Custom Mickey ear craze ignites fans’ creativity

Jessica Danker, RecyclEARS

Last weekend, we explored the burgeoning fashion trend known as DisneyBounding, in which fans put together outfits based on their favorite Disney characters or attractions.

I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t delve into another fascinating fashion trend gaining popularity with fans of the theme park.

It’s the custom Mickey ear craze, characterized by Disney enthusiasts who ditch the official mouse ear-shaped headbands and hats that can be purchased at the parks in favor of handmade creations they fashion themselves or buy from savvy crafters.

If you’ve visited a Disney theme park lately, you’ve probably spotted people sporting these custom-made pieces, which range from elegant floral arrangements to elaborate headdresses themed after favorite rides, characters, movies, or even sports teams and non-Disney properties.

You may have even wondered, “Where can I get those?”

Susan Mitchell in Dole Whip ears, purchased from Etsy. Gwenyth Rooney in Marie ears, and Christy Rooney in Perdita ears, custom-made by Susan.

An Etsy search for the phrase “Mickey ears” yields 46,018 results, so you can see this trend isn’t just a blip on the Disney fashion radar. (If you happen to be looking for official, Disney-made ears, you can find them here.)

I interviewed five makers of custom Mickey ears, ranging from passionate amateurs to seasoned professionals. You can read about their motivations and methods below, as well as gawk at tons of stunning photos of their clever and colorful creations.

You may even be inspired to tackle the challenge of crafting some ears for yourself, family, or friends.

According to these ear makers, it’s an excellent way to express your love of Disney, tap into your creative side, bask in the attention to detail Walt’s company is celebrated for, save a little money, or simply provide yourself with headwear that better matches your DisneyBound ensemble.

Jessica Danker, RecyclEARS

Jessica Danker, RecyclEARS

Jessica Danker, of online shop RecyclEARS, has elevated custom ear-making into an art form with elaborate creations she crafts from recycled Mickey Mouse ears.

The Nampa, Idaho, resident’s “ear hat” business was sparked by headwear she designed for a family trip to one of Disney’s Star Wars Weekends.

“I wanted something unique for characters to sign on our vacation,” Jessica said.

One of her very first designs was a Darth Maul hat, which she blocked in felt herself, instead of her current approach of using recycled ear hat blanks.

“I’ve always loved to create, and had so many ideas, but what could I personally do with all those ear hats?” she said. “Creating for others gave me an outlet for my passions, and a reason to create.”

Four and a half years and more than 400 unique designs later, Jessica’s business is booming to the point that there’s no more room to grow unless she hires an assistant and raises prices, which she is loath to do.

Jessica’s handmade ear hats can take anywhere from eight to 40 hours to fashion. The process begins with a chat with the client, followed by a design and a sketch. Jessica then preps the ear hat blanks, “removing embroidery and the binding,” or constructs the headband.

“Once they’re ready, I break down the sketch into individual pieces and cut them out in felt. Those are then painted and applied, and the binding is reattached.”

The final step is cleaning and packaging the ears for shipping. Jessica primarily works with felt, acrylic paints, and fabric adhesives.

“I go through more fine-tipped paint brushes than I can count,” she said.

Though she never formally studied art, Jessica inherited her creative inclinations from a “wildly creative and talented” aunt who taught her to sew.

“That led to a passion for creating elaborate and detailed costumes and props. I have a chronic case of ‘I-bet-I-could-do-that-itis,’ which has led to lots of trial and error experimentation.”

Jessica said her favorite designs tend to be themed after Disney attractions. These have included the Haunted Mansion, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Space Mountain, and It’s a Small World.

“I also really enjoy working with some of the Disney classic films. My favorites quite often include modifications to the overall shape of the ear hats as well.”

A lover of all things Disney since childhood, Jessica often visited Disneyland with her parents, who had fond memories of honeymooning at the park. She now shares “the magic” with her husband and two daughters.

According to Jessica, the “driving force” behind the custom Mickey ear trend is fans’ desire to “choose and create something unique and meaningful.”

The fad has produced a demand so broad even Disney cannot possibly fill it.

“The breadth and the scope of characters created over the decades by Disney is so vast that it would be impossible for them to anticipate and create ears to satisfy the desires of all the guests at their parks,” she said.

