I adore Autumn!  The colors of Fall are my colors, and I'm not sure my house ever looks better than it does in the autumn.  One of my favorite decor items are gourds - mostly just the plastic kind from craft stores, but I do have a few pretty real dried ones I've bought.  Last year, my wonderful neighbor noticed my love of gourds and brought me a bunch of fresh gourds from the garden.  They were beautiful!  (I wish I'd taken pictures)

 I had about a dozen assorted sizes and shapes that I spread throughout my different Fall arrangements.  After Thanksgiving, I didn't want to just throw them out, so I decided to try my hand at drying out and preserving the gourds.  I did some research online and went to work.  I set aside an area in my backyard and set the gourds out to dry.  From what I read, the main concerns are air circulation and moisture drainage.  The gourds can't sit in water, and they must have constant air circulation.  Temperature can change - they can even freeze - but no standing water or stagnant air.

As the water leaves the gourds, mildew forms on the surface and then dies.  This creates designs on the skin that discolors the gourd.  In order to minimize this effect, I tried one of the suggestions to periodically wash my gourds with a bleach-water solution to remove the mildew build-up.  Even though I read that it was ok for the gourds to freeze, I was afraid of how wet they'd stay in the snow, so I moved them inside to my basement after they got past the initial wettest stage (which my kids call the "stinky" part).  Despite equal treatment, at the point of moving to the basement, my gourd count was down by half.  None of my gourds that were similar to pumpkins in shape made it - they got mushy and rotted.  One of the instructions I read explained that in order to dry a gourd, it needs to have a stem of at least 2 inches long.  My gourds with stems fared best, so this is good advice.  After their time in the basement, the surviving gourds were down to 3.  They are a good three though, so I'm still happy!

The largest of the three gourds is my favorite of the whole group, and I knew I wanted to do something special with it.  I read about carving gourds, painting gourds, staining gourds - WOW - I had no idea of the gourd crafting out there!  But what I had in mind was a little bit different.
This is what my gourd looked liked when it was all dried and ready to go.  I read that it needed to be prepped by rubbing it down with some steel wool, however, my husband used all our steel wool to stuff any exterior holes to prevent voles from burrowing around our house, so I resorted to a super-fine sandpaper.  It took off any of the peeling skin left from the drying process and prepared the surface to receive paint.  I should note that when the gourd is dry, it is very lightweight and often rattles with the dried seeds inside.  It feels very fragile, but I've read that it is as hard as some woods.
After my gourd was sanded, I drew designs on it with pencil.  Then I carefully traced over my pencil designs with hot glue.  This was quite the adventure since by the end my hand and arm were shaking from trying to hold steady and get a smooth bead the whole time!  When I look at this project, I can instantly see the difference between where I started and where I ended based on the quality of the line!
Here is a close-up of the design on the surface of the gourd.
Next I spray-painted my little friendly gourd.  The first coat of paint I wasn't too smart and sat it on the ground.  For the next coat I wised-up and hung it in our tree so I could get the bottom too.  I thought I was going to stick with this color, and even finished it up with this color, but then ended up not liking it after a couple of days living with it.  I didn't like it glossy, and the color was just not as deep as I wanted it.  So I grabbed an acrylic dark brown that I had on hand and brushed on a coat.
To achieve the final finished look, I used a watered down antique gold acrylic paint to create a wash that would make the design stand out and give it a little sparkle.  I'm still wondering if I should have gone a little darker with the brown, but overall I'm quite pleased with my silly little gourd project!  I'm so glad my fabulous neighbor brought me some fun gourds so I could play!!  Not quite as pretty as when they're fresh out of the garden - all harvesty goodness, but still fun.

It has been a LONG while since I've posted anything, which is very sad.  I have so many fun things to share that have been put on the back burner.  Why?  One word: HALLOWEEN!  We are crazy people when it comes to Halloween around our house.  I sew nonstop to create costumes for my kids and sometimes for my husband and myself if there's time (hardly ever is!).  There have been years when I question if it's worth it.  If all that work for one silly holiday is just plain ridiculous.
But halloween is actually the origins of my sewing skills (well, there was that skirt I made in 4H as a girl, and the tote-bag I made in home-ec, but does that really count?).  Costumes are a safe, fun place for beginning sewing because mistakes are ok, puckers are overlooked, sleeves can be different lengths and no one cares, and everything - EVERYTHING can be fastened with velcro eliminating the need for those nasty buttonholes and terrifying zippers!
So I made costumes for my babies and toddlers, who grew quickly into kids who now think I can make anything and every year push that to new limits.  Someday I'm going to have to utter the words, "I can't," but until that day, halloween makes me supermom - and since, like every other mom out there, I feel completely inadequate every day, being supermom for a while feels great!  I can't keep up on their homework, there's always at least one kid who hates what I make for dinner, I'm never sure if I should force the chores or let them play, I'm always conflicted between work and time with kids, I'm always a little bit late and a lot of energy short to be the mom I want to be - but at Halloween, I rock!  And the reward is the joy I get from seeing how much fun my kids have becoming whatever they've chosen to be that year.  They move differently, they talk differently, they get to live a day in imagination and I love it.
I hope to get a bunch of fun posts up soon, but in the meantime, I'm posting pics of the costumes that have kept me from blogging (or cleaning, or doing laundry, or eating.....) for the past several weeks :)  Maybe I'll even get around to posting some of my costumes of the past sometime - a gallery of insanity!
My youngest was Cinderella - obviously.  This costume was made using Simplicity 4764 for the dress, a modified sleeve I designed myself, and the peplum from McCalls 6420.  The bodice design I made up and painted in puffy fabric paint sprinkled with super-fine glitter  - there are also Swarovski crystals throughout the design. 

