Every September, members of our local community are invited to make and display a scarecrow for the annual festival, and then everyone troops around all the houses looking at what we’ve all done – which is actually a whole heap of fun, and also involves a stop for tea and cake at the Community Orchard, making it even more fabulous. This year’s event was only a few days after what would have been Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday, so of course our scarecrow had to be Roald Dahl themed!
Our kids have recently discovered one of my favourite Roald Dahl books, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate factory’, and I came up with a great plan to make an amazing Violet Beauregarde blueberry scarecrow, complete with three-course dinner gum machine. However, best laid plans and all that… Number One son decided that Mike Teavee was a much better subject, and so, alas, Violet hit this discard pile. Once I got over my disappointment and stopped sulking, we came up with a host of fun ideas for our Wonkavision scarecrow spectacular!
Something that always stuck with me from my own readings of the book and repeated viewings of the (1971 classic) film was the fantastical and yet entirely practical and matter-of-fact signage that abounds in Wonka’s factory, so I was determined to include some in our display. The first sign, hung on the garden gate, includes a safety warning – the Television Room is one of Wonka’s most dangerous areas, as Mike Teavee finds out to his cost. I bought a cheap pair of steampunky goggles on ebay and nabbed Kiddo Numero 2’s doctor’s costume to hang on a peg in the display as spare Oompa Loompa safety gear.
The display itself was made up of three distinct parts – the Wonkavision camera, giant Wonka Bar and of course the Wonkavision television set, where our teeny tiny scarecrow hung out. Everything (bar the bar) had to be bright white, of course, though admittedly this was as seen in the film – in the book, the camera is black and the Oompa Loompa jumpsuits are red.
Blame it on insidious Apple branding or too many Seventies sci-fi programs (Logan’s Run, anyone?), but the stark white look just seemed that bit classier and hi-tec to me, so we stuck with the 1971 look for styling.
As luck would have it, we’d had a new Ikea sofa delivered the weekend before the festival, so had an abundance of boxes to use as raw material. One of the biggest made a handy telly box after a liberal coating of white paint, some old lids for buttons and a Wonka-esque spiral backdrop.
I cheated a bit (okay, quite a lot!) with the white paint, using disposable white paper tablecloths and white duct tape to cover larger areas instead of painting them. Much, much quicker to do!
Mike Teavee was a blank bendy rope doll that I happened to have, leftover from another project. I whipped up a simple jumpsuit by drawing around his basic shape on doubled-over white fabric, then stitching around the outline, before cutting out and turning right-side-out. A bit of orange embroidery thread created the lines (not very neatly, but it was late and I was doing it while drinking wine…). His features are drawn on using the kids’ felt tip pens, and his mask was cut out of a bit of craft foam. Yes, I should have painted his feet and hands white, but I was SO sick of white paint by this stage.
The camera was junk modelling at its finest – random bits from the recycling bin, stuck together and painted white. I made the lens section silver to add a bit of space-age oomph. Admittedly, our camera looks nothing like the one in the film (either film, come to that) or the book, but I still love it!
The Wonka bar was even easier as we just happened to have a box that was already the right size and shape. It took next to no time to cover it with some silver wrapping paper at each end, and three cheap disposable plastic tablecloths (one pink, one orange and one brown) staple-gunned on (they were too heavy for tape or glue). The lettering was another – paper – tablecloth, then cut out and glued onto the box with PVA. I went over the letters with white paint once the glue dried, to give it a bit more of a painterly look. As I only had enough yellow card to do the hat in that colour, I had to do the word ‘bar’ in white – not very accurate but I don’t think many people would have noticed! But yes, it irks me still…
I managed to find (after a lot of looking) a font that was pretty close to the lettering used on the signs seen in the 1971 film, and got a little carried away making signs with it. But the ones I love best are the two store room signs we put up in the window – in fact I like them so much that they may end up hanging permanently somewhere in the house!
I loved the idea of including a ‘Days Since This Factory Had An Accident’ sign into our room – it felt like the kind of thing Mr Wonka would have done – and it also gave me another opportunity to use that font.
My original version was based on the number of days since a giant blueberry incident (done pre-change of theme!), and as I couldn’t bear to completely scrap the blueberry, the new sign included references to the fates of all the other children touring Wonka’s factory with Charlie – Augustus Gloop is, of course, the pollutant fouling up the chocolate river, while Veruca Salt (and parents) were blocking up the rubbish chute. Violet Beauregarde was the one who turned into a Blueberry (“Violet, you’re turning violet, Violet!”), and Mike Teavee was shrunk by Wonkavision.
I stuck a little ‘Must try harder’ memo from Mr W., though I can’t see him loosing sleep over any of those zeros!
In front of the television was a little desk. We set our home-made Willy Wonka hat onto it, along with a card, a cup of tea (or possibly hot chocolate!), a small posy of flowers and a Wonka’s original Everlasting Gobstopper. I don’t know if anyone realised why, but it was our little nod and thank you for Gene Wilder, who died a couple of weeks before. Wilder’s portrayal of Willy Wonka was a magical part of my childhood and has since entranced my children as well, so it was important to us to make some gesture in acknowledgement, whether or not anyone else even noticed it!
Incidentally, the everlasting gobstopper was a real last-minute addition – made with plasticine in about five minutes flat. G-Man was so intrigued by this that he spent half the day crafting a whole heap of gobstoppers – we could easily have recreated the conveyor belt scene by the end! They’re very easy to make so I highly recommend as an activity for the kids.
The last item on the desk was Mike Teavee’s toy gun – obviously far too big for him to hold now, so labelled up with a ‘property of…’ ticket. It’s resting on another pre-change of theme item – a sign-up form for a Juicing Room clean-up crew… I imagined that de-juicing Violet might have been a messy affair!
Our front door displayed an Invention Room sign (yep, it should be ‘Inventing’; yep, I noticed too late to change it!) and an advert for Wonka’s Rainbow Drops (“suck them and you can spit in seven different colours!”). I was going to do adverts for other Wonka products too, but a) ran out of time and b) was told I was going too far and needed to think of the trees…
The last thing we put up were arrow signs to direct people to the other rooms in the factory. Naturally they pointed in all directions! And yes, it’s that font again…
All in all, making the props for this display was great fun, and certainly seemed to create an impact on the day! The kids loved it – and are very reluctant to say goodbye to the Wonkavision telly, which is finding a second life as a puppet theatre! I feel like Mr Wonka would approve.
Want to make a hat like Wonka’s? Check out our easy tutorial, and take a look at our other book-tastic scarecrow festival display for Alice in Wonderland!