When Halloween Got Wyrd

Making a Halloween Witch Yard Display

It’s nice to meet someone who loves Halloween as much as yourself. It’s also great if they too have dreamed of creating a DIY, homemade Halloween yard display. Better still if they are a gifted creator. Fantastic if their talents work complimentarily to your own. This was the experience which ultimately led to a magical Halloween featuring a staging of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters, witches from literature.

Setting the Scene

I had been already been thinking about decorating for Halloween, but the plot thickened when I was approached by Thomas, West Virginia native Andria DiBacco. The concept was simple: Create a scene featuring the trio of witches known as The Wyrd Sisters as created by British writer Terry Pratchett, also known as Sir Terence David John Pratchett. His title surely indicates his stature in British literature.

He created this trio as a comedic fantasy partial coven, loosely representing the Maiden (the green Magrat Garlick), Mother (the bawdy Nanny Ogg), and Crone  (stern Granny Weatherwax) female symbols and added overtones of Macbeth. His writing is stylistically similar to movie scripts of the beloved comedy troupe Monty Python. He’s not afraid to throw a punch and is wickedly funny.

Halloween DIY Yard display based on Terry Pratchett's Wyrd Sisters
Homemade Terry Pratchett Wyrd Sister witches for a DIY Halloween yard display.

The Do It Yourself Concept

When Andria approached me about making the scene, I believe she already had a pretty good idea of what she wanted to do. It would be something new in Tucker County. With a surplus of currently unused chicken wire (there were once chickens up the hill) and old PVC piping formerly used for same, she had a ballpark idea. Determining the figures’ poses and final stability was a dual task, and my husband lent multiple  tools.

I was given the task to make the faces and hands. My as-of-late unused polymer clay supply was revived, and my assortment of acrylic paints opened. I had never sculpted a face before, and my portrait work was mainly limited to drawing cat and dogs. I was excited to tackle the Wyrd Sisters likenesses as a first portraiture attempt. See close-ups of my modeling and painting in the short video below. We had the initial vision of our DIY Halloween display.

Creative Minds Don’t Always Think Alike

That’s no biggie when working in the creative realm. Read “A Philosophy of Kindness” to be clear on my own life philosophy, and a part of the reason I joined in with this project.

In the case of our creative process, our differences were a great thing. I feel the two of us compliment each other nicely with ability and style. Andria’s technique for creating the chickenwire armatures for the Wyrd Sisters figures was different than what I would have suggested, but it worked out wonderfully. The witches took impressive form. I am used to felting garments where no sewing is needed. Andria has the mind of a tailor. There was a lot of wire to clip and fasten, so we both pitched in.

Tasks, Materials, and Sources

We brainstormed on how to cover and clothe the figures, and a sort of landscaping cloth was chosen as the material of choice. We needed something that was lightweight and preferably waterproof. Thomas weather is very erratic and can waver to extremes. Imagine my surprise when the basic covering turned into full fledged dresses, plus divine hats for two of the witches in Andria’s hands. For Nanny Ogg, we used thrift store clothing.  No need for a tailored look there. I made amulets of polymer clay. Andria had made suitably witchy potion bottles with hand lettered calligraphy to help set the scene. A DIY Halloween had been on her mind.

DIY witches for Halloween from side view
How would Halloween be complete without witches?

The thrift store did indeed come in handy, and I recommend shopping there for your DIY Halloween activities. Thank goodness for B-thrifty. Not only was there witchy clothing a plenty in September, but the perfect wig for the Maiden, and sundry Halloween decorations to scatter about and upcycle were also scored. Instead of buying black cloth for a black light banner, a black duvet cover was chosen at a high discount. Dollar Tree was also a preferred destination.

I found the perfect used buttons, lace trim, and long pins for fastening, plus the fabric for face and necks at Fabric Place Basement. The gracious owners were getting used to me squeaking in at the last minute for Halloween fixings, and never hesitated to quickly help me find what I needed. Next year I promise to get the hours straight. We tried to avoid store-bought  main props, but the Spirit of Halloween was helpful for lighting, cobwebs, and a really cool cat. It’s also terribly fun to visit when getting in the Halloween mood.

Halloween do it yourself witch yard display
Witchy figure of character Nanny Ogg in snow prior to Halloween.

