How To: Naturally Decorated Gourd

Natural Dried Gourd

I love making all kinds of gourd art but my best seller continues to be what I call natural gourds. These are the gourds where I leave all the natural colorings and patterns that occur during the drying process in tack. These gourds are full of awe-inspiring patterns and colors that are consistently a favorite among my customers. Lucky for me they are also one of the easiest gourds to make.

This article is a tutorial on how to create one of these natural gourds. I will not be talking about how to turn your gourd into a birdhouse here but instead focus on how to finish the gourd. These gourds make great home or garden decorations but if you want to use your naturally decorated gourd for a birdhouse all that you need to do is drill an entrance hole, bottom drainage holes and add a hanger.

Material List:

  • a fresh gourd or a dried gourd that has been dried indoors
  • dishcloth
  • bleach
  • skin or tub to hold water that is big enough to dip gourd into
  • dust mask
  • sandpaper
  • sealer (any wood sealer/varnish will work)
  • string
  • scissors

Here is an overview of the process to get a beautiful natural dried gourd:

  1. Drying
    To get all the beautiful patterns on your gourd you have to dry it indoors (gourds dried outdoors end up much plainer than those dried indoors).  The gourd will be moldy and fuzzy.
  2. Cleaning
    Wipe the gourd clean in a mild bleach-water bath to remove the fuzziness of the mold.  Be careful not to saturate your gourd as this could make the skin wipe off.  At this point, the patterns will really stand out and the gourd will have a lot of texture.  Let the gourd dry completely before moving on.
  3. Sanding
    Carefully sand the gourd to make it smooth and modify the natural patterns if you choose to.  Be careful not to sand too much and wear a dust mask.  The patterns will be somewhat dulled.
  4. Finishing
    Seal the gourd with a wood sealer to protect it and to make it really shine. Use an outdoor sealer if you plan to keep your gourd outdoors.  The sealer will make the patterns a bit brighter.  I used a satin finish in the picture above but I also like a glossy finish for a glassy look.

Drying Gourds For Beautiful Mold Colorations

Finished Gourds Dried Indoors

Gourds can be dried either indoors or outdoors with slightly different outcomes. Outdoor drying leaves your gourd with peeling skin and very little colorations. The gourd will be very easy to clean leaving you with a plain yellow/brown gourd great as a canvas for many art projects. Indoor drying, however, encourages many molds to grow on the gourd since there is not rain and snow to wash them away. This is the result needed to make this project. Although these molds make the gourds grosser during the drying stage, they also stain the skin of the gourd with many shades of brown, yellow, black, white, and grey that look great after some cleaning and finishing.

Drying Gourds

Drying gourds indoors is quite easy. Here are the basics (if you want more details, check out this article):

  • Location
    Spread out the gourds to dry in a well-ventilated area that stays above freezing. Make sure it is away from living space, pets, and children.
  • Drying Station
    Anything that encourages air flow all around the gourds will do. I have used pallets, clothes drying racks, a homemade frame with wire, and wire shelving. I like to line the drying station with old blankets or cardboard to make it easy to clean up later.
  • Maintenance
    Every week or so rotate your gourds and discard any that have rotted.
  • How Tell They Are Finished
    When the gourds feel hard and super light the gourd is finished. Often you can hear the seeds rattling inside the gourd at this stage.

How To Clean A Moldy Gourd To Keep Patterns Beautiful

Supplies Clean Dried Gourd
Cleaning Mold From Dried Gourd.png

You will need a sink or tub large enough to dip the gourd in. Fill it with water and a cap full of bleach. Using the cloth wipe the mold build up off the gourd. You are trying to get rid of the fuzziness of the mold and kill it but need to be careful not to remove the skin of the gourd by being too rough. Work fast being sure not to let the gourd’s skin get soak up too much water as this will make it fragile and more likely to rub off taking with it all the patterns left by the mold. It is helpful to remember you will be sanding the gourd next so you will be able to remove any missed spots.

Cleaned Gourds Drying

Let the gourd dry completely before you move on to sanding. This can take up to an hour.

Sanding the Dried Gourd

Supplies Sanding Dried Gourd

Sanding serves two purposes, to make the gourd smooth and to modify the natural patterns. You may choose to sand a lot or just a bit depending on your artistic vision.

Sanding Dried Gourd.png

Now that your gourd is cleaned and dry, take a minute to look over the natural patterns. Notice any scars on the gourd’s surface, any patterns that you do not like, and any rough patches which often occur where the gourd was laying on the ground as it was growing.

When sanding I like to start with a quick overall sanding with a rougher sandpaper to smooth out the entire gourd.  I then move on to sand smooth any imperfections.  I finish sanding with a much smoother sandpaper working over the entire gourd to get it as smooth as possible.

I suggest that you start sanding lightly being aware of how much of the coloration are coming off. Some spots come off easier than others so a light hand will ensure you do not remove anything you don’t want to. Often you will have to find a middle ground between smoothness and keeping the patterns intact.

Once the patterns on the gourd are exactly as I want them, I give the gourd a final bleach bath just to make sure it is completely sanitized and to get off any remaining dust. Let the gourd dry completely.

Finishing Dried Gourd

Supplies Finishing Gourds

The final step is to finish the gourd with a sealer. Any finish intended for wood will work well on gourds. Make sure to use an outdoor sealer if you intend to keep your gourd outdoors. I like to use a spray sealer because it is really easy to get an even finish but a paint on sealer will also work.  I tend to use glossy or satin finishes as I find the gourds look best with some shine but a matte finish can also be used for a more natural look

Hanging Dried Gourds

I hang my gourds to spray on the finish.  It makes it really easy to spray an even coat on the entire gourd.  I have also laid gourds on old rags and sprayed them this way but then the gourd must be flipped to make sure all sides are done.  Since most finishes need multiple coats it is much faster to finish an entire coat in one go.

Sealing Dried Gourd.png

Follow the directions for the finish and let dry.  You will notice that the patterns on the gourd become much more vibrant after it is finished.

Project Ideas For Natural Dried Gourd

Check out these project ideas for naturally decorated gourds.

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