Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Scary Silhouettes

The first installment of my Halloween history series...

A large number of historic seasonal decorations (Halloween or otherwise) we handmade, relatively easy, and inexpensive--making them perfect for anyone trying to make the most out of their budget. Paper decorations were incredibly popular: some were mass-produced, others made at home.

Silhouettes were an element of decor that were often produced at home with black paper, a steady hand, and several hours with a pair of scissors. I found some historic mass-produced ones available on eBay (pictured at right), but it seemed just as easy in this case to make my own. Applications varied, but according to recommendations that I found, LOTS of repetition seemed to be favored, and they could be mixed with other things (streamers, balloons, etc).

When I first started out playing with silhouettes, I though, "Yeah sure. These won't be very interesting." But it turned out I was wrong.

I started out with the the images I found on the internet of historic Halloween cards, using a photocopier to enlarge images of bats, cats, and owls that were in the background. I wanted to use the actual historic images because the eye for style and proportion would be different from what modern expectations were. I particularly liked the craggy angles of this cat. As a rule, jagged or criss-crossed lines are more visually disquieting than round or paralell lines.

Everyone in the office contributed on their lunchbreaks or whenever else they were in the meeting/break room. I would just hand them a template, black construction paper, and a pair of scissors with an earnest and hopeful look on my face (the look goes a long way in getting people to help with odd tasks). Pretty soon we had a large stack.

Now what? Well, instructions in the old books and the new ones all suggested putting them on windows, pinning them to the curtains (the reproductions, not the historic ones of course) and creating patterns of them along walls and doorways.

I was downright amazed at how effective the winking eyes of the owls were against the bright light of the outside. And, on another book insturction, I pinned some to lampshades, where they added atmosphere after dark. Eventually, I just went a little crazy and started attaching them anywhere that they would create a strong contrast. I even began putting them against the tablecloth (another receommendations of the ubiquitous manuals).

My last project was a difficult one, but again was produced by following the instructions in an historic text. "No party is complete without a witch on her broomstick," it said. The book recommended cutting one out of black paper and affixing it to orange or blue tissue paper to symbolize the moon. The crafter was then instructed to take a large piece of cardboard (harder to find than expected in my case), cut a circle out of it, and affix the tissue paper and witch to the back. I had no earlthy idea if this would work, and sketching the witch was enough to try my patience (my drawing skills are poor at best--another reason to use that photocopier next time).

After an hour or so of fussing, it all came together reasonably well. Whew! Too bad my "moon" isn't rounder...

So the outcome: if you too are looking to decorate your home up on a budget this Halloween, I recommend this method to anyone. Altough, it would probably be even better if you have a child who is good with scissors to help since that part is a little time cosuming. All together, I say "go history!" for providing me with a cheap decorating solution!


  1. Great post - I've been looking for some scary silhouette templates online, but only found some at Martha Stewart. Can you post your links where you found yours?

  2. Hi--
    I've been using a photocopier and my printer to blow up small images that I found on vintage Halloween cards. I make them as big as I can on the computer printer, then cut them out and trace them onto oak tag or file folders.

    Try this site that belongs to a collector. She likes to showcase her own Halloween collection.