How to Make Children's Manatee Costumes


Manatees, those large, rare and endangered sea mammals often called "sea cows," can inspire intriguing costumes for children. You can mimic a manatee by adapting a commercial sewing pattern of another animal such as a penguin. The manatee's body is large and rounded with front flippers and a fantail. Its head is rounded with large round eyes and a snout. Adapt and create the manatee from a penguin costume, adding a paper plate and paper cup for a mask.

Things You'll Need

  • Pattern for Penguin Costume
  • Gray or taupe fabric
  • Thread
  • Notions according to pattern directions
  • Straight pins
  • Scissors
  • Sewing machine
  • One 8-by-12-inch piece of craft foam
  • Ruler or tape measure
  • White marking chalk
  • Sewing needle
  • Paper plate
  • Paper cup
  • Gray or taupe paint
  • Black paint
  • Paintbrushes or sponge brushes
  • Stapler
  • 3 gray chenille craft sticks
  • Elastic

Assembling the Body

  • Select a commercial brand sewing pattern of a penguin in the child's size needed. A penguin's costume body and hood are similar to a manatee's, with a rounded head and body and a low, short inseam. Arms should have flipper-like sleeves. The tail area is will be adjusted to replicate a manatee.

  • List, then purchase all the sewing notions you need to make the costume, such as fabric, buttons, Velcro or zippers. Select a gray or taupe fabric for the costume.

  • Lay out the fabric and pin the pattern according to directions. Set the tail pattern piece to the side for the time being.

  • Cut out the pattern pieces and pin the fabric according to pattern directions. Leave an opening where the penguin tail would go. This is where you will stitch your manatee fantail.

  • Cut the craft foam piece into a fan shape, wide at the bottom like a triangle, to use as the manatee tail. Opposite the fan spread, at the top of the tail where it attaches to the body, leave a 2-inch-long neck to attach to the costume body.

  • Fold the fabric in half, right sides together. Lay the foam on the piece of fabric. Using marking chalk, draw around the perimeter of the fantail, allowing an extra inch around the perimeter of the tail for a stitching seam. Cut the fan pattern from the fabric.

  • Stitch up one side of the tail, across the top and down the other side of the tail fabric piece, leaving the bottom fan edge open.

  • Turn the fabric right side out and insert the foam piece into the stitched fabric tail. Fold the open end of the fabric under and hand stitch a blind seam.

  • Insert the top of the tailpiece into the tail opening of the costume body. Pin and stitch the seam closed.

The Face Mask

  • Cut the paper plate in half. Draw and cut out two large round eyes to fit the child on the top half of the cut plate.

  • Take the paper cup and place it with the open end half covering the bottom edge of the plate, along the cut. Envision the cup as the snout, which should hang from the bottom of the half circle.

  • Trace around the top of the cup onto the plate. Cut slits, creating tabs, from the bottom of the plate into the traced-out half circle and bend the tabs outward.

  • Place the cup over the tabs and staple the tabs to the cup. The manatee snout will now be attached to the mask. Paint the mask and cup with the gray or taupe paint. Paint two nostrils on the end of the cup snout in black paint. Let the paint dry.

  • Punch three holes through the cup and insert the three chenille sticks as whiskers. Cut elastic to fit your child's head and attach the elastic to either side of the mask with a stapler.

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  • Photo Credit manatee image by Earl Robbins from
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