Celebrate Day of the Dead with These Colorful DIY Sugar Skull Crafts
These DIY projects—most of which are easy and affordable to make—tap into the festive nature of Día de los Muertos
In Mexico, Day of the Dead celebrates the lives of loved ones who have passed on with colorful makeup, parties, and decorations. The most popular decorative crafts for Day of the Dead are sugar skulls. Aztecs made these mini sculptures—using granulated sugar, an abundant resource—to represent their relatives’ lost souls. The skulls remain an essential part of the holiday’s traditional ofrendas (altars made for the dead), where they’re placed along with marigolds (the flower of the dead), candles, and sometimes the person’s favorite foods and drinks, as a way to make their spirit feel welcome.
Today, these crafts take many forms, and anyone can be honored with a skull. Some people still make them out of respect for the deceased, while others gift them to living loved ones as a gentle reminder that life is fleeting. From traditional sugar-based sculptures to flower-power wreaths, here are 10 skull DIY projects to get you started.
Classic Sugar Skulls
Start the old-fashioned way with this Sugar & Charm tutorial. After you make the sugar paste, use a skull mold to create the shape, and let it dry overnight. From there, your imagination can run wild with icing, sequins, feathers, tinfoil—anything that will make your skull look happy and bright. Many people like to include details that reflect the honoree, including adding the person’s name across the forehead.
Sugar Skull and Floral Wreath
A Day of the Dead wreath does a lot to punch up a fall door. This project can be as hands-on or easy-peasy as you wish. If you want to go the more handmade (read: advanced) route, make your own flowers (about 120 of them) using card stock, and create plain skulls. Or for an easier version, buy silk flowers and pre-decorated sugar skulls. Spray-paint a wreath orange, then glue on all your adornments, starting with the skulls and then arranging flowers in varying sizes and colors.
Sugar Skull Newspaper Garland
Give an old newspaper new life by turning it into a skull garland. This Day of the Dead craft project takes advantage of newspaper’s thinness, which makes it easy to cut even after it’s been folded several times. Pro tip: Don’t layer on the paint too thick; letting the newsprint type show through adds character.
Pumpkin Sugar Skulls Totem
You can get most of what you need for these skull-pumpkin Day of the Dead crafts on a Dollar Tree run. Spray-paint three foam pumpkins white. Once dry, sketch out your designs and use Jot paint pens to decorate the pumpkins to your liking. Carve out a hole in the bottom of the second pumpkin, slightly off-center; make sure it’s big enough for the stem of the first pumpkin to fit inside. Repeat for the third pumpkin. Hot-glue the second pumpkin on top of the first, and the third on top of that. Finally, hot-glue the witch hat onto the top pumpkin.
Sugar Skull Piñatas
Make a party extra-festive by throwing a sugar skull piñata into the mix. Artelexia shows you how to do it with cardboard, streamers, and tape. Make two: one for whacking and one for keeps.
Sugar Skull Wooden Spoons
This quick and easy craft for Day of the Dead turns ho-hum wooden spoons into festive characters that look cute laid out together on a table or as an accent for your planters. All you need are the spoons, paint, and a sharpie for the foundation, and hot glue and sequins for the flower crown.
Embroidered Felt Sugar Skulls
Minimal sewing skills are needed to create these cute felt skulls that make for heartfelt tokens of love. Get some felt and embroidery thread in your friend’s favorite color and stitch together a few palm-sized calabazas.
Sugar Skull Votives
Here’s another Dollar Store craft for Day of the Dead that’s as simple as it is affordable. Fill the sugar skull-printed wine glasses with your choice of sprinkles and set a tea light in the middle to create a sweet glow.
Sugar Skull Shoes
If you have serious art skills, design some Day of the Dead kicks. Use tape to cover any areas you won’t be painting, and add a light layer of primer to the parts of the shoe you will paint. After that layer dries, sketch out your design with a pencil. Fill in with acrylic paint, and use fine-tip markers to outline your designs and add small details. Allow each step to dry fully before you continue. Coat the whole thing with Scotch Guard. Bam.