When I was a kid, Halloween was a spooktacular period of creative ingenuity. I grew up in a time before Pinterest, Halloween Super Stores, or Costco, so if you wanted to decorate your house for Halloween you turned to your imagination or Better Homes and Gardens magazine.
Back then, most people only put out a few decorations: carved pumpkins and handmade paper bats were pretty much the norm. But there were always a few houses that made a real effort. As kids, those were our favorite houses because they were so spooky. Some had graveyards, some had eerie music played on a boom box, but the best ones had dummies! Sometimes you would approach the porch where not one, but two dummies would be sitting on a porch swing, lazily swinging back and forth in the breeze. One inevitably would be holding a bowl of candy. I remember approaching with great trepidation and fear... only to be scared out of my wits when one of the dummies moved! It was the owner of the house, dressed up like a dummy! AHHHHHHHH!
I still hold that the best decorations are not the battery-powered, store-bought kind, but the ones you make yourself. So in honor of all those wonderful folks who made Halloween so much fun for me and my friends, I’d like to show you how to make a posable dummy.
PVC pipe and connectors (using 1” diameter pipe):
- Two pieces, 8 feet long
- One 4 sided connector (looks like a “+” sign)
- One 3 sided connector (looks like a “T”)
- 8 “elbow” connectors
- 4 or 5 gallon bucket (optional)
- Drill with 1 inch paddle bit (only need if you are using bucket)
- Hacksaw or some other means of cutting PVC (requires adult supervision)
- Measuring tape
- Permanent marker
- Pool noodles with hole in middle
- Serrated knife (to cut pool noodles - adults only)
- Bubble wrap
- Duct tape
- Wig head / plastic pumpkin / pumpkin bowl
- Full-headed mask (meaning it covers the back) (optional)
- Fake eyes (or soda caps with eyeballs drawn in marker)
Clothes for your dummy
- Old clothes that can be cut if need be
- Turtleneck shirt
- Gloves (or rubber hands from the store)
- Stuffing (enough to stuff 2 gloves)
- Pins with heads (T-pins, greening pins, or ball pins)
- Safety pins
BEFORE YOU GET STARTED
In order to make the structure of the dummy a little more clear, here's a look at how the PVC pipe and connectors fit together to make the armature, or "skeleton." Once you understand generally how all the pieces fit together, let's get busy!
Cut the PVC to the following lengths:
- 1 - 3 inches
- 2 - 7 inches
- 2 - 9 inches
- 4 - 11 inches
- 2 - 16 inches
- 2 - 17 inches
- 1 - 18 inches
Cut your pool noodles to following lengths (use serrated knife - adults only!):
- 2 - 7 ¾ inches
- 4 - 9 ¾ inches
- 2 - 14 ¾ inches
- 2 - 15 ¾ inches
If you wish to use the bucket technique - drill a 1 inch hole right in the middle of the top of the bucket. (You can make your dummy without the bucket, but you will need a pillow or some padding to fill out the chest area)
Take the 18 inch PVC pipe. Measure down about 2 inches and wrap a few layers of duct tape around the pole to form a stopper. Slip the bucket over the 2 inch end of the pipe so that the bucket rests on the stopper and about 1.5 inches of PVC sticks out the top of the bucket.
STEP 4 (Making the torso and neck)
Insert the 1.5 inch piece of PVC into one side of the 4 way connector (this will lock the bucket in place). Insert the 3 inch piece of PVC into the opposite side of the connector (this will be the neck).
STEP 5 (Making the shoulders and arms)
Insert a 9 inch piece of PVC into each remaining side of the four-way connector. Slide your upper arm pieces, then add elbow connectors at the end of each. Insert one 11 inch piece of PVC into each elbow for the forearms. Slip a 9 ¾ inch long pool noodle over each piece of PVC. You now have your torso and arms!
