How to Make the Most Awesome Ursula Costume

I’m going to be honest here and admit that I wasn’t even sure I wanted to write this post.  I mean, I love love love this costume, but it was so much work and to go through it again, even if just in my head is more than a little overwhelming.  How do I put into words something that I worked on in my mind for years and went through rough drafts for months before my final result?  I did take notes here and there and I still have my pattern pieces, but to remember every little detail I added to make this perfect?  That’s scary.

Ultimately, I want to share it with you, so I’m going to do my best to recreate my steps.

*Please note that I’m starting with how I figured it all out.  I will post final version steps in the end.

Let’s start with the outer body.

It’s round…ish.  This was by far the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around.  I know how to make a ball, it’s eight panels sort of football shaped, sewn together.  The body has eight tentacles, so it works out kind of perfect, doesn’t it?

How do you figure out your “football” shaped pieces though?

And how big?

This was where I just did trial and error to get the right size to start with.  I started with a circle shape and divided it into fourths.

Make a second one.  (I actually just cut the first one in half and used the opposite half)

Overlap them to the 1/4 mark.

There’s your beginning shape.

To determine if it’s the right size, you’ll need to know a few measurements.  First, chest measurement.  This should be taken just under the bust area, or empire waistline.  Next, length of the body.  Third, how big around at the base.

*I believe I used a 40″ circle as my beginning template.

So you have your two circles overlapping.  Take your chest measurement and divide by 8.  I think I used 26″ as my chest measurement.  26÷8=3.25″. You’ll also need to add in your seam allowance.  I used 1/4″ seams, so I need to measure across this football shape where it’s 3.75″.  There’s no real science here, just move your ruler down until it’s the correct width.  Draw a line across there.

This is a much smaller piece than you’d use. It’s just so you get an idea of the beginning shape. 😉

Now, the bottom width.  You don’t want this too tight, but still want it to curve in towards the body. I went with 36″, which divided by 8 is 4.5″ or 5″ with seam allowance.   Measure up from the bottom and mark across your pattern piece at 5″ wide.

This left me with a 20″ body.  *Once I had done a couple of revisions I decided I needed to add 1″ of length to the body.  I just cut across the width about a third of the way up from the bottom and added the length there.

Now, cut out eight of these body pieces and sew them together.  I did leave a couple of inches unsewn in the last two, to allow for taking it on and off.  On the finished one, I added a placket here.

To make the upper bodice, I needed a piece that was 26.5″ wide. (The length around the lower body plus the seam allowance of the last two pieces that we left unsewn)

The overall height of the upper bodice was 2.5″, but I also needed to make the sweetheart neckline.  Find the center of your 26.5″ wide piece and mark about 3.25″ out.  This is the width of your lower body piece.  Now, draw a sweetheart neckline tapering it down around that 3.25″ mark into the 2.5″ line.

Sew the upper bodice onto the lower body matching the back seams.

At this point, I pinned it to my mannequin, which is really just a stuffed body shape.  And then filled it with polyfill.  I’m sure I provided some good entertainment trying to stuff this thing!  There was no bottom, so the stuffing just kept falling out!  I had to hold it closed with one hand and stuff with the other.

I really wish I would have saved some pictures of the first few times I stuffed this so I could explain it properly.

Once stuffed, it was definitely NOT the shape I was going for. 

It was much too round or beach ball shaped and if you look at the movie it’s just not the same.

I decided that I did like the shape on the lower half of the body and since the width at the top was what I wanted, I started at the top line (keeping that width the same) and shaved off about a quarter inch from there blending it into the original line about halfway down. I would both take it off the pattern piece and the fabric itself.


Pin to the mannequin again and restuff.  Shave more off the upper width, repeat, lol.  I really did have to do this a few times until I got it just how I wanted it.

Here’s my final pattern piece with the extra inch added that I mentioned earlier.

See how the bottom still has that roundness, but the top has been slimmed down?

Now the tentacles. 

My original thought was to use pool noodles with metal wires running through them.  After trying this, it was clear that it just wouldn’t work.  They were just too round.

I knew I wanted them long, so I started with 60″ which turned out to be the perfect length.  I took the bottom width of the lower body pieces 4.5″ and made the tops of the tentacles that wide tapering down towards the end and rounding the bottoms.

Cut out two tentacles and stuff them. 