While Andria was feverishly working outside, I respected my health (see blog topic Myasthenia Gravis) and worked indoors in the unseasonably warm September weather. I modeled the three faces and painted them to character. There was a bit of drama with cracking during curing, but it was mended in the end. Then was the issue of affixing the “masks” to the head armatures. The technique applied gave extra stability to the heads in addition to the sturdy PVC “skeletons,” and helped keep Nanny Ogg’s noggin from being battered off in the wind one night. She was kinked strongly at the neck, but that was reparable. I have become a true believer in E600 adhesive. The Wyrd Sisters witches were pummeled in the wind and rain, and as the picture above shows, even snow. Our girls survived through sturdy construction and deft ground attachment.

We had no idea what kind of weather to expect on Halloween night. The weather in 2018 has been extremely unpredictable.

Handy Friends

While looking forward to making faces, I dreaded making the hands. A friend had the perfect how-to suggestion. I am not going to give away the secret method of sculpting, but you might have caught a glimpse of the WIP in the video above. We couldn’t believe we were hanging out on Saturday night making hands. I had to confess that I’ve often been very guilty of weekend “arting” vs. socializing. This was a happy mix of the two. Between that and goofing off with the wigs I bought, there was a lot of laughing.

Halloween 2018 Thomas West Virginia - DIY witch created by neighbors
Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett, DIY witches.

Apropos hair, Wyrd Sister Granny Weatherwax’s strands were bought at an “ethnic beauty supply,” (uuughh. awful description) where the cashier somewhat incredulously asked if I was going to try braiding. I didn’t quite have the nerve to state my purpose, and found the only gray hair in the shop. I brainstormed a bit, and found a satisfactory method to affix the locks. Andria then styled the long silver strands perfectly, which was quite a help to this traditionally shorter coiffured gal.

Mother Nature Helped Too

In prep for our DIY Halloween, the Monongahela National Forest offered its wood for the brooms, as procured by Andria, who had a specific location up trail in mind. The forest is a wonderful resource for hiking and adventure in Tucker County, West Virginia. While we stripped branches, our pups made themselves comfortable beds of the discarded leaves on a day that was finally temperate enough for me to enjoy the much missed outdoors.

Wyrd Sisters Scene Halloween 2018 - a dog helped
Somebody insisted his view not be blocked.

Otherwise I worked inside on the Wyrd Sisters’ faces and hands, but there was also a spooky soundtrack to make, and I had my heart set on making my house haunted. I had my first experience with track mixing and combined many free Halloween sound files from FreeSoundEffect.com with some spoken Wyrd Sisters dialogue. My cauldron sound was said to be convincing. The dialogue I chose and additional groans, howls, and creepy sounds gave added effect. Have a listen to the churning bubbles and more in the wrap up video at post end.

Artists, Nurses, and Actresses

With the Wyrd Sisters cauldron and audio completed, it was time to haunt. I have only recently begun experimenting with video, and had only made animated shorts using still images thus far. Tongue-in-cheek video Dry Cleaner Horror is my favorite example thus far, using a Dream Series illustration and putting it into action. We needed something more for our ghosts in this DIY Halloween event.

Andria and I became actresses – not as Wyrd Sisters characters, but ghosts in the house that would peer out of the windows on Halloween night. I gave direction and shot a simple video on my phone. Then I edited the footage to the extreme for a blurry, ghostly effect. I was thinking of horror films from Fritz Lang’s classic Nosferatu to more recent visual effects of modern ghost chillers. I was creating my own lore for our DIY Halloween.

There was another helper too. A home healthcare assistant kindly obliged me for some shots of clawing hands. Through crafty editing, it turned out to be pretty spooky. She was nurse number two, with Andria first in line. My part was being a bit of a magical spook. Andria was the trapped soul peering out the window before striking a ghastly pose. As a final touch, I added a few of my own graphics of macabre and skulls, plus flashes of different colors to move the theme along.

Some found this startling. That’s called winning.
Homemade Halloween

After a lot of DIY work and much anticipation (including both televised and printed news pieces in Tucker Country, West Virginia, featuring Beth Spencer’s expert photography), it was Halloween at last. We made final adjustments, and there were still pumpkins to carve. I found out exactly why my mother advised me as a child never to use a baking pumpkin as a jack-o-lantern. It’s an exercise in futility. If you succeed at all (as Andria did), it will probably require supporting toothpicks for the parts threatening to fall out. Imagine carving a spaghetti squash – no solid meat.

