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Published: Friday, 10/12/2007

Gourds Make Fun Craft Projects

BY DORIS A. BLACK

Growing gourds can be an entertaining and educational experience for the whole family. Children and adults alike can enjoy the process of planting, cultivating, drying and then crafting gourds.

Throughout history gourds have played an important role in the making of masks, ladles, dippers, funnels and other vessels for holding liquids. Bottle gourds were used as containers by primitive cultures almost 10,000 years ago. Because they made excellent waterproof storage containers, gourds became a mainstay of life for thousands of years in temperate and tropical climates, often holding ritual significance for prehistoric peoples.

Experts believe gourds were originally cultivated in Africa for their utilitarian use as dippers, bowls and floats for fishing nets. A hard shell gourd can float in saltwater for over 300 days and still the seeds within are viable. It s no wonder they eventually found their way to other lands. Gourd use in the United States can be dated to 1000 B.C.

Of the three main types of gourds, the hard-shelled lagenaria is best for craft projects. The cucurbita gourds are the colorful ornamental kind most commonly seen in the fall, and luffas, with their fibrous interior, are commonly used as sponges.

Before gourds are ready to use for crafts, they need to dry. During this process they will most likely mold. That s a normal part of the drying process since gourds are comprised of 90% water. The trick is to let them dry in a location where air can circulate around them. Try placing them on a pallet or extra window screen. The mold will only affect the outer layer of skin, and will wash off when the gourd is completely dry. When you can hear the seeds rattle inside, you ll know they re ready for crafting.

It can take several months for your gourds to lose all their moisture. Letting them dry indoors may speed up the process. Use a non-abrasive kitchen scrubber to scrape off the mold and outer skin after they have soaked in hot soapy water. Underneath you will find a smooth cocoa brown surface ready for your artistic talents.

Encourage young crafters to use their imaginations when painting dried gourds. Let the shape of the dried gourds inspire a unique creation. Some gourds just naturally resemble animals like elephants or geese. One fun project is to let each member of the family paint a gourd to represent themselves. Then proudly display them on a mantle or windowsill for all to admire.

Kids can grow and craft gourds for a school science project, but remember: plan ahead. From seed to craft is a lengthy process.

Purchase a gourd craft book and make more complicated crafts using beads or basketry. With small hand tools, you can carve, cut, burn or drill the gourd to make bird feeders and birdhouses. You can also imitate our ancestors by creating your own canteen or musical instrument.

Today, talented artisans across the country create beautiful works of art using hard-shelled gourds. Many one-of-a-kind pieces can be purchased directly from the artist. Others can be seen in art museums nationwide. They are truly one of nature s most amazing gifts.



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