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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.

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