Wednesday, November 1st, 2006
Zeebot Lives! How we Made a Toddler Robot Costume
Zeebot is a pretend robot every member of our family becomes several times a week (well, except for the cats). We walk his walk. We talk his talk. He began as a split personality I used as a child management tool, but now Mom, Dad and Daughter each embody Zeebot when the mood hits us. He was a natural subject for a Halloween costume.
Here is how we actualized Zeebot.
Step 1: Sew pants and a long-sleeve shirt out of shiny silver fabric. It serves as the robot’s body. I can’t sew. That’s what a spouse is for, right? If not, you might find matching pre-made gray or shiny sweatpants and a shirt. Forget cardboard boxes. They’re bulky and uncomfortable. The coolness factor is lost on a toddler.
Step 2: Sew Velcro squares onto the shirt. The squares are used to attach dials, switches and other robot-riffic gizmos made later. If you can’t sew, buy self-adhesive squares at any craft store. The adhesive should last for a few hours and that’s all you need.
Step 3: Design gizmos for the robot’s chest.
- I googled for photos of scientific equipment to find objects that might look good on a robot’s body. Then I photoshopped the images to colorize and make them kid-friendly.
- Alternately, draw the gizmos from scratch. If your artistic skills are dull, everyone will be impressed that your toddler draws so well.
- Print the gizmos on a sheet of paper and glue them to the side of a flattened Cheerio’s box. Cut out each gizmo. (I noticed that when I cut out my gizmos, an imprecise cut created a white perimeter around a gizmo. So I reprinted the gizmos with a similarly colored background behind each one, dissimilar enough that I knew where to cut, but similar enough that the cut border looked seamless.)
- Affix a Velcro square to the backside of each gizmo. Use the self-adhesive kind.
Step 4: Design a helmet.
- Find a box. I bought a box of Kleenex Cottonelle Flushable Moist Wipes at Costco because it was the same size as my daughter’s head. Plus, I could clean her butt with the wipes after I finished making the helmet.
- The Cottonelle box also has a perfectly precut window where my daughter’s face peers out. If you have to cut your own viewing hole in your box, cut it big enough for your child’s whole face. Forget doing only eye holes. They’re hard to see out of in the dark, and look lousy in photos.
- Wrap the box tightly with an extra swatch of your silver fabric. It’s a bit like wrapping a gift, except instead of a ribbon you use a bunch of staples.
- My wife sewed silver buttons on the box to create pseudo-ears. I wanted to use adhesive Velcro to attach small circuit board ears, but I figured even a robot could use a woman’s touch.
- I created a label for the front of the helmet that read "Zeebot" so that strangers wouldn’t ask me which Star Wars character my daughter was. It had a 50 percent success rate.
Step 5: Stabilize the helmet. The box moved around enough on my daughter’s head that she had to hold it with one hand. We attached a chin strap using a ribbon, which helped a little. A better option would be to glue some foam to the inside top of the helmet to make the box grip the head. I’m curious whether a dish sponge might work.
Step 6: Add the cool. We attached a small stroller light to the helmet, again using Velcro.
When Halloween night arrived, we learned an expensive lesson. The time, money and effort parents throw at their babies and toddlers is largely lost on young minds. My daughter prefers a cheap store-bought horse costume we received as a hand-me-down. And as robot costumes go, she has more fun dancing around in a paper bag. Still, isn’t this a nice photo? She’s smiling because she loves having a headlight.
We used a 2T pattern for the shirt and shorts. My daughter is 28-months-old, but they came out about an inch long in the arms and legs. I hold hope for the future. Robots are good year-round for dress-up play.
If you want true costume inspiraton, check out the incredible stuff Rob Cockerham has made. OK, they’re adult costumes, but Rob is a new dad, so maybe we’ll see some kiddie fun in the coming years.