If your kids are anything like my kids, their adrenaline levels have already gone up in anticipation of Halloween, their favourite holiday, now just a few days away.

But what about the stress of having the perfect costume? What’s the best approach, making one or buying one? The clock is ticking…

Two of my children, a.k.a. store-bought Pirate and handmade Wonder Woman, in a battle for costume supremacy

Two of my children, a.k.a. Store-bought Pirate and Handmade Wonder Woman, in a battle for costume supremacy

This morning I was interviewed on CBC Radio’s morning show Metro Morning,* talking about DIY costumes. So yesterday, I did my research by asking the experts (my three daughters) what they thought the advantages were of making your own. Here’s what they said:

1) It’s less expensive (more money left over to spend on candy!).

2) It’s more creative – you can be whatever you want. You don’t have to just choose from what’s available in the store. And even if you want to do something traditional, you can make it look exactly the way you want it to look.

3) It’s a fun activity to do together.

But the advantage they identified as being #1 in their eyes really struck me:

“It’s more special.”

While listing off their costumes from years past, they said that the ones that stuck out the most in their minds, bringing back the strongest Halloween memories, are the ones we made.  We have kept some of these costumes for years, they reminded me, even the simple ones, because they’re special and unique.

Think about the Halloween pumpkin. If we went to the store and chose a pre-carved pumpkin off-the-shelf, would it be as much fun as planning your design, making a big mess, and then posing with your masterpiece? I think not.

But this is not the time for social pressure, and you have enough to worry about. Halloween is about fun; nobody should feel pressured to create an elaborate Pinterest-worthy costume.  If you want to buy one, do. Or you might choose to use some store-bought props and makeup to enhance a DIY costume.  But if you want to do it yourself from scratch, you can!

If you haven’t found the perfect costume yet, and you want to make it yourself, it’s not too late. Here are some suggestions for playful costumes that you can make with minimal investment of time and money:

1) A clear recycling bag with holes cut out so you can wear it + colourful blown-up balloons stuffed inside + a ribbon around your neck = a bag of candy

2) An umbrella with little stuffed animals tied with string to hang around the brim + a raincoat = raining cats and dogs (I demonstrated this one on CBC news, dressing up reporter Trevor Dunn, and he looked terrific).

3) A paper lawn bag + a tiara or crown = the Paper Bag Princess

4) A black suit + cool shades = Men in Black

5) A lab coat + funny glasses, crazy wig, safety goggles, bag of spiders, clipboard, bowtie, beaker (so many possibilities) = mad scientist, entomologist, inventor…

6) Any costume you love + zombie makeup = zombie bride, zombie marathon runner, zombie cat, zombie anything! It’s so much fun to wear zombie makeup.

The internet is bursting with great costume ideas; we made my 11-year-old’s Wonder Woman costume (in the photo) using instructions she found on YouTube, tailoring it to work for us. Whatever you choose to wear this Friday, have fun, be safe, and Happy Halloween!

Devorah Miller
Red Thread Design

* If you want to, you can listen to today’s CBC interview HERE.  The segment about Halloween costumes starts at 29:30.


You might laugh at me when you hear this (my children think it’s hilarious), but I sometimes get choked up by O Canada. A tear has even been spotted once or twice. This patriotic emotion dates back to a powerful moment I experienced ten years ago, and I don’t expect it to ever change.

It was a cold wintry Monday morning, and I was rushing my sweet four-year-old to her kindergarten class, in a daze of exhaustion but eager to show off my new baby daughter in my arms. It was more challenging getting ready with two, but we made it just in time, well bundled against the wind.

After leaving Izzy at her classroom door with a kiss, I was caught in the hallway when the national anthem began to play. I froze and listened, gazing at little Samantha as she gazed back at me.

We had come home just two days earlier from an almost unspeakably wonderful adoption trip to China. Samantha was 9 months old, curious and beautiful, and unbeknownst to her, had just become Canadian. I couldn’t help but wonder how this new identity would take shape for her.