STEP 6 (Making the legs)
Attach the single side of the three-way connector to the bottom piece of the 18 inch PVC (below the bucket). Insert one 7 inch piece of PVC into the remaining sides of the three way connector (these are the hips). Add elbows to the ends of each of the 7 inch pieces. Connect the 16 inch pieces to each elbow (these are the thighs). Add 14 ¾ inch pool noodles. Add elbows at the ends of each 16 inch piece. Finally, insert two 17 inch pieces of PVC into the elbow and add pool noodles to lower legs. You armature is now complete! You should be able to pose it any way you like. Once you position it the way you want, you will want to come back and make sure to secure your joints (just push them together really hard).
STEP 8 (Filling out your dummy)
Add bubble wrap to any limb or joint that you wish to “flesh” out. If you feel your dummy is looking a little thin, just wrap those areas with bubble wrap and secure with duct tape.
STEP 9 (Adding your head)
Most wig heads have a hole in the bottom; just slip this over your neck piece. If you don’t have a wig head, you can stuff a plastic shopping bag with newspaper to create the right size, leave the bottom open, slip it over the neck and tie the bag shut. Secure and shape your head with duct tape. If you choose this technique, I would suggest making the neck piece about 7 inches so that the head won’t droop.
STEP 10 (Dressing your dummy)
Dress your dummy! It’s nice to have two people to do this. As you are dressing your dummy you may shift its position, so just be mindful of the joints. You may need to make sure to push the joints back together to keep the dummy strong. I like to use boots for my dummies because they come up so high on the leg they are easy to secure, but if you want to use low shoes, then take some socks, stuff them with stuffing, and add them to the ends of the leg PVC, leaving about 8 inches of stuffed sock hanging down. Add your shoe by simply stuffing the stuffed sock into the shoe, the sock will hold it in place.
STEP 11 (Adding the hands)
Take a pair of gloves and stuff them. Make sure to get the stuffing into the fingers, but don’t overstuff the palm and wrist area of the gloves. Slip the stuffed glove over the end of the PVC arm, all the way to the base of the fingers, and duct tape the glove to the PVC. Repeat with other hand and arm.
STEP 12 (Adding the face)
Place a rubber mask over your wig head. You will see that your dummy looks a little blind with empty holes for eyes!. If you’ve got any fake eyes (we found ours at Walgreens) insert those into the eye holes. If not use soda bottle tops, or just draw directly onto the wig head. You can even give your dummy dark glasses. You can use glue dots, pins, or tape loops to hold the eyes in place.
STEP 13 (Positioning your dummy)
The best thing about these dummies is that you can position them any way you want. One pointer, though: if you want your dummy to stand up straight with no bends in the leg at all, I would suggest not adding the knee joint, and just using a 36 inch piece of PVC for each leg instead. Standing dummies may need a little help to maintain their balance, so you will want to secure in place with either wire or string or fishing line.
If you like, you can use a big pumpkin or skull-shaped candy bucket for a head. I did this one year at a party, at the end of a haunted house. Children reached into the head to get their final treat. They loved it! You’ll just need to drill a hole in the bottom of the bucket, secure onto the neck, and then fill the bucket with candy. You can always tape the hole shut after the party and use it as normal.
Have fun making your dummy, and remember, if you don’t have all the supplies, use your imagination and substitute other items. Don’t have stuffing? Use plastic bags or shredded paper. Don’t have a rubber mask? Use a carved pumpkin, or a bucket or stuffed pillow case with a face drawn on it. Don’t have gloves? Hide the hands by having the dummy hold something. When it comes to dummies, almost anything will work. The main thing you need is clothes that are stuffed to hold a form, a head, and some low lighting.
I’ll let you in on a trade secret: the real key to a spooky dummy is low lighting and distance. You want your dummy in a place where it can be seen, but not close up. What makes a dummy so scary is the notion that at any moment it could come to life. What if it’s not a dummy? What if it’s real? It’s that uncertainty that makes it so terrifying... the thought that at any moment it could rise up and grab you! It’s the shadows that get us... not the light!