Create Upcycled Costumes

This project is inspired by Bisa's Carnaval, written by Joana Pastro and illustrated by Carolina Coroa. This book tells the story of a young girl named Clara who's excited to take part in her favorite family holiday parade. The fun starts with the preparations. The whole family is dressing up in costumes handmade by Clara's very own bisa (great-grandmother). With their help, of course!
We've added Bisa's Carnaval to the Chill Zone at reDiscover Center. Find this book during your next visit for some costume inspiration or follow along this Read Aloud.
Carnaval is an annual holiday that is especially popular in Brazil. It is "a time of celebration leading up to the more quiet time of Lent, the Christian time of reflection." This holiday happens at the beginning of February. Festival participants dress up in colorful, creative costumes. In this activity, we showcase some of the different ways you can get creative with making your own costumes using recycled materials! These fun examples made by kids at reDiscover's camps and classes might just inspire your costumes at your favorite holidays like Halloween and Carnaval.

STEP 1 - Plan your costume

In Bisa's Carnaval, Clara goes to the festival dressed up in a fantasia. Carnaval is an opportunity for people to come together and be spontaneous and creative! People can come dressed up in whatever they'd like, in whatever colors they please. Halloween is an event that happens locally to us in LA (but also across the US and many other countries) with a similar sentiment, with little spooky twist! You could be an animal, a doctor, a ghoul, or any character you can think of. Decide what that is for you, then make sketches so you can plan your costume!

*PRO-TIP: Sketch out multiple ideas so you can plan out which option might be the best considering the time, materials, and skills you have to create your look.

Things to consider:

When making costumes, consider how props, materials, and garments fit or sit on our bodies. Does it fit directly on top of your shoulder or head? Is there a foundation attached to your body that supports your costume from the inside? Do you want a partial mask that covers half your face or something that goes over your whole head? If it fits our bodies, does it drape around us like our clothes? You can start from scratch or use an existing outfit to become the main part of the costume and make things to fit on top of it.

At reDiscover's Tinkering Camps, kids explore costume-making, using these guiding questions. Browse through their examples! What materials do they use? Are they sewn together, hot glued, or held with something else?

1. Something that fits on your head

Is it a hat? Is it a mask? You can decide! There are so many ways to go about it. The type of materials you pick for this will matter because you'll want it to be light enough that your head won't get tired of wearing it. Feel free to test out multiple materials!

2. Fabrics that drape around your body

Have some extra fabric or found some cool yards of them at reDiscover Center? These tinkerers definitely did! Some were hot-glued together. Some tinkerers knew or learned how to sew during camp. You can also tie or weave ribbons into fabric to make putting them on and taking them off easier.

3. Use cardboard to create sturdy, structured costumes

Thinking of making armor-like pieces to complete your look? Or making wings that radiate outwards? Try using cardboard! It's strong, light, and easy to work with.

STEP 2 - Gather Your Materials

After deciding on your costume, gather some materials. We recommend the list below:


  • Canary Cutter
  • Screwdriver
  • Scissors
  • Markers
  • Tape
  • Brads
  • Hot Glue Gun & Glue
  • *Optional: Sewing kit

Many of these tools can be found in our Tinkering Toolkit.

Making Materials

  • Cardboard
  • Paperboard/flyers/junk mail with fun colors
  • Colored scrap papers and other fun textures like mylar
  • Ribbons
  • Fabrics of choice
  • *Optional: Other Creative Reuse Materials like corks, bottle caps, etc.

STEP 3 - Put them all together and make your costume!

Using your sketch as a guide, create a 3-dimensional version of your costume idea using fabric and recycled materials such as cardboard, paperboard and other trinkets. Boldly repurpose toys, tubes, and anything you find around the house (ask an adult before modifying or cutting an existing object that you found). Remember the Cardboard Connections from the Boxitectures activity guide? Use these techniques to put your parts together. Explore different textures from picking cardboard apart, ripping paper or using colorful spam mail in unexpected ways, you can create a really exciting costume or prop.

*PRO-TIP: Use cardboard strips to create wearable items that fit around parts of your body. You can glue materials directly onto the cardboard as well.


For any tips on how to use specific tools safely, visit our Youtube library for Tiny Techniques.


Visit the Techniques tab in reDiscover Center's Pedagogy Resources to access our Tiny Techniques videos and get tips for working safely and efficiently with tools.

Once you have finished your costumes, share it with friends and family. Join a Carnaval parade, go trick or treating on Halloween, or just have a costume party at home! Costumes you make yourself are the best, and you'll feel so proud you made it. When you use scraps and recycled materials, it means no new plastics or materials were taken from natural resources. Great job! If you want to share a picture on social media, be sure to tag @reDiscoverCtr. We'd love to see what you made!

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