Pretend Pilgrims

Do your kids love dress-ups?…
Then make Thanksgiving dinner more exciting with simple Pilgrim costumes! A vest, a shawl, two little hats and you’re set. They’ll love you for it.
Maybe you remember outfits like these from your own school program, back in the day? I spotted this photo on Martha Stewart a month ago and was taken back to 3rd grade. But there was limited how-to info. So I tried out my own version. And I knew the kids would want more than a hat, so with the handy old Frontier Vest Pattern and Tutorial I created a girl and boy pilgrim vest and shawl to go with it:
Made of felt fabric and paper, the outfits are very simple to make–you could easily whip up a batch of hats for a school class in a night. I also added a long version of the Simple Skirt for Lucy (two tiers with bias tape on the top tier).
I’m always amazed at how few costume pieces and props it takes to transform the kids’ ordinary clothes into make-believe playtime.
And for the real history purists out there…. after a little online research about the Pilgrims, I learned that this classic image we have of them wearing black/white, tall hats, and buckles is not entirely true. It’s more an artistic interpretation of what we think (or hope?) they looked like. And over the years it’s just stuck. But it’s a pretty cute, rustic look.

So….want to make your own Pretend Pilgrims?
Let’s get started!
We’re going to use the Frontier Vest pattern for both the Vest and Shawl.
You can download the 2 page PDF pattern for free HERE. Print and tape the pages together.

The Shawl
Start by creating a simple pattern from the top of the Frontier Vest.
– Trace the shoulder, neck, and the center fold (down to the end of the first page of the pattern).
– Extend the length of the shoulder appx 2 inches.
– Then draw a 1/4 circle shape from the edge of the shoulder down to the center fold line. Just free-hand draw it or use a large plate for an exact curve.
And you have your pattern!
Using white-colored felt, place the pattern on the fold and cut two pieces.
Then trim the Front piece by cutting a small angled portion out of the fold (leave the Back piece as-is):
Sew the shawl together….
It should look like this.
Easy, right?
Then attach a ribbon or string. You can use twill tape, satin ribbon, twine, yarn, whatever you’d like. I used cotton Twill tape (sold by the yard or on small spools at most fabric shops).
– Cut (2) 12 inch strings, fold the raw edges under and sew one to each shawl opening.
– Cut the ends of the twill tape (or ribbon) on an angle to keep them from fraying.
You’re done!
The Vest
– Cut a vest out of black felt just as you would in the Frontier Vest Tutorial, HOWEVER….don’t cut a V in the front of the vest. Make the front and backs identical (minus the fold in front):
– Use the top half of the Frontier Vest Pattern to cut two pieces collar pieces from white felt.
– Cut them both on the fold and then cut down the fold from the Front piece (so you have an opening in front, like the vest).
– Sew them together at the shoulders and sides (similar to the shawl above).
– With both pieces turned right-side out (the pretty/finished side of of the fabric is up on both pieces), place the collar inside the vest.
– Line the two up, pin them together, and sew them together around the collar.
– Then pull the collar out, flip it over the vest and pin it in place.
– Cut (2) 12-inch twill tape strings and stick the ends in between the collar and vest.
– Top stitch around the collar to keep the strings in place and to help the collar lay flat on the vest.
Finally, trim the collar to the size you’d like. This can definitely be done in the first stages of the pattern as well (and would work better that way if you’re making multiple vests). But I saved this step for the end so that you have options. You can choose to curve the collar as we did in the shawl above–similar to a peter pan collar. Or, cut the collar at an angle in the front, like small V’s). I chose to cut mine in squares.

So…trim a bit off the bottom, arm hole, and shoulder on one side then flip it up next to the rest of the collar and cut the back side the same size.
Simple girl’s bonnet and boy’s tall hat.
I’m sure this paper bonnet is as old as grade school but here’s how it goes.
And note: you can adjust any of the measurements to make the hat fit older kids….or use large sheets of construction paper if you need more surface area to work with.

You end up with something like this (tape will be showing a bit on the brim but it’s not very noticeable):
For the boy’s hat…
– Cut a large hat shape from a piece of black construction paper or cardstock (I prefer cardstock because it’s stiffer and has richer color).
– Cut a square yellow buckle from paper and glue it to the front of the hat
– Cut a simple strip of paper the size of your child’s head and glue it to the front of the hat.
And that’s it!

Two pretend Pilgrims.
Ready to get to work.
A big feast and cold winter is coming….
And funny enough, my kids absolutely loved playing Pilgrims. We were done taking pictures and ready to go and I couldn’t pull them away from this old abandoned barn. They carefully peeled chipped paint from the walls and at one point I heard Lucy say, “get back to work Owen. We’ve got a lot to do.” I’m glad they have strong work ethic.
We finally lured them into the car and Lucy asked, “can we play Pilgrims again?”
You betcha.

  1. 1) Jessica

    What size felt are you using for the shaw?

    • 2) Dana

      Most standard felt on the bolt is about 55-60 inches wide and sometimes you can find it 72 inches wide. You can buy it at most fabric stores like Joann Fabrics, Hobby Lobby, etc

    • Jessica – I bought 1/2 yard off the bolt and it was *way* too much. You can get away with something like 6-8 inches. Just measure the shawl pattern at the widest point to get the amount of felt you need.

  2. Thank you so much for this post! I have a little one who is adamant about being a pilgrim this year for school and while I can make a quick indian, I had no idea how to go about making the hat and shawl for a pilgrim. That you made the hat out of paper was just awesome!

    And your skirt tutorial was exactly what I needed, too. Made a tiered skirt “quickly” (relative term) after viewing the 10 minute tutorial.

    We are all outfitted as a pilgrim! Thank you so very much. šŸ™‚

  3. 5) Jennifer

    Thank you so much! My fifth grader is in drama club at her school and we had to come up with a Pilgrim outfit for her for tomorrow for the class’s Thanksgiving program and i was in a fix! I am not a sewer AT ALL but I was able to glue gun this all together, lol. It came out SO CUTE, thank you!!

  4. 6) Britany Dicus

    So funny story…I was thinking I wanted to make my kids some pilgrim attire to wear on Thanksgiving and I thought I’d check your site first to see if you had any tutorials. Then your page loaded and there it was! You read my mind! šŸ™‚ Haha

    I do have a question though. I am wanting to make the skirts for my girls and I am wondering if you doubled or tripled the waist size? Because the skirts were longer I thought they might need a little more wiggle room? And did you stick with the 2 inch change in the two layers or did you make the top layer a little shorter than that?

    Can’t wait to get started on these, thanks for the great tutorial!!

    • 7) Dana

      haha. great!
      Yea, I would definitely double or triple it. Lucy’s skirt ended up being a little “tighter” than I would have liked… you’ve got the right idea šŸ™‚

      Have a great weekend!

  5. 8) katie

    We are here in austin and was wondering where that abandoned barn is in your pretned pilgrim post from 2008

  6. 9) Johanna

    Those Pilgrim collars just don’t sit right.

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