Then I pinned them to the body to see how they looked.  Hmmm, they were really scrawny compared to what I was envisioning.  The only way I could think to get around that was to have a much larger top piece, but keep the underside of the tentacle the same.

I ended up redrawing the upper side of the tentacle so it was 8.5″ wide, still keeping it 60″ long, again tapering it down the sides and rounding the bottom.  The tip of the upper piece did end up being bigger than the lower piece when I sewed them together, so I just added a little pleat to the top piece.

Ok, that takes care of the size, but what about curling them?  My initial thought was to have them swirling around below the body, but they were so heavy that I knew that wasn’t going to work.  I definitely needed to add some metal wires so I could even get them to curl properly and hold their shape.

I got this metal wire at Menards.

I didn’t want to just put wires in there.  I was worried they’d shift or possibly tear holes in the fabric.  I settled on creating tracks down the sides of the lower tentacle.  I just cut a second lower tentacle out, placed on top of the first one and sewed a line 1″ in on each side to create two tracks.  I cut the wire about 65″, taped one end and slid that end into the track.  Perfect!

See the two lines of tracks for the wires to slide in?

Let’s move on to the inside body. 

Honestly, this was the easiest part. 😉 I took my favorite basic dress bodice pattern and lengthened it to where the outer body would sit.  I believe mine ended up about 26″ long from under the arm to hem.  I needed the chest measurement to match the 26″ of the upper outer body and the bottom to match the 36″ of the lower outer body. I did add a keyhole detail to the back, but you wouldn’t necessarily have to.  My pattern had short sleeves, but I extended them to make them long.  Since this was for my daughter, I just measured her arm length and increased the pattern piece accordingly.

A couple of inner workings to talk about. 

This costume is HEAVY!  It’s about 15 lbs and very big around.  I was worried about how much those tentacles were going to pull down on the outer body.  The best thing that I could think of was to have help inside holding those tentacles up.

I cut a piece of wire and made a circle so it was the same width around as the base of the costume, 36″.  Then, remember when I said I cut the wire for the tentacles 65″ even though they’re only 60″ long?  I took that extra 5″ and wrapped it around the wire at the base.  I used some needle nose pliers to save my poor fingers any more pain while wrapping them.  Then I covered it all in duck tape so there weren’t any poky ends sticking out.

Now, to actually give them some support!  

I layered a strip of fabric 2.5″ wide with a 2″ strip of headliner foam and topped with another of fabric.  I sewed down just outside the foam to encase it in the fabric.  I didn’t worry about raw edges because this is all hidden inside.

The inside light purple body is fully lined, meaning there’s two exactly the same with the wrong sides together.

I took these fabric strips with foam and basically threaded them from the bottom of the body in the front, up through the shoulder (in between the two bodices) and down the back.  Then, I wrapped around the metal circle I created to hold up the tentacles and sewed to secure.  Now the tentacles are being supported by these shoulder straps!  Pretty cool huh?

I wasn’t sure how to get the “suction cup” look while using fabric, but after playing around for a little bit I decided to use a fabric stiffener to make my light purple fabric firm.  Next, I cut out circles 1″, 1.5″ and 2″.  I own a sizzix die cut machine and was able to use that to speed up the process a little.  Then, I cut a slit in each circle, overlapped them slightly and glued back together.


This gave them just a little curve so they looked like actual suckers. If you look at octopus pictures, you’ll see that their suckers are very symmetric.  I copied this by gluing to identical rows of circles on to the underside of each tentacle, starting with the smaller size and gradually increasing.

Now that we’ve got all the inner workings and pattern pieces straightened out, let’s get to the final version!

  1. Cut out 8 lower outer body pieces out of black fabric. I love Kona cotton for this!

  2. Cut out 8 lower outer body pieces out of heavy weight stabilizer.

  3. Iron stabilizer onto fabric.

  4. Sew all 8 lower body pieces together, leaving about 3″ at the top of the last section.

  5. Cut a placket and install on the area you left open.

  6. Cut out 2 upper outer body pieces.

  7. Sew upper outer body pieces together along the top and back seam.

  8. Turn right side out and iron.

  9. Sew to lower outer body, matching at back seam.

  10. Install kam snaps to back of the outer body.

  11. Cut out 8 upper tentacles out of black fabric.

  12. Gather each tentacle and sew one tentacle to each of the outer body pieces.

  13. Set aside outer body for now.

  14. 1 Cut out 2 inner body pieces out of lighter purple fabric. (2 front bodices and 4 back bodices)

