Thursday, September 1, 2011

Halloween Decorations: How to Make Creepy Specimen Jars

Don't let my flowery header deceive you - I live for Halloween. There's something about scaring the bejeezus out of little trick-or-treaters and sullen teenagers that fills me with joy. When I was a little kid, I loved visiting the houses decorated roof to driveway for Halloween, so I hope today's young'uns are just as grateful for a good fright as I was. Whether you're decorating your porch for Halloween night, or your home for a party, read on for tried and tested decorating tips and ideas. Check back in the coming weeks for more articles!

Specimen Jars
Specimen jars are easy to make, inexpensive, versatile and pack quite the visual punch. They are essentially jars filled with icky things. Make specimen jars for decorating a witch's lair, a mad scientist's lab, a vampire's dungeon, a mummy's crypt, or whatever else you choose as your theme.

In the weeks prior to your shindig, gather empty pickle, jam, or condiment jars. Make sure you wash them! If the jar lids feature a non-Halloween-appropriate design (e.g. strawberries) use some sandpaper to rough them up. Alternatively, purchase some new containers from your local dollar store. Try to use a variety of shapes and sizes for maximum visual impact. Clear or coloured glass is best, but be careful and keep them out of reach of little children.

Pumpkin-like glass container from the dollar store and 'escaping' spiders.
The Specimens
This is when the fun begins! Think about what scares you or grosses you out and incorporate that into your jars. Here are some ideas:
  • Growing creatures! These glorious inventions can be found at most dollar stores in the toy section. They are tiny things made out of polymers. Read more about how they work here. Growing creatures come in many icky shapes: rats, lizards, bugs, teeth, etc. Add lukewarm water and the creature to one of your jars; over the next few days it will grow in size until it fills the jar. Make multiple - they'll look perfectly gross! Mad scientist. Witch's lair.
Growing octopus specimen jar.
  •  Blood! Buy some fake blood from - you guessed it - the dollar store, or make your own. Here's a nifty video on mixing up fake blood. Unless you're planning on making a large batch for a costume, and therefore need realistic-looking thick blood, you can probably get away with water tinted with red food colouring. If you're placing the jar of blood in a semi-dark room, the translucent water-food colouring mixture will glow in low light and give the best results.Vampire's dungeon.
  • Dollar store knick knacks! Fake bugs, mini skeletons, and hanging ghouls can fill up jars and, in low light, be terribly frightful. Combine the shells from a couple of eggs with some slimy bugs or reptiles to give the look of freshly-hatched other-worldly creatures. Strategically place plastic spiders in the mouth of a jar to give the look of escaping arachnids. Mad scientist. Witch's lair. Vampire's dungeon. Mummy's crypt.
  • Shrunken apple heads! Check out this how-to on creating shrunken apple heads. Place one or two in a tall jar - they'll look like mummified noggins. Or, just use a creepy head from a hanging ghoul decoration, as shown below. I upped the ancient Egyptian vibe by dyeing a strip of cloth with strongly-brewed coffee and wrapping it around the jar's mouth. Mummy's crypt.
Dollar store ghoul + coffee-dyed cloth = Ancient Egyptian mummy head!
Decorating the Jars
For more creepy detail, make some labels for your specimens. Download a few horror-themed fonts from dafont and print up some labels. Be creative and descriptive. For instance, I dubbed my growing creature octopus 'Kraken'.  Next, rip the paper a little to give your labels rough edges. For an aged effect, crumple up the paper to crease it, and dip it in strongly-brewed cool coffee for a dingy brown colour. Or, paint the label red for a blood-soaked look.

Specimen jars look great stacked and clustered together. Make sure you have enough lights around them so the details are visible. I used some old plastic pumpkin lights covered in a gauzy black crinkle cloth for an orange glow.

Specimen jar display.

Happy haunting, and check back for more Halloween how-to's!


  1. Hey,

    You're so knowledgeable and creative!! Thank you so much for your ideas. I'm going to try out some of the Halloween stuff you suggested--can't wait!
    By the way, do you know how to make edible blood?

  2. a friend and i were thinking to just sub powdered sugar for the corn starch :D