Intro: Solar-powered Halloween Lights
Every year for Halloween we do a huge Halloween Haunt at our house. We do a New Orleans/"Voodoo" theme and one of the hallmarks of our setup are these amazing solar-powered mason jar lights!
From a big oak tree in our front yard we have about 10 of these halloween lights hanging around. They sway in the wind, and give a creepy and awesome atmosphere to the whole setup. We actually leave them up year round...our neighbors don't mind a bit. ;)
These mason jar lights are SUPER SIMPLE and cheap to make. They have a great organic, kind of “swamp” feel to them which goes perfectly with our New Orleans theme.
- Mason Jar
- Halloween Fabric
- Fabric Dye
- Acrylic Paint
- Solar Pathway Light
- Paper Towels
- Orange/flickering LED (Optional)
- One Glove (?)
- Hot Glue Gun
- Paint Brush
- Tooth Brush
- Soldering Iron (Optional)
- Screwdriver (Optional)
Step 1: The Fabric!
We started with this awesome fabric that we use a lot, which is literally called, "Creepy Halloween Fabric" if you google or amazon it. If you google "Halloween Cloth" or anything like that, you'll find it. We picked up ours in white so that we could dye it and dial in the color to exactly what we wanted.
We wanted it to have a natural color and look, similar to 'Spanish Moss', so we used a combo of brown and green fabric dye and mixed it with some warm water in a bucket. Fabric Dye stains like crazy so don't spill it!
In the bucket of warm water, we stirred it well and then let it sit in the dye for about 30 minutes. Once it's done, we drained the bucket, strained out the fabric, and let it completely dry. It took ages to dry...we ended up putting it in the dryer for a while to speed up the process.
It's important to make sure it's totally dry before moving on, so while it dried we started working on the Mason Jar.
Step 2: The Mason Jar!
While the fabric was drying, we moved onto the Mason Jar. You can use any size jar but we opted for the larger size. These typically cost about $3 a piece.
We used Acrylic paint and mixed a tiny bit of brown with some white to start. The goal here is to cover the Jar in paint to both make it look dirty and to diffuse the light inside to make it glow.
To make the paint seem "dirty" we used...dirt. :) We grabbed some from outside and poured it into the paint and mixed it up with a little bit of water to add some texture and color. It's a subtle effect but looks great.
With the paint mixed, we applied it with a wet paper towel in a random pattern, making sure to cover the entire thing. If it seems too light, let it dry and hit it with a second coat.
To add some more "dirtyness" to it, we mixed up a wash of brown and green paint with some water, and then used an old toothbrush to "flick" the paint all over it randomly. This gives the effect of it looking dirty, like it's been sitting around awhile, which is key to it's realistic and awesome look.
The acrylic paint holds up well enough outdoors (we've had ours up for over a year) but if you're worried, you can always spray it with a couple of coats of polyurethane when you're finished painting to protect it even more.
Step 3: The Twine!
Once the paint and the fabric were dry, we trimmed the fabric to match the length and width we wanted. This isn't precise, we just eyeball it to what looks neat. In our case it hangs down about 16 inches below the bottom of the jar.
We then used a hot glue gun to glue the fabric to the rim of the jar, just around the top where the top would normally screw on. It works better if you apply it with a little randomness and bunched up at the top to keep it organic looking. Remember we're trying to make it look like moss, so any kind of randomness makes it look more realistic.
Next we used some brown twine and wrapped it around enough times to cover up where the fabric is attached to the jar. This covers up the area where the fabric is glued on. It's then cut off and hot glued down so it won't come off. This is just regular twine that you can get at any hardware store.
Step 4: The Solar Light!
To actually light the jar, we used these solar pathway lights that you can get at the big box stores for about $3 a piece when you buy a set. (Some folks have told us they found them even cheaper!) We picked up two different kinds so we could try out some different things. These can be taken apart incredibly easily. It takes just a few seconds to break it down to just the light part which is the top.
We wanted to do a small modification to the LED, which made the choice between the two easy since one of them didn't have a standard LED and wouldn't have been modifiable in the same way. We used the smaller one shown here on the left. Other than the LED, they're basically the same thing with a different form factor.
The light modification part is not necessary, it's kind of like extra credit! If you're not interested in changing the LED, you can simply use the Solar pathway light right out of the box, "as is".
We had these little plastic "candle" LEDs so we wanted to try to take the orange, flickering LED from these and install it into the solar light to give it a more "candle-ish" feel instead of the bright white LED that it comes with.
We disassembled the little fake candle and cut out the orange flickering LED.
The bottom of the solar light comes off easily with just three tiny screws. Inside the solar light was just a simple circuit with an LED and a resistor.
To remove the LED from the light, we simply heated up the solder and it slid right out. It had a nylon spacer with it which we kept. The LED it comes with works fine but it's a bright white color and doesn't look as good.
We took the nylon spacer and slid the orange flickering LED from the candle into it, making sure we had the correct positive and negative sides of the LED.
We then slid it into the same place on the circuit board by simply heating up the solder again, put it all back together, and it worked great! We weren't 100% sure this was going to work but it actually went together in less then 10 minutes and worked perfectly! Again, this part isn't necessary but it's easy to do and makes the light look a lot more like a candle.
Step 5: Assembly!
Next we took the solar light and hot glued it to the top of the jar, making sure to fill in any gaps around the edges so that it won't come off. Then we used more twine to hide the glue line and close up any gaps where light could escape.
Step 6: Final Details!
Once it was assembled, we then used some dry brushing techniques to give the solar light an aged look and add some cool detail so it doesn't just look like some brand new electronics glued to an old thing. This gives it a more consistent look and adds to the realism.
Using the toothbrush and a dirty paint wash, we then made the whole thing look dirty by just randomly applying some brown wash all over the twine and fabric. The key to realistic looking props like this is that they look old and used, like they've been out in the world for awhile.
Since this is going to hang from a tree, we glued a loop of twine on either side of the top, making sure they were super secure so it won't fall.
Then we tied the loops at the top, giving us a nice loop to hang it from. This allows us to use a separate piece of twine to hang it from so you can easily adjust the height.
Finally, we hung it up and used some scissors to randomly cut up the fabric. This gives it an organic look that resembles Spanish Moss.
Then it's finished! Hang it in a tree, let it charge in the sunlight, and enjoy your new solar-powered halloween swamp lights!
Interested in seeing more of our stuff? Come say hello!
This is an entry in the
Halloween Contest 2018