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Martha Stewart Creates a Macabre Mood for Halloween

Martha Stewart Living, October 2007

While traveling, we are always searching for ideas and inspirations so the current year's decorations and food will be different from what we've published in the past, and even more intriguing.

This year's Halloween planning was no different. While in California earlier this year, I visited a wonderful antiques store, Blackman Cruz Workshop, in Los Angeles. There I saw incense burners made of bronze in the shape of bats. I also saw a lone claw foot from an old bathtub that was being used as a paperweight. My mind started to work, and this article was born.

The magazine's decorating director, Kevin Sharkey, who was traveling with me, loved the idea of a fancy, glittery, eerie, somewhat macabre holiday decorating scheme for my house in Bedford. After we put our heads together, plans were laid and prototypes created. What you see here is the result. Even if you use just one or two of these ideas, you will infuse your home with some very scary stuff.

When we were still selling our inspiring products via Martha by Mail, our catalog, we offered a replica of a human skeleton in the months leading up to Halloween. They sold so well, we started selling plastic skeleton parts. A giant glass cheese dome, something I have had in my kitchen for many years, formed the perfect display case for green-glittered skulls and bones when set atop a very large cake stand. A silver-glittered hand became a bony place-card holder, and its ideal resting spot was on a silver lusterware plate.

During my stop at Blackman Cruz, I spotted a cluster of flying, incense-burning bats and decided to fill the cavities with dry ice. Constructed from bronze, these bats are costly, so we asked to borrow them for this project. They are not crafty, nor found, nor repurposed in the same way that the other ideas are, but they do illustrate how a beautiful, well-made object can spark the imagination.

On that same trip to California, I visited an excellent nursery called the California Cactus Center, and it was there I found an old lady cactus (Mammillaria hahniana), an especially long-haired cultivar that I bought thinking ahead to Christmas and Santa Claus. Six of them proved to be perfect as a mysterious and smoky filler for a cauldron centerpiece made from those clunky bathtub claws and ball feet, the pots shrouded by dried Spanish moss.

Relying on methods used for centuries to decorate hats and bonnets for every season, I fashioned leaves from green silk taffeta and paired them with the silver-painted pumpkins on my hallway table. They are really very easy to construct and especially effective. Antique glass jars can be used to display old-fashioned candy, including gum balls and hard-candy sticks. A further surprise: glittered orange insects climbing on the pumpkins.

Of course, not every single decoration has to be fear inspiring -- a simple autumn-leaf garland can outline a doorway or a window to great effect. We chose a wall on which I had just secured one of two early-20th-century wrought-iron plant stands -- I found these at a country auction many years ago, stored them for at least ten years, and then finally found a home for them at Bedford. Potted begonias rest on the eight rings during the summer months. But come late September, the plants are returned to a warm greenhouse, and the stand is turned into a capable pumpkin holder.

Crafts stores and catalogs are filled this time of year with myriad items that help set an eerie tone. Using items from your cupboards and closets, and a bit of imagination, you can devise many things that will create a ghoulish scene for curious trick-or-treaters and holiday partygoers.

Glittered Skeletal Parts

Remove springs and screws, and if the pieces require assembly, secure with a glue gun. Do not serve food from tableware used to display glittered bones.

1. Cover work surface with newspaper. Using a craft brush, apply tacky glue to half of a skull or bone.

2. Hold object over a large, shallow bowl filled with ultrafine opaque glitter. Spoon glitter over glued surface, making certain the glitter falls into all the crevices and sockets. Place on a pan or tray. Repeat. Let dry for at least 1 hour.

3. Tap or brush off any excess glitter. Repeat gluing and glittering on uncoated surface of each piece, and check to see if other areas require a touch-up.

Shimmering Pumpkins

Apply as few or as many coats of silver floral spray to the pumpkins as you like.

For the Pumpkins

1. In a well-ventilated area, coat pumpkins with silver floral spray. Let dry.

2. With a craft brush, paint stems with green acrylic paint. Let dry.

3. Brush plastic toy insects with tacky glue, and coat with orange ultrafine opaque glitter. Let dry.

4. Attach bugs to pumpkins using a hot-glue gun or poster tack.

For the Leaves

1. From a 1/2-yard piece of green silk taffeta, cut out three 6-inch squares, three 7-inch squares, and three 10-inch squares.

2. Fold one large taffeta square in half. Lay the large leaf template along the fold. Pin to fabric, and cut out. Repeat with remaining squares, using smaller templates for smaller squares.

3. Snip cloth-covered floral wire into forty-five 9-inch pieces, and separate into 9 sets of 5 wires. Wrap a set with floral tape, beginning 3 inches from the top of bundle if you're making a small leaf, 4 inches for a medium leaf, or 5 1/2 inches for a large leaf. Tear tape. Splay the 5 wires at top to create "veins."

