My daughter wanted to be a witch for Halloween. Not a striped-sock witch, she said. A real-looking witch. A creepy one. The classics are classic for a reason, I said (and got to work).
We found a Victorian mourning jacket with puffed shoulders on eBay that was all ripped up and perfect for a witch. It was so creepy she didn't even want to try it on at first. I made a wrinkled leather mask and a necklace of a fake hawk's claw with a magic crystal glued in the talons. My wife made the cloak and I added a collar of crow's feathers.
My favorite part is the staff: while hiking I found an old stick with a big vine twisted all around it and attached what I think is a dog skull to the top. It's super creepy and pretty disgusting (the skull still has a bunch of hair attached to it). On Halloween night we put orange lights in the eye sockets. Shudder. I even carved a hole for a taxidermy glass eye right under the dog skull.
The skirt is a few thousand strips of black cloth and scrap leather all attached in layers. I cut the top ones to look like raven's feathers. The whole skirt weighs more than she does.
The hat was a felting project. I found a half a pound of purplish-gray rovings for a song and we experimented with wet felting (which is different from the needle-felting on her brother's werewolf costume). You basically layer strips of wool in opposing directions over a form, keep it wet, then beat the crap out of it until the wool fibers all stick together. Here's a picture of it in progress:
With some supplementary needle felting, we were satisfied with the results. It looked like the sort of hat a witch living in the woods by herself would have. We beat it up some more and added patches to make it look less new once the felting was complete. As we worked on this costume she came up with more and more ideas about who this witch was and what her motivations were and I realized this was a form of storytelling. Every year the time we spend taking pictures in the costumes before Halloween is a huge part of our ritual, and this year we came up with a story of an old ugly witch hunting through the forest for ingredients she needs to make a potion that will make her young and beautiful again.
She continued searching for all the necessary ingredients, you know, snakeskin and wormwood and mandrakes and cricket legs.
Then she returned to her ramshackle house in the old city and tried to lure the final ingredient into her oven:
The only little boy nearby refused to climb inside to clean it, so she had to shove him in herself. Luckily the potion worked. But when the beautiful young witch looked around, the land was empty of people, and she was only one left. And so she wanders still, looking for anyone who is left. Anyone who doesn't ask her if she is from that movie Malfeasant, that is.
She's already turned them all into mice.