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
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.
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.
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.
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 huffingtonpost.com. It’s a comprehensive look at the Day of the Dead and makes fascinating reading if you want to learn more.
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
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!
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
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.