Sugar Skulls: A Smashing Success

OK, so I don’t want to go all Martha on your ass or anything, but if you’re looking for a fun and easy craft to celebrate the Halloween season and Day of the Dead — one that even a kindergartener with Down syndrome can do! — go to and buy a mold.

Here are some examples from that site:

No, ours did not look like that. And true, I had some help (OK, a lot of help) with the royal icing (and be sure that’s what you use — the stuff really is like cement) but I’m still shaking my head over how simple those skulls were. The girls loved it. So did Ms. X, who joined us.

And really, just about anything in your craft cabinet will do! (Not sure Martha would say that, but I’m sure my friend Kathy Cano-Murillo, would. Check her out: — and bow down. The woman has HER OWN LINE OF GLITTER. A goddess.)

Here are ours. See if you can figure out whose is whose. The photos don’t do justice to the 3-D nature of the skull.


I’ve owned those darn molds for years, and never made the skulls. (As is the case with much of the contents of the craft area, the only organized place in the house, mainly due to non-use.) But this year I was determined. There’s been a lot of dying going on. The other day, Sophie came home with a beautiful drawing from a kindergarten friend, and Ms. X explained the little girl drew it for her because Sophie announced that her cat had died.

Yeah, in June.

So it’s nice to do some honoring, although Sophie clearly wasn’t think about Ernie when she made her skull. (That’s fine, it’s too early for her; ditto for Annabelle.)

But not for me. I didn’t have time to finish a skull, but I did put some bright blue royal icing eyes on one — just the shade of my grandfather’s eyes — and put it aside for a late night alone. I wonder if I can find some teeny tiny playing cards and poker chips to tuck in there somewhere?

Grandpa would not have known what to make of a sugar skull. To be fair, it wasn’t just him — I had no immersion in Latino culture before I moved home to Arizona as an adult. In the early 1990s, the Day of the Dead made its way into pop culture and I remember visiting an Arizona State professor who “studied” it, to learned about the holiday and its icons and write a story for the local daily paper, my first job out of school. Today an editor would likely poo-poo that story idea as over done.

Mostly, Day of the Dead is kitschy and fun (aside from the pesky death stuff); and the crafts are spectacular — and you can get the stuff for a song. So I filled my apartments and then my house with grinning skeletons and sparkly skulls, and I would have topped my wedding cake with a skeleton bride and groom couple if my mom hadn’t stopped me.

Making those skulls didn’t just remind me of loved ones who’ve left, it reminded me of my struggle to find stuff to love about Phoenix. I still maintain that the coolest Mexican import store I’ve ever seen was on the border between Little Italy and Chinatown, and I did recently travel to Amsterdam almost entirely to visit Kitsch Kitchen, where they do things with Mexican oilcloth that you can’t even imagine, but it’s nice to be close to the source of the craft action, too.

Someday — maybe in 2009 — I’m going to travel to Mexico with one of my Latin America-obsessed gringa friends.

But now I have to reorganize the sequins.



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5 responses to “Sugar Skulls: A Smashing Success

  1. Wow! Those are very cool! I have always wanted to make those, but I swear, we have so much junk around the house we haven’t gotten to yet, I’ve never done it. I think we will have to try.

    I also like your tablecloth!

    Have you seen “Whatever, Martha” on TV? It’s Martha Stewart’s daughter and her best friend. They watch old Martha shows (kind of like MST3K) and pretty much rip on her the whole time. It’s kind of funny.

  2. Ok, sari made me say it: That oilcloth is scarier than the skulls! Sorry. How do you spell kitschy?

    Keep having fun. You & the girls are a hoot.

  3. Kathy

    The HAT! I love it! Um, that would be our budding little fashion designer? She can even accessorize a freaking skull! haha

    (I wanna go to Latin America)

  4. As Halloween isn’t a big deal in Costa Rica, skulls are a better draw for fun. Though it’s still not huge here, the skulls are way fun and we’ve done them too.

  5. thoughs are so awesome great blog some how i found you when i was looking for stuff on our son and his birth defect on esophageal atresia such a great blog site you have i wish you all the best.

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