy. I thought it would be cool to be able to drop candy down the smoke stack and have it collect inside the costume. So I cut a hole in the front of the train body, behind Thomas’ face. Then I angled a short piece of paper-towel tube from the bottom of the smoke stack, through the hole, and into the box. I taped a Tupperware bowl underneath. Now if I dropped candy into the smoke stack, it would slide into the train and land in the Tupperware.
To make things even cooler, I positioned the other switch from the keychain rig just at the end of the tube, so that falling candy would hit the switch.
The result: A Thomas that whistles when you drop candy in his smokestack :
The first outing
We went to Tarrytown’s Halloween parade, and Darren put on the completed costume. He had a great time putting candy down the smoke stack over and over. And over. It was hard to hear the whistle sound once he was in the costume, though, particularly with the parade going on.
I was surprised at how long he was willing to wear it. It helped that we told him people would give him candy if he wore it.
The costume held up better than I thought it would, which is great, as there are still two more Halloween events on our calendar.
Also, please note that I have been replying to commenters via email, but I'm not great about posting the replies here, so feel free to ask questions, and I'll get back to you.