LOS ANGELES — Halloween's coming up and with a little DIY ingenuity, you can turn your dog or cat into a bee, bear or badger. Whether you are planning for a parade, party, photo session, contest or trick-or-treating, a homemade costume for your pet can make it more fun for both of you.
You can start from scratch or go half-scratch, adding bling, attitude or accessories to human hand-me-downs or garage sale or thrift store finds. The McCall Pattern Co. Even even sells several patterns for pets.
Lisa Woodruff of Huntington Beach, Calif., builds whole floats around costume concepts so her pugs, stepsisters Olive and Mochi, can take part in the Haute Dog Howl'oween Parade and Costume Contest in Long Beach, Calif. They've attended the event, held annually on the last Sunday in October, for seven years.
The pugs have been geisha girls, fish, sushi, surfers, flowers, "pupcakes" and amateur movers. "The costumes have to be comfortable and dog friendly," said Woodruff. "They can't be completely indestructible, but they are dogs so they (the costumes) have to be durable."
She shops on Craigslist and carves a lot of Styrofoam. The year Olive and Mochi were pupcakes, she started with inverted, pleated lampshades and painted them. There was a slight hitch, though: Both dogs couldn't fit in their pupcake wagon sitting down, so her husband had to carry one down the parade route.
"We had technical difficulties. But that's what homemade is all about," she said.
AmyJo Casner, of Harrisville, Pa., dresses her ferrets up for Halloween.
"Ferrets don't really have shoulders," so the hardest part of designing clothes for them is making sure they can't slip out of them, she said.
"The second hardest part is sewing the smallest seams on the hats. I am still improving each design and will do so until I have come up with one I can't improve on," she said.
Her pets, Manny, a 2-year-old therapy ferret, and Marcuz, a year-old deaf ferret, dress when they go out.
They have matching red silky shirts, commando shirts and PJs. A few months ago, they won first place in the pet pocket category at the local Fourth of July parade.
Casner also sells her designs on Etsy.com, an online homemade marketplace.
"All closures are sewed on with Velcro strips that have been cut in half and the items are machine sewn. I don't put anything on my ferret clothing that might get easily chewed off either. Hats are held on by elastic that is triple-stitched to the brims," she said.
The McCall Pattern Co. has several pet patterns to choose from, and they're not just for Halloween. The busy season for pet pattern sales lasts from October to December, said Carolyne Cafaro, director of merchandising at McCall's headquarters in New York City.
One of the most popular patterns is Santa Claus, she said, which many buyers build their Christmas cards around. Other hot sellers include a holiday apron, a doggie bathrobe and a tuxedo collar that can be used for Halloween, Christmas, weddings or any formal occasion, she said. Some buyers make costumes for their own animals; others make them as gifts for friends' pets.
During the winter months, pet patterns will move up into the top 50 of the 600 patterns McCall sells, Cafaro said.
McCall's packages its pet designs with a costume plus accessories. For example, the Santa pattern comes with a collar, leg warmers, bow tie, a couple of coats, a blanket or sleeping bag and pajamas.
"Pets are so popular," she said. "We try to come up with something new every year."
The company also watches social media sites for comments. After a lot of requests, McCall's designed a coat for very large dogs, she said.
Cat patterns have never been as popular as dog patterns, she said, although patterns for some items — like coats, hats, collars, leg warmers and bandannas — will work for both cats and small dogs.
McCall's, which sells patterns under McCall, Vogue and Butterick brands, has six canine mannequins in varying sizes in its design lab, Cafaro said. And every pattern prototype is tested on a real dog before it gets final approval. "You can't obscure their vision and they don't like their ears flattened, they want to be able to hear," she said.
Photographer Karen Nichols of Castro Valley, near San Francisco, sews and builds "scenes" for her three cats so she can take pictures of them and use them on greeting cards.
Over the last 10 years, she's turned her cats into nurses, CEOs, super heroes, Christmas trees, elves, pumpkins, divas, bikers, a chicken, Sandy from "Grease" and many other things.
Most of the time, Skeezix, a 7-year-old Oriental shorthair is her main model, though his attention span is short, Nichols said. Mal, a 15-year-old Siamese, likes to pose sometimes. Tripper, a 22-pound brown tabby, used to be a feral cat so is a bit scratchy, but he is very photogenic.
Most of her ideas come as she is drifting off to sleep, Nichols said. Then she'll shop at fabric and craft stores for material and props like shoes and eyeglasses, felt and pipe cleaners. She gets synthetic hair at her local pharmacy and turns it into a wig.
Most cats don't like people fussing with their face or ears. "If you are doing a headpiece, hat or wig, you have to use some kind of Velcro to hold it on," said Nichols, who writes a blog and publishes an online lifestyle magazine called "Mousebreath."
If a cat or dog is going out in the costume, they have to be able to walk in it, so all feet have to be free, she said. But "if they are just posing for a card or photo, think of a movie set where things are not always as they appear. It only needs to look good enough for the photo. Use a stapler or safety pin to take in a dress. Do whatever you need as long as it's OK for the photo," she said.
She added: "You don't want to do anything they will hate too much. You want to make it fun so they enjoy the one-on-one time and attention."