Icy Grill Costume
Halloween 2006

I have been very bad about getting Halloween costumes together for the past couple years. I usually can come up with an idea or two in the late summer or early fall, but then I sit on it and don't pull anything together in time and end up with nothing, or just skipping the holiday altogether.


So this year I made myself start brainstorming on like September 1 and swore I'd get it together as soon as I had a workable plan. I knew I wanted something "biggish" that would involve more building than sewing or makeup. And I've been bumping a lot of Southern raps lately, so when I hit on the idea of going as an icy grill, I knew I had a winner. I've always had a weakness for silly puns, though, so instead of being an iced-out grill like this:

Teeth with icy grill

I'd be like a regular barbecue grill covered in ice!

Charcoal grill+Ice cubes


My first step was to sketch out a scale figure. Then I could sketch a costume on it and determine how big everything would have to be. I used a mirror and a tape measure to get my real proportions, and played around with some different ideas.

I wasn't sure how I wanted to handle the two parts of a grill, the kettle and the lid. Kettle around my shoulders and no lid? Kettle around my waist and lid on my shoulders? Eventually I decided to put the kettle around my pelvis like a big pair of underpants, and wear the lid as a hat. Then I'd pile up fake ice cubes on the grill part.

Front and side view schematics


From the scale sketches I calculated that I'd want the kettle and lid to share about a 30-inch diameter, or around 1.5 times the size of a real barbecue. I wanted to use papier-mâché, so I'd need something strong for the "rim" of each piece. I thought a hula hoop would be about the right size, so I headed over to the toy store and was in luck: I got two 27" hoops for about $4 each.

Pizzazzz toy store in Cobble Hill

On the way back I stopped for an Arnold Palmer and to say hi to a friend. This would be the first time someone saw the materials for my Halloween costume and asked if I was making a hoop skirt. I told her I wasn't.

Sweet Melissa pastry shop in Cobble Hill

I also got some stiff cardboard and some 1/4" wood dowels at the art store. I wanted to use strips of cardboard as a form to lay the papier-mâché on, and I thought I'd need the dowels to help attach the finished costume to my body. It came to like $5.

KC Arts in Cobble Hill


With my diameter now set by the size of the hula hoops I'd bought, I did a final set of scale drawings. I used an image I found online of a popular model of charcoal grill to estimate height/diameter proportions and then drew the curves by hand.

Final schematics

When I was happy with the shape of the curves, I used this flexible plastic ruler I got as a promotional freebie from a local bank to measure their lengths. I knew my scale (1 cm = 2 in), so it was easy to calculate how long to cut my cardboard strips to construct my frames.

A plastic ruler

I cut 12 1" strips for each of the two pieces, stapled them to their respective hoops, and then connected them across to form the two dome shapes. The cardboard was too floppy to hold up on its own, even with nothing on it: it wouldn't work under the weight of wet papier-mâché at all. So I hit up the hardware store and dropped $5 on 110 feet of 18 gauge steel wire.

A spool of steel wire

I made a couple circles of wire for each frame and taped them into place. It worked great: the dome forms held their shapes, and with some support underneath during papier-mâché application I was sure they would hold up.

Cardboard and wire frame for kettle piece

This is a pretty sparse form: if I'd wanted a smoother shape, I would have had to use chicken wire or more densely arranged cardboard. But papier-mâché is never going to be mistaken for industrially built metal, so I took my lumps (ha ha!) and decided to use details (like handles and vents) to sell the finished piece.

It was at this point that a friend came over and became the second person to ask if I was making a hoop skirt. I told him I wasn't.

Stiff wire and cardboard strips are perfect for building a Cat Dancer–style cat toy. My cats go nuts for these things.

Wire toy with cardboard at the end


The paste recipe I found called for half a cup of flour in two cups of cold water, added to two more cups of boiling water, returned to a boil, and let cool until you can touch it without burning yourself. Each batch will cover about seven square feet in a couple layers.

Paste for papier-mache

The recipe also said to stir in three tablespoons of sugar at the end. I did this the first time, but I think it's misguided. I'm pretty sure it originates in some reasonable enough sounding logic—paste should be sticky and sugar is sticky—but it doesn't jibe with how flour-based paste works, which is by the tough gluten being left behind when the water content evaporates (I think). So I left it out when I did the other piece and it worked fine.

As a paper source I picked up several copies of the Carroll Gardens/Cobble Hill Courier, one of the several free weeklies available all around my neighborhood.

Stack of newspapers

I stacked up books wrapped in garbage bags to prop up the centers of each piece during application. With the height maintained by books, the wire frames should hold the correct shape.

I tried to cover each frame in two layers of newspaper. The brightly colored form helps here, because the red shows through one layer of wet newspaper but not two, so it was easy to tell which parts I needed to hit with a second piece. (I wish I could say I planned it that way, but it was just lucky.)

The application of paper to kettle piece

To help each piece dry, I hung them upside down (so they wouldn't deform) from the lighting track on my ceiling. I also touched up some stuff on the inside at this point. They needed like a day or so to dry.

