Ouranosaurus in the Workshop

Artwork by Winnipeg's Julius Cstonyi - the direct inspiration for this costume

I just love the process of figuring out how to make a costume perform just as I imagined. Sometimes you end up discovering something better than you imagined along the way…and always, ALWAYS, when I get to product testing, the kids find new amazing applications that I hadn’t thought of.

For the Royal Ontario Museum, I know that the costumes take an unprecedented amount of abuse (ie: thousands of kids, every week, all year). I also know that when kids become dinosaurs, they can get a little wild, so I knew these had to be up to my usual indestructible standard – and maybe even more!  We started by building a prototype out of scrap material to get a sense of how it would move and feel and adjusted the pattern according to how it worked out.

I started with beautifully textured skin & scale patterned polyurethanes (PVC-free) in colours that echoed the artwork for these particular species that Julius Csotonyi was creating for the ROM Exhibit. Working with these fabrics for the first time was a little scary at first – new upholstery fabrics don’t always play nicely with my sewing machine. I had a false start with the Ouranosaurus – had to change the fabric for the stripes, but then was off and running.


I had already made a prototype out of scrap materials, so I had a sense of how this would piece together. I always make the tails first (biggest challenge and biggest fun). They are stuffed with polyester stuffing.  Piecing together the vest is challenging as you figure out at what point you need to attach the tail.  Once the tail is on – maneuvering through the sewing machine is desperately tricky!  There are places where I am often sewing through as many as 6 layers of heavy upholstery material!

Through this design process, I had a new muse – our 3-legged bearded dragon, Missy.  It was amazing how the actual presence of a scaly reptile helped me bring these dinos to life…looking into her bright little eyes and watching how she moves and articulates her tail really contributed to the experience.  The headpiece was the trickiest challenge and was the very last piece of the puzzle to fall into place.  I wanted to somehow create the duckbill, but also wanted to capture the gentle eyes that Julius had in his gorgeous illustration of this unbelievable creature.

I ended up going with a baseball cap style design that has the proboscis extend over the brow like a visor.  It was a crazy challenge to figure out the step to assemble this.  The stiffener inside the bill is cut out of a plastic placemat and it is simple wrap-around with velcro closure like all my wipeable designs – so you know it will size to all but the tiniest children and the largest adults.

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  • kristin sjaarda

    m kids spent a full hour in your costumes, more time than at the actual exhibit!

    • Gretel

      Kristin, It’s so great to hear that! When my family first visited the exhibit and went up to see the costumes in action, my boys got totally into playing with them for ages – even though they had plenty of opportunity at home before the costumes were delivered to the ROM! Hope you got some fantastic pictures!