Crafting with Gourds

Every year the harvest of Gourds begins in the fall and fills the groceries and natural food shops with fresh Squash, Cucumbers, Luffas and Melons. There are also the Calabash Squash, which is the most common Gourd. Luffas and Calabash Squash have to be harvested very young to be edible. If they are harvested after they have dried out, there is nothing to eat but their skins make fantastic containers, scrubbers and other tools. The Loofah or Plant Sponge is often used in sandal making and other crafts. You know it because you’ve seen in the bath section of the department store, where it’s sold as a body scrubber. Loofahs are also used to make the sponges you use in the kitchen and have been used in certain types of constuction.

The Calabash Squash is the one you are most familiar with when you think of Gourds. They are often called Bottle Gourds because the older, larger ones have been used as containers for generations. You are familiar with a form of Gourd use through the use of Pumpkins as decorations at Halloween and Thanksgiving. Pumpkins are a form of Squash that has Gourd properties. You can scrape out the Pumpkin and eat the insides but use the thick skin as a container for candles and you can carve it out in designs, the most popular being a face. This is a form of Gourding.

However, in short time, your Pumpkin wilts and shrinks and collapses and ends up in the trash. You cannot get a long lasting decorative collectible this way. So I suggest sticking with the hard, inedible, bitter Melons and Squashs that are referred to as “Ornamental Gourds”. These are a distinctively different variety than the edible Squash you see in the stores and they are never edible. They are purely for ornamental use. You will find them in the grocery stores, in the vegetable stands, in the craft shops and health food stores during the fall and winter season. They are there right now. So read this article and get an idea of what kind of Gourd you want to use for what project and then scoot on out and get it. You will be amazed at how fun this is and you will end up doing every year from now on.


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Simple Gourd Bowl

This is a simple project that will produce year round vases you can use in your home. They will be clean, hardy and attractive. Like all Gourd projects, these are cheap and easy. This one does not require a lot of tools or materials and can be finished in a few hours or less.

Materials and Tools:

Hard Shelled Gourd, dried or cured

Soap

Water

Steel Wool

Pencil

Sharp, pointed Knife

Fine-toothed Saw, small

Wood burning tool with narrow and wide tips

Choose a Gourd with a wide, round bottom and a short neck. I checked the prices on all of these items and the most expensive item here is the wood burning kit for $10.00 and remember you can use it to make a lot of bowls.

Instructions:

Soak the Gourd in soapy water for 20 minutes. Use the steel wool to scrape off all the dirt and mold. Lay out on a towel and allow to dry out completely.

After the Gourd has dried, use the pencil to draw a line around the top of the Gourd where you want the top of the bowl to be. Use your eye to carefully gauge the size of the bowl overall and how wide you want the top opening to be. If you make the top too small you can always cut out more but if you overdo it, you will have to start with a new Gourd. So be careful.

To make a level line across the top so that the top of the bowl will be even, set the bowl on a table, hold the pencil with the point against the Gourd and turn the Gourd.

Peirce the line with the tip of the knife to make an entry point along the line and then carefully saw off the top. Check again with the eye to be sure it is even and cut off any excess. Smooth the edges over gently with the edge of the saw.

Reach inside and remove all the remaining pulp and seeds. Clean it all out with soapy water and the steel wool. Once again, let the Gourd dry out completely.

Once dry, draw your design on the outside of the bowl with the pencil. Make geometical patterns in triangles, circles or squares because these are the easiest to get right. With time and practice, you can draw in leaves, animal shapes and faces if you want. See the photo above for some ideas about geometrical patterns that are easy to copy. When you have a pattern you like, begin creating the lines and defining the darker spaces in the pattern with the wood burning tool. Start with the narrow tip to make the finer lines. To finish off, burn in the darker spaces with the wider tip. You do not need any paint, any laquer or any other finish on this bowl. It is best left unpolished.

Gourd Containers

These are simple containers that you can make for your home. They can hold almost anything; from sewing notions to decorative plants. They make really nice centerpeices over the holidays by adding dried seasonal flowers and plants. They can also be made out of smaller Gourds and used as serving peices. It is true that you can spend extra money to get ready made Gourd containers but this is your chance to make one that fits your personal lifestyle and fills your personal needs and save money at the same time.

Materials and Tools:

Hard-shelled Gourd, cured

Soap

Water

Steel Wool

Pencil

Sharp, pointed Knife

Fine-toothed Saw, small

Wood Rasp

Leather Dye in various colors of your choosing

Paintbrush

Clear Liquid Floor Wax

Instructions:

These are the materials you will need to make the basic containers. If you want to make the embellished ones, like in the picture, you will be given the materials list and instructions at the end of this section. These containers are best made without the embellishments if you intend to use them as serving peices. If you are planning to use them as table top decorations or as flower vases then you should continue on to finish them with the trim.

First of all, you must soak the Gourd in soapy water for 10 minutes and then scrape off all the dirt and mold with the steel wool. Set on a towel and allow to dry out. When it’s dry, you should draw a line with the pencil around the neck in the shape you would like the mouth of the Gourd to be Looking at the sample photos above you can see that mouths can be created in balance with the shape of the Gourd. The mouths can be dipping, they can be flat and center or they can be slanted. It’s up to you and the Gourd you selected.

