Handmade Halloween costumes express originality

photo Samantha Lunn, who made her own Little Red Riding Hood Halloween costume, sewed a strawberry costume for her 10-month old daughter, Olivia.

Ready-made Halloween costumes may be big business -- exceeding $2 billion, says the National Retail Federation -- but they're a bit boring to Chattanooga resident Samantha Lunn. The 30-year-old mother makes her costumes by hand, continuing a family tradition she hopes to pass on to her own daughter.

"My mom was a home-economics teacher and taught us how to sew and do crafty stuff when we were younger," Lunn said. "My paternal grandmother also helped us with projects to practice our sewing -- doll clothes, quilts, pillowcases."

Lunn credits her mom with all of her childhood costumes but said she and her friends made their own once they reached high school. Making the costumes by hand resulted in more unusual creations.

"Mom always let us come up with our own ideas and, no matter how crazy, found a creative way to make them," she said.

"One of my favorites was the year I wanted to be a potato. [Mom] bought brown fabric, had me sponge-paint potato eyes on it and then made a full body sack, with a face cut out, that we stuffed with newspaper. She finished it with a white sash that said 'Miss Idaho.' "

The next year Lunn and a friend dressed up as clusters of grapes, made by stapling purple and green balloons to trash bags.

"Mom made us a little sign to carry that said, 'Aren't we grape?' She always wanted to find a way to make sure people could tell what we were without asking."

Lunn said because her mom's ideas were so creative, she never longed for ready-made disguises.

" I never wanted to buy a costume," she said. "[With] homemade costumes, there are no limits on what you can be, and you know that nobody else is going to have the same costume -- except your little sister who will wear it in a later year."

Stacy Harris Marshall of Ringgold, Ga., said she makes costumes for her children, Lance and Lilly, if she can't find what they want in stores. But their choices this year -- Green Lantern for Lance, princess for Lilly -- should be easy to find.

"So we will probably buy -- not much originality," Marshall said.

According to the National Retail Federation, the average consumer is expected to spend $26.52 on a costume this year. Based on survey projections, total spending should reach $1 billion on children's Halloween costumes this year, up from $840 million last year, and $1.21 billion on adult costumes, up from $990 million in 2010.

Lunn already has made a strawberry costume for her 10-month-old daughter, Olivia, and said she will be wearing one of her handmade costumes on Halloween night, "even if it's just to hand out candy."

"I have such great memories of figuring out what I wanted to be and as I got older figuring out with my mom how to make it," Lunn said. "I can't wait to share that with my daughter."