This Queer House, Vol 7: Halloween Decorations on a Budget

Halloween is my wife’s favorite holiday. Some people get excited about Christmas carols or lighting the menorah, but Steph’s eyes light up at the mention of a psychological thriller movie marathon. Things get pretty festive in our apartment around this time of year, is what I’m saying. Instead of spending all our money at the local Target Booporium™, I decided to branch out from my usual semi-practical This Queer House tutorials and create a few DIY Halloween decorations on a budget. Get ready to get spooky.

Clockwise from top left: Halloween-themed Luminaries, Bloody Handprint Window Clings, Seasonal Stenciled Doormat, Mini-foam Coffin

Project #1: Halloween-themed Luminaries

What You Need

  1. Empty, clean cans in any size
  2. Something sharp — I happen to have an awl, but you could use a hammer and nail in a pinch
  3. Black marker
  4. Black paint
  5. Tea lights

What To Do

1. Draw your design. I made one jack-o-lantern and one with a few bats on it. Because you’re going to be punching holes, bigger designs end up looking better. My smaller bat ended up just kind of looking like a blob.
2. Punch some holes. Because my tool was very sharp, it wasn’t too difficult to just push it through the can. If you’re using a hammer and nail and find that it is denting the can, you can first fill the can with water and freeze it.
3. Paint the can. I think black is best (as it provides the most contrast), but feel free to use whatever color you want. You might have to re-poke some holes if the paint fills them in.
4. Would you light my candle? Luckily, I happen to have literal hundreds of tea lights because I convinced my wife I just really needed them when we were at Ikea several years ago.

The Cost

Dollar amount: Only like $3 on cheap black washable paint. (In retrospect, I probably should’ve sprung for some better quality stuff though.)
Time and emotional amount: Not bad! Less than an hour to draw my designs and punch the holes. Dealing with the crappy paint did take a small emotional toll on me, however, and I might get new paint eventually to finish them.

Project #2: Bloody Handprint Window Clings

What You Need

  1. Elmer’s Glue
  2. Food coloring (lots of red and a little bit of blue)
  3. Cling wrap
  4. Scotch tape
  5. Heat gun (optional)

What To Do

1. Spread out the cling wrap and tape it down. Protip: pick a spot that’s out of the way for set up. That way you can leave the project alone to dry for as long as you need to.
2. Mix up your blood-glue. I poured food coloring directly into the Elmer’s bottle, because it seemed like less to clean up and also easier to apply. (And it was!) I used almost a full container of red food coloring and 3-4 drops of blue for about 3.5 oz of glue.
3. Make handprints/splatters. I applied the blood-glue to my hand to make some rough prints, but then applied more directly from the bottle to make sure they were thick enough. Also, they tend to shrink a bit as they dry, so it’s best to make things a little bigger than actual size.

My hands were red for quite a while after this, use gloves if you’re not into that.

4. Let it dry. This took way longer than I expected (about 2 whole days). We ended up moving the whole piece of cling wrap to another room because we wanted to use our living room table, which, as you’ll see in step 5, was a mistake.

Very crinkly handprints

5. Apply to windows. The handprints and splatters came off the cling wrap really easily, but I had a tough time getting them to stick on my windows. I think that they tightened up and dried wrong because we moved the cling wrap.

I figured heat would help them stick, so I tried a regular hair dryer at first and that didn’t do anything but frustrate me. It never quite got hot enough, but it also blew too much air even on the lowest setting. I was about to throw in the towel when I remembered that I convinced my wife we needed a heat gun when we were working on our wedding crafts. (Are you seeing a theme here?) The heat gun worked perfectly, but I did burn my fingers a little.

The Cost

Dollar amount: 0$! I had everything for this project around the house already.
Time and emotional amount: Between the actual time it took for the blood-glue to dry and the angst and physical pain when I tried to stick handprints to the window, this project felt like more trouble than it was worth.

Project #3: Seasonal Stenciled Doormat

What You Need

  1. Plain doormat
  2. Fabric paint of some kind and brush
  3. Stencil OR supplies to make your own stencil (poster board, blade, cutting mat, pencil/marker, ruler)
  4. Scotch tape

What To Do

1. Get your stencil ready. If you’re using a pre-made stencil, you’re done with step 1! Congrats! If not, make one now. I printed out a very scary vampire cat and then drew a grid to make it easier to scale up. Once I sketched out the design, I cut it out with my blade.

Look at this terrifying kitten!

2. Tape the stencil to the doormat.
3. Paint it. This is where things went awry for me. I bought spray fabric paint, because I figured it would be super easy and quick. Reader, it was not. First of all, the can ran out of paint in about 20 seconds. The paint that did come out did not show up on the dark fabric at all. This was a failure.
4. Paint it, take two. This time I used regular fabric paint and a brush, and it worked a lot better. My doormat has textured grooves in it, which I didn’t think would matter for spray paint, but turned into an annoyance when using a brush. But I persevered, don’t worry.
5. Proudly display.

Actual cat not impressed.

The Cost

Dollar amount: The most expensive project of the bunch for me because of the paint mishap, but you could do it for around $12 or so.
Time and emotional amount: Altogether, probably about 2 hours to make the stencil and paint. Some emotional stress because of the spray paint, but overall — not unenjoyable!

Project #4: Mini-foam Coffin

What You Need

  1. Foam — I got it at a craft store, but you could also hit up a hardware store and it would probably be cheaper
  2. Blade
  3. Ruler
  4. Duct Tape
  5. Screwdriver or other blunt instrument to create texture

What To Do

1. Measure and cut your foam. I first measured and cut the top piece to look like the coffin shape I wanted. Then I traced that to create the bottom and measured out the sides by holding pieces up to each edge of the top. It was very scientific.
2. Assemble bottom and sides. The Duct Tape is easy to work with and it’s actually a forgiving fastener, so it’s not too hard to hide mistakes if you didn’t cut everything perfectly straight. I did have to trim some of the corners in order to get them to fit properly, but I just carved away a little at a time until things fit.

I’m a carpenter, basically.

3. Add wood texture to the lid. I used the screwdriver to dig into the foam and create the illusion of wooden boards.
4. Paint it. The crappy quality paint actually worked pretty well on this because it ended up looking like a gray wash on the whole thing. Then I was able to add more paint to a few areas and create a little depth.
5. Add weird stuff inside. It would be awesome and creepy to put a doll in a coffin this size, but we are a very strict Doll-Free Household, so we settled for a hand.

Idea for the hand and hand placement by my wife. October is truly her time to shine.

The Cost

Dollar amount: About $15 for foam and duct tape, and I reused the cheap paint from Project #1.
Time and emotional amount: This took the longest in terms of time spent actively working; I would guess around 4 hours, probably. Despite that, I actually really like building projects on any kind, so this was my favorite of the bunch.

Now all we need to do is buy a ton of candy (even though we live on the second floor and don’t get trick or treaters) and our home will be ready for Halloween. I plan on spending the next week living in a state of nearly constant terror, as I love scary movies but am a total wimp about them. I hope you all enjoy this most wonderful time of the year!


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Jenna is a designer and writer who lives in Boston with her wife, Stephanie, and their two cats, Flapjack and Ellie. She is very passionate about fictional queer women, interspecies friendships, and food. She's still hanging onto a semi-impressive DVD collection. Just in case, you know? You can find Jenna on twitter, instagram, or check out her design website.

Jenna has written 32 articles for us.

6 Comments

  1. My mom just got surgery, so I’m helping her some. She loves decorating for holidays, so I was thinking about surprising her with a jack-o-lantern or something.
    I’m going to decorate my mom’s entire house in bloody handprints now. Thank you!

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