Once you have drawn the line around the Gourd and you are happy with it, then take the knife and push it through the line to make a starting point. Then you can use the saw to cut the top off along the pencil line. Always make the line first to minimize mistakes and remember that if you don’t cut it exactly right it can be shaved down or even cut away in areas to make it look right to your eye.

Once the top is removed, reach in and remove all the pulp and seeds. Wash out the insides with soapy water and then lay it out to dry completely. Once it is completely dry, use the wood rasp to smooth over the edges around the mouth. They should be smooth to the touch so that so ragged edges can be felt.

At this stage, you will be dyeing the Gourds. Start by dyeing the inside of the Gourd with the Black Dye for Leather. Apply the Dye carefully and thoroughly with the paintbrush or any dauber that may come with the Dye. Set the Gourd in a dry, warm place and allow the Dye to dry completely. Once the inside is dry, then you can dye the outside with the colors you have chosen. In our sample photo, the multi colored Gourd has been dyed with black and red in a marbled effect, leaving some of the natural color to show in sections. The other Gourd is dyed all over red. You choose the colors to suit your decor and your own personal taste. You can Dye in layers, in marbled clusters, in streaks, in stripes or all over in one shade. Apply the Dye to the Gourd with paintbrushes, daubers or even paper if you wish to get your desired effect.

After the Dye has completely dried, use the dauber or paintbrush to apply a thick coat of the Liquid Floor Wax. At this point, your Gourds are ready for use. If you intend to use these as serving containers take care of line them with saran wrap or other protective coating to both protect the integrity of the Gourd and to protect the diners from the harsh taste of Leather Dye!

Now, if you would like to continue on and make the Gourds into the decorative peices shown in the photo, then you will need the following extra materials:

Electric Drill w/ 1/16″ Bit
3 lengths of 1/16″ diameter Sea Lyme Grass or Raffia Grass
Large-Eyed Sewing Needle
Spool of artificial Rawhide Strips

Instructions:

These materials can be a little difficult to find. The drill is easy enough but the Sea Lyme Grass or Raffia is not easy to find online but they should be easily located in crafts shops or florist supply shops. The spool of articial rawhide strips is available everywhere in various sizes, but you must be sure that it measures no more than 1/16th of an inch in width or it won’t work. All of the rawhide strips I could locate online were 1/8 an inch or width or wider, which will be much too large. So these items will have to be found in your area.

Start by drilling a row of holes around the mouth of the Gourd, approximately 1/4 inch from the edge and measuring about 1/2 inch in distance apart. Thread the needle with the artificial rawhide strip and pull it through one of the holes from the inside out. Lay the three strands of Sea Lyme or Raffia Grass together and whipstitch them around the rim of the opening, stitching the rawhide strips over them to hold them in place as you go. See the photo for help with this. At the end, just tie it all off. Be sure to cut the ends closely to keep them from sticking out. Your work should look like the picture above. Try stuffing these beautiful vases with dried flowers for the winter.

Santa Gourds

These are cute little Christmas decorations that you can make every year with different designs. Once they are dried and finished they will last for years and you can add to your collection every year until you have an entire village or a north pole scene completely populated. It saves money while letting you create personal items for your family’s holiday.

Materials and Tools:

These are the materials you will need to make a single Santa. The amount of materials you actually use with vary depending upon the size and number of Santa Gourds you make.

Hard-shelled Gourd, cured

Soap

Water

Steel Wool

Pencil

Acrylic Paints

Brushes for use with Acrylic Paints

Clear Varnish Spray

Instructions:
For best results, choose your Gourds among types like Ornamental Spoons, Bottle Gourds, Kettle Gourds and miniature round Gourds. These types of Gourds will give you Santas that look like those in the picture.

Soak the Gourd in soapy water for 20 minutes and then scrub it clean with the steel wool. Once clean, set it out on a towel and allow it to dry completely.

Once the Gourd or Gourds are dry, start penciling your designs on the Gourds. Do this lightly until you are sure of what you want. Once you have a nice design you can start to paint it in. This will be a good project for those of you who love to paint and have artistic talent. For those of you who feel overwhelmed by this, you can always use stencils. Santa’s face and hands are the hardest parts of the design so consider using a commercial stencil to get a face you like and discernable hands. Another idea is to let the kids do it on their own and save them as keepsakes each year.

During the painting process you should always start with the larger expanses, such as the clothing or the beard, perhaps, so that you can just paint over any errors. After you get a large portion painted to your liking you should leave it out to dry overnight before painting again. Acrylic paints are water soluable so if you get into a big jam, you can just wash it all off and start over. Begin with simple designs and take your time. And after letting each layer dry, then you should paint in the next and allow it to dry as well. So this is not a day long project, but one that will take as much as a week.

Once you are finished painting and you like what you have, then spray it over with the Varnish Spray to preserve it for years to come.

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