Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Good Gourd Again!

The only limits to what you can make with gourds are set by your imagination. Over the years I have made rain sticks, lamps and lampshades, dolls and dolls houses, boxes, bird houses, peg baskets, bowls, earrings, bracelets and even a suit of armour! Here are some practical things you need to know to get you started.

First you need to clean your gourds. Fill a large sink or bowl with hot soapy water and soak for twenty minutes or more. if you have time it makes the process easier. Using a large copper dish scourer, begin to rub the gourd. The outer layer of skin should begin to slough away. This is messy job but it is exciting to watch the patterns appear. If your gourd has no mould, the epidermis layer may become hard and waxy. If you are planning to paint your gourd later, you will need to scrape this off in the same way.

Draw your cutting lines on your gourd once you have decided what you are making – the gourds will usually tell you what they want to be! A slice cut from a gourd I was planning to make into a thumb piano looked like part of the famous Madonna bra and set me off on my female suit of armour – the half made thumb piano is still in the shed!

A vice or rubber mat to secure your piece while you cut can help prevent accidents. Cutting tools may include Stanley knives, hacksaws, a jigsaw, Dremel or even a band saw for larger gourds. Unless you are planning to rejoin the pieces afterwards, don’t worry if your cuts are a little rough as edges can be treated like timber and sanded smooth later.
It is recommended that you wear a dust mask while cutting, some people have an allergic reaction to gourd dust and everyone will notice it tastes bitter. You may also like to wear rubber gloves if you have very sensitive skin.

Now you have opened the gourd you will see the soft and spongy inner layer that holds the seeds. There is also sometimes a satiny coating on the inside of the shell you may choose to leave. Scrape the seeds and the lining away with a spoon or metal scraper until it is as clean as you would like. You can sand the inside for a finer finish.

I treat gourds as I would timber. After sketching designs on the gourd, I enhance them by burning the pattern into the gourd with a soldering iron. The soldering iron can also be used to burn small holes in the gourd. The designs are then filled using wood dyes which enhance reather than hide the natural patterns of the gourd. For small areas I use a paintbrush, larger ones a cloth dipped in dye to spread it easily and evenly. Acrylic and enamel paints both work well too, as do coloured inks. Remember that any stain used on the inside of the gourd will be brighter in colour. Thicker shelled gourds can also be carved like you would a lino cut, using the same tools.

Protect your surface with varnish a wax finish, furniture polish or varnish on the outside.

The bitter taste of the gourd can be removed by repeated filling and rinsing with water with a teaspoon of bicarb added to it until the taste has gone, if you wish to drink from it. Traditionally, the gourds used for water “sweated’ through the skin which kept the water cool for those cowboys in the desert. You may prefer seal with several coats of safflower oil, letting each coat harden between applications to prevent leakage.

Drill, cut, glue, hinge, lace, weave upon, bead, wire, cut and generally treat like a thin piece of wood.
Attach beads, driftwood, macramé, brass rings or gourd shapes for handles
To make the suit of armour I cut, shaped and decorated individual pieces of gourd then pierced them so I could thread cut “brass” curtain rings through the holes which I then soldered up to join the pieces together. You have to be rather insane to do this… it took me over a year.
If you use the round Cantina gourds for boxes the lid you cut will sit back onto the bottom if you cut carefully and don’t sand too much away.
Line gourds if you wish by gluing fabric, soft leather or fake fur inside.
Hinges can be made with soft leather or small jewelry box type hinges glued or tacked on.

If anyone has a picture of something insane they have made from gourds or a question about gourds, please post a comment and I will do my best to answer.
That would be totally gourdeuos!


  1. Love the suit of armour ! Have you ever seen or heard 'Totally Gourdgeous' an aussie band playing instruments all made from Gourds ! My friend Penelope Swales made them,
    Just seen that they've just played at the Fairbridge Festival !

  2. Classic - love the inventiveness! Hugs from Totally Gourdgeous. Let us know if we can co-promote sometime


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