Pump(kin) It Up

There’s something so classically cute about the snaggle-toothed grin of a jack-o’-lantern. Those triangle eyes that hide ooey-gooey secrets led me to explore other ways to get my fall craft fix. I spent all summer waiting for the cool breeze and color changes that give me the green light to start decorating for fall.

The library is always here to help you on your crafty journey. Check out our Arts & Crafts collection to find books all about decorating for the season. One of my favorites is Decorating Pumpkins and Gourds by Deborah Schneebeli-Morrell. Pumpkin Chic by Mary Caldwell and Country Living’s Spooky & Bright also have unique ideas. We can even help you grow the perfect pumpkin for next year with books like Blue Ribbon Vegetable Gardening.

Growing up, October meant rows of crudely carved pumpkins, their geometric eyes lighting up our front porch every night in anticipation of Halloween. Incidentally, November meant rows of slimy, rotting pumpkin flesh that my siblings and I took turns claiming we would “take care of tomorrow.” Now that I’m a parent myself and understand how truly elusive that hypothetical tomorrow is, I’m keen to spend each October experimenting with new ways to decorate pumpkins that don’t involve sharp knives or fruit flies. Add a daughter with diagnosed sensory processing disorder who hates to be sticky and a yard full of squirrels who treat our front porch as an all-you-can-eat buffet to the mix, and I am quickly becoming an expert on alternative gourd art. Here are some of my favorites so far.

Botanical Pumpkins

All of these projects is can be done using more durable craft pumpkins. In this case, however, naturally white real pumpkins were decorated with dried foliage and then coated with outdoor Mod Podge to make them weather resistant. A similar look could also be achieved with botanical stickers, although I love the added aspect of taking a nature walk to collect the materials used here. These pumpkins also provide a unique canvas for capturing the beauty of the changing seasons. Get a tutorial for this project.

Pumpkin Dioramas

You can buy pre-cut diorama pumpkins at any craft store. From there, use things like moss, foliage, stickers and even action figures to let your imagination run wild. Fairy gardens are all the rage right now, so pint sized details are easy to find. These dioramas are a fun way to showcase the diversity of your family’s interests. If you’ve got someone in your life who’s a little too spooked by the macabre aspects of Halloween, this is their chance to focus on the sweet stuff and turn their diorama into a tiny Candy Land. Or maybe you want to create a Pumpkin-ception by putting a tiny pumpkin patch INSIDE your pumpkin diorama. The only limits are your imagination and hot glue supply.

Mummy Pumpkins

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If you’ve got cheese cloth, hot glue, googly eyes and fabric starch, you’re well on your way to creating an adorable army of undead gourds. This project looks especially cute on mini pumpkins. If you’re looking to create something more lasting, Michael’s sells mesh bags of small assorted faux gourds with a variety of shapes. Try mixing up the size, color and placement of the googly eyes to give each mummy a unique look.

In my journey to find the perfect fall craft, I’ve accepted that nothing will ever compete with the nostalgia of carving into a freshly picked pumpkin. The projects I’ve shared with you this month are meant to supplement that sticky experience, not replace it entirely. I am in no way advocating for an outright jack-o’-lantern ban here, and I guarantee you can soon find in my front yard, covered in orange goop and cursing those tiny saws that come in store-bought carving kits. But for children with sensory processing issues, parents who are tired of cleaning up pumpkin guts, and anyone looking to be a pioneer in the gourd-as-canvas medium, these ideas offer another way to get creative this fall without breaking the bank or sacrificing your sanity.

Emily Hopkins

Emily is a Public Service Specialist in the bookmobile dept. When not on a library vehicle, she can be found educating kids at local elementary schools. Known to many kids as, "The Bug Lady," Emily loves introducing children to her insect friends in the Going Buggy program. A Topeka native, Emily graduated from Washburn University with a bachelor's in Anthropology before completing her master's in Biological Anthropology at Portland State University. She has a deep love for both art and science, and tries to incorporate those interests into her work.