4. Apply glue to one side of splayed wires, and press against leaf. Let dry. (If wires extend over the leaf edge, trim after the glue has dried.)

5. Shape leaf with your fingers. Repeat.

For the Tendrils

1. Brush an 18-inch length of floral wire with tacky glue, and sprinkle with chartreuse glitter. Let dry. Create as few or as many as you like.

2. Coil wire around a pencil, leaving about 4 inches of wire straight at one end.

3. Using floral tape, wrap "tendrils" onto leaf stems. You can create a vine by joining the stems with floral tape, or simply arrange the leaves beneath the bases of the pumpkins.

4. Affix crystals to leaves with tacky glue.

Falling-Leaves Garland

I used sweet gum leaves, although sugar maple leaves would also work well. You can expect the garland to last through the end of autumn.

1. Cut heavy jute rope to the desired length plus 12 inches. (If you are creating a long garland such as the one shown, cut the rope into 2 or 3 sections to make the project more manageable.)

2. Bundle 6 to 8 leaves at their stems, and wrap with wire. Snip, and repeat. Working directly from a spool of 24-gauge floral wire, wrap one bundle to the rope so the tips of the leaves point upward. Do not snip the wire; instead, use it to fasten another bundle of 6 to 8 leaves, wrapping it to the rope so the leaves overlap with those in the first bundle. Continue until rope is covered.

3. Suspend garland from nails or hooks. Trim the ends if necessary.

Comments (19)

  • LilMissArtsyFartsy 18 Sep, 2011

    I'm dying to know where to find a giant cheese dome like that. Also, the quality of the skulls in this project are terribly important to how the whole craft looks. I've been finding it a bit difficult to find quality life size skulls that look reality. Any suggestions?

  • kraftgg 4 Oct, 2009

    Do you have to use silver floral spray to paint pumpkins or can regular silver spray paint be used. I don't know what the difference is between the two. Does the floral paint have a different finish?

  • predatorOK 21 Jan, 2009

    I have found an indoor/outdoor pumpkin holder like the one in Martha's article. e-mail me at for all the info

  • lmcculloh 23 Oct, 2008

    I would like tofind the outdoor wrought pumpkin holder published Oct 200710/2007. Where can I get one?

  • yumyummz_1 14 Oct, 2008

    Help! , I'm in need of the directions for the hugh spider nest created and showen in Marthas 2007 Halloween issue, Can anyone guide me

  • marydevin 7 Oct, 2008

    When I do garlands I like to do two pieces connecting them at the top so the sides fall the same direction. That having been said you can switch halfway.

    FYI the wought appeture looks like Smith and Hawkins. Have one made !

  • Darece 30 Sep, 2008

    I too would love to know where one gets the wrought iron tree that holds the pumpkins!! thanks!

  • Darece 30 Sep, 2008

    I too would love to know where one gets the wrought iron tree that holds the pumpkins!! thanks!

  • judyjetson 29 Sep, 2008

    While it's not as elegant as the wrought iron tree shown here, I did find one on the Horchow website ( Tole Wall Tree Plant Holder ) for anyone who wants to check it out.

  • CJSneed 28 Sep, 2008

    Loved this idea whe I saw it last year in your magazine. Where can one get the wrought iron tree that holds the pumpkins?

  • bones49 28 Sep, 2008

    Loved this idea whe I saw it last year in your magazine. Where can one get the wrought iron tree that holds the pumpkins?

  • cbarbara28 28 Sep, 2008

    oh this is beautiful

  • sjcampbell 28 Sep, 2008

    Is there a link on the website to a distributor or manufacturer for the wrought iron tree depicted in the photo with the fall/Halloween garland? If so, please post it with this article. Thanks!

  • terrie-bear 27 Sep, 2008

    Now is one of the only times of the year that it is horrible to live in sunny San Diego. No fall leaves.....NOT :) !!! You all will just have to make one of these in memory of me.! I will just have to continue to live year round in my mostly 75 degree weather. It is too bad that Martha's iron plant holder is over 100 hundred year's old.

  • kestrel 23 Sep, 2008

    I searched around and found the accompanying article from the October 2007 issue of MS Living. "From My Home Yours: Creating a Macabre Mood", Martha reveals where she obtainted the gorgeous iron plant holders. "...early-20th-century wrought-iron plant stands -- I found these at a country auction many years ago, stored them for at least ten years, and then finally found a home for them at Bedford. "

  • dmklarin 22 Sep, 2008

    Where can you purchast those plant stands.

  • MaryJaneSF 17 Sep, 2008

    Yes I would also like to know here you can purchase the wrought iron plant stand?

  • pcurtis 17 Sep, 2008

    where can you purchase the wrought iron plant stand?

  • TheMarquise 15 Sep, 2008

    I'm green with envy over those incense burners!