How to Make a Scarecrow for Halloween

12 Easy Steps to the Perfect Strawman

Image: building and displaying a home-made scarecrow is fun and saves you money.
This scarecrow was home-made using simple materials, which saved money. David Beaulieu

Below, learn how to make a scarecrow for Halloween in the traditional fashion. One now sees many variations on this old theme, examples of which are supplied in these two photo galleries:

  1. Scarecrow Pictures
  2. Scarecrow Ideas

But in the tutorial that follows, we will stick with the tried-and-true form that inspired the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, consisting basically of a straw man on a pole. If you wish to take a different tack altogether and display one of those ghoulish figures that are so popular now, read these detailed instructions (with pictures) on how to make a Grim Reaper.

Let's begin with the key supplies used to make the Halloween scarecrow in the picture above and stand it securely in an upright position.

Instructions to Make a Scarecrow for Halloween

1. If you have access to woods or a brushy area in your landscaping, find two small saplings that you can cut down, using a chainsaw (if you lack such access, buy wooden poles). You need two straight poles to make a scarecrow in the manner suggested below. After felling the young trees, use a tape measure to find a straight length of 4 feet on one pole and 8 feet on the other. Etch in your guiding marks and cut the poles accordingly with your saw.

You will be lashing the two poles together to make a cross, from which your scarecrow will hang. Some instructions on how to make a scarecrow tell you to build the cross at this point as a standalone item, but a different method will be presented here that makes for a superior scarecrow.

2. To begin, make your scarecrow's head. This is done by stuffing a pillowcase with straw, hay or leaves raked in fall. You will have excess pillowcase at the bottom; cut it into four strips, which you can use later as ties. Pin the pillowcase with safety pins to keep the straw from falling out of the bottom.

But do not close up the bottom entirely.

You will find safety pins to be your greatest ally when you make a scarecrow. Motto for this project: "The safety pin is your friend."

3. Insert your scarecrow head onto the longer of the two poles. Push until the top of the pole is at the top of the pillowcase (right through the straw).

Now slide the shirt (an old turtleneck was used here) up this same pole all the way to just under the head. Affix it loosely to the bottom of the head with safety pins. The idea here is to provide yourself with some guidance as to where the 4-foot-long crosspiece should be attached to the longer pole (namely, where the arms will be). When you have determined this location, mark it by cutting a small notch into the 8-foot-long pole. Keeping the turtleneck shirt on the long pole, slide it up so that it is not in the way. Lash the crosspiece to the 8-footer at the mark you have made, using twine.

4. Slide the turtleneck shirt back down into position, this time stretching it to enable yourself to slide the sleeves through the crosspiece on either side. If you are using a shirt that buttons up the front, you will not have to worry about this; just "dress" your scarecrow in its shirt as you would dress a person, then button it up.

5. You have been instructed to put the shirt on first mainly for purposes of positioning. We are actually going to work with the scarecrow's pants next, rather than doing any more with the shirt just yet.

Pull one leg of the pants up onto the pole, until the waist meets the bottom of the shirt. Fasten the pants to the shirt loosely with safety pins. Encircle the bottom of this leg with twine and tie it off, thereby securing the leg to the long pole. Stuff this leg with straw.

The other leg will hang freely. Tie off the bottom with twine and stuff it.

6. It is time to make scarecrow "suspenders." Run twine through a belt loop on one side of the scarecrow's pants and all the way up over the crosspiece (under the shirt). Then bring the twine back down through the same belt loop and tie it off. Repeat on other side.

7. At this point, it is easier to continue the work with the scarecrow in an upright position, hanging from his cross. So dig a hole in the ground 2 feet deep and insert the bottom of the pole framework into it. Then shovel the dirt back into the hole, tamping down firmly.

Tie off the wrists on the crosspiece, as you had tied off the first pant leg earlier.

Begin stuffing the shirt, starting with the arms and neck area first. Then work your way down from the shoulders toward the waist. When you are finished, secure top of shirt to head and bottom of shirt to pants more firmly, using safety pins.

Turn your attention now to finishing off the head. We will make a scarecrow face, supply some "hair" and adorn our figure with a hat.

8. Remember how we cut the excess at the bottom of the pillowcase into strips? Use them now as straps to secure the head a bit better to the pole. Aim for just a moderate tightness: Do not make the mistake of tying them too tight, which creates excessive wrinkling in what will become the area where the scarecrow face goes. You want to end up with a relatively smooth scarecrow face so that you can more easily draw features on it.

9. Since pillowcases are rectangular, you have to work some to achieve a rounded head in this scarecrow project. Try pinning the corners down with safety pins.

Likewise, to take up some slack and achieve a more rounded look for the scarecrow face, do some pinning on the back of the head as necessary. The back does not matter so much because it will be covered with burlap "hair."

What's nice about working with a turtleneck shirt, specifically, is that you can pull the neck up as high as it will go and pin it securely to the bottom of the head.

10. Pin a piece of burlap on top of the head to make scarecrow "hair." Pin the hat on top of this hair. Then go back and trim the burlap to make it look more like hair -- sort of like giving a scarecrow a haircut. A scruffy look (uneven haircut) works well on a scarecrow. Provide bangs for the forehead by cutting the burlap so that some single strands hang down.

Draw the eyes, eyebrows, nose and mouth onto the scarecrow face with a black magic marker. If you like a scarecrow face that is menacing, it is easy to achieve here through the angle that you choose for the eyebrows. A down-turned mouth will also make your scarecrow scarier for Halloween.

11. Time for the finishing touches.

Cut out some burlap "patches" and glue-gun them onto the shirt.

Make the transition from neck to head seamless by wrapping the area in a burlap "scarf" and stuffing in a bit of extra straw. Likewise, make a scarecrow "belt" out of burlap to obscure any safety pins, etc. where shirt meets pants. Burlap can hide many an imperfection in this project.

Stuff a bit of straw part way under the hat, too, allowing some to remain sticking out; this adds to that raggedy look that is so desirable in a scarecrow.

12. Finally, stand back to take a good look at your scarecrow. Is the torso a bit lumpy on one side? Apply some pressure to mold the shape more to your liking. If, by contrast, an area appears caved in, loosen up the clothing just enough to allow you to insert some more straw.

Extra Tips for Making Scarecrows

Don't wish to make a scarecrow head by stuffing a pillowcase? Many people use carved pumpkins, instead. The drawback? They rot quickly. One alternative is to paint on a pumpkin face. However, if you secure such a pumpkin by inserting a pole through it, you are still introducing bacteria and inviting rot. A better alternative is to make a Halloween jack-o'-lantern from a gourd or to use an artificial jack-o'-lantern.

Can't get the crosspiece level, despite your best efforts? One possible solution is to insert a stone (for some weight) into a mesh bag and tie the bag onto the arm that is sticking up too high, to bring it down some. Tie it loosely, so that you can slide it along the arm as necessary in your quest for just the right position where balance is achieved. Once the sleeve is inserted over the crosspiece and stuffed, the mesh bag and rock will be hidden -- no one will know you "cheated."

Supplies Needed for the Job

Does making a scarecrow seem an easy enough project for you now? Then these are the materials that you will need:

  1. Saw, tape measure, shovel
  2. Two poles
  3. Straw, hay or leaves
  4. Shirt, pants, hat
  5. Pillowcase
  6. Magic marker
  7. Safety pins
  8. Glue gun and sticks
  9. Burlap
  10. Twine