As my kids get older, they just tend to get more interesting. And every once in a while, they prove that they’re total geniuses. The trick is to catch them being good and encourage them to be even better.
Last summer, my then ten-year-old daughter made a mermaid tail. She’s got a bit of an obsession with mermaids. She loved the series H2O Just Add Water (which is surprisingly good for a fantasy kids’ show) and she’d been doing a lot of research on mermaid tails.
She discovered that there’s such a thing as a swimmable mermaid tail, and she really wanted to make one. She not only presented me with instructions, but she’d also researched prices. That’s some serious project initiative for an almost 5th grader. I did set one limitation. She could not make a swimmable mermaid tail. She could only make a costume. I don’t think one-piece swimmable tails are safe for young swimmers (or necessarily that safe for experienced swimmers, for that matter).
Was it the easiest thing to sew? No. I think we all learned to hate Lycra swim fabric a little with this project, but the results were nice. It was a super fun summer project.
If you want to try this yourself, we had her make her pattern on poster board by tracing an outline of the outside of her legs. It’s okay to round down on the measurements instead of up if you’re using Lycra. It stretches. We then had make a pattern for the fin shape. She sewed the fin separately from the body of the tail and attached them afterward. The fin is stiffened with feather boning and heavyweight sew-in stabilizer, since we were mean parents and wouldn’t let her use a monofin. The stabilizer was inserted after the fin was turned, as was the feather boning, and then the fin was top-stitched to hold it together and emphasize the fin shape.
The great thing about projects like this? Not only did she learn sewing skills, she has a launching point for more creative learning. Once she’d made the big tail with parental help, she made her Barbie a tail with no help at all. In fact, she showed us the final product after it was done. (We had a talk about cutting fabric out of the edge of the yardage and not the middle next time.)
She’s also decided that she’s going to make a series of videos about her adventures as a mermaid. I’m skeptical that she’ll get this done, but bring it on. I figure this is her chance to learn about storyboarding, editing, and creative writing. Perhaps even spelling. (She started with “Epsod 1” until I had her sound out the word.)
I loved 5th grade. Time to see what 6th will bring for her. It may involve Minecraft videos. I hope it still involves costumes.
A version of this article originally appeared on GeekMom in the summer of 2012.