Creating a Digitigrade illusion for your character's legs

          So you want your character to have the illusion of digitigrade locomotion, so it appears to be walking on its toes? This tutorial is an advanced tutorial and it assumes that you know a little bit on how to sew, and that you know how to carve and attach foam, and apply fur. It is also full of useful tips for creating a costume with padding, but primarily shows creating an animal shape that looks like it is walking on its toes. Please be aware costumes with padding can be HOT to wear and a little more difficult to move around in.

Animal Anatomy

When creating padding for your costume it is important to know a little about the animal you are creating before you commit. Not all animals walk on their toes, some walk on their whole foot, and others walk on hooves.
Each have a different name relating to the locomotion of the animal:

Digitigrade - Walking on toes, like a dog or cat
Unguligrade - Walking on hooves, or the "toenail" of the animal like a horse or zebra
Plantigrade - Walking on the whole foot, like a bear or red panda - and of course human.

Each of these forms of locomotion can be padded and shaped to match the body of the animal you are creating. However not all of these are considered "digitigrade" -- only walking on toes is. These terms are also commonly misspelled or mis-used, so be sure you are using the proper term to describe your critter!

Materials

 Needed Recommended
  • Fake fur in the color of your choice
  • Stretchy fabric, such as Lycra
  • Cluster-type stuffing
  • Upholstery foam
  • Sewing Machine
  • Slip-on Shoes
  • Scrap Cardboard for patterning
  • Hot Glue & Glue Gun
  • Bodysuit Pattern (to modify based on this how-to)
  • Scissors
  • Razor Knife
  • Your preferred paw pad material
  • Your preferred claw material
  • Non-stretchy fabric
  • Needle & Thread
  • Tape (for making a tape pattern)
  • Fur Clippers
  • E6000 glue (or similar adhesive.)
  1. Make your body pattern using an existing standard straight-legged bodysuit pattern, except when you get to the legs, make them wider and the same width all the way to the ankle.

  2. Sew the pieces together according to your pattern's directions.
  3. Flatten your sewn legs halfway, so your seams touch.
  4. Measure (or estimate) where the wearer's knees go and mark it on your sewn pattern pieces, just below there is where the bottom of your digitigrade leg will be and the start of your digitigrade foot is. Use it as a reference point to draw your leg's shape. The ditigigrade shape consists of a simplified knee and a heel (or hock). Alter your shape to match the animal you are creating if it has a different form of locomotion, such as unguligrade or plantigrade.

              Tip: All of the illustrated lines have curves and do not come to points.
     
  5. Sew along your drawn lines. You can try on the pieces inside out to make sure the wearer's legs will fit through and you are satisfied.  Pull all the fur trapped in the seams and trim away the excess material.
  6. What makes the illusion is definitely the padding. Use cluster-type stuffing for the best results, it is my preference but other kinds of stuffing works as well. The padding pillows' sizes are all approximate since depending on the wearer's height and body type, you may need longer or shorter pieces or even different shapes!

    You can create these shapes by using either only stretchy (lycra) fabric or you can use stretchy fabric along with a non-stretch fabric. The point of the padding being stretchy is so it fills the tailored cavity without using expensive foam or harder to move-with materials, it the stuffed stretchy fabric will conform to your shape as you move in the costume. It can manage to fill the space by containing the stuffing while stretching to fit around your legs. However, if you want to have some more specific guides to your shapes, you can sew your lycra to a non-stretchy backing to give the piece limits.
    When placing the padding, make sure it is stuffed well enough to conform to the costume's leg shapes as you move.

    Shape Examples:
    1. "Knee Padding" Cut a rounded teardrop approximately the length from the wearer's hip bone to a little below their knee. Make two pieces from stretchy fabric, and two pieces from non-stretch fabric. Sew one stretchy to one non-stretch and stuff each.
    2. "Heel Padding" This can be a stuffed pillow, or if you prefer a more rigid shape, carved foam. If choosing to make the stuffed piece, cut two tear drop shaped pieces approximately 12 inches long from the non-stretch material. Then cut 4 angled pieces from stretchy material. Sew two of the angled stretch-fabric pieces together, along the angled edge, then sew their straight edges to the one non-stretch teardrop shape (orient the pieces so they taper at the bottom), stuff each
    3. If you don't have much "natural" butt padding, you'll need to make some rear padding to complete the digitigrade illusion. Cut an oval shape at least 12 inches long, or longer depending on how tall the wearer is. Make two pieces from stretchy material, two from non-stretch material. Sew one stretchy to one non-stretchy piece and stuff.
       
  7. Once you have your padding made you can leave it loose (to share between other costumes, be able to adjust as needed, or to store separately between wearings/cleanings) or you can hand stitch it in place to the inside of your costume or to an undersuit.

    Tip: If you find your padding slipping around, you can solve the problem a few different ways. You can stuff the shape more, or make it larger to fill the space. You can also add a button to the padding and a loop sewn to the inside of the bodysuit and you can anchor it inside. Use more than one button and loop to anchor larger shapes.
     
  8. Select comfortable shoes you can slip in and out of. Cut a template by laying one shoe on a piece of scrap cardboard and trace the toe pattern around it. If you are making the digitigrade illusion, the shoe will become one of the middle toes. Use the same template for both feet. 

    (Left foot template shown, flip it over for the right foot template.)
              Tip: Make sure your foot pattern is round on the back, if not it will break the illusion and not look right. 
     
  9. Using upholstery foam, build up the toes around and over the shoe using the cardboard template as a guide. Make the toes taper up, like illustrated, narrowing towards the top. You can use some of the leftover stretchy or non-stretch fabric to line the inside of the paw. 

    (Right foot shown.)                                     (Left foot shown.)                             (Left foot shown.)

              Tip: When shaping the toes its OK to cut into the sole of the shoe to help round it. It may even be necessary to cut some of it away, especially on the front and back. 
     
  10. Once you are satisfied with the shape of your toes, make a tape pattern and apply your paw pads and fur. The direction the fur lays on the feet should be down towards the tips of the toes. Due to the shape of the feet, it is possible to have huge paw pads that cover the whole bottom of the foot if you want!
  11. Add details to your toe-paws such as claws and trimming the fur. Attach the claws with e-6000 adhesive, and shave the fur between the toes for more definition.
     
  12. Put on your costume and admire your handiwork! When putting it on the legs should overlap the toe-paws. 

 


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Sara Howard, 2008. Revised May 2013. (top)