While we were finishing up the whole DIY display on Halloween afternoon, a black cat came to visit. Definitely a sign that we were doing something right. I just wonder which witch’s familiar it was. Maybe it had come to check out Greebo, Wyrd Sister Nanny Ogg’s cat. In the end, my little black familiar (Elsa the dog) chased it away. She was also insistent upon staying with us for the festivities and even made some new dog friends. With little time to spare, Andria and I dashed inside to change and then “it was on.”

Halloween - DIY Elder Witch in Light and Fog with Cauldron
A Halloween night filled with fog, light, and magic.
Family, Friends, and Townsfolk

As the sun started getting low in the sky in Thomas, and visitors started appearing. The littlest ones arrived first. Many were making their maiden trick-or-treat voyage. Baffled and wide eyed, they didn’t hesitate in the least about grabbing candy. A boy and girl who chose to run, not walk, the entire length of the long, hilly street, with their chaperone following behind in his truck tickled us to death. They were definitely going to burn off those candy calories in advance. Respect. I got a huge giggle from the brother and sister who debated whether their mom actually knew “us witches” when she told them to go down the road to get candy. The world changes so much, but kids are still kids. Thank goodness. For me it made all the DIY Halloween work well worth it.

Trick-or-treaters on Halloween 2018 in Thomas, West Virginia
The first lucky candy recipients on Halloween evening, 2018

There were characters of all sorts including a mummy, scarecrow, and my favorite howling werewolf ever. A policeman was on the scene, and as appropriate, a little witch. She looked delighted when I asked her to join our coven. ….. our literary coven, to be clear.

Andria got plenty of help at the cauldron when she began posing as Wyrd Sister Nanny Ogg, leaving the DIY figure to the side. She beckoned the children, asking to throw them in. In the end, they helped toss in frogs and snakes. Whew! I got the impression that some had watched a lot of cooking shows.

My biggest personal achievement resulted when I begged one visitor to watch my “cousins” in the window. They jumped in surprise when a “ghost” appeared. Maybe I do have a future in horror. Nobody noticed Andria taking the place of the Nanny Ogg figure and sitting like a statue. She knew just when to spring into action. Listen to choice crowd reactions in the video below.

Is that a real person in there?????” / “Look! It’s a witch!!!” / “That’s my worst nightmare!!!!!!!!

Halloween Visitor

Not only did we have young first trick-or-treaters at our DIY Halloween extravaganza, but we also treated Thomas school’s Chinese teacher Mr. Duh to his first ever Halloween. China doesn’t celebrate the holiday, so I hope we gave him a proper introduction. Welcome to the US and good luck. Thank you for educating our children, and perhaps creating more curiosity about the world around them.

Many Thanks

Andria and I were grateful for the outpouring of appreciation and enthusiasm that we encountered from the first day on. We started the actual staging three weeks prior to Halloween and added elements up to the day of. Curious folks would drive by, or stop, admire, and turn around. It was amazing and encouraging to see huge smiles and many thumbs ups. I cannot speak for Andria, but that made it all worth it for me, even before the event. The gracious input and reactions received on Halloween night was extremely rewarding. It’s so rare to hear unbidden “thank you’s” for something purely creative.

Special thanks to Brian Hicks for his patience, support, transportation, and tools. Thank you to Beth Spencer for coming out and supporting our cause with beautiful photography. Dora Clemons, we couldn’t have wigged out properly without you. Thanks for lending a hand.

Thanks to our trick-or-treaters: To Jimmy Wilfong, his family, and pups – we might consider Pepsi next year (wink, wink); The Cooper girls, my first candy recipients; the Clavengers and Ponickvars who came out; the enthusiastic teachers of Davis-Thomas Elementary School; Shanna and Aldean Pennington, our expert policeman and polite jack-o-lantern extinguisher; and lastly,  Tyler Elliot, Heather Carr, and Owen with their gaggle of nighttime visitors.

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Susan Hicks | Alexandria, Virginia | Thomas, West Virginia

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