customizing with oliver + s: evel knievel costume

Happy Halloween! Some fantastic photos showed up in the Flickr group this past weekend. That’s not so unusual (you’re an incredible bunch of sewists), but these photos were the sort that stop you in your tracks, especially just before the biggest costume holiday of the year.

Did you see them? A four-year-old Evel Knievel dressed in a jaw-dropping jumpsuit and cape. I immediately shot out an email to the maker of this phenomenal costume and can hardly wait to introduce you to Shelley, also known (on Flickr and the discussion forum) as Lightning McStitch (great name!).



So, without further ado, here’s Shelley!

Hi, I’m Shelley from Melbourne, Australia. I grew up in the seventies and I remember, as a kid, having to lie very still with my friends while my older brother and his mates jumped their bikes over us. We all knew who Evel Knievel was!

Fast forward to today, I’m a part-time veterinarian and a mother of two: a four-year-old boy and an almost-two-year-old girl. I still love bikes and cycling, but my days of mountain bike racing are largely behind me and I’ve discovered the fun to be had in making “stuff.” I bought a basic sewing machine when my son was born and have become more and more adventurous over the last two years. My first pattern modification was only a few months ago. I used to think a pattern was more like a Bible than a guide, and straying from the path would be met with lightning bolts and disaster. The Oliver+S Flickr pool changed my views on that front.

I’m so flattered and excited to have been asked to write a guest blog about my Evel Knievel costume. I knew that there’d be a pattern out there already for a superhero suit, but I love working with the Oliver + S patterns for their instructions and the finish of the garments, and I’ve accumulated so many of them now, I was sure I’d find everything I needed in there somewhere. Also, it had to be an Oliver + S costume modification so I’d have an excuse to post photos in the Flickr pool, a little vanity on my part!

Of course the pattern that seemed the most appropriate to adapt was the Nature Walk pattern; one I didn’t have.  So with my son’s bike helmet for inspiration I hit the ‘net. I downloaded some photos of Evel, the stars and stripes fabric was a lucky Ebay find, some nasty, white, polyester stretch fabric from the local shop, then an Oliver + S Facebook sale and I was set.




I hadn’t planned the cape initially, as Evel rarely wore his when he was jumping, but then I was sewing for a four year old, so we had to have the cape. The Oliver + S Little Things To Sew book to the rescue. The cape was constructed using the back, back side and front side panels of the medium size Little Red Riding Hood cape pattern; one in white polyester and one in red and blue bemsilk lining. I drafted a yoke facing about 2” wide to match the front curve of the cape, and a hem facing with a bit more depth to follow the curve of the bottom of the cape. Liesl uses this kind of yoke and hem facing in a few patterns and I adore the finish it gives. I dug out my Family Reunion Dress pattern to remind myself of how it all comes together. I drafted a little collar similar to the Music Class view B collar and referenced the instructions for how to attach it. Amazingly, all my self drafted facings and the collar were just about right and the cape was done.  I was getting far too excited now….



I’d toyed with a complicated casing at the waist of the jumpsuit, but then realized that if I just heightened the yoke of the pants considerably I could literally just sew the top to the bottom. The pants came first. The height of the yoke was determined by the width of the stars and stripes fabric, plus another 1/2” for the seam to attach to the top. Done. There is some elastic in the jumpsuit, but quite loose compared to how I’d do it for a pair of pants. This is such a simple but well fitted pattern, I’ll never buy tracksuit pants again for the kids.  However, one small hitch…

In attaching a woven fabric to the stretch fabric I’d not thought for a minute about getting little P’s tush past the waistband. A tight squeeze but doable. Phew. Next time, I’d stretch the fabric while sewing the woven fabric on to give it some more ease.



Now, how to get into it?…..  I thought of an invisible zip and the School Photo Dress instructions (the pattern count was rising) but went with a more obvious retro metal zip and my own bodgy invention for how to give it a little covering flap at the back to prevent pinched skin.  I drafted the front and back pattern pieces without the separate Pullover panels, and then split the front piece, adding 1” to one side and about 2” to the side where I wanted the zipper cover.



