How to Make Joseph & Mary Costumes for Christmas

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Mary and Joseph are the central characters in any Nativity play or scene, and they require appropriate costumes to make them easily identifiable. Whether it's for a community event or just for Christmas dress-up fun, Joseph and Mary costumes are easy to DIY, even if you don't have much sewing experience.


In keeping with the era and setting, biblical costumes tend to be plain and simple, comprising loose-fitting tunics and head coverings, plus a few key accessories. It's often possible to create boys and girls costumes or adult costumes for a Nativity play using old textiles you have around the house. The Virgin Mary is traditionally shown wearing blue and white, so those are good colors to use for her costume.

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How to make a basic Nativity costume tunic

A very simple tunic—essentially just two sewn-together rectangles of fabric with head and arm holes—can be the foundation for every costume you need for a Nativity scene. This includes Joseph and Mary, as well as shepherd costumes and wise-man costumes. They just require different fabric and accessory choices. For a Joseph costume, choose a drab-colored textile such as brown or gray; for a Mary costume, the tunic can be blue or white.


Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape

  • Ruler

  • Fabric marker

  • Fabric: non-stretch with some drape, e.g., cotton, linen, old sheet or thin blanket

  • Scissors

  • Straight pins

  • Sewing machine

  • Matching thread

  • Natural-colored rope or cordage

Take some measurements

With a measuring tape, take four measurements of the person who will play Mary or Joseph. First, measure from the nape of the neck down to the floor. Second, measure from elbow to elbow with arms outstretched to the sides (like a "T"). Third, measure from the midpoint of one shoulder, across the back of the neck, to the midpoint of the other shoulder. Fourth, measure from the top of one shoulder down to the approximate midpoint of the ribcage.


Add 1 inch to the first two measurements. The first is the length of the fabric pattern piece; the second is the width of the pattern piece. The third measurement is the width of the head hole and the fourth is the depth of the armhole.

Mark the fabric

Fold the fabric so that you have two layers on a flat surface. With a ruler and fabric marker, draw a rectangle matching the length and width you determined above. Mark the width of the head hole, centered along the top of the pattern piece, and the depth of the armholes, measured down from the top corners.



If possible, align the upper edge of the pattern with the fold in the fabric, and do not cut along the fold when you cut the pieces out. This eliminates the need to sew shoulder seams.

Cut the fabric pieces

Cut the rectangle of fabric out, cutting through both layers to give you two identical fabric rectangles.

Pin the tunic

With the right sides of the fabric rectangles, place straight pins along the side edges, up to the point marked for the arm holes. Place pins along the upper edge (the shoulders) from the outer corners to the marks for the head hole.



Sew the side and shoulder seams

With matching thread and a sewing machine set to a medium-length straight stitch, sew the side and shoulder seams. Leave a half-inch seam allowance and remove the pins as you sew. Back-stitch at the start and end of each seam section.


(Skip sewing the shoulder seams if you cut the fabric on the fold.)

Try on the tunic

Turn the tunic right-side out and have "Mary" or "Joseph" try it on. Make adjustments to the arm and neck holes, if necessary, by unpicking or extending the seams. Mark the level of their ankle, and trim the length of the tunic, if necessary.


Hem the tunic

Fold the lower edge of the tunic over to the wrong side of the fabric by 1 inch, then another 1 inch. Pin and sew the hem, sewing close to the inner fold.

Hem the arm and neck holes (optional)

For a nicer finish to your tunic, fold the raw edges of the arm and neck holes over to the wrong side of the fabric by half an inch. Sew close to the inner fold.


For a no-sew version of the tunic, substitute fabric glue or fusible hem tape for the sewing steps.

Cinch the tunic with a rope belt

Knot a length of natural-colored rope or cordage around the waist of the tunic. This cinches the tunic, creating gathers and giving it a better-looking shape.

How to make a head covering

Joseph, Mary and the other characters in a Nativity scene usually have some kind of head covering. The simplest is a rectangle of fabric, placed over the crown and held in place with a length of rope or cordage, or a plain headband. You can use a smooth-textured kitchen towel or pillowcase in an appropriate color, or cut and hem a rectangle of fabric. For a Mary costume, choose a blue head covering if you made a white tunic, or vice versa.

Other accessories for Mary and Joseph costumes

Embellish a basic Mary costume with a shawl, which could be any kind of triangular or rectangular shawl or piece of fabric in blue, white or a neutral color. You can attach this around the tunic at the shoulders with safety pins. Mary might also need a swaddled baby doll to represent Baby Jesus in a Christmas play.

Joseph is often depicted with a full beard, so consider giving him a costume beard. Optionally, add a drab-colored blanket to tie around his shoulders as an extra layer (it could get cold walking to Bethlehem). Joseph might also carry a rustic walking stick.



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