The Brains of Rats
The Strange Case of the Veiled Thylacine

How to Make a Thylacine Costume


Peter wanted to be a thylacine  for Halloween. (A thylacine is an extinct marsupial carnivore also known as the tasmanian tiger; its closest living relative is the tasmanian devil.) I made some non-committal noises and changed the subject. That sounded like real work, and I am quite overwhelmed at the moment.

But yesterday morning, a vision of how I could make a thylacine costume quickly and easily came to me. The key element of a thylacine costume is the tail: a long, stiff stripped tail. I knew I needed foam rubber, a material that would make a suitable thylacine hide, and something to stripe it with. After disappointing visits to a fabric store and an upholstery store, I would my materials at the hardware store: a yard of 72 inch-wide tan naugahyde, a linear foot of 18 inch-wide white foam rubber, and a role of dark brown duct tape. Peter is 48 inches tall, so one yard of naugahyde was enough. For someone taller, you'll need more.

When Peter got home from school, I measured the naugahyde against him and folded it over so that the doubled portion was long enough to make a jacket. I made a slit opening on the front and then cross-wise slits for the neckline. Then I draped the folded naugahyde over his shoulders (wrong side out) with his arms out to the sides and I drew in where the seams needed to be. I quickly sewed the seams with the eager children looking on. (This involved a certain amount of barking and snarling on my part: Don't step on that pedal! Put down the scissors! etc.) I had never sewed naugahyde before and I was much easier than I had expected. Then I clipped the extra fabric away from the arms and torso and drew the remaining cutting lines for the tail using the full length of the fabric, which when initially cut out looks a bit lite the tails on a tux. I sewed the two sides of the tail together and then turned the whole garment right side out. Next, I stuffed the tail with foam rubber so it was good and stiff.

Peter and I worked together with the duct tape to make the stripes on the tail and the back. Then I clipped the edges of the jacket portion to give it a more pleasing shape. Next, I set the kids up with something else to do and used the brown duct tape to finish seams and edges. I used foam rubber and duct tape to pad the shoulders and the chest so that the jacket hangs better.

After the tail and the stripes, a thylacine's other most striking features are its jaws -- which opened amazingly wide, its ears, and its dark eyes. It is my belief that a picture of a thylacine with its mouth way open was one of the inspirations for the alien in Alien. It was a scary-looking creature which is, I think, one of the reasons it is now extinct.

The design for the head is a hood in which the child looks out through the open mouth. I snipped some frightening teeth out of the foam rubber. I got Peter's raincoat and looked at the construction of the hood to see how to make the head. I made a naugahyde hood based on that. Then I made big ears out of two naugahyde triangles using duct tape and them sewed them to the hood using the machine. The two rows of teeth were attached to the inside of the hood using the duct tape. Then I snipped the (somewhat anime-influenced) eye shapes out of duct tape and stuck them to the head. I added a visor to the hood to lengthen the snout and made the dark nose with duct tape over lumps of foam rubber left over from making the teeth.

I'll take some pictures this evening when he wears it to a Halloween party. This morning -- after the fact -- it occurred to me to look for other designs for thylacine costumes on the web and I didn't find any. So I though as a public service I ought to write this down before I forget how I did it. I'm really pleased at how it turned out.