Monday, November 2, 2009

Wag the Dog (or Happy Halloween)

This years Halloween costumes were sewn in a two-day event. One day to buy the fabric and cut the pieces, and one day for assembly. I relied on the help of this pattern, but adapted it to my own kids' tastes. The suits are made of polar fleece, which was perfect for our 40 degree weather.

They asked to be dogs for Halloween. Specifically, they wanted to be their favorite stuffed dogs. One is all black, and the other brown and white.

I've made costumes for the twins every year since they were born. My youngest daughter uses their old costumes, or thrifted ones that are part of the general dress-up collection in our casa.

I enjoy sewing (bags, quilts, pillows, etc.) but I don't entirely enjoy garment making. For me, kids costumes fall somewhere in the middle. So, having a interest in sewing puts me well on the road of making our own costumes. However, I also feel an overwhelming desire to make their costumes. I want my kids to remember the creative energy - as zany as it is - that surrounds dressing up for the land of make believe. But, there is more to it than that for me. For my kids they are just costumes, right?

Yet, I'm not sure what this 'more' is. Is it because my Mom sewed costumes for me and my brother when we were young? Is there tradition buried in the piles of thread and fabric scraps? Or is it something more global? Or more personal? Something that ties in to values I hold about art and craft and society? Values I hold about mother/parenthood?

In a way, I feel that making costumes is a personal statement about our culture and our choices. By making costumes - and knowing that they will be worn over and over and over again, and not just on Halloween - I choose to reject the idea that we live in a disposable society. The amount of waste produced by our family alone (a family that tries its best to recycle, reuse and repurpose as much as possible) is staggering. Often times I need to get rid of half of what I bring home from a store just to use an item: the packaging and the bag(s) it came in. So I find small ways to push back against this reality. I make or thrift cloth napkins. We make school lunches with re-usable containers. We buy in bulk. We use our own shopping sacks.

I was forced to think this issue through when a friend of a friend said, "I bet you're the kind of mom that makes your kids Halloween costumes, right?" It was a kind remark. It was intended to celebrate and support my creativity and motherhood. However, I was discomforted by the remark and I didn't figure out why until later. Making my kids costumes is less a sign of love for my kids than it is a statement about how we consume/use in our society - especially around holidays. Lots and lots of parents purchase costumes (handmade and otherwise) for their kids on Halloween and they don't love their kids any less than I do mine.

While I was taking this photo of my girls I was reminded of the saying - popularized by the movie of the same name - Wag the Dog.

To 'wag the dog' means to purposely divert attention from what would otherwise be of greater importance, to something else of lesser significance. By doing so, the lesser-significant event is catapulted into the limelight, drowning proper attention to what was originally the more important issue. The expression
comes from the saying that 'a dog is smarter than its tail', but if the tail were smarter, then the tail would 'wag the dog'. [From]
So, I'm starting to wonder if this is it. Maybe I am wagging the dog with this costume issue. I want to draw attention to the sustainable handmade/homemade movement and away from the costume. For me the 'more' seems to be my desire for a society that values the art of independent creating, and not cheap plastic.


Juniper said...

Good thoughtful post Beth, enjoyed reading it. Shame you live so far away... would love to sit and discuss some of these things further over coffee with you.
Dying to see the costumes you made in their entirety on the girls!
P.s. I used to get a lot of comments like that when living in the UK usually relating baking.

Little C and Little J said...

Well put. Keeping wagging, love. P.S. we wore store bought this year!

ten finger workshop said...

Amen B, it's hard when you are put into a box of 'crafty' or the comment" YOU would make it I bet." I feel like the underlying comment is " you must have so much time on your hands so you can make all these things" no, it's just enjoyable for everyone around & sweet. It changes the focus of Halloween too, more about imagination and less about the candy ( while I'm eating my kids candy)
We will not me put into our sewing 'box' if we can help it.

dailythread said...

We're kindred spirits in that way, I think! I didn't end up making costumes this year; with everything else going on they fell to the wayside. But, I talked both kids into being football players...even my daughter. She got a pink college jersey (Clemson) and my son got an orange one, and they wore sweatpants and did the eye black thing. They'll wear the shirts until they grow out of them, so I felt like it was a good compromise. Both were the cutest little football players. :) I don't make costumes and clothes for them because I love them any more than other moms, like you said, but because I have a love for crafting and because I try to be thoughtful in my purchases and energies. And it's not a judgment on anyone who doesn't, even if some might feel like it is. (I had a friend tell me recently that "everyone thinks you're perfect" for baking bread, sewing, knitting, etc. I told her whoever "everyone" is, they need a reality check! I do those things bc I love to do them. No worries if they buy bread from the store, you know?)