My new Canadian posing for her first Canadian passport photo a few days before leaving China

My new Canadian posing for her first Canadian passport photo a few days before leaving China

I don’t know if it was the exhaustion, the jetlag, or the thought of having just transplanted a child to a new country, but I felt a very strong and unexpected wave of emotion in that frozen moment. Ever since then, I have been unable to listen to O Canada from start to finish without choking up (and singing it with a straight face is still impossible), when I am with my Samantha. That feeling stuck. Nowadays when we’re together and the anthem starts to play, she squeezes my hand and sneaks a curious glance at my face, just to check.

I know that things are far from perfect here, in a number of ways. But everything in life is relative. And anthems aside, on this Canada Day weekend I feel very grateful, as always, to call Canada home. Here’s why:

1. Kindness rules. There are few nations on earth, if any, where racism, ableism and homophobia are less tolerated than in Canada. Yes, we have bigots, but their voices are far from dominant. My children know about racism because they learn about it in school, not because they witness it in their daily lives.

2. Canada is a good place to be a woman. As the mother of three daughters, I know that even though they will face challenges, they live in a society that values them. They have the freedom to contribute and to shape their own futures. And having experienced the end of my marriage just last year, it’s baffling for me to imagine living in a place where women do not have the right to make fundamental choices that will shape their own lives.

3. It’s boring. Clichés aside, it’s true, in a good way. We rarely make the international news headlines. And as my now ten-year-old daughter Samantha replied when I asked her what she liked most about Canada, “there’s no war.” Nuf said.

As a Canadian designer, I’m very proud to make my clothing line here in Toronto where I live, contributing to the local economy, and I’m grateful to have fantastic, supportive customers across the country and beyond. I have met so many other designers and entrepreneurs on a similar path, keeping their production Canadian despite the higher costs, because it just feels right. Thank you for helping make this possible.

A very happy Canada Day to you and yours!
Devorah Miller

p.s. What do you appreciate about Canada? I would love to hear your thoughts, hope you’ll share.

Do you have a calm, compliant child who’s always in the mood for whatever needs to be done? Congratulations! The rest of us hate you. Go read something else! If not, I hope you find this helpful. Just click on the graphic to view it full-size.

How to buy clothes for you 3-year-old without losing your mind

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Nine years ago today, I met my daughter Samantha.

Meeting your daughter in an office building in China is a tiny bit different from giving birth.

She was 9.5 months old, and not happy to be there. She had just been driven for four hours in the arms of an orphanage worker to meet her new parents, who probably looked to her like space aliens. Her first few minutes in my arms were spent crying and pushing against my chest. Her clothes were soaked with pee from a bursting diaper, and snot was pouring out of her nose. I cried too. I don’t know what I felt more strongly – love or empathy.

Sam cried and cried, with a determined persistence that I would soon learn is a hallmark of her personality. I knew that this was a very healthy reaction, and was grateful to see her tears even as I tried to calm them.

When Sam finally stopped crying, she became very quiet and looked around her intently to assess the situation. By the following morning she was laughing. Her transformation was stunning and quick. Here’s a photo of her the day after we met, right after we signed the legal adoption paperwork.

Sam had obviously been well cared for, and well fed. But still she ate with incredible vigor, laughing while she grabbed the chopsticks in my hand and shoved them into her mouth. She laughed when her daddy threw her up in the air and caught her, again and again.  People in restaurants frequently came over to watch her eat, and to laugh at her. She made us laugh too.

Shortly after we brought Samantha home to Toronto, I started Red Thread.  I started very small, cutting and sewing in my basement during her naptime. Thankfully she was a good sleeper! I loved a Chinese proverb that we had heard throughout our adoption journey, about red threads uniting people who were meant to be together, even across vast distances, and so I named my little business Red Thread Design.

Nine years later, Samantha continues to make us laugh. She loves stuffed animals, graphic novels, and hanging out with friends. Red Thread is a little bigger too, shipping out to children around the world. I try to keep the original inspiration for Red Thread, the proverb about human interconnectedness, at the centre of my business as best I can. Here’s Samantha now, at age nine (below), in a short video about our charitable ‘Love Dress’ project, which is now wrapping up (I have just a few Love Dresses left).  I wonder how she will feel as an adult, looking back and seeing what an inspiration she was to me.

