Going Batty
A very big bat at the Natural History Museum.

Back in 2011 I had been going to the Harvard Museum of Natural History a lot and looking at the animals. I was particularly struck by the bats, and the way they resembled miniature humans with elongated finger bones to carry their wings. I was interested in the idea of making a Halloween costume that was an anatomically correct bat wing.

Most of the time, when people put on wings for Halloween, they make or buy ones that hang from their back, and don’t attach to their arms. This may make it easier to get around, but unless it’s an angel costume it’s not true to the essence of the creature they are depicting.

The idea was simple: the body of the bat would be a sort of tunic made of synthetic fur. To this would be attached wings of a lightweight fabric, in this case velour. Gloves fitted with finger extensions made of wire would be attached to these wings to give them the necessary structure. This was also the first time I had sewn anything of any size but my friend set me up with a sewing machine and a serger and showed me how to do the appropriate stitches. I ordered all my fabric from Distinctive Fabric. The finger extensions themselves were made of 1/8” steel wire silver soldered to ½” copper pipe couplers.

  • Finger extensions ready to solder.
  • Trying them on.
  • Laying out on the wing template.

I was happy with the final result, but I was pretty sure I could do better.

First bat costume

The second costume

Then, in 2013 I saw this article showing a new species of bat discovered in South Sudan, called Niumbaha Superba. This gave me an idea for another variation on the same costume. The colors of the bat suggest something like a tuxedo, or a tailcoat. To me the bat looks like it’s dressed up in a fancy evening costume. This year for Halloween 2015 I decided to replicate the look.

  • Niumbaha Superba, front.
  • Niumbaha Superba, back.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia, 1 2

In the past, I had simply cut and joined rectangular pieces of fabric to make my costumes but this time I decided to order patterns for a 19th century tailcoat. This was a new thing for me but didn’t turn out to be too hard. I ordered black and white fur, and split the back and tail panels into black and white parts to replicate the stripes on the bat’s back. I also made the facing white corresponding to the white patches on the front. I also made a mock-up out of muslin just for fun and to reassure myself that I understood the instructions. This time around, I used the sewing supplies at Artisans Asylum. It’s really amazing how there’s nothing I can’t get done there.

Trouble I ran into making the tailcoat mostly related to the nature of the synthetic fur and the fact that it was both thicker and less stiff than the wool with which the coat was supposed to be made. I spent a lot of time trimming the pile to make the seams, the collar, and the lapels sit flat. I bought a hair clipper for the purpose, but it didn’t work as I hoped so I mostly just used scissors.

I used velour again for the wings, though I unfortunately didn’t get enough to make them have the same bias direction, which made them slightly asymmetrical when open. I reused the finger extensions from the old costume.

I added a few more touches: a bat mask courtesy of Teonova Leather Masks, and a 1920s top hat courtesy of eBay. All told, the fabric and accessories cost just under $400. Overall, I’d say it came out pretty well. See the resemblance?

  • 2015 costume, front.
  • 2015 costume, back.