Halloween decoration costs can really add up, but with a little DIY ingenuity and some household materials, it's easy to put together a truly spooky setting on a shoestring budget. Lighting is key to set the mood, and this easy project uses tea-stained and food-coloring "bloodied" industrial cheesecloth to take any old sconce, chandelier or candelabra from classy to creepy in no time. Well, OK, in a few hours anyway!
What you needIndustrial cheesecloth ($4 per 5 yards at Home Depot)
Black tea (about 10 bags)
Red food coloring
Various decorative items
The creative uses for cheesecloth, especially around Halloween, are virtually endless — from sophisticated and spooky to all-out goth and ghastly. The difference is really in how much food coloring (aka ‘fake blood”) you use on your cheesecloth and the level of macabre in your supporting “characters” (aka decorative items). I went with dark “blood red” roses, “poison” Granny Smith apples, and a “ghostly” dress form to set the scene for my classic, tea-stained, “decaying” cheesecloth, with just a hint of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in the “blood-stained” BEWARE bunting I draped across my sconces.
Use your imagination, and play to your audience and age group! I created a simple yet spooky setting for an adult dinner party, but maybe you and your kids really want to dial up the disgusting for the family or neighborhood bash. Have fun with it!
1. Boil a large stockpot of water, and then add the black tea to steep. Remove the tea bags after about ten minutes.
2. Submerge your cheesecloth in the brewed tea water, swishing around and squeezing to release any air bubbles and make sure all the fabric is “coated.” Let sit for at least three hours, or better yet overnight. Use the same tea water for up to five batches of cheesecloth (then repeat step 1). My 5-quart stockpot easily fits two of the 5-yard packages of cheesecloth in each batch.
3. After steeping in tea for the desired time/darkness, remove from stockpot and wring out to release as much water as possible. Hang to dry outside on a line or over a shower curtain rod for at least five hours, or until no longer damp. (The gauzy fabric dries rather quickly, but you want to be completely sure it won’t stain your surfaces or fixtures, don’t you?)
4. Once completely dry, it’s time to start draping! When you know your desired lengths for each light fixture (I used a ballpark of twice the length of each shade for my sconces and drum lamp), cut to measure, making sure you have enough width (using multiple pieces where necessary) to cover the width and circumference of your light fixtures.
5. Tear or cut vertical lines in each end of the fabric, and pull to create dangling “decayed” ends of varying lengths. Poke a fingertip into the fabric at various random spots, pulling along both warp & weft to create weathered, spider web-like holes.
6. Drape your lengths of cheesecloth over your light and confirm you have enough fabric to cover each light, or repeat step 5 if you need additional pieces. OPTIONAL: Secure with tape or glue dots, making sure that none of the cheesecloth touches the light bulb itself. This is also a great time to make the switch to LED bulbs, which don’t generate nearly as much heat as incandescents do. If you do use incandescents, be very careful to secure the cheesecloth where it’s at least a foot away from the bulb to avoid a fire hazard, and cut a hole in the top of the cheesecloth to let heat escape.
7. For the bunting, measure the length between the sconces and add 18″ to either side for draping. Lay on the floor and open to double thickness.
8. Using the cardboard insert from the cheesecloth package behind the fabric (and a towel underneath that to catch drips & smears!), dab food coloring in outline of desired letters and use finger to smear. For an authentically creepy look, set the letters slightly askew on both the horizontal and vertical axis.
9. Dry food coloring on fabric with a hair dryer before removing and hanging to set. Pull the fabric gently to give the letters a drawn-out, wispy quality.
10. Center your lettering between the sconces and drape the ends behind the sconce hardware to secure. OPTIONAL: Use tape or glue dots.
If you want an even creepier look, try dipping the ends of your tea-stained cheesecloth in food coloring, or making “bloody handprints” on huge swaths – like for hanging in front of a plastic shower curtain to get that “Psycho” effect. Use plain tea-stained cheesecloth to wrap a door or column, or a Mason jar with an LED candle inside, and then add extra-large googly eyes to create “mummies.” Use your imagination for the creepiest, most upcycled Halloween ever.
The whole project, from start to finish (including the staining, but not including the drying time), took about 5 hours. Great little weekend morning project! And the best thing is, if you dry everything properly, you can reuse these decorations year after year after year. If they get a little bit more “decayed” with use, all the spookier!
A creative crafter and DIYer, Melissa Massello writes about how-to’s for The Home Depot and her site Shoestringmag.com. With Halloween just around the corner, Melissa enjoys sharing creative budget-friendly ways to decorate your home. You can find a large selection of Halloween and Holiday decorations to supplement your homemade ones at The Home Depot.