Not everyone would be excited to run in a fur costume in summer. But thankfully, there was a volunteer silly enough to join our Up-themed group in the Portland Starlight Run (Maryalicia, you are a brave woman). Because really, what would an Up group be without everyone’s favorite talking dog, Dug? This post will detail how I made a fur running costume as runner-friendly as possible.
You may be surprised to learn (I was!) that there is a community of people who create fur costumes, they call them fursuits. These folks have developed high levels of craftsmanship and creativity in constructing their costumes. While not designed for running, they do have some awesome dance contests in them. Here is a clip of a fursuit Thriller dance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYfcRdu7bKA
I borrowed heavily from the fursuit community’s expertise to make my Dug costume. I tried to keep it as light and open as a furry dog suit could be and still look like the character. I started by taking a look at Disney’s walk-around Dug character. Open up the face, and you’ve got the basis of my design for a running Dug. I ended up leaving off the arms and just making paws to make it cooler to wear (it’s all relative).
I started building with the head. I was originally going to build the head over a long-billed baseball cap. That experiment failed because the cap could not support the weight of Dug’s long nose. I ended up using a bike helmet, which worked great.
I decided to make the head in two sections, an upper “snout” section and a lower jaw section. This would allow the most space for the “panting” runner to see and breathe. The upper section attaches to the helmet, and the lower section to the body. After patterning in cardboard, I cut out the snout pieces from plastic canvas and duct-taped them to the helmet. I used plastic canvas rather than cardboard for lighter weight and rain-resistance (I do live in Portland after all).
The next step was the nose. This was pretty simple. I took a Styrofoam ball, cut it in half, shaped it a bit with sandpaper to be more oval, and painted it black with acrylic paint (can’t use spray paint on foam very well). I like using Styrofoam because it is so light and easy to shape. I used my favorite foam-friendly glue, Weld-Bond, to attach the nose to the snout. (Remember that hot glue and foam don’t mix. You will have melted foam and sadness.)
Next up was the lower jaw. Again, I patterned it in cardboard first and then used the cardboard as a pattern for plastic canvas. I made the tongue very large to look like Dug was tired from running. Also because a big floppy tongue is funny. I made the tongue from plastic canvas covered in felt. Now I had my two head sections ready for fur, so I started on the body.
I decided to use the same body pattern that I used for Kevin. Because if you already have a pattern for a big bulky body in your closet, why reinvent the wheel? I did the same construction process as Kevin, this time using fur over plastic canvas material. I had a hard time locating the exact color of fur I wanted locally, so I had to order online. I got two lengths, short for most of the body and long for accents.
I used the leftover plastic canvas fabric I used for Kevin, and just pieced it together to make big enough sections. I like this material because it gives a stiffness to the piece without a lot of weight. I could possibly have gotten by with the fur alone, but this gives some “body” to the body. I get this material locally, but if you can’t find it you can order online at: http://www.fabricdepot.com/catalogsearch/result/index/?cat=41&q=pet+screen. For some reason, they call it Pet Screen. They must have known I was going to made crazy animal costumes out of it.
I decided to put the fur on the body sections before sewing them together. So it was time to cut some fur. The key with fur, especially long fur, is to cut just the backing and not the fur itself as much as possible. I used a brush and a metal ruler to make a “part” in the fur section that goes down Dug’s front and then cut down the part. You can also cut the fur from the back side with small pointy scissors, slipping the scissors under the fur to just cut the backing.
I basted the fur pieces to the canvas with very large stitches, leaving room to sew the body sections together. Then I basted the front canvas to the back canvas loosely, to allow for adjustments. Next came the neck, which turned out to be tricky. I needed the neck to be sturdy, because I pictured the neck supporting the whole costume on the shoulders. I started with a wood embroidery hoop that was large enough to fit over my head. (I’m sure the other customers in Joann’s fabrics were wondering why I was putting hoops over my head.) I cut notches in the costume and basted it over the hoop.
What I don’t have a picture of is the expression on my face when the wood hoop cracked apart when I tried Dug on for the umpteenth time. I’m sure it would not be suitable for publication. I ended up breaking up the hoop, pulling it out, and replacing it with heavy wire. By this time, I had Dug’s collar, which was heavy enough leather to hold everything together. His collar is made from two actual leather dog collars, which are so cool because they light up. Yes, they were expensive, but really, they were just too perfect. The control boxes for the lights even look like the voice box on Dug’s “real” collar. I attached the collar to the body using plastic zip ties that I colored brown with a Sharpie.
So there I was with a body, but it didn’t have enough of Dug’s chubby round shape for me. So I turned to my buds in the Facebook Running/Race Costumes group for advice on how to round out the body. (This is a fantastic, supportive group that I highly recommend to anyone interested in running costumes.) They came up with the suggestion of one of those mesh laundry hampers that pop up. Perfect! I found one at Target that even had handy straps to keep the costume supported on the shoulders. I just cut out the bottom of the hamper and basted it inside the body. Once I had the shape right, I hand-sewed everything securely and removed the basting. Now I had chubby Dug!
My next great find was the big googly eyes. There is nothing like great eyes to bring a character to life. I got these from Amazon as well:
Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the process of covering the head with fur. Probably because I was up to my elbows in hot glue and fuzz. But it was just a matter of cutting pieces of fur and gluing them to the head pieces. I did cut slits in the fur where there were vents in the helmet to try and give the wearer a break. They don’t show since they are on top of the head.
Once I had the fur on, I hot-glued black felt on the inside of the top and bottom of the mouth. Then I cut teeth from extra-thick white craft foam and glued those on. I cut them as a long strip, not individual teeth. I cut floppy ears from the long accent fur and glued them on, just at the top so they would fly around like real ears. I used my friend the plastic zip tie again to attach the lower jaw to the body. This gave a good space to see and breathe out of. And I found that by pitching my head forward, I could make it look like Dug was talking.
You can’t see it, but the head is attached to the body with Velcro under the collar. So it does come off, but I’ve found it’s easier to put on by just leaving the head attached and raising the whole thing over your head.
Now Dug needed a tail. I used plastic canvas again, this time reinforced with wire around the edges and covered in long fur. I wanted it to wag, so I used WHAT to attach it to the body? You should know this one! Plastic zip ties. The ties go around the wire inside the tail and attach through the body and onto the laundry hamper. Hopefully very securely.
I felt Dug was missing that extra something, and I realized it was paws. So I turned back to the fursuit folks and found this great pattern and tutorial on paw making from Matrices.net:
I used my long fur and some very realistic-looking imitation leather to make the paws. When they were done, I trimmed the fur between the pads a bit shorter, just like you would do if you were grooming your dog. You can see the paws in this shot of Dug resting up for his big day. Sharp eyes can also spot our friend the zip tie on the collar.
Now Dug was ready to run. How did it go? I’ll let you know soon! Its race day tomorrow and our group is so ready for that costume contest!
Here is a pre-race shot of our UP group — we had a blast!!! The Starlight Run goes along part of the route of the Starlight Parade that follows it, so there were LOTS of spectators to cheer us on. The kids along the route all wanted high-fives from Kevin and those furry paws of Dug. I was so amazed at how everyone’s costumes came together. And luckily, held together. We all finished intact, with a big assist from our two non-costumed “spotters/guards” who ran alongside and kept other runners from getting between us and pointed out obstacles (Robin/Mr. Fredrickson had limited vision). Maryalicia, who wore Dug, reported that the costume wasn’t too hot since there was good air circulation between her and the fur. So if you are contemplating a furry costume, go for it! Take a cue from our friends the fursuiters and dance your way down the course.