When I was a little girl, I spent hours dreaming I was a mermaid. Every time I got near a pool or pond, I practiced swimming like one, and Splash was by far my favorite movie.
So imagine how lucky I thought my niece was when my sister-in-law sewed up a dozen mermaid tails for her birthday party this year! Now, Selena is as close to Superwoman as anyone I know (she’s a design professor at the University of New South Wales, runs Griffin Kiteboarding with her husband, and has two amazing–and amazingly active–kids), so I wasn’t surprised. I was surprised when she showed me how easy it was to make up a pattern and sew the tail (although making a dozen is a different story). It’s easy to customize if your little boy doesn’t want to be a merman, or your little girl prefers dinosaurs, and would make the perfect last-minute Halloween costume. It uses fabric remnants, and even I was able to sew one up in about an hour. Here’s how.
We started out with a simple concept drawing, and worked out the measurements on paper. Selena also sketched out an idea for a dinosaur tail. We headed over to Britex Fabrics in Union Square (well worth a visit if you’re in San Francisco) and dug through the remnants bins to find some lovely shimmery moire and sparkly taffeta to make the mermaid tails, and found some great lizard print velveteen for the dinosaur tail. A trip to the notions floor for batting and velcro, and were were done!
Using the measurements we’d come up with, Selena drew up the pattern pieces on newspaper (“the most efficient use of the Sports section is for making patterns,” says she), and we cut them out. You will need two fins in two fabrics, two tails in two fabrics, one ruffle strip and one waistband strip (which should both contrast with the main tail fabric).
Make sure to make use of folds in fabric so you don’t have to cut as often! (It’s easiest to make your large pattern pieces as half of a mirror image.) Here are the front and back, waistband, ruffle strip, and batting.
To make the ruffle for the front, sew straight down the ruffle strip, and then pull on one of the end threads until it bunches up. Then sew down the middle of your front tail piece.
Using fabric #2, line up the bottom of the tail piece with the top of the fin piece. Sew them together with right sides facing so they make one continuous piece.
Now place the right sides facing of the front and back of the tail, and place the batting piece underneath. Pin well and give yourself a generous seam allowance as mermaid fabric can be slippery!
Stitch all the way around the tail except for the waist.
Now turn the tail right side out, so that the batting is inside and the fabric is on the outside. A chopstick can help make the fins have their proper pointinesss!
Now center the waistband fabric over the front of the mermaid tail and pin, right sides facing. Sew together for the length of the waist (not the entire waistband), and then fold the fabric back so that it’s the right way up. Then fold it back in half so that the waistband has its right sides facing and stitch around the outside (not across the waist, however).
Turn inside out and pin to the back of the tail (with the one unsewn piece at the back turned under) and stitch around the edges of the waistband.
Add the pieces of velcro on opposite sides of the waistband so they lock together when the two waistband pieces wrap on top of each other.
This tail concept can easily be changed to make any kind of tail. Here’s a dinosaur tail Selena whipped up in about 15 minutes (I guess practice makes perfect after all!).