Category Archives: Day of the Dead

Caoba Day of the Dead Flyer

El Día de los Muertos at Caoba

The traditional Mexican day of celebration El Día de los Muertos is coming to Caoba.
While we never turn our noses up at a good Halloween party, November 1st, El Día de los Muertos is a special time of year. We usually mark the day in some way, with special bread and cookies, even making our own sugar skulls.

This year, Tuesday 1st November we are inviting our Edinburgh-based customers to join us in-store for some fun with face painting (not just for children), tequila (definitely just for adults), cookies and a 10% discount. All from 4 until 7pm.

We will be serving our tequila flavoured with a hibiscus syrup. Try making some yourself as a refreshing change from the ubiquitous lime.

Dried hibiscus flowers

Dried hibiscus flowers in a Talavera dish

To make the syrup:
Mix 5g dried hibiscus flowers, 250ml water and 100g of sugar in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir to make sure all the sugar has dissolved and remove from the heat. You can either leave the syrup to infuse for a few minutes to strengthen the colour and flavour or strain straight away.

Add tequila* to taste. The syrup works well on its own over ice too.

*Enjoy in moderation

One of our Catrinas

The Day of the Dead: A Spectre to Enjoy

While the rest of the UK concentrates on Halloween, at Caoba Towers we usually mark October 31st/ November 1st with Mexico’s traditional celebration of lives that have lived*. The Day of the Dead (El Día de los Muertos) is a party where the whole family joins in, including those that have passed away. Favourite foods, drink and gifts are laid out in brightly decorated shrines to loved ones, to entice them to come, join in the party.

Some Day of the Dead celebrations are bigger than others… The opening sequence for James Bond’s latest movie SPECTRE is set in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead. And some remarkable props from this spectacular will be on display at the British Museum for the whole of November.

*This year we’ll be doing both!

So You Want To Make a Spider Piñata…?

We had a lot of fun at Caoba making these Spider Piñatas for the Day of the Dead, so we thought we’d share…


Fig 1 Materials


Covering the body

Fig 2 Covering the body

Making the fringes

Fig 3 Making the fringes

Attaching legs to body

Fig 4 Attaching legs to body

Fringing the body

Fig 5 Fringing the body

The head

Fig 6 The head


The finished spider....BOOO!

Fig 7 The finished spider….BOOO!

You will need: A balloon, a couple of newspapers, paste (made with 1 part water, 2 parts PVA), black and orange crepe paper, Sellotape (lots), string for hanging, small sweets and treats*
*Try to avoid choking hazards for young children




To make the spider’s body inflate the balloon and tear up a couple of newspaper sheets into small pieces. Stick the pieces down so that they overlap slightly. Apply two more coats, allowing each layer to thoroughly dry out in between.
Once the body is dry cut off the balloon end to let the air out and leave a hole to fill with sweets. Make a hole in the top centre of the body and thread through some string to make a hanging loop.


Make the crepe paper fringes by cutting the folded sheets into strips about 7cm wide. Then make half-width cuts along the long edge of each strip





Make a leg x 8: take 2 sheets of newspaper and roll up on the diagonal making a firm tube. Fold over one end by about 2cm and tape down. Bend the tube in the middle to make the “knee” joint.
Wrap each leg with black fringing using the tape to hold each end in place.
Attach the legs to the body by taping the folded ends to the underside of the body (hole at the front, this is where the head will eventually go). Use LOTS of tape to keep each leg in place.



Cover the body with more crepe paper fringing. We used black and orange to create a particularly dangerous-looking spider.






Finally the head: Scrunch up a couple of sheets of newspaper into a tight ball with a stalk at one end. Wrap lots of tape around the stalk. Cover the head with another sheet of paper and then a sheet of black crepe paper. Decorate the head with a face to suit your spider’s personality.

Slot the head into the hole in the body and tape into place. Don’t forget to put the sweets in first!



!Ya esta! A Spider Piñata.

Thanks to Nick for doing all the hard work in putting our workshop together.


Margaritas optional

Margaritas optional

Bread of the Dead or Pan de Muerto

In Mexico the sweet loaf Pan de Muerto is as much part of the celebrations for the Day of the Dead as mince pies are part of Christmas.
There are almost as many variations of the Pan de Muerto recipe as there are cooks, but this is the one we use:

Ingredients for bread
500 gm (4 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
115 gm (½ cup) butter
100 gm (½ cup) granulated sugar
120 ml (½ cup) water
120 ml (½ cup) milk
3 eggs
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground mixed spice
1 level tsp salt
2 tsp dried yeast.

For the glaze
Juice of 1 orange
3 tbsp granulated sugar.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit ), gas mark 4.
Combine half the flour (reserve the rest), sugar, yeast, salt and spices in a bowl then put to one side. Melt the butter together with the milk and water. Once melted allow to cool until lukewarm then mix with the dry ingredients.
Add the eggs, mixing to make a wet batter, then slowly stir in the remaining flour until a soft, slightly sticky dough is formed.
Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. Add more flour if the dough is too wet.
Return the dough to a clean bowl, cover the top and allow to rise in a warm place for approx 90 minutes or until risen to twice the size.
Shape the dough into a circle, cutting off a few pieces to make bone or skull decorations for the loaf (depending on your modelling skills!).
Transfer to a baking sheet then leave the shaped dough to rise for another 90 minutes. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 – 50 minutes or until golden brown*.
Make a glaze by combining the orange juice and sugar over a low heat, simmering gently until the sugar has melted (try not to stir the mixture).
Once the bread has cooled brush over with the glaze.

*Baking time is given for one large loaf. If you have made several smaller shapes (skulls for instance), shorten the baking time and decorate with coloured icing once the bread has cooled.