The headband is made in the same way I made my nautical headbands, with craft foam covered in fabric - and then painted, glittered and bejeweled to match the bodice of the dress.  The gloves were store-bough child stretch satin that I modified to slim down and actually fit. 

Under the dress is a full slip with net ruffles for fullness.  I also made a white polar fleece cloak trimmed in that curly fleece stuff that looks like fur but feels silky - that way the costume doesn't get covered u by a pink parka for trick-or-treating and ruin the whole princess look.

One more funny note - the choker, a necessary Cinderella element, is actually a bra strap I saved when the bra broke :)  My husband mocks me for saving everything, but it's times like these I am justified.  I wanted the necklace to be elastic, so it would fit snuggly without being restrictive like ribbon would be.  But most elastic is dull and looks, well, like elastic.  The bra strap had a satin finish, was elastic, and was absolutely perfect!  Sew on a snap, & voila! 

The next daughter was another Disney Princess - and probably my favorite of all time too!  I was really excited to do a Merida costume.  It was really difficult finding fabric the right color, and I'm still bummed that I had to go with satin - I wanted something that looked closer to a homespun - but it is just a costume, after all.  And the satin worked out pretty.  

I used McCalls 5499, which is perfect for the dress, but I still had to figure out those really crazy sleeves.  I opted to put in a full under sleeve rather than a false poof at the elbow & shoulder.  This gave her a level of movement and comfort as well as realism.  The undershirt at the neck is just an inset though.  

The wig is store-bought, the bow is home-made (and likely my next post!).
Of course, Merida also has to have a cloak, and though the color here was a problem again, I was finally able to find a fantastic shade of green-grey polar fleece.

My oldest daughter wanted to be a pirate, which was a very exciting costume to make.   I was surprised at the lack of female pirate costumes (especially any that weren't skanky) for ideas.  This one is a combination of patterns.  The shirt is from a pajama pattern, Simplicity 4767, with cuffs and lace ruffle added at the wrists and lace at the neck.  The vest is actually from a fairy costume pattern, McCalls 4887, but made out of a lightweight printed leather.   It has a high waist with an almost full circle skirt attached.  Mine overlaps to button, which differs from the pattern.  I love the vest so much I'm not putting it away as a costume, I've put it in her closet to wear with jeans! The skirt is super fun - McCalls 6391 view C.  It is actually a giant rectangle that is tacked up in specific places to an under-skirt stay.  Boots and hat were Savers finds (I added the lace to the hat), and the belt we've had in our dress-up for so long I can't even remember where it came from.  The attitude this costume gave this girl is delightful!

If you're not sure, this is Frodo Baggins.  He's wearing a shirt made from Butterick 5656, (out of an torn sheet, btw! I love repurposing!!).  The vest is McCalls 4290, and turned out a little shorter than I planned, but if you won't tell him, I won't!  The cloak is, again, polar fleece (I make up my own pattern for cloaks - I try to get as much of a circle as I can with whatever fabric I end up buying, and then use the leftover edges to make a hood.  No hemming or anything - just cut, attach the hood, sew on a clasp, and go!)  

The feet were the hardest part.  Anyone know how to make feet?  But a hobbit in shoes just isn't a hobbit!  I found a couple of cool ideas online, but way out of my price range.  So I used a tan felt and trial and error.  What I ended up with was an upper section inspired by a felt slipper pattern with a seam down the center for shape.  Then I designed a bare-foot toe section and cut it out - just the toes, I wanted the bottom totally open so the whole thing would go over his shoe.  I sewed the flat toe section to the slipper upper section, right sides together.  Turning the toes right side out, I sewed up about an inch in between each "toe".   A little stuffing in each toe bulked them out and gave them shape.  I used furry fleece for the hobbit hair on top of the feet.  The overshoe worked well through the day's activities, but by trick-or-treating, as you may notice, they were getting floppy - sort of stretched out.  So I just grabbed some clear tape and taped them to the shoe for the night and we were fine :).

He started growing his hair out about two months ago to try for the long, curly hobbit hair, but since his hair is stick-straight, he had to sleep in curlers for the curly part.  I was kind and didn't take any pictures!

Finally, I found the One Ring to Rule them All on Amazon for $7.  Free shipping :)  Frodo should have thought of that - he could have just shipped it to Mordor!
Not many pics of my oldest.  He's at the age where he's not quite sure what he's supposed to be doing with Halloween.  So a grim reaper robe works well, with some creepy gloves I had when I was his age!  It depended on when you asked him, what he said he was - which I found hilarious.  Sometimes he was a reaper, sometimes he was a ring-wraith, sometimes he was just scary.

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