DADE CITY — Saturday, the historic courthouse yard will be scattered with straw bodies as families try their hand at scarecrow construction.
What are the best stuffing techniques? And what do you do with your scarecrow if you don't have a cornfield at home for it to guard?
We asked several members of Downtown Dade City Main Street, the organization behind the annual Scarecrow Festival, for tips.
Tip 1: Bring your own clothes
"We have clothes, but we seem to always run out," said Carole Littlefield, Main Street secretary.
Long-sleeved shirts and jeans make for good scarecrow bodies. But don't be afraid to think outside the haystack.
Old Halloween costumes, thrift store bride and groom wedding wear, cowboy clothes, bathrobes and capes are all fair game. Just make sure the clothes will give your scarecrow a human shape.
"There's no arms if you use short sleeves," Littlefield said.
Main Street used to pile a big heap of clothes on the courthouse lawn for festivalgoers to pick through, but that posed problems.
"We had people out there last year trying things on," said Allison Todd, Main Street vice president. "This year, we put everything you need into a bag, and you get what you get."
The idea is to make your scarecrow's frame at the festival, and then bring home to personalize. More on that later. it
Tip 2: Don't overstuff
Hay will be provided for your scarecrow's insides, but go easy on the stuffing.
Too much hay not only weighs down your straw person, it also makes it look "more like a monster than a scarecrow," said Gayle Hogan, Main Street board member.
Tip 3: Add a face
Main Street used to give out panty hose for the scarecrow heads, but now provides brown paper bags.
"Most people don't wear panty hose in Florida; it was too hard to keep a supply," Todd said.
"We found the paper bags are actually sturdier," said Crystal Davenport, Main Street executive director. "It's much easier to draw a face on them and give it a look."
"The face is the best way to make it yours," Todd said. "We suggest you take it home and put on yarn for hair, buttons for noses. We even had one kid that put spaghetti on top of his bag when he got home to make hair."
Other ideas: stick a jack-o'-lantern on top of your scarecrow and use a glow stick instead of a candle to light it up at night. Or place a pumpkin head in the lap of the scarecrow for a headless horseman affect. Stuffed Halloween masks also make for good faces.
Tip 4: Set it up
"Putting it in an old rickety chair out on the porch — since we don't have cornfields to hang them in — is probably the best thing," Hogan said.
Surround your scarecrow with fall flowers, cornstalks or pink flamingos. Place a political sign or a flag for your favorite sports team in its hands. Stick a fearless fake crow on its shoulder.
"I put my scarecrow on bales of hay with pumpkins all around it," Todd said. "My neighbor actually does that, too — she copied me."
Tip 5: Accessorize
"It's the little things that give it some personality," Davenport said.
Tuck the pants into a pair of old shoes. Extra points if you use cowboy boots, Converse All Stars or ruby slippers.
Stuffed gloves are good scarecrow hands. Secure them with twine or a hot glue gun.
Hats, boas and scarves make great additions to your scarecrow, but be sure to secure them so they don't blow away.
Hogan said old-fashioned hair and hat pins are good fasteners, but where are you going to get a set of those?
"You might find them in one of our nice antique stores," Hogan said.
(Did we mention she runs Grapevine Antiques in downtown Dade City?)
Helen Anne Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 435-7312.