DIY Thomas the Train Costume you can make from a cardboard box!
When I asked O what he wanted to be for Halloween this year, and once I explained the concept (I don’t think he remembers last year), the answer was a resounding “TRAIN!” And if you have or have had a preschooler, I’m sure you know that it was not just any train, it HAD to be similar to THOMAS the Train (otherwise known as Thomas the Tank Engine if you really want to be accurate). The kid looooves Thomas. I tried convincing him maybe we should think outside the box and go for Thomas’ trusty friend Percy maybe? Or Toby? But no, Thomas the Train is the fave. So Thomas the Train inspired costume it is!
I knew I wanted Thomas to be 3D and I had some boxes sitting around so I figured that was the perfect place to start. I grabbed a few other things from Michaels, got a toy Thomas from the play basket for reference and got to work. I feel like I should say that of course, making vehicle costumes out of boxes is not my original idea. They’re all over the internet. Pinterest even has quite a few Thomas the Trains. But I wanted to share my method since I didn’t reference any other tutorials and just figured it out as I went along.
Here’s what you need to make a Thomas the Train Costume DIY:
Cardboard box (mine was 18″ x 12″ x 6″)
Lid of a slightly larger cardboard box ( I used a boot box)
2 4 inch round paper mache boxes (lids only) for the wheels.
Wood discs (for the eyes)
Paper mache (or make your own the usual way)
My first step was a sketch to figure out the basic volume of my Thomas the Train inspired costume.
I pretty much approached this like building an architectural model, I drew it first and then tried to build it with the minimum possible number of seams and pieces. I cut out the bottom of the box and then measured and drew my cuts on the top flaps. I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense in this picture.
Cheesy “helper” recommended but not required…
After the roof, I added the piece across the front and started painting it.
Then I took that other boot box from the first picture and made the red platform that Thomas’ body sits on.
One thing I have learned over the years of painting furniture is that red paint is really frustrating. It takes many many coats to get even opaque coverage. A lot of Thomas’ markings are red lines and I could just see myself painting them over and over and over and still having blue show through. So I drew his markings in Illustrator and printed them out on cardstock instead. And then I carefully cut them out and glued them to his sides like decals. It worked out great and the lines are straight and even, much neater than I could have ever painted them!
Then it was time to figure out Thomas’ face. When I googled Thomas the Train Halloween Costumes, I mostly saw flat faces. And they were plenty cute and that was what I was planning to do because it’s easy. But then about halfway through I had the crazy thought to try making a 3D face. I mean, the 3D face is kind of what Thomas and his friends are known for, right? So I ran my 3D face scheme past my husband. And he said, “I don’t know…that sounds kind of ambitious.” Which to my ears, actually sounded like a challenge. And I can’t back down from a craft challenge. Plus I figured, if it didn’t work out, I could always go back to plan A!
I measured, marked and cut it to fit onto the front of Thomas’ body.
This last picture shows the lid of the box back on and that was going to be the base for Thomas’ face. After thinking for a bit, I decided paper mache sounded like my best bet. First I sketched Thomas’ face on the box lid, then I used crumpled and rolled paper covered in masking tape to sculpt his face. For most of these steps, he looks suuuuper creepy. Sorry! But, it’s Halloween so it’s cool, right? At this point I was going off my memory of the last time I did paper mache which might possibly have been making pinatas in middle school spanish class. I mixed half white glue with half water, tore up some strips of the Onion and got to work.
Once that dried, I tried painting it but it was way too bumpy and lumpy for my perfectionist tendencies. So that’s when I had my next crazy idea. I said to my husband, “What if I spackle him?” To which he replied, “I don’t know…” in a very skeptical tone of voice. If you haven’t noticed, when Aa thinks something sounds like it might be a crazy idea, I, of course, decide that it’s brilliant and it will work! We spackled all kinds of things in architecture school, I figured why not try it? Unfortunately, I only had half a little container of spackle that was about 80% dried out. Undeterred, I added some water and stirred. And stirred. And stirred. And hey! Guess what! You can reconstitute spackle! So Thomas got spackled…
Then I sanded and re-spackled and smoothed until he looked waaaaay better.
After some paint, it turned out I was right, the 3D face was awesome! And Aa was sufficiently amazed.
The next thing I tackled was his wheels. I used two of those round paper mache boxes in a smaller size and made six wheels from the tops and bottoms. I painted them blue and then decided they needed a little detail. Having just had so much success with the decals I used to put the lines on Thomas’ body, I drew out a sunburst shape on some thick magazine paper and cut them out.
After that I attached the wheels, made a funnel out of a toilet paper tube, added the bumpers and fashioned some straps from the handles of a reusable shopping bag (does everyone else have approximately 7,000 of those?!) And O’s Thomas the Train inspired costume was ready!
Of course O is dressed as the train engineer who drives Thomas! He wore this once already and it was a huuuuge hit! (And no I didn’t make the Engineer costume, I got it on Amazon. I’m not totally insane. 😉 And because I get asked, at 3 yrs old, O, who is pretty tall, fit comfortably into the 3T-4T size.
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