The collar needed to be rejigged to the seventies so I added a lot of height to the Nature Walk collar, and then a little bit longer at the neck line to make up for taking out the V shaped opening in the Pullover.  I tapered the side seams to be about 1” narrower on each side at the point of attaching to the pants (almost 7” above the cut fabric edge) and then drew a curved hem a bit like the Sailboat top (pattern count kerching!) to allow for belly and back bend ease. I used a gathering stitch to ease the top to the pants and it was a jumpsuit. I then brought the inner pants yoke up to cover the seam. I sewed it the inside yoke seam by hand, then realized I’d now lost all the stretch in that waistband, ripped out my hand sewing and learned a new technique for hand sewing that allows a bit of stretch (someone more experienced than I will know the name for that stitch). I had someone embroider the E. K. initials for me and hand sewed the badge on, again being very careful not to lose any of that precious, minimal stretch at the waist.

My little daredevil was ready to ride.






While I’ve perhaps made it sound complicated, this was surprisingly straight forward and I think this pattern makes an awesome jumpsuit. You know, with some inverted V inserts in the legs and sleeves it could be a perfect Elvis suit.  Just throwing the idea out there….


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  1. Sarvi

    I about screamed when I saw this. Utterly perfect and what a great, inventive idea!

  2. That is just so, so great! Amazing job!

  3. jenna

    this is so awesome! i love it. what and adorable little guy.

  4. This is incredible! So perfect!

  5. Jennifer McCann

    When I saw this in the flickr feed I was like, “Holy $#@!; this is INCREDIBLE!”

  6. unbelievable !
    I bet he loves it !

  7. YES!!! Same reaction when I saw this in the flickr pool – I was so blown away, all I could muster was a bunch of exclamation points as a comment. IT’S INCREDIBLE. One of the best costumes I’ve ever seen. Hilarious, well-sewn, nostalgic, perfect for a daredevil little boy. Seriously seriously awesome. Great work, Shelley!!!

  8. That is FABULOUS. Well done, mama. Very well done.

  9. This is just so great. What a creative way to customize!

  10. Jes M

    Totally nailed it!!! Great job, loved Evil Knievel when I was a kid.

  11. Lisa from Spokane, WA

    I always thought that I made awesome costumes, but this completely blows me away! The whole outfit looks great – the matching helmet, cape, belt buckle, wide collar and star fabric.
    I also remember playing “Evil Knievel” and jumping my bike across the street. Last July my family spent a night in Butte, Montana during Evil Knievel Days (by accident). Bikers from all around make the trip there.
    Awesome sewing job!

  12. Lucinda

    just chiming in to add my congratulatory two cents here . . . you nailed this costume. So creative, great use of multiple patterns and bonus points for adding some nostalgia:)

  13. Shelley

    {just imagine me as Gwyneth Paltrow in the pink dress with tears streaming down my face….}
    ….Thank you all so much. I couldn’t have done it without Liesl’s beautifu,l confidence inspiring patterns and the incredible support and motivation of the Oliver + S sewing community. I’ve pinched so many of your ideas, I’ll be honoured if the Nature Walk Jumpsuit becomes my legacy. Thank you all…..
    {music starts to swell and I’m dragged offstage}

  14. {standing ovation} Absolutely awesome! One lucky boy to have a mum like you. Great inspiration, well done.

  15. Amazing. AMAZING!

    (and Shelley your comment is hilarious.)

  16. This is absolutely amazing and hilarious. Incredible job Shelley.

  17. Shelley. brilliant. absolutely brilliant. i love sewing. hate halloween, but after this, maybe i will have to start brilliantly adapting costumes for the kids. or maybe i will just be in awe. yes, the latter 😉

  18. Maybe the best costume I have EVER SEEN!

  19. Kim

    Brilliant! Simply brilliant.

  20. chris

    Was wondering if anybody could share this pattern?

  21. Dan

    Please help me.. What do you call that fabric and where can I get it????

  22. Dan

    please help me, can you tell me what the star fabric is called and where can I get it…????????

  23. Cheetahlady

    Evel Knievel was so awesome!!!! I think I can see if I could make an Evel Knievel costume!!!!!!!!?

  24. Cheetahlady

    I’m wearing an Evel Knievel costume right now!!!!!

  25. Taylor Helms

    This is amazing. You wouldn’t be interested in selling/loaning/renting it to another cute 4 yr old would you?

  26. Rachel Grabill

    Thank you for the amazing Halloween costume for my son!! I made him an Evel Knievel costume (not quite as good as yours) and every LOVED it!!

  27. Jasmyn

    Can I buy this costume off of you?! haha please!

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