At our house, we love making homemade Hallowe’en decorations! Who needs store-bought plastic stuff when you can easily make your own haunting decorations that look great and are so fun to make?
The wonderful thing about Hallowe’en decorations in particular is that they don’t need to look perfect – they can be as messy as you like and it doesn’t matter, since Hallowe’en is the time for the old and worn out – torn/dirty fabric, broken things – they can all make great spooky decorations!
When I was little we always made a scarecrow to sit on our porch by stuffing old clothes with leaves, then making a head and putting some old boots and a hat on him – it was such fun to see our scarecrow come to life. A little bit different every year, but his name was always the same – Clem!
This year I wanted to try making a haunting ghost. I knew I wanted it to look old-fashioned and definitely spooky! In previous years I’d seen figures made from chicken-wire and some draped in cheesecloth, though I knew I wanted mine to have a face, so I decided to incorporate using my newest favourite printing medium – Solarfast!
I’d never used chicken-wire for any purpose before, but it was quite fun to try and make a person-like form with. I learned the hard way that you should definitely wear gloves when working with chicken-wire as part way through cutting I realised I was dripping blood all over my photo backdrop! Luckily I found some gardening gloves to use and carried on.
I am quite pleased with how our ghost turned out! She looks very spooky hung up outside, especially if you illuminate her by positioning a light beneath.
Now, just where to store our life-sized ghost lady the rest of the year…
how to make a diy haunting victorian ghost
using chickenwire & cheesecloth
You won’t need many materials to make this ghost, but it is a bit of an undertaking so you will need a bit of patience! You can also make your ghost without a face if you want to skip the Solarfast printing – I think it would look very spooky just with cheesecloth draped over the head!
what you need
for the ghost body & Head
- Lots of cheesecloth – I used about 10 yards – 5 of higher quality and 5 cheap quality
- Teabags for dyeing cheesecloth – 10
- Chicken wire – I bought a roll that had 1 inch cells and was 18 inches x 25 feet
- 20 gauge wire (not totally necessary but handy for securing chicken wire together)
- Heavy thread or fishing wire for hanging
- Needle and thread
- Head form or ball or something head-shaped to wrap chicken wire around
for the ghost face
- Piece of cotton, muslin or linen for face about 12″ x 12″ (prewash and dry fabric to prevent shrinkage after printing)
- Transparency sheets – 2 (8.5 x 11″ size)
- Solarfast dye
- 8.5 x 11″ piece of glass for placing over transparency (optional)
- High resolution vintage photo…or your own photo!
- Piece of board or cardboard the size of the cotton piece
- Sewing clips or clothes pins
- Wire cutters
- Work gloves or gardening gloves
diy Haunting ghost – Process
shaping the head
Start by taking whatever you’re using for your head form – I’ve had this Styrofoam head for years and use it for many things, you can find them at Value Village for about $5. You’ll also need wire cutters and some kind of gloves to protect your hands.
Unroll the chicken wire and fit your head form inside.
Start cutting through the chicken wire ‘cells’ at the point where the two ends meet, so that it fits snugly around the head.
Cut across the chicken wire about 3-4 inches above the top of the head. Carefully remove the head from the form and start folding the overlapping wires to secure. I cut another smaller piece of chicken wire to strengthen the top of the head to be sure it wouldn’t come apart when hanging the ghost up.
Set the head aside for now while you work on forming the body.
forming the body
For the body, you will need to cut a piece of chicken wire that is 24″ x 36″. My chicken wire is 24″ wide, so I cut a piece that was 36″ long. Roll into a tube overlapping the long ends about 3-4 inches. Begin folding the cut wire edges over the wire cells where it meets to secure in place.
Now you’ll start bending on the wire to form a body shape – push in near the middle for the waist and at the top to form the shoulders.
Now take your head shape and place it on the shoulders and start bending the open wires around each other to secure. You can snip open some of the cells to make it easier to wrap the wires around one another. You can also use some of the 20 gauge wire if you have it to help secure the chicken wire together.
Now on to forming the arms: cut a cut two pieces of chickenwire that are 12 inches by 26 inches. Roll each into a long tube and overlap edges about 3 inches at one end and 1 inch at the other end – one end will end up wider (the shoulder) and the other narrower (the hand end).
At the hand end, pinch wires together to make a hand shape. Pinch in near middle to make an elbow.
At the shoulder end of the arm, snip open some of the chicken wire cells and fold outwards.
Attach the arm to the body by placing the arm at one side near the shoulder area and folding the open wires over the cells on the body shape. Then bend the arm towards the front of the body.
Here is one arm attached. Don’t worry to much about the shape of it yet, you can do some more forming when everything is in place!
Front view of the finished chicken wire body form.
optional: Adding Light inside the head to illuminate the face
This part is optional! I had the idea to add a light inside the head to illuminate the face by placing a plastic battery-operated ‘tealight’ inside. While it does light up the face a bit I think illuminating the ghost from underneath using a flashlight is a bit more effective. Here is how I added the tealight in case you want to try it..
First, open the cells at the top of the head.
Cut an extra piece of chicken wire that is approximately 6″x6″. Turn on your plastic tea light (these tea lights last quite a while so you can leave it on – once inside the head it might be too hard to get to to turn on from the outside).
Take the 6″x6″ piece of chicken wire and attach one edge near the base of the inside of the head, place the tealight inside, then close the piece of chicken wire over the light and bend the top wires to close off. Close up the head again.
creating a ghostly face
To create the face I used a method of printing on cloth using Solarfast dye. You can see my other tutorial here for further instructions on this method. Don’t forget to prewash your fabric to prevent it shrinking after you make your print – I forgot to prewash and my print turned out a little smaller than I hoped!
