An “Ariel” Inspired Mermaid Costume: Upcycle & New Fabric

Who doesn’t want to be a Mermaid?  Shiny fins, gorgeous hair, live underwater in a magical world?  Why not???

About a year ago when I was ordering fabric for a different project, I ran across the scale print spandex, and showed it to my daughter . . who OF COURSE begged that we should get some for a future Mermaid outfit.  Since it is much less expensive to throw a piece of fabric in the cart when you are already paying shipping . . .  I gave in without too much persuasion.

Fast forward 6 months and my daughter needed a “Princess” costume for an event . . and she REALLY wanted to be a Mermaid, so it was time to use the fabric.   The mermaid outfits in the Broadway version of “A Little Mermaid” are really cool . . .but . . . that big tail hanging off the back would be kind of hard to make, a pain to store, and really awkward to try to move around in . . . so she opted for the skirt-as-fins look.

The spandex is a  4-way stretch spandex turquoise blue scale print.  There are all kinds of places to order spandex . . .just search “Spandex by the yard”.  My favorite places are and  (I have ordered from tons of online places . . if you are placing a big order from a new place, take the time to check out online reviews.  I have had very few problems . . EXCEPT for JKM Ribbons & Trims . . I highly recommend NEVER ordering from them . . . mostly because, you will never get any product and their customer service is HORRIBLE . . but that is another story).  I also ordered some purple sequin fabric from, and tossed in some variegated blue & silver sequin stuff out of the clearance section (you can’t beat $6.50/yd for 50″ wide stretch sequins–lots of bling for the buck!)

Next we started collecting the rest of the pieces needed for the costume.  We knew we would want this to be a (relatively) modest outfit, so we found a skin-tone leotard as the base.  She knew she wanted something flowy for the fins, and so we were watching for Prom-type dress with a green or blue iridescent fabric to use.   In the meantime . . . . late one night when impulse overcame self control. . . . Discount Dance was having a sale on costumes, and I ordered one I thought with some tweaking it might be a potential solo outfit.  Long story short . . she HATED it, and it did sort of make her look like a tropical beach ball, but since it wasn’t worth returning (shipping and all), AND, we could see potential for a tail, we kept it.

If I had started with this dress I would not have had to order the purple sequin fabric, as the bodice from this outfit could have worked for the mremaid top.  I deconstructed the dance dress, removing the skirt from the seqin top.

The first step was to construct the fin portion of the outfit.  I had my daughter try on the leotard, and I used safety pins to mark her waist.  Then I attached a rectangular piece of tricot I cut from a lightweight blue nightgown to the lower part of the leotard below the safety-pin “line”.  I pinned the piece of nightgown on in quarters (center front, center back, sides) then bit by bit, I stretched the leotard to fit the size of the blue fabric (so it would stretch when she put it on).  The sewing isn’t great, but no one sees it, and it got the job done.   To sew a stretched fabric you have to hold on to both the back and the front of it and stretch it out while you are sewing.  At this point I attached the lining from a skirt to be the base of the bottom of the tail.  This was a cotton fabric and is quite full, and unfortunately, adds a fair amount of weight to the bottom of the skirt.


Picture #1:  leotard, #2 nylon lining and #3 flared skirt lining

Next, I wanted to create the “poof” that would make the fins.  I happened to have two net underskirts that I taken out of dresses when I used them for another purpose.  I lay them on the floor to make sure they bottom edge was fairly even, and then I folded them into a wedge shape and zig-zagged the top together.

petticoat "fin"

I made two of these and attached them to either side of the underskirt.

matching "fin" petticoats.

Next, I wanted to give the “fins” a little more definition.  So, I cut strips out of the blue sequin fabric and sewed them to the dance dress skirt between the rows of ruffle on either side.

view from the insidesequin stripsTop view is from the wrong side of the skirt, and the bottom view is what it looks like from the top.  I just used a single row of zig-zag to run down the center of the strips.  No need to finish the edges since spandex doesn’t ravel.  I used a zig-zag because the skirt does have a little stretch to it, and the zig-zag allows some “give” without ripping the stitches out.  I use a fairly heavy needle, and it generally will sew right through the sequins without any problem.

Next came the overskirt “tail”.  I started by finding a pair of stretch yoga pants that fit my daughter and cutting a pattern off of them.  I then added an inch on each side for seam allowance and “give”.  I ended up taking most of that off in the end, but, it is easier to cut it off later instead of wishing it was there.  For the front, I drafted the front “dip” and incorporated that into the pattern.  We measured down her legs and decided about how long we thought the tail should be on the sides, and in the front, and I drew a tail pattern accordingly.  I folded the fabric, and cut a shape like this:

tail shape

The front is the top piece.  You can see the side seam.  The back of the tail is folded up and pinned as we like it shorter when it is on.