  15. Cut out 2 sleeve pieces out of lighter purple fabric.

  16. Sew together as you normally would. (sew front to back matching at shoulders, then sew the two bodices together along the neckline and down the back.  Sew down each side seam and press open so they face each other on the inside)

  17. Sew sleeve, hem and attach to the bodice.

  18. Install kam snaps down the back of the inner body.

  19. Cut out 16 bottom tentacle pieces out of darker purple fabric.

  20. Cut 1″ off the top of 8 of those tentacle pieces.  This is so that when you sew them to the body, they aren’t sewn shut and you’ll be able to insert the wires later.

  21. Layer two tentacle pieces together and sew a line 1″ in from the edge on both sides.  The edges will still be open, but once you sew them to the upper piece they’ll be closed.

  22. Sew tentacles to the inside body.  The right side of the tentacles should be facing the wrong side of the body.  This way they are fully enclosed in the body.

  23. Take your outer body (black fabric) and lay your inner body over the top matching at the tentacles.  The right sides of both upper and lower tentacles should be touching.

  24. Sew around body and tentacles.

  25. Clip curves and ends of tentacles and where tentacles meet the body.

  26. Turn right side out.

  27. Stuff the tentacles.  This was seriously hard!  I ended up kind of scrunching them up so I could reach the tips and pushing the polyfil down with a wooden dowel and working my way up to the tops of them.

  28. Insert wires into the tentacles.

  29. Place wire ring at the base of the costume just above the tentacles.

  30. Wrap extra wire from tentacles around wire ring.

  31. Cover wire ring in duck tape.

  32. Insert fabric straps around wire ring, up over the shoulder and down the back to attach to the wire ring in the back.  Sew in place.

  33. Apply fabric stiffener to light purple fabric and let dry.

  34. Cut out multiple circles from light purple fabric.

  35. Cut a small slit in circles and reglue back together.

  36. Glue circles onto the underneath side of tentacles in rows of 2.

  37. Stuff outer black body.  You’ll want to make sure this is really full.

  38. Sew upper sweetheart neckline to the inner light purple body.  (I actually tried it on my daughter so I could make sure the placement was perfect)

  39. Curl tentacles and hand sew to the body.

  40. Sit back and stare at what you just created!

I also made the crown and trident.  I freehand drew them from images I found online and cut them out of craft foam.  I cut 2 of each.

On the crown, I put a piece of wire along the bottom in between the two layers so I could shape it how I wanted.  I also add a couple of small loops on the inside so I could insert bobby pins and actually attach it to the hair.

With the trident, I just used a wooden dowel for the handle. I glued it between the two pieces of foam.

I then spray painted both the crown and trident gold.

I did make earrings and a necklace too.  I picked up some seashells from Michaels and spray painted them purple for the earrings and gold for the necklace.  I attached them to clip on earring bases (my daughter’s ears aren’t pierced) and a necklace base.

Now go get some awesome photos! 

I live in Nebraska, so I didn’t have many places that I could go to get the image I wanted.  I’m thinking grotto type pictures.  I started googling waterfalls around me and there’s actually a park with a waterfall structure!  I ran down to check it out to see if it would work.  Of course, my kids had to play around on it too.

When we checked it out ahead of time, the waterfall was running and it was so pretty!  Unfortunately, when I went to take actual photos, it was 7 am and the water wasn’t turned on yet.

I still think they turned out fabulous!  As my husband pointed out, the only thing that would have made them better is if I had the necklace and earrings that Ursula wears. In my rush to get to the park at 7 am, I completely forgot to bring them.  I could have gone back and retaken the photos, but after all that work I was just done.

Plus, I really did get some truly amazing shots just like this!

Girl wearing Ursula costume

Girl wearing Ursula costume

Back view of girl wearing octopus costume

Side view of girl wearing Ursula costume

Girl wearing Ursula costume

Girl wearing Ursula costume

Back and side view of girl wearing Ursula costume

This costume was such a journey!  It challenged me in so many ways.  How do you deal with sewing challenges?  I’d love it if you left a comment letting me know.


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