Burlap is a loosely woven fibrous material traditionally used to transport foods while allowing them to breathe (peanuts, coffee, potatoes), but more recently it has gained popularity in home decor and wedding use. It can also be used to create a beautiful thing of nightmares…
One fall, while working at a now-defunct fabric shop, a return of several yards of “damaged” burlap came through the store; I was able to buy it for the remnant price (typically half off or more of the original price). There was not actually anything wrong with this particular burlap, as this type of fabric has largely been for practical use and is prone to imperfections that consumers would find unacceptable in other materials. In this case, the burlap was intended for use as wedding decor but was deemed too rough looking for the purpose. (There are now plenty of higher grade burlaps marketed for decor purposes–often available in a variety of colors and widths–that come with a higher price tag.)
I knew that I wanted to make an Oogie Boogie Man and felt that the head would require the most attention. I started this project off with black foam pipe insulation cut in half lengthwise and used to create a framework for the head. To start, I made the mouth and brow line separately. The mouth was rather free form while the brow line was sized to fit on my head (at about the same height as a hat would sit). The insulation was cut into pieces, bent, shaped, glued, and pinned together to sit overnight.
After positioning the two together, gluing them, and letting them set, I wrapped them in a cloth medical tape. I wanted to be able to hand stitch the burlap to the foam head form I was creating, and most foam does not hold up well to being sewn. Thread will often pull right through the foam–much like using a wire to cut cake. Therefore, I wanted something a bit more substantial to beef up the hardiness of the foam. Medical tape adhesive deteriorates fairly quickly, so bits of E3000 glue were added in occasionally.
Attaching burlap to the foam structure was very touch an go. After wrapping the material around the foam and finding a fit or drape that had the resulting look I wanted, I cut the burlap and used a combination of gluing and hand stitching to attach it to the foam. To complete the underside of the tentacle shape at the back of Oogie’s head (and the back of the head itself), I layered a wedge of burlap over the top of the piece that was already glued in place and sewed the two pieces together as much as my machine would allow. Then, this was flipped right side out, and the remainder of the attachment (along the back of the head) was done with glue and hand stitching.
After largely completing the burlap attachment on the head, I stepped away from that to let it dry and switched my attention to the body of the costume. Oogie Boogie has a very billowy body, so this part of the costume did not need to be particularly exact. The body was almost completely done via eyeballing, save for watching the shoulder-to-shoulder distance. This was important to keep the costume from sliding around on the wearer. The remainder of the pipe insulation was added close to the bottom of the costume to aid in keeping this large burlap sack looking billowy and not drooping. It was stitched in with large whip stitches of fishing line. (The corresponding picture of the body shows the piece inside out.)
The feet were made from scraps of the burlap material and machine stitched twice to help keep them from coming apart. Burlap has a habit of unraveling at the edges (see close up comparison), largely dependent on the angle of the cut compared to the direction of the meshed fibers. In areas that readily exhibited a lot of fraying, a thin bead of glue was added just outside of the stitching to help keep everything in place and to prevent further fraying.
After finishing construction of the body and feet, I turned my attention back to the head and added in a thin piece of foam (quartered lengthwise) to serve as the bottom of the eye sockets. The upper was already installed as part of the brow. This piece was held in place with pins to dry.
After cutting a slit across the spans of where the eyes would be, I went ahead and did some gluing and hand stitching on the upper eye/brow to more permanently attach the burlap. Adhering it to the foam yielded a much more pronounced and expressive look. This was repeated on the bottom once it was dry and the pins were removed. Fabric thin enough to see through was glued in behind the eye and mouth holes.
The main component left was to incorporate the dark black stitching over Oogie’s seams. I chose a thick yarn that did not feel like it would fray much with friction because it was going to be forced through the rough burlap mesh. It was stitched though by hand with a very large, somewhat blunt needle. This part of the project was fun, though time consuming.
For the first outing after dark in this costume, I sprayed the entire thing down with a glow in the dark decor spray. It did the trick but, unfortunately, did not photograph well. I have not made Oogie’s snake tongue, but plan to add that the next time I get the costume out.