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October 31, 2013

I've had an idea for a fully carved spider-web pumpkin lantern in my head for ages, but wasn't confident enough in my abilities to attempt it without someone else's instructions.

I never found those instructions, but when my husband brought home a free little pumpkin from work, it seemed to be just right for a full out lantern, so I attempted it on my own.  It turned out so well I'm going to share my how-to with you!

So, here you go, my process for creating a spider-web jack o'lantern.

What You'll Need:
  • A small pumpkin, not too lumpy or creased - ideally symmetrical all the way around, about 8-15" in diameter
  • pumpkin carving tools like PumpkinMasters, or a serrated knife that can cut small pieces
  • a pen or marker
  • tape, about 1/2" wide, scissors to cut width if necessary
  • a light (I recommend the small cheap LED tea lights - much safer and can last you several years!)
  • Several hours to devote to carving

I can't give a pattern for this, since pumpkins are all kinds of different shapes and sizes. You'll need to figure out the best layout for your pumpkin.  Get a little pumpkin, not a big one.  Your hands will thank you.  (You should be glad you can't see the size of my blister!)  

Firstly, do not draw all over a pumpkin with a pen.  It won't wipe off as easily as you think.  I was trying to get a feel for what I was attempting to do and had all sorts of craziness drawn on there that was still on there when I put it out for display.  

Step 1.  Prep Your Pumpkin

Cut out the BOTTOM of the pumpkin and clean out the guts from there.  (it's just like cutting out the top, except awkward because of the stem.  I worked on mine with it balanced on my lap.)  Then begin thinning out the shell.  You'll want to get it nice and thin, but not TOO thin.  I usually scrape until I can feel the vibrations of the scraper with my other hand directly on the outside of the pumpkin.  You'll understand what I'm talking about once you feel it.  

Step 2.  Vertical Webbing

I took some painter's tape for this step and cut it in half, making it about 1/2" wide.  I used these strips to mark out the vertical webbing.  I wanted the holes between the web to be somewhat square, so I tried not to get the lines more than 2" apart.  This took a surprising amount of time to arrange so all the lines were evenly spaced around the pumpkin, but it was well worth the effort.  
Step 3 - Horizontal Webbing

Once I got those lines worked out, I began drawing out my horizontal lines with, OK, a pen.  I know what I just said, but here it's OK.  I did simple arches, but you can choose to do whatever interests you.  Maybe alternating diagonals per column?  I kept the arches a tiny bit narrower than the vertical webs.  I drew two lines for each arch, then scribbled on the pumpkin underneath that arch, to indicate that this was the piece I was cutting out. 

I started out spacing the arches pretty narrow at the top, and changed my mind and made them farther apart as I went along, but the effect was quite pretty.  My hand with the saw kind of decided just how accurate each arch was, but I figure spiders get tired and achy too.   I realize this is rambly, but just look closely at some of the photos in this post and you can kind of go with a pattern there.  Remember you're cutting out and removing the space between the webs, not the web itself.

The bottom row I did a reverse arch, and ended it about an inch and a half above the bottom of the pumpkin as it sat on a level space.  You could probably still go lower, but I figured no one would be able to see that section anyway.

Step 4:  Cutting Out

IMPORTANT: When you cut out each hole, DO NOT PUNCH OUT THE PIECES YET!  You'll need these pieces still in place to support the rest of the pumpkin while you're sawing.  I worked my way around the pumpkin in horizontal rows, doing all the top ones first, then the row below, etc.  I needed to rest my hand on the pumpkin to saw and didn't want to rest it on a piece already cut out.  

Step 5:  Punching Out

When you've got everything cut out, you'll have the fun of poking all the pieces out.  It's really very satisfying.  Keep the saw handy for those bits that resist. Don't try to force a piece out, or you could break the web. 

Extra Comments

I used PumpkinMasters tools, but I opened a new pack this year thinking 'new blades will be sharper' and they were flimsy and uncomfortable.  Don't know what to tell you to use, but I'll be looking for better tools for next year!

You don't really NEED the bottom piece anymore, but it can help raise the candle up if you want more light.  

The pumpkin should be fairly sturdy still, but treat it gently.  I actually carved it the night before Halloween and stuck it in the fridge to help it last through the day.  I left it out overnight the next night and by morning it was starting to cave in due to spoilage.  There are tricks to keep it from rotting, like spraying with bleach or smearing cut edges with petroleum jelly, but this pumpkin is mostly cut edges so I'm not sure how well it would help.

Add some extra decor - I think spider rings would have been awesome on this lantern, but frankly, they creep me out, so I didn't have any.  

If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below, and I will gladly answer them.  This pumpkin looked fantastic in my yard, and I got a lot of compliments.  They'd be really pretty as a set!    

October 25, 2013

Another attempt to get me back into working on this.  My brain is trying to create new projects already and I can't get THIS one finished!

We'll start at the top.  Here's the attic.  Not as tall as I remember, even without the roof..

I have accomplished very little up here.  I've made a floor.  That's pretty much it.   The door you see is actually the bathroom door, I just borrowed it for the photo because the placement of the stairway door is the only other thing I've accomplished.  I haven't even run the wiring!  I have NO idea what I want to do up here, other than 'make it an office.'  It will need lots of bookshelves, which will likely go where Robin is standing.  It needs a roof.  The side dormer windows (not really in the picture) will likely get window seats.  I need wall space to hang the bulletin board and the sword collection, but I'm not too sure I want to sacrifice book space for that.  