Carved pumpkin decorated with acrylic paint

Sugar Skulls in the Making

Moulded Sugar Skulls

We did decorate the skulls but they were eaten before we could snap a picture!

Last week at Caoba Towers we had a crack at making sugar skulls in preparation for the Day of the Dead. We used silicone moulds that we bought on line and ready-made fondant/sugar paste (Mary Berry may not approve, but we love the stuff). If you search online for tips on making your own sugar skulls you’ll find lots of instructions for making a sugar paste, but many of them say don’t try making the paste on a rainy day as it won’t dry hard enough. They clearly don’t live in Scotland. As I said, we used ready-made fondant.

There are some fabulous examples of sugar skull making online; Pinterest has some particularly fine pictures and how-to tutorials which you can adapt to suit your own environment.

This week we tried a different method of skull-making; pumpkin carving.

Carved pumpkin decorated with acrylic paint

Carved pumpkin decorated with acrylic paint

Any good illustration can act as a guide for your paring knife and paint brush. Leave the pumpkin bare or paint on a decorated skull using opaque acrylic paint* as we did here.

If you’re feeling more decorative than creative then sugar skulls in various media are available at Caoba, in store and online. We have Alexander Henry fabrics by the metre or made up into aprons and cushions, papier maché cocktail sticks, skull and skeleton wind chimes and more.

Blue Sugar Skull fabric

Alexander Henry Blue Sugar Skull fabric available from Caoba

*NB if you want to eat your sugar skulls DON’T use acrylic paint, it is most definitely not edible.

Marigolds decorating a gate

A Wee Trip to Mexico

Back in early November Caoba took a trip to Mexico.

Many of the little shrines built for the Dia de los Muertos shrines were still standing, decorated with glorious, gold Mexican marigolds. Decorations also included gifts of food, beer and tequila as well as skulls, catrinas, candles and in one instance that we saw, a coffin.

Death as something to celebrate may be an unfamiliar idea to some of us, but it is a little easier to imagine when looking at these photographs.

Mexican Marigolds

Mexican marigolds; the flower of the Day of the Dead

Skeleton figures watching over a marigold-decorated coffin

Skeleton figures watching over a marigold-decorated coffin

Sugar cane, beer and tequila join the skulls and marigolds

Sugar cane, beer and tequila join the skulls and marigolds

Lots of marigolds

A beautiful splash of colour

A very fine candle holder

A very fine candle holder

An elegant shrine in the workplace

An elegant shrine in the workplace – a ceramics workshop

Calavera Catrina, the Elegant Skeleton

Mexico’s Day of the Dead actually takes place over two days; All Saints Day (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd). There are many images associated with the celebration, some we’ve already mentioned.

One of Caoba’s favourites is Calavera Catrina, the Skeleton Dame or Elegant Skeleton.

Retablo featuring Posada's Catrina

A retablo featuring Posada’s Catrina. From a range at Caoba

She originates from the beginning of the 20th century as a creation of the Mexican illustrator and satirist José Guadalupe Posada as a mocking representation of the Mexican

middle classes (and was said to bear more than a passing resemblance to the wife of Mexico’s then president). Much of Posada’s work was influenced by his contemporary, the lesser-known artist Manuel Manilla, but his famous series of satirical skeletons has embedded the character of Catrina as a Mexican icon, closely associated with the country’s national and cultural identity.

Caoba, Edinburgh carries a range of Catrinas represented in various forms; from greetings cards to fabric and most beautifully in a ceramic form almost too fragile to look at.

While researching the Catrinas I came across this article at It’s a comprehensive look at the Day of the Dead and makes fascinating reading if you want to learn more.

Sugar Skull print by Steven Howells

Sugar Skulls aren’t just for the Day of the Dead…

During the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations homemade altars (ofrendas) are decorated with ornate sugar skulls as part of the traditional display, to attract and honour visiting spirits. Over the generations the brightly coloured, clay-moulded skulls have been have elevated into an artisanal art form in a uniquely Mexican way, to celebrate the happy return of the souls of lost friends and family.

Latterly sugar skull imagery has crossed borders and cultural boundaries; you will find sugar skulls on t-shirts, as tattoos, in jewellery; there is even an annual competition for creating the best sugar skulls in bead work. And what about a Sugar Skull Decorating party anyone?

Sugar skulls cushion cover

Sugar skulls cushion cover

At Caoba we carry Alexander Henry fabrics and prints and cards featuring sugar skulls all year round because we love them and know our customers do too!

El Dia de los Muertos



While most of us are preparing for Halloween at the end of October, November 1st in Mexico is the Day of the Dead, el Dia de los Muertos. Preparations go on all year for the National holiday, which extends over two days and centres around the celebration of lives of deceased family and friends.  It’s not the maudlin, bleak occasion we British might expect but one of joy, colour, and funny stories; a party to celebrate the lives already lived.


Friends and family gather in cemeteries, around highly decorated altars covered with bright yellow and orange marigold blossoms as well as the deceased’s favourite foods, drink and possessions. Trails of the flowers are often laid out to encourage the souls to return for the party, to join the gathering for prayers and the celebration of their lives. Light and smoke from candles and Copal incense add to the heady atmosphere.

Greetings cards featuring Catrin and Catrina

Greetings cards featuring Catrin and Catrina

Orange and purple papel picado for the Day of the Dead

Orange and purple papel picado for the Day of the Dead

With a growing number of Day of the Dead-inspired celebrations taking place in the UK, sugar skulls, Catrins and Catrinas, candles, papel picados and skeletons in many forms are all increasingly familiar images and decorations. And lots of them, as well as copal incense are available from our Stockbridge shop, or online.