Track lighting used for drying

Kettle piece drying

The dried pieces were light and fairly rigid when dry. Now nobody would mistake my costume for a hoop skirt!

Dried pieces placed together


I guess the usual color for a barbecue is black, but that's not very colorful and they do come in different colors. I dropped $19 on a small can of glossy red paint for the outside and a can of matte black spraypaint for the inside.

First coat of paint in progress

My room isn't very well ventilated, so I went into the basement of my building to do the painting. A lot of newsprint was showing through after one coat, so I threw on another.

Second coat of paint drying

After two coats, only a little newsprint was showing through. I figured the costume would pretty much only be seen in low light, so I called it good enough and moved on to the inside. I masked over the entire lip of each piece, because I thought it would look better that way.

Inside spray-painting in progress

With painting finished, the grill was really coming along.

Painted grill pieces


I picked up a black painter's cap for $5 at a "99¢ and more" store (I know, right). I wasn't quite sure how I'd decide to connect the lid to it, but I had a few ideas.

M&M Variety Shop in Boerum Hill

Inside each piece, I used cut dowels to build some internal framework. The wire came in handy again anchoring them to the structure. I punched a couple holes in the cap so that the lid would sit on my head at an angle. I positioned the dowels in the kettle piece to go right alongside my hips. The grill itself would be a piece of cardboard resting on top of them, and I could secure some kind of belt or straps to them to hold the whole thing up.

Internal frame


There's a barbecue on the roof of my building, and I measured the proportions of its various pieces to scale up 1.5 times for my costume. I picked up a $4 cardboard box for making detail pieces.

Barbecue on my roof

I made three handles out of cardboard and mixed up some more papier-mâché (actually, I tried making a half batch and it totally didn't work: it came out like oatmeal and I had to add more water). This time I remembered to rip up some paper bags to make the last layer, and I just left them brown like that. I affixed them to the main parts with more wire.

Handles drying

I cut the vent cover out of cardboard, covered it with aluminum foil, and stuck it on with a brad.

Lid with handles and vent

I didn't have any brads, and I didn't want to have to buy like a hundred of them just to use one, so I posted up a MySpace bulletin and my friend Eric pulled through and sent me a bunch, all different sizes. He did a totally sweet packing job as well.

Unpacking assortment brads from Eric

I cut the front and back grill pieces out to fit, spray painted them, and then stuck on aluminum foil "bars" with regular white school glue. These pieces just rested on the wood dowel framework I'd made.

Gluing on grill bars


Two pounds of acrylic ice cost me $32 with shipping. I didn't even try to find a local source for this, which was maybe a mistake. This stuff is weirdly satisfying to hold. It looks like ice but it's heavy as hell and isn't cold! It's like the same material that transparent dice are made out of.

Bag of acrylic ice

I glued the ice to the grill in two or three layers, trying to spread it out randomly and putting more up front than in back. I didn't have to use all of it for it to look pretty good, so I had some spare in case I wore the costume multiple days and had to touch up.

Grill with ice

I'm wearing a set of military class ECWCS polypropylene long underwear underneath. The complete costume:

Finished costume

Hula hoops$8
Cardboard and dowels$5
Steel wire$5
Cardboard box$4
10/30 Update: Saturday Parties

The Saturday before Halloween I went to the bar (Boat), to a costume party that was pretty wack, and then to a friend's birthday party at Daddy's in Williamsburg. At Boat I met a very nice Frenchman and Chinaman.

Peter and Andrew in costume

I tried wearing the long underwear top but it was too warm for indoors. A black t-shirt would probably have worked better than the red.

Posing in my costume

I was not the only person sporting a grill.

Suzy at Boat and her aluminum fronts

The costume was a big hit everywhere I went. Most people didn't get it, and I explained it to a few, but a lot of folks just thought the barbecue aspect was cool enough that they didn't seem to be bothered by the presence of the ice cubes. At Daddy's, the foreigners I'd met earlier even tried on my lid.

Peter wearing my lid

The Chinaman thought it suited him particularly well.

Andrew wearing my lid

It sustained some damage to one handle, and as expected I lost some ice cubes, but a little tune-up should have it ready to go for tomorrow. Still not sure if I'll be doing the parade thing or just hanging around the neighborhood.

11/1 Update: Halloween

As predicted, I didn't have the energy to parade through the Village. One friend who watched it confirmed that it was unusually long, so that was probably a good decision. Boat was bumping, however, and I quickly encountered a familiar face.

Andrew posing

We took a picture with a baseball player.


Others were not so pleased.

Don screaming

Note to self for the future: folks love to swap costume elements.

Me in Andrew's glasses

This brave soldier was taking a well-deserved break from the Global War on Terror. USA.

Rich in regalia

There was a dead person (is this the ghosty from The Grudge or am I just being prejudiced?) and an, uh, "AP." I actually missed these explanations, which I feel pretty bad about considering how weird mine was.

Two friends

A picture with them.

Group pose

An Oriental baseball player was serving drinks.

Kate in Andrew's glasses

Valid XHTML 1.0 Strict Valid CSS