Dia de los Muertos is a long celebrated Mexican holiday that is a two day celebration on November 1st- “dia de los inocentes” which is to remember the children that have passed, and November 2nd- “all souls day”. The days celebrate loved ones that have passed on and the holiday honors them by celebrating their memory. It’s a gorgeous and joyful celebration of life, family and those we hold dear. And- it also happens to be the background for the story of “Coco”, Pixar Animation’s upcoming journey into Mexican culture with a universal story of family, and finding yourself.
As I said before when we talked to co-director Lee Unkrich, co-director and writer Adrian Molina and producer Darla K. Anderson, a lot of research went into creating the world of “Coco.” The team knew they were venturing to a holiday that holds a lot of cultural significance to Mexicans and that they had to get it right. So, they went on many research trips to observe, learn and find all the key pieces to not only create a magnificent movie- but one that is a love letter to Mexico as well.
I decided to share my love of the holiday with a little DIY my daughter and I make for our Dia de los Muertos celebrations- Felt Sugar Skulls (see below!). But first, here’s a few fast and fun facts that the Pixar team learned about this gorgeous holiday.
- The team spent over 3 years going on research trips to various cities in Mexico. Each city gave them a different perspective and inspiration for the film. If you’ve ever been to Morelia or Guanajuato, don’t e surprised to see yourself transported back due to some of the imagery.
- In the film, Miguel crosses over from the “Land of the Living”to the “Land of the Dead” and sets off an extraordinary journey to discover the true story surrounding his family’s history. He crosses what is a marigold bridge and marigolds hold much significance for Dia de los Muertos. According to Mexican folklore, marigolds guide the spirits to their altars using their vibrant colors and scent. Marigolds also are said to represent the fragility of life.
- Dia de los Muertos is celebrated differently all over Mexico, with even individual cities having specific ways of celebrating. However, there are some universal traditions like marigold paper flowers, papel picado, oferendas (altars) full of photos, food, sugar skulls and more.
- Graves are also decorated with vivid bright colors and surrounded by candles, food, photos, and drinks. Plus, usually there’s tons of music and art around.
- To show the differences between the Land of the Living and the Land of the Dead, the Pixar team created not only color differences- opting for cooler colors for the Land of the Dead, and warmer tones for the Land of the Living, but also- height! The Land of the Dead is built from the bottom up. Older civilizations are near the bottom, whereas newer “dead” create new communities above the older.
Now for a piece of fun! DIY Felt Sugar Skulls!
Sugar Skulls are a common piece of decor, as they are placed on oferendas and throughout the home. They are often very brightly decorated and can be made into almost anything. I wanted to create cute little pillows to add to my living room and discovered it’s not only easy, but fun. Here are the step by step instructions.
What you’ll need to make these DIY Felt Sugar Skulls
- Pack of colored Sharpies
- Glitter Glue
- Tacky Glue
- An Embroidery Needle
- Embroidery Thread
- Foam Sheet
- Poly-Fill or Cotton Balls
- Embellishments: Buttons, Rhinestones, Jewels
Think of a Design
Calaveras aka sugar skulls, are very fun to design because they can be as elaborate as you want, or as simple as you can get. The only limit is your imagination. I used a simple skull shape available on many photo retouching sites/apps like PicMonkey. Then I just sized it up, print it out as this would be my base to create a foam template. Foam is sturdier than paper and makes it reusable. I cut the template and then traced it with a sharpie onto the foam sheet.
Ready Your Felt
Next, I traced the foam template onto the felt with a Sharpie. Repeat this as many times as you need. Remember, you need 2 cut outs per Felt Skull you want.
Create Your Add-Ons
From the design, I also created foam add-ons for my skull and create foam templates just like I did the skulls. I proceeded to cut out my skulls and add-ons.
Time to Design
Once I had all my felt cut, I began the fun part- designing my skull! You only need one felt skull cut out as this will be the front. The back remains blank.
Using the felt skull cut out, I glued my add-ons on using Tacky Glue. Once I had those in place, I glued on some embellishments like buttons, jewels and rhinestones. Depending on how heavy your embellishments are, you may want to use a hot glue gun, but the tacky glue will work for most.
Color and Create
Once all my embellishments were dry (30 mins- an hour depending), I opened up my glitter glue and had some fun making my skulls look festive. You can use swirls, lines, hearts, stars…whatever you can draw on. Then, set it aside to dry for about 2 hours.
Stitch and Fill
Once my front was all dry, I placed the blank skull behind it. At about eye level of the skull, I began my blanket stitch using a bright embroidery thread and needle. Once my stitch was at the same point on the opposite side, I grabbed my filling and stuffed my skull until it looked 90% full. Then I continued my stitch until the skull was closed.
Felt Sugar Skulls
You can place these felt sugar skulls anywhere you would like to add some Dia de los Muertos decor. For some family fun, you can create all the skull cut outs and have your kids glue and design skulls of their choosing. Not only will their imaginations run wild, but you can introduce a beautiful piece of your culture by creating this fun and unique craft.
Take your felt sugar skull with you to see COCO which opens on November 22nd!