In the future, Jessica aspires to “divide her time” between custom orders and creating stock to feature at events such as WonderCon, the D23 Expo, and Dapper Day Expo. She’d also like to branch out into Disney-themed fascinators and flat caps.

“It brings me so much joy to create something that means something special to someone.”

Spider ears by Susan Mitchell.

Susan Mitchell, ear-making matriarch

A longtime Disney fan and annual passholder, Susan Mitchell didn’t actually own a pair of Mickey Mouse ears until 2016.

After her first official ear purchase at the parks, the Palmdale, Calif., resident quickly became bored with wearing the same pair on every visit. So she bought another pair, thinking two options would be enough.

“I was wrong,” she said.

In search of a pair of ears to complement a favorite Belle shirt she planned to wear for a special lunch at Ariel’s Grotto, Susan discovered the world of custom ears sold on Etsy.

“After that trip, I had the ear-making bug,” she said. “I love themes and have found this new avenue for theme-related creativity so inspiring and satisfying.”

Ears by Susan Mitchell, modeled by her granddaughter Gwenyth Rooney.

Indeed, Susan has become the designated ear maker for both immediate and extended family.

Her creations include a pair of Tsum Tsum ears for her granddaughter; an array of fall-themed ears featuring sunflowers, sparkly acrylic leaves, florals, and pumpkins; spider and web ears for Halloween; and custom creations for a recent family DisneyBound, featuring characters such as Marie from “The Aristocats,” Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Tinkerbell, Peter Pan, and Perdita from “101 Dalmations.”

Susan said she finds inspiration for her designs on Pinterest and Etsy, “but I also love to come up with new ideas. Now, when my husband and I shop, ear-shaped items seem to leap into our bags.”

When it comes to materials, she’s used felt, flannel, cotton fabric, glitter foam sheets, tulle, lace, faux fur, ribbons, leather, flowers, wire, trinkets, foam board, batting, stuffing, feathers, holiday decorations, pom poms, wooden skewers (to make a Pan flute), cup hooks (for Captain Hook’s hook), and “other things I can’t remember.”

Among the attractions of making her own ears is the “satisfaction” she derives from “attention to detail (one of the main reasons I love Disney).”

“My fingers tingle, my brain whirls, and my iPad opens when I’m inspired by the season change or an outfit that a family member has.”

Gwenyth and Gavin Rooney model grandmother Susan’s custom Halloween ears.

For those who may be interested in following in Susan’s ear-making footsteps, she advises watching a lot of how-to videos “to ascertain the different types of ears and the different levels of perfection achieved.”

The reaction of those she creates for is payment enough for her creative labors, she said.

“I love how excited and happy my family members get about designing and wearing the ears.”

Christmas ears designed by Rebecca Mettler.

Rebecca Mettler, @earsbybecka

Inspired by a couple pairs of custom Mickey ears she purchased for her sister and herself, Rebecca Mettler transformed a hobby she indulged in during her infant son’s naps into a business.

“I loved seeing everyone’s custom ears at Disneyland and on social media so I was inspired,” she said. “I knew people sold them on shops so that’s how I decided I would sell mine.”

Rebecca specializes in simple yet elegant floral ears based on Disney characters, sports teams, and cute color combinations.

She started her shop on Mercari two months ago and has already sold about 25 pairs of ears with more orders in the pipeline. You can view her designs on her Instagram, @earsbybecka.

A lifelong Disney fan, Rebecca said her father would save money all year to treat her family to an annual Christmastime trip.

“It was our family tradition that I am now continuing to carry out with them and my own little family.”

When she began making ears, Rebecca found inspiration on Pinterest, but now dreams up her own design ideas or chats with customers to “toss ideas back and forth.”

She purchases premade headbands, then adds different colors and styles of flowers and ribbons using hot glue.

Rebecca said her ears are more affordable than the official theme park offerings, “and mine are unique.”

“I love seeing how the end result turns out. Turning a blank pair of ears into something cool!”

Dawn Branch models a pair of her own Gaston ears.

Dawn Branch, the “crafty one”

It may be hard to believe, but Dawn Branch never set foot inside Disneyland until she was 24.

Around the time of her first trip, she purchased her first official set of Mickey ears and also noticed and coveted the custom ears worn by other park-goers.

Dawn’s first ear creations were born out of a need to save money and to coordinate with outfits for whatever DisneyBound theme she and her friends had selected.

“Sometimes friends would ask about ears for their cosplays,” she said. “I get asked as ‘the crafty one.’”

After worrying over whether her inaugural pair of Cinderella ears would stand up to wear and tear, Dawn began purchasing packs of “generic ears” online to eliminate further structural anxiety.

Her typical materials are glue, fabric paint, and felt. She searches Pinterest and Google for ideas, “but really the stories lend themselves to design inspirations. If I’m making ears, I usually know exactly what I want already.”

Dawn said her headgear has elicited comments from Disney cast members who “like seeing the creativity other people bring” to a variation on the licensed theme park merchandise.

The beauty of fan-created ears is that they offer a more varied park experience, she said.

“I generally don’t like the park ears quite as much.”

Without custom options, “everyone will have the same ears!”

Jennifer Mitchell and daughter Emma model Haunted Mansion and “Doctor Who” ears while posing with Minnie Mouse.

Jennifer Mitchell, “complete Disney fanatic”

Jennifer Mitchell was on one of her annual Disneyland trips when she spotted a woman exiting the security line wearing “the cutest pink and yellow mini roses on some ‘ears’ on a headband.”

Jennifer (who is no relation to Susan Mitchell) inquired about them and discovered the woman with the pink and yellow rose ears had made them herself.

“I thought, ‘Heck, I could do that,’” Jennifer said.

The Henderson, Nev., resident is a “complete Disney fanatic” who grew up in Southern California and enjoyed annual trips to Disneyland.

After her family moved to Northern California, her mother kept the tradition alive, packing her five kids into a station wagon for an annual pilgrimage that offered an escape from a stressful situation at home.

When she was 12, Jennifer began channeling her sewing skills into the creation of matching T-shirts for her family to wear to the theme park. She now visits Disneyland with her husband and their five children.

A couple of years after she spotted the woman with the custom floral ears, Jennifer decided to try her hand at making a couple pairs for herself and her daughter to wear on a special Disneyland trip they’d worked hard to save up for.

Some online research and a couple of trial attempts yielded three fine sets of ears themed after “Doctor Who,” the Haunted Mansion, and Minnie Mouse.

Jennifer began making more ears for family members and as gifts for friends.

“I’ve made Star Wars and Wall-E and Marvel themed ones. I’ve done really simple and plain, and big and sparkly!” she said.

“I even made some for a ‘Lord of the Rings’ fan with the ‘ring’ on the ears in a woodsy Hobbit-type style. People just love them!”

Eventually, Jennifer began earning money from her ear-making endeavors, which included a custom Princess Tiana-themed order for a customer across the country.

Jennifer and her daughter, Emma, even made a batch of about a dozen ears to give away to strangers on a Disneyland trip.

“It was an amazing, fun bonding trip for us and it was even better because we were able to make people happy with the ears we’d made for them,” Jennifer said. “It was like being part of the magic, just a little bit.”

Jennifer favors a ¼-inch metal ear-shaped headband, which she typically wraps in black ribbon. The center of the ears are made of foam, covered in fabric, and stuffed with batting to make them “a little poofy.”

She embellishes her ears in satin, cotton, fur, lace, sparkly fabric cut from clothing found at thrift stores, ribbons, beads, pearls, buttons, pieces of broken jewelry, and fabric flowers she makes herself.

Her inspiration comes mostly from “the park itself, the rides and characters, but also in whatever people like. The ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ ears were sure not Disney, but it’s fun to mix the two and show the wearers’ personality by creating a hybrid of two of their loves.”

Jennifer urges fans who are new to making ears to “make a practice pair first.”

“They’re quite inexpensive to make, so if the first ones don’t turn out just right, just try again!”

For Jennifer, the appeal of custom Mickey ears comes in the connection it creates with the theme park and other Disney fans.

“I just love Disneyland and when I make a pair for someone and they wear them in the park, it’s like a tiny piece of me gets to go! So I guess it’s selfish, too. … It’s a great and easy way to interact with other Disney fans — and I’ve even talked with folks who have made (their own ears). We share our DIY experiences and a little about ourselves. It makes a day at the park even better.”

But wait … there are more amazing custom ears below. Enjoy this gallery of gorgeous creations by the ear makers featured in this post.

By Jessica Danker, RecyclEARS:

By Rebecca Mettler, @earsbybecka:

By Susan Mitchell:

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