From vine to design

The finished gourds undergo many stages before completion.   You may find it interesting to learn a little about the process.

A collection of gourds at a gourd farm.

The gourds Ivy uses are hand selected and purchased from gourd farms around the country.  Unlike the ornamental colorful gourds found in autumn displays  (which will typically mold or rot within a few months), the hardshell gourd used in gourd art hardens into a woody light tan/brown outer shell, durable for many years.   Hardshells come in such a diversity of shapes, sizes and textures that they offer an endless supply of potential for creative art.  They are truly magical!  Beautiful and unusual patterns on the gourd shell often appear as the gourd dries, created by mold on the outer skin layer which actually has penetrated the gourd surface.

Ivy Howard preparing a gourd exterior.

The mold may serve to create a beautiful gourd exterior, but once it does its job, it has to go!   Elbow grease does the job.

What does this gourd want to be?  The discovery starts with the selection process, continued in the cleaning process, and now is further refined once its lovely surface is revealed. 

The gourd is cut open (always using protective respiratory gear) with a combination of hand and power tools, revealing the dried inner seeds and pulp, which can be alternately easy and frustratingly difficult to remove.

Ivy Howard cutting open a gourd and removing the pulp.
Ivy Howard cutting open a gourd and removing the pulp.
Ivy Howard cutting open a gourd and removing the pulp.




Sometimes there’s unexpected help!

A squirl getting a drink from a partially prepared gourd.
A chipmunk examining a partially prepared gourd.

The design is then drawn onto the gourd, followed by painting, carving, and/or pyroengraving.  Gourd dyes, inks, metallics, acrylics, leather dyes, waxes, polishes, inlay, embellishments….any mixture can add to the finished gourd.  Each gourd is finished with an exterior treatment appropriate for the technique used.  It could be hand rubbed with repeated coats of wax or finished with acrylics or special gourd varnishes.

Long pine needles often adorn Ivy’s gourds.  Once collected, they are carefully hand sorted to retain only the prime needles.  They are then washed and dried, making them ready for use on both gourds and for baskets.

Pine needle coiling being performed by Ivy Howard.

Gourds readied for pine needle rims are drilled along the edge to allow for the attachment of the pine needle coil.  Bundles of pine needles are formed and contained in a gauge.  Securing stitches are typically made with waxed linen, artificial sinew or raffia.  The coiling process is satisfying but very time consuming, requiring the addition of new needles every couple of stitches throughout the coiling.  Glass or metal beads, seeds and other natural materials are often used to enhance the gourd.  Whatever the technique, it is always accompanied by a careful attention to detail.

Creating a finished gourd is an evolutionary process, often filled with stops and starts.  The seemingly perfect envisioned design sometimes morphs into another one entirely as the gourd speaks its mind and leads in another direction. It all leads to a work of art that is functional or decorative but always unique and collectible.