I then cut a piece of silicone backed elastic ( slightly smaller than my daughters measurements.  This will make the waistband.  We wanted little waist ruffles, and I had a piece of organza in an iridescent green that I made them out of.  They are a long rectangle, folded, and I ran a gathering thread along the raw edge, curving it at both ends (toward the folded edge)  to make the curved shape.

Then I basted the ruffle on to the top of the tail.  The next part–putting the elastic on to the tail was not easy.  I again measured “matching” points, and pinned those, and then stretched and sewed with a zig-zag to sew the elastic on to the tail overskirt.  You can see the way I did the center front.  I had to do parts of it more than once.  Sewing elastic on to the top of a skirt like this isn’t easy because you are not doing it in the traditional “right sides together” fashion, so it makes it a little more challenging, especially as you are stretching the elastic.

waistbandFinished overskirt:

back11070085_10206711277207058_3892768292722556071_noverskirtI finished the edges of the overskirt by turning under the edge and sewing it.  As I mentioned, we thought the back was too long, so it is just folded up and pinned.


We are on the home stretch now!  The top is a rectangle cut from the purple sequin fabric.  We decided to use an old bra as the “form” underneath.  I took the straps off, and pinned the bra into the leotard.  The reason I did this, instead of sewing it, is so that if someone else borrows it, they can either leave the bra part off, or pin their own in for fit.

The sequin band is shaped with a strip of sequins in the front.  In the back, the ends are gathered together, and tacked to a supporting material.  I then made a tube using the edge fabric & hook & loop tape that goes over the back bra band.  It fastens with hook & eyes on the other side.  The sequins are tacked to the leotard in just a couple of places . . .. enough to give support, but not enough for pulling to be a problem.

11081489_10206711269646869_8933701357717600706_ncenter front shapingfront viewback gathersbra strap bandtacked to leotardback view all together13094_10206711262406688_6591718666683325268_nThere would be lots of ways to do this . . including sewing or gluing the sequin fabric on to a bra, or just making a straight tube, or covering some bra cups or shoulder pads with sequin fabric and sewing it to the leotard.   We opted for a fairly wide band, which provides a reasonable amount of coverage, and a less “bare” look than the seashell look.

When she tried the outfit on, we wanted a bit more “something” at the bottom, so I added a double layer of purple and blue tulle to the underskirt:


To finish the outfit, we needed some accessories:

Shoes:  flats covered with scraps of fabric (modge podge)

10376993_10206711264046729_3673325647231897915_nA fork:

11079703_10206711260366637_5638760254741889886_nAnd a flower for her hair (actually a Christmas decoration)

flower10463980_10206711261046654_6068252296192061828_nAlligator clip, lined with velvet ribbon for grip, hot glued to the flower.

Last, we ordered a red wig . . .and the Mermaid is born!

Memaid costumemermaid costumemermaid back

The leotard actually extends above the top of the purple sequin top, and covers her abdomen . . so while it may appear bare, the outfit covers more than you would think.  The leotard is supported by clear straps.  If you wanted more coverage, I would suggest a beige tank top or short sleeved fitted t-shirt as the base instead of the leotard.

Overall we were pleased with how the outfit turned out.  The underskit is a bit heavy, but it works.

Cost:  Dance Dress $18 + s/h (or nothing, depending on how you view it ), leotard $0.50, nightgown $0.50, underskirt $1.70, blue sequin fabric $5 + s/h, blue fish scale fabric $21 + s/h (with lots left), bra:  hand-me-down, elastic:  $1, ruffle fabric:  no idea, left over from some other project,  black “fin” petticoats:  leftover from another project, shoes:  $0.50, fork:  $0.79,

One yard of fish spandex would have been plenty.

3 thoughts on “An “Ariel” Inspired Mermaid Costume: Upcycle & New Fabric

  1. I have been to Spandex House so many times. I live in NJ but right outside NY. You would die if you went there. There is an entire section in the front with super cheap, like $2.00 a yard stuff that is amazing. They are great and they will also find what you need if you call on the phone. And yes, I have had the same experience with JKM ribbon – I never got all the ribbon I ordered. It was white double faced satin in several widths. If you can’t buy white ribbon from a place then you should never use them again.

    Liked by 1 person

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