You will need a sunny or bright-ish day to do this printing since the dye develops under UV light. Overcast is okay too but the image will take longer to develop. Just make sure there’s no rain forecast!
Start by taking an image that will print to about the size of an 8.5 x 11″ piece of paper and turning it into a negative. Solarfast has a handy negative generator for making negatives.
Print out your negative image on a sheet of transparency. If all looks good, print out a second transparency negative (you’ll need two to make sure it’s dark enough).
Secure your two negatives together using a tiny bit of tape, making sure they are matched up exactly. Take your piece of cotton and mark on there where the corners of the negative are, this will help you see where you need to apply the Solarfast dye.
Take your bottle of Solarfast and give it a good shake. Place your piece of cotton onto an old board or piece of cardboard.
Pour a little of the dye into a small dish or cup. Apply the dye using a paintbrush or sponge all over the area where you marked off on your cotton. You want it covered completely but you don’t want it to be too wet either. Press with a rag or paper towel to soak up any excess.
Now place your transparency negative on top of the dye and then cover over with a piece of glass. If you don’t have glass, that’s okay, just make sure not to print on a very windy day or your negative might fly away! You could also secure the negative with a tiny bit of tape at the edges.
Time to take your photo printing bundle outside! I was printing with black dye on a pretty sunny day in October so I left it out in the sun for 30 minutes. Here is an exposure chart from Solarfast which lists the various times needed for different ink colours. The photo above shows what it looked like after 30 minutes – you can see the developed ink around the edges of the transparency.
Note: When the developing time is up, leave your negative in place until you get your print inside and away from UV light as it will keep developing and will make the parts you want to keep light develop darker.
Here is the print just after I’ve brought it inside. After removing the negative you need to wash out the Solarfast dye. I hand wash mine in hot water with regular detergent and it works out just fine. You can also wash out the dye in the sink and then throw your print in with the rest of a regular laundry load – I’ve never had the Solarfast do anything detrimental to my laundry, but you might not want to put it in with anything you don’t want damaged, just in case!
Here is my final print – printed with black Solarfast on white linen. I love how it turned out! Though it shrunk a tiny bit in the drying process – I forgot to prewash my fabric, oops!
Just to show the difference that different fabric and timing makes – I made this print previously, it was on cotton muslin fabric with a 20 minute exposure time on a sunny day, not under glass.
Here are the two prints side-by-side, you can see how much my new print (on the left) shrunk!
putting your ghost all together
Once your print is all washed and dried, it’s ready to attach to your ghost’s head. I first started by placing the fabric on the head and positioning it where it looked about right.
Next, use sewing clips or clothes pins to hold the cloth in place around the edges.
Using a needle and thread, make a few stitches at the edge of the cloth and then catch the chicken wire underneath to secure. Do this at a few points all around the head. I did a couple at the top and 2-3 around the sides. You can leave the bottom un-sewn as this will be covered by the cheesecloth.
dressing the ghost
Start by ‘tea-dyeing’ all of your cheesecloth in 2-3 litres of boiling water with about 10 orange pekoe teabags. Leave in the tea about 1/2 an hour, rinse with cool water and hang to dry. Some cheese cloth is already a natural beige colour, so you can skip this step if you’re happy with the colour of your cheesecloth. Some of mine left as-is, the rest was very white so I tea-dyed it.
Once dry, take some of your cheesecloth and rip or cut a few strips. These are handy for tying the cheesecloth ‘clothing’ to the body.
Cut a length of the higher quality cheesecloth for the first layer of clothing. You need a piece that will drape down both sides and extends a bit longer than the chicken wire body. Cut a hole about 7 inches in length in the middle centre of the cheese cloth. Fit this over the head. You can make some cuts and rips along the bottom edge of the fabric to make it look tattered.
At the underarms, roughly sew the fabric together down the length of the ‘gown’. You can use pretty big stitches as it doesn’t have to look pretty, just needs to hold together!
Using the higher quality cheese cloth again, cut two pieces of fabric to cover around the arms and hangs a few inches over the hands. Using the strips you cut, tie on the ‘sleeves’ at the elbow and wrist area.
adding a bonnet
Cut a length of plain cotton, cheesecloth or muslin that is big enough to cover over the sides, top and back of the head in a sort of bonnet shape. The piece I used was about 20″ x 22″. I sewed one edge to make a sort of front for the bonnet, placing the sewn edge at the front, around the face. Sew a few stitches to secure the bonnet to the face fabric.
You can just tuck some of the ‘bonnet’ fabric into the cells of the chicken wire at the back, this seems to secure it well enough.
Here is the back bonnet with the fabric tucked into the chicken wire.
Here is the bonnet sewn in place with a few stitches at points around the face.
You can also use some of the cheesecloth strips you cut to tie around the neck to secure the bonnet better.
Continue layering on sheets of cheesecloth until you’re happy with the look of the ghost’s gown. I used layers of the thicker cheesecloth for the base layers and then layered the thinner cheesecloth over top. I draped some of the thinner cheesecloth over the head and face to create a veiled look.
The last thing to do is to add a string for hanging! I used some thick nylon shoe-making thread, but you could use anything that has a good amount of strength. Using a needle threaded with your strong thread, go into the fabric on the top of the head and go under some of the chicken wire and back up. Do this a couple times so you have a few loops to hang your ghost from.
And your Haunting Victorian Ghost is finished! Isn’t she lovely!? Hang her up outside, add a strategically placed flashlight behind for some illumination if you’d like, and you’re all ready to spook some little children…perhaps some adults too!
Try out different lighting to get just the right spooky effect!
I hope you’ll try making your very own Haunting Victorian Ghost ♥ It’s a bit of work, but I think quite worth the effort!
Please let me know if you try this tutorial!