Garb for Growing Kids: Hot Tips and Helpful Hints


In Renaissance times, children, once potty trained, were dressed in miniature versions of adult clothing. Before potty training, the childkindergarbin' would have been dressed in a shift (peasant, lower class) or skirts (middle & upper classes). Though it may not be period, I recommend modifying adult costume to accommodate active children and hotter weather. When sewing/buying garb for children, keep in mind the following:

  • Children grow quickly...don't expend lots of time on a kid's costume unless you have hand-me-down potential or build in "growing room."
  • Kids grow up faster than out...plan ahead on adding length to most outfits.
  • Children are messy...whatever you make should be easily cleaned.
  • Children lose things...whenever possible attach accessories either by tying or sewing.

Shirts & shifts: kindergarbin'

First, make 'em long... up to ankle length for girls, knee length for boys...and add deep hem allowances. Sleeves can be fairly long initially...they will just blouse less as the child grows. If the shirt has a cuff, plan to hide an few inches of fabric inside...then the cuff can be moved down to lengthen the sleeve. Cuffs can also be replaced with bigger pieces of fabric, adding both length and width. Tucks can be made in too long sleeves and then released as needed. If the sleeves need lengthening and you have no more to let down, a band of fabric can be inserted for length. I made the inserts decorative by embroidering them with blackwork; the advantage to that is when the shirts are completely out grown, I can easily salvage the stitchery!

Boy's shirts frequently have yokes with the body of the shirt gathered into it. If the pattern/shirt you are using has a yoke that joins beneath the armpit, this can often become too tight before the rest of the shirt is out grown. This can be fixed by adding a square "gusset" in the armpit and extend the life of the shirt by several seasons.  This technique can be used to add freedom of movement to a too tight adult shirt as well.

Pants & trews:

Pants have fewer adjustment points than shirts...still if you plan ahead you can expect several seasons' wear before you need to make a completely new pair. (I have some baggy "breeches" that have been worn by kids from age 5 to 12 with no adjustment except a safety pin at the waist!)

Make'em long, rely on the cuff/elastic to blouse the pants around the calf...and hide an extra inch inside the cuff. Cut the trews full...just gather or make a deep box pleat on the outer sides of the legs. When needed this can be let out out by adding a bigger waistband.

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Bodices & skirts:

I highly recommend avoiding separate bodice & skirts for young children. It is too much trouble trying to keep everything tucked in and the little ones often trip and/or walk on their skirts. For little ones, I sew the "bodice" to the skirt, concealing the elastic casing the skirt and leaving enough of an opening to allow the dress to slip on. Tho it may not be terribly period, I also add a small belt loop to each side of the bodice...otherwise the belt slips right off...along with all the accessories!

Skirts can easily be let out by loosening the waist elastic, and let down by undoing the extra fabric in the hem. A separate bodice (for older girls) can accommodate growing bodies by having extra wide side seams to let out, adding a peplum or even a peplum waistband combination to the bottom of a bodice or by lengthening the shoulder strap. If you are making the bodice, you can plan ahead by adding extra fabric to the shoulder seams...if adjusting a bodice you already have, you can rip (as in seam ripper) the shoulder seam, add eyelets/grommets and run a ribbon thru them. (This is for bodices without epaulets!)


Hats...these are one of the more important accessories at most faires-not only because of authenticity but because of sun protection. For those playing peasant to middle classes, straw hats are light weight, inexpensive and can be worn by both genders. They can be tied beneath the chin or fastened to a "biggins" style cap or snood. For the upper classes, a flat cap with a wide brim will offer similar sun protection although it may be warmer than a straw hat. (Keep in mind that lighter colors reflect the heat, so a buff cap is cooler than deep green!)

All hats can be secured by a safety ribbon attached to the back of the brim and pinned to the child's shirt.


I use tiny metal/wooden goblets or mugs...more to remind me to give the kids lots of fluids than to serve them fluids in. For hydrating kids...I make a drawstring bag that accommodates a smallish water bottle. This can hang from a belt or over the shoulder, using a bota bag type strap. Youngsters can drink from the bottle, older kids can pour the fluid into their cup and imbibe like the grown-ups.


A tiny knife is a real fun accessory...but only if the child can't get it out and injure themselves or anyone else with it. I recommend using inexpensive blades...that way if it gets lost it is not a major financial blow. I use cheap Pakistani type blade and tie it in the sheath, then tie it on the belt in such a way that it reinforces the peace tie. Hyper paranoid folks may consider using epoxy or some such substance to glue the blade in place. (You could even use a broken blade or just a hilt!) Once the kid is old enough to understand knife safety, you can just peace tie the blade normally.

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Okay...this is often the most difficult part of garbing a kid (or an adult, for that matter!). It is complicated by the speed at which kid's feet grow! Comfortable shoes are an absolute must...few things are more certain to ruin a faire than tired, sore-footed kids.
First, consider the so-called kung fu shoe or the canvas mary-janes. These are inexpensive and if an insole or two added, can be quite comfy. Sandals can also be good...but be aware that you will probably have to remove them and dump out the rocks and sticker burrs that the kids will pick up! Next, moccasins (remove the fringe and the big silver "concho" decorations) are more expensive, but longer lasting...a good choice if your family does lots of faires/season...or if there is hand-me-down potential. Again...these will be more comfortable with extra insoles. Try to get the insole to bring with you when you shop, then you can be sure to allow room for it in the shoe. Another alternative is to camouflage modern footwear. For the lower classes, wrap strips of fabric around the shoe and secure with twine or cords. This is cheap but tedious and will often require re-doing several times a day. Wrapping with strips of leather will last longer, but is only cost effective if you have the scraps on hand. For upper classes, "spats" that cover the most visible parts of the shoe can work well, particularly if they are "boot" style with an upper that also cover the lower leg and worn with shoes that allow the securing strap to be recessed. (Otherwise the strap wears thru rapidly.) Other ideas...check out low cost shoe stores & thrift shops for children's' sandals (both genders) square toed "cowboy" boots (boys) or plain mary janes (girls) not patent leather, tho!

Building In and Adding Growing Room


An easy way to extend the useful life of a garment is to add extra material to the hem allowance. Kids often grow up before they grow out. Some styles are easier to modify than others and this should be considered when choosing which type of garment to make for your child.  

The easy gathered skirt is simple to extend in this way, just make an extra deep hem. When the child needs more length, let it down.  If there is a line where the previous hem was, a strip of cloth or ribbon can be easily sewn over it.

For a gored skirt, it is a bit more effort to make an extra deep hem because of the tapered shape of the skirt.  Once the skirt hem has been let down, any line left behind is best covered with a strip of bias cut fabric or packaged bias tape.


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