How to Make an Autumn Friend
Quick and easy instructions for building a scarecrow with your kids.
Did you know that scaring crows used to be a kid’s job? In times and places where children were depended on to help with a family’s farming tasks, kids were encouraged to spook the birds and rodents out of the fields with noisy antics. As times changed, the pretend human figures we think of today were used in their place.
Scarecrows were needed throughout the whole growing season, first to protect the newly planted seeds, and then the resulting mature crops. These days, we tend to associate them with autumn, and the late harvest. Like a symbol of success, scarecrows are one sign of the feasting to come as locally grown pumpkins, apples and squash, arrive at the farmers’ markets and grocery stores.
Whimsical as they tend to appear, scarecrows also possess a quality of, well, spookiness – an eerie presence. Stories about scarecrows coming to life were once prevalent; they arose when farmers would move the figures to new positions in the fields. Many cultures have traditional beliefs about scarecrows possessing magical powers or a spirit. Not surprisingly, scarecrows have become popular decorations on front lawns and porches in late October, the witching season.
Kids still have a role to play when it comes to scarecrows. And that’s to help build them, to celebrate Thanksgiving or Halloween or both. It’s a fun activity – kids of all ages can help out. Since it requires some space for spreading out the materials (and can get a little messy when straw is involved!), building a scarecrow is best done outside. So get out and enjoy the last of the mild weather and the fall colours while building your straw man/woman.
First, have the kids join you in a scavenger hunt through the garage, closets and crawl space to look for worn out clothing and potential accessories (see material list on next page for ideas).
Scarecrows often sport plaid shirts and overalls. If you want to be more creative, try adapting old team or club uniforms, and make use of worn gloves and boots that aren’t exactly “donatable” to clothing drives. Other options: use pieces of old Halloween costumes, such as masks, wigs, and cape or use outgrown toddler clothing and create a little brood of kid-sized scarecrows. Now that’s really playing homage to the important role that children used to fulfill!
After assembling the materials, scout out places around the yard to pose the scarecrow(s) – by a lamp post or in a chair? On an old bicycle or a wheelbarrow perhaps?
Now, you’re ready to begin.
Here are two sets of instructions to choose from: one is for making a seated scarecrow that doesn’t require a frame – it’s easier for kids to build themselves. The other is for a standing scarecrow that requires a frame – you’ll want to help the kids build it. Both versions use most of the same materials.
A Simple, Seated Scarecrow
This scarecrow uses a basic construction method and works best if the final product is seated in a chair or tied to a fence post or tree for support.
Step 1: Make a face. Though you may choose to use a Halloween mask filled with stuffing material, creating a unique face can be the highlight of this project. Young children can use fabric paint or waterproof markers on the pillowcase/sack to create a face. With help they can glue on some buttons for the eyes, and fabric scraps for the nose and mouth. Older children may want to sew on button eyes and create a nose, mouth and freckles with embroidery thread. Draw or sew the facial features in the centre of the pillowcase/sack, leaving enough of a forehead so that the scarecrow’s hat does not cover up the kids’ handiwork.
Step 2: Fill the decorated pillowcase/sack with stuffing material until you’ve got the desired shape and size. Cinch at the bottom to form the neck and tie it almost closed with twine or an elastic band (you’ll need to leave enough of an opening to complete the next step).
Step 3: Using strong tape (e.g., duct tape) attach the hooked part of a metal coat hanger to one end of a ruler (see illustration). Insert the other end of the ruler into the head through the neck opening. The ruler should go all the way in, to support the head.
Step 4: Sew any decorative patches onto the shirt and pants. Put the shirt on the coat hanger still sticking out, and button it up. Then tie up the cuffs of the shirtsleeves using twine or elastics. Through the opening of the waist, proceed to stuff the shirt’s arms and torso. Tie up the ends of the pant cuffs as well and stuff the legs through the waist opening. Use less stuffing in the knee and elbow areas so that the scarecrow’s joints can be bent into a pose more easily.
Step 5: Attach the torso of the scarecrow to the waist of the pants by using safety pins or by stitching them together with strong thread. If using overalls, tie the shirt closed at the bottom, put the overalls on and, if needed, fill out the waist area of the overalls with additional stuffing. Use pins or thread to secure shirt inside overalls. If using a skirt, stuff a pair of nylons/tights with fibrefill. Attach waist of the nylons to shirt’s waist, and then slide skirt over top and secure it at the waist with safety pins or stitching.
Step 6: Loosen the ties around the cuffs of the shirt and pants and pull a little of the stuffing material out (this looks great if you use straw). Or, stuff the ends of the legs into a pair of boots, and the cuffs of the shirt into gloves. Pin the hat on your scarecrow’s head, and tie a scarf around its neck.
Step 7: At this point you may want to put the scarecrow in position before adding any final touches. Use additional string or some garden stakes to secure the scarecrow into place.
Step 8: Add any final accessories, tying or stitching them into place if required.
For a scarecrow that will stand up easily, you’ll need to construct a simple frame.
Step 1: Lay the short piece of wood (the dowel or 2x4) across the longer one, approximately 30 cm (1 ft.) from the top of the long piece to form a cross. Attach them together with either glue or nails, and then lash together with twine or wire for added strength. *Note: you may need to slide the horizontal piece of wood through the shirtsleeves before attaching the frame pieces together.
Step 2: Place the decorated scarecrow head (see steps 1 & 2 of a “simple seated scarecrow” above) onto the top of the long pole, pushing the pole through the neck opening right up inside the head to securely support it. The neck of the scarecrow should just reach the perpendicular piece of wood that will give shape to the scarecrow’s shoulders.
Step 3: Dress the frame with shirt or overalls and then add the stuffing as described in steps 4-6 above. Or you can skip the step of stuffing arms and legs and just let them flap in the wind!
Step 4: Position the scarecrow by sticking the bottom of the long pole into the ground. Add any additional accessories.
1. For a traditional looking scarecrow, use natural materials: cotton, denim,wooden buttons, straw stuffing and hat, and a canvas or burlap sack for the head. A carved pumpkin or gourd for the head is another good option. Just be sure to coat with petroleum jelly or vegetable oil to prevent it from rotting too quickly.
2. For a long lasting, weatherproof scarecrow, use synthetic (e.g., polyester) blend fabrics, and mostly Styrofoam or plastic stuffing material. Synthetics won’t fade as much, and dry faster. Synthetic stuffing won’t soak up as much water or deteriorate after a few soaking rains.
3. When his or her scaring is done, store your ’crow in a dry place, where pets or rodents won’t get to it, until next year.
Directions: for directions with illustrations, click here.
- Illustration by: Trish York