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haunt your house
DIY Halloween party decorations 
by Yee-Fan Sun |
1 2 3

Every year around this time of year, when I start spying orange and black streamers in shop windows, fake cobwebs and plastic cauldrons at the cheapie department stores, I have to admit: I know it's disgustingly commercialized, but I love Halloween, in all its tacky faux-creepy glory. So when it comes to getting the digs decked out for Halloween revelry, I tend to get a little obsessive about the decorations, transforming my normally cozy pad into a cheesy shrine to witches and spiders, vampires and ghosts, the things that go bump in the night. And while I readily confess to being a sucker for the rubber spiders and plastic skeletons you'll find in party stores 'round now, the props I love best are, naturally, the homemade ones.

Looking for new ideas for this year's Halloween party? Here are some of my favorite do-it-yourself décor ideas from Halloween hootenannies past…

eerie hands
When my Margot Tenenbaum costume of a few years back demanded that I procure myself a fake wooden finger, I turned to my friend Barrett, who used to design museum exhibits for a living, and knows about all sorts of nifty products for making molds and casts. After a couple of experiments, we decided on a product called Flexwax. The wax melts easily in a pot plopped on a regular home stove, and stays liquid at a temperature (around 120-125F) that's low enough for human skin to tolerate. With a few quick dips of my finger, a perfect finger-shaped mold was born. With a huge amount of Flexwax still sitting in my closet the following year, I decided to put it to use to make fake hands as party décor. We stuck glowsticks in a few of them and scattered them on tables and other surfaces all over the house. We filled others with self-expanding foam, then stuck them at the wrist ends to the wall to give the illusion of ghostly hands reaching out of the walls.

You can buy a big hunk of Flexwax through arts and crafts suppliers like Dick Blick. You'll also need Vaseline (particularly if you have any hair on or around your hands), a cheap cooking pot big enough to hold the wax hunk (go to the thrift store and look for one that you can devote specifically for this use; if you can find one that's more tall and narrow rather than shallow and wide, it'll make it easier to get your hands in the wax), and a stick with which to stir the wax. A cooking thermometer also comes in handy; cover the probe completely with a thick layer of foil so you don't render it waxily unusable for all future purposes. It's also good to have another pot with ice water. Heat up the wax as instructed on the sheet of paper that should come with your block; let it cool down to the proper temperature before sticking in a finger to test. While you're waiting, grease up your hands nice and good. A word of warning here: if you're very hairy, as my boy discovered, the Vaseline might not even be sufficient. In which case you have two options: shave your hand, or let someone else do the Flexwaxing honors.

Once the wax has cooled to a bearable temperature and before it's started to solidify, quickly dip in your hand, doing your best to coat it completely. Pull it out and watch the wax harden. Do another dip or two, until the solidified wax is relatively thick and more-or-less opaque; dunk in ice water to harden up the wax a bit more. Don't worry if you get some weird drips -- it all adds to the creepy effect.

Now, to remove the wax hand, you'll have to gently wiggle your hand around inside, until the wax starts to come loose. It might resist, but be patient and keep twisting away; eventually, you'll be able to slip out your hand. Set aside to let the hand harden further, and make a few more, reheating the pot of wax as necessary to keep it liquid. Experiment with different hand poses so you don't end up with six identical boring hands; better yet, get a friend to join the fun.

scamper this way kids

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