DIY Embellished Gourd

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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.

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