The Bedroom.  This is probably the most complete of all the rooms.  The floor had been done previously.  The wallpaper is scrapbooking paper from Hobby Lobby.  I cut out the window trim from illustration board, and there will also be illustration board wainscoting around the room.  I made the doors - again out of illustration board and what is probably half scale siding.  (the closet doors are louvered.)

I have only installed one door of four, and in order to install them all I had to rip out the wall, which was only partially glued in by the molding on the other side.  In the process I managed to hit the ceiling fan that was hanging from the plug in the ceiling, and broke off one of the pins.  I think I fixed it, but I'm still not happy with the ceiling fan in general.  I also made a mistake with the closet door handles - they're way too high!  (yet it LOOKS right?  so confused.)

Ideally I want half height steam radiators under the windows, but I can't find them and don't feel up to making them.  I may build boxes under the windows and claim that the radiators are hidden underneath.

The bathroom has been very time consuming!  I still don't know what I want to do with the floor, and am not happy with the wall color.  I also haven't bought the lights I want to put over the sink, nor found a mirror yet.  Or faucets, for that matter.  Or a washer and dryer.  My brain wants me to install a hamper in the bedroom closet that can then be pulled into the bathroom.  I guess I could at least install a door and claim it's for that?  I'm pleased with the sink and tub, however.  They will work, although I feel like the tub isn't deep enough.  I measured against my full size tub, though!

The kitchen.  Yeah.  I've done nothing.  It'll be mostly cabinetry on the wall.  Hopefully another cabinet on the right hand side.  I've cut out a wall, but no door or other openings yet.  I'm considering transom windows.  I don't know what to do about the floor, so I may just go with wood.  I have the sinking feeling that I'll be making EVERYTHING by hand.  I'm hoping it will be easier than the bathroom.  

The living and dining rooms.  I'm pleased with the flooring results in there, although I had a bear of a time with that octagonal shape.  I even tried to apply math to the problem and could NOT get it to work out!  So I resorted to eyeballing and it's much better now.  Eventually I will fill in the rest of the area around the octagon - I was estimating for a built in cabinet on the left hand side, so that part of the floor will be filled in.  A fireplace (with working flickering LED fire!) will be installed in the center of the wall, and half bookshelves on either side.  I am sincerely hoping I am overestimating the amount of space I need for books, because I am moving everything from the archaeologist's study into this house.  And making more, because Robin needs copies of Harry Potter.  

The paper in the upstairs hallway isn't sticking well at all, so I need to make some repairs.  I also have to redo the floor due to the warping problem which really threw off everything else.  (you can see the problem in the bathroom picture above.)   I still have the old floor for this area - I may go ahead and make it work for this new configuration.

And I haven't worked on the downstairs hallway at all yet.

I've been trying to finish the interior before I start working on accessories so I can at least show off the finished house, but sometimes I feel like I'll never get there.  I don't know if making a checklist will help.  I'm kind of discouraged at this point!  I feel like I've been working so hard on it all and it's still a hot unfinished mess.

October 23, 2013

I recently came across an unlabeled Willowcrest on eBay that claimed it was a replica of a real house in Saratoga, NY.  I scoffed a bit, knowing it was a kit, but then realized that it's quite possible this kit WAS based on a real house.  I haven't seen the box in so long that I don't remember what it said.  Curiosity got the better of me and off I went to Google Image Search and Pinterest.

I found several intriguing houses.  This one was a house a couple toured during a house hunt. It was built in 1869, so you can get an idea of timing.  They didn't specify where they were, only 'upstate New York.'  Very sweet, and I especially loved the interior photos.

However, the upper level didn't have the distinct shape of the Willowcrest.  It would be easier to search for that feature if I knew what it was called!  So I turned to my newest book:  A Field Guide To American Houses by Virginia & Lee McAlester.  If you're interested in historic architecture or need a good resource for building a historically accurate dollhouse, check out this book!  IT's FILLED with tons of drawings and black and white photos of house styles and architectural bits.

This house in Barrington, RI features a center gable
in the Mansard roof very similar to the Willowcrest style.
The Willowcrest is considered a Second Empire style, which ran between 1855 and 1885.  It has a Mansard roof with a center gable.
It features Italianate style (1840-1885) framed doors, framed paired windows, and overhanging eaves with many decorative brackets.  The example to the left is a classic real life house, and very similar to the one featured on eBay!

Why research and write about all this detail?  I love real history, historic architecture, and old buildings, and will take advantage of any opportunity to look at them.  I'm also in a rut and haven't been able to work on my Willowcrest in a month, and this is my way of working up interest again.

My next option took a while longer to track down, and lead me down a false trail full of gorgeous Victorian gems that you absolutely must visit when you're done here, but eventually I found it.  It turned out to be an historic home struggling to find preservation.  The Winans-Crippen House was built in 1871 in Saratoga Springs, NY.  You can read more about its history and preservation efforts at Saratoga's Preservation Foundation site.  I feel so sorry for it! I can't help wondering if this is the house that influenced the kit.  Do you know of any other homes in the Saratoga area that might be a better match?

Update: 6/20/16

Came across this lovely 1870 house in New Haven, CT today.

Update: 11/9/16
Look at THIS from Woodbury, NJ: