Thursday, October 9, 2008

Your Guide to Everything Halloween! Part I: Hand-Crafted Decorations

This year, for Hal
loween, I made some of our decorations. I try to do that every year, so I thought I would share some of my tips with all of you for making your own decorations for the Halloween season.


The best way to make tombstones that look like the real thing? Cheat. No, I'm not kidding! Here's what I've done in previous years: bought styrofoam tombstones from Walmart or Target the day after Halloween. They're marked down and they look great!

This year, I took some professionally-made styrofoam tombstones and personalized them for my kids.

I flipped the tombstones over and used a Sharpie marker to write my own "epitaphs". You can also use a carving tool to make the letters look etched into the "stone". What's great is I can use the tombstones either way, with the cool professional R.I.P showing, or the personalized side I created. My oldest likes very simple, classic graphic design. He dresses all in black, though he would insist he is more "metal" than goth. Whatever. My youngest is all about the video games these days. I used their interests to create their tombstones. To experiment with what you'd like to write on a tombstone and how it looks, try the fun, interactive online Tombstone Generator. Here' one of the original tombstones, on the left, followed by the ones I made.

Carving Your Jack O' Lanterns

Each year, I come up with some sketches for Jack O' Lanterns, make them into patterns, and the Engineer carves them into pumpkins.

The way I make them into patterns is simple and probably not the best; I simply draw them in black ink or charcoal, and the dark spaces become the hollowed-out sections of the pumpkins.

This year, I wanted to do something different, for a few reasons: the Engineer is pressed on time (always!) because of his work schedule, and pumpkins don't last. To put it bluntly, pumpkins rot too quickly down here in the Southern heat. Plus, let's face it, although the finished work gives you a wonderful sense of achievement, carving pumpkins is not really "fun." It's messy and goopy and it's hard work. And if you have to rush and carve them the night before Halloween, or the night before your Halloween party, it just gets stressful.

So, this year, I did two things differently: I worked from templates and artwork available online, and I used Funkin carvable craft pumpkins, so our work would last from year to year. Incidentally, I think Funkins are a great idea, but they aren't cheap. I highly recommend Jo-Ann's Craft Stores, who have Funkins on sale through this Saturday for half-price!

This year, my Halloween party's theme is very dark and gothic, with lots of skulls. I thought a skull pumpkin could work for just about any Halloween, so I went with that theme for my Jack O 'Lantern.

I saw a fantastic carved pumpkin on Skull A Day, very three-dimensional, but I felt it was beyond my limitations (remember, the Engineer usually carves them!). However, the author of the site had a great acrylic work he'd done, and I thought that could be altered slightly to make a template for my pumpkin.

I enlarged it to 125% on the printer, and whited out some of the black area so that there wouldn't be a big hole completely around the skull, just mostly. I figured that would be more structurally sound. Then I cut into the edges of the template on angles, to make it fit the pumpkin better, and I taped it on with masking tape.

I used store-bought pumpkin carving tools, and got to work! I really recommend buying the specialty tools like the pumpkin saw. I actually found a better one that I had purchased a year ago once I was all done carving the pumpkin. Did I mention that the Engineer usually carves them? Yeah. Well, my carving didn't go so well. At one point, thought I tried to follow the template, I ended up joining two holes together! : P

So, anyway, I went free-form after using the template, and made my own unique skull, and it looks a little better. It's still not exactly what I had in mind, so I will probably try again. The pic on the right show the skull jack o' lantern I made, and here's what it looks like when it is lit up.

While trying to find the perfect pattern for my own Jack O' Lantern, I scanned through literally hundreds of sites and images. There's some great patterns out there! Here are my favorite links!

Kid-friendly Jack O'Lanterns!

Here's where to find the best free kid-friendly templates for carving your own pumpkin (or Funkin craft pumpkin).

Hershey's Pumpkin Carving Patterns

Hershey's Halloween site has something for everyone, including patterns for beginner, intermediate or advanced carvers.

DLTK Holidays

Among the traditional pumpkin patterns on this page, you will find Blue's Clues, Thomas the Tank Engine, Scooby Doo and Spongebob carving templates.

Oh No! Pumpkin

Are you a fan of the "Home Alone" movies? This is the template for you! To make it even more personal, trace around your own child's hands, add to the surprised face!

Here's a cute Goodnight, Moon Pumpkin Pattern for fans of the classic children's book.

Totem Pole Halloween Pumpkins

Based on authentic totem poles, these patterns are different from any you've ever seen--except the next ones on our list! Try stacking smaller carved totem pumpkins on top of each other to create your own pumpkin totem pole!

These WWF Patterns Win the Prize for Most Original!

Gorilla, Polar Bear or Rhino? These beautiful patterns from HP and the World Wildlife Foundation will satisfy every animal lover.

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