Toronto couple Kathy Witterick and David Stocker became international news a few weeks ago when they made public their decision to raise their third child, now four months old, without imposing a specific gender identity, and to keep the child’s sex a secret. The couple explained that they wanted to neutralize the way their child would be treated, and to create an environment in which little Storm could grow freely and make independent decisions. The public response illustrated clearly how strong our feelings are on this subject of gender identity and childrearing.

I think about gender stereotyping quite a bit, particularly its philosophical and practical application to the design of children’s clothing. Many parents I know have strong feelings about the way children are gender-directed from birth, through their clothing, toys and entertainment, but the vast majority of us participate in this process. Even if we feel the urge to ban the Barbie movies from our homes and encourage our sons to wear whatever they like, no matter how unusual, most of us take the easier road to mainstream social acceptance.

I wanted to share a photo with you of an adorable little boy, a toddler, playing outside on a beautiful summer day in a pink romper, bloomers and bonnet. But the subject of said photograph, my otherwise-enlightened husband, refused to grant me permission to publish it. Perhaps that speaks louder than the image itself. The photo struck me as an excellent illustration of how much less uptight North American parents were in the days of gender-neutral rompers and playsuits, the clothing of my 1970s “Free to Be…. You and Me” childhood. I wondered: as we’ve grown more egalitarian, have we also become more uptight about the way we dress our children?

My customers frequently express disappointment to me at the lack of variety available in mainstream boys’ clothing, and its very limited colour palette, as well as the preponderance of pink and purple and preciousness in girls’ clothing. But I have learned from my years of designing and selling children’s clothing, that colour remains a very touchy subject for many parents, and that we tend to impose our choices on our children, whether consciously or not. I’ve also noticed that children shopping with me tend to be attracted to vibrant and unusual colours, regardless of their sex.

It’s more than simply colour influencing our judgment; the cut of a garment sends subtle messages about gender appropriateness as well. Is a white t-shirt with tiny scalloped trim around the neck gender neutral? What about jeans with a subtle flare, or a top with cap sleeves? Even within the basic realm of t-shirts and pants, there truly is very little unisex clothing available in mainstream stores. Have we lost our taste for it? I would love to take on the challenge of designing a completely gender-neutral season. But would it sell?

At the One of a Kind Show last Christmas, I overheard one of my customers telling a friend that her kindergarten-aged son proudly wore tights to school. When I asked if he’d encountered any harassment, she told me that when a classmate said to him “Why are you wearing tights? Girls wear tights!” her son retorted “Superheroes wear tights!” and he has never been teased since.  Good for him, and good for her.

I wonder what schoolyards would look like if we were all relaxed enough to let our children make their own choices about clothing. Would more boys, like Storm’s 5-year-old brother Jazz, choose to wear pink dresses? Reporting on this unusual family, the Toronto Star printed an excerpt from Jazz’s journal in which he wrote “Help girls do boy things. Help boys do girl things. Let your kid be whoever they are!”

Devorah Miller
Red Thread Design

When I was a child, my mother had a thriving small business designing hand-painted silk scarves. When she was preparing for the One of a Kind Show, my sisters and I were all called into service. My favourite job was ironing the finished scarves, for which she paid me ten cents apiece (according to memory, the work was all voluntary). Being flat, the scarves were easy to iron and it was very satisfying seeing them transform from a wrinkled mess to shiny, smooth silk. It was pretty good work for a ten year old.

When I started Red Thread my children were too young to help, and as they’ve grown I’ve been reluctant to exploit their childlike industriousness. But they’re proud of this business that occupies their home: they and their friends are, after all, my target demographic, and many of their classmates profess to dreaming about becoming fashion designers.

With the Spring One of a Kind Show just one week away, I have many racks of bright new dresses in my house. This past weekend was set aside for tagging, and my youngest daughter Georgia, just turned 6, was raring to go. A good friend came over to help, and Georgia voluntarily worked alongside her for hours, absorbed in the task of putting the little stickers on the back of each hangtag. I was moved by her focus and patience, and am starting to reconsider the value of satisfying work for children who enjoy it. She was an enormous help, and she knew it. I wonder how long it will be until she demands a living wage for her efforts…