Halloween How-to: Make a Spooky Skeleton Out of Recycled Milk Jugs!

Halloween requires skeletons. (And so does El Dia de los Muertos, for that matter…) If you’re on a budget but like to decorate, or you’re crazy about recycling, or you’re the crafty type who loves to add custom flair to everything, or you just want to see if you can do it, we’ve got a project for you!

Using recycled gallon and half-gallon milk jugs and some other simple materials, you can make your own reusable skeleton decoration to hang in your tree or around the house for spook season. Read through this easy procedure and watch our how-to videos for a clear example. Make one or make several, depending on how much milk your family drinks…


This homemade decoration is almost like the real thing! Photo by: Jason Schaefer


A minimum of nine plastic jugs – at least three of them gallon-sized


Hole punch

String, brads or pipe cleaners

Sharpie permanent markers or paint

Decorative bits (glitter, sequins, buttons, etc.)

Optional – High-temperature glue gun for punching holes


Three notes before you get started:

  • If you are making a second skeleton, you can probably use your jugs more efficiently than listed here and therefore need less.  If you are making this skeleton for the first time, I have asked you to provide 9 jugs (at least three of them being gallon-sized) so that you don’t have to work quite so hard to get a completed product.
  • The high-temperature glue gun works FABULOUSLY for punching the holes in the milk carton plastic, but I don’t recommend this method if you are a) working with younger children or are b) me because I absolutely burned myself. If you can get a volunteer in, they can sit and make the holes for the students pretty quickly.
  • If you are nervous about what you are doing, you can always sketch out your pieces with a Sharpie. Once you have them the way you want them, use rubbing alcohol to remove the Sharpie lines.
  1. Lay your hand or a template of a hand over the handle of one milk jug and trace.  Reverse the template or use your other hand for the second milk jug. Carefully cut the hands out. Save the extra bits.
  2. Repeat step one for the feet.
  3. Using a fifth and sixth jug, cut an extended oval out of jug around the handle, being as generous as you can with the oval. You can always trim it later! These will be the shoulder bones or scapulae. If you are clever, you can use the leftover bits to make your rib cage in step 9 as well.
  4. At this point, you should have two hands, two feet and two shoulder bones and a pile of left over bits.

    Where on the family tree would you place this skeleton? Photo by: Jason Schaefer

  5. Punch holes near the wrist portion of the hands and the ankle portion of the feet. Punch a hole in each end of the shoulder pieces.
  6. Using the leftover bits of your first six jugs, sketch out some bones. These should be basic stick shapes with lumps at each end. You will eventually need eight bones (four longer pieces for leg bones – two for each leg – and four shorter pieces for arms – two for each arm). Make them as long as possible. Once again, you can always trim them! In the example, my long leg bones crossed the jug diagonally to give them some extra length. With careful placement, I cut two long leg bones (and two knee caps) out of one of the leftover jugs.
  7. On a seventh jug, sketch out a skull (should consist of two large round eye sockets, an upside down heart or triangle for a nose and squares or ovals all lined up and touching for teeth). Use the two surfaces opposite the handle, and the jug should be upside-down. The neck of the jug will end up being the neck of your skull as well. You can add details as you see fit. It is also optional to cut the face out.
  8. Punch a hole in each side of the “neck” of your skull jug.
  9. Use your eighth jug to make a rib cage. You need to leave the neck of the jug as this will be the attachment point between the “hips” and the “ribs.”  That being said, cut out the handle of your jug so that there is a pretty big hole on one side of the jug.  This will be the front side of the rib cage. The neck and opposite side will represent the spine.
  10. To make the rib cage vaguely more accurate, cut some mostly horizontal strips out of the sides of the jug to leave the impression of ribs. The strips you cut out will become the empty spaces between the ribs. You will have to imagine that you are leaving a two inch vertical strip from the neck of the jug up the back to the bottom and down the front to the hole. This will act like the spine and the sternum. The horizontal strips you cut out should leave the two inch vertical strip intact.
  11. To make connection spots for the ribcage portion, cut two slits in the bottom of the jug on each side of the center. Then punch a hole on either side of each slit (for four holes total). Then punch two holes in the neck of the jug. If you are looking into the hole you created when you removed the handle, you will punch the one hole on the left of the neck and one hole on the right of the neck.
  12. To make hips, cut off the bottom of a ninth jug about two or three inches up. The example has a reinforced ring of plastic around the bottom and that was used to approximate the cuts. Round the corners of the jug and make the sides dip closer to the bottom of the jug.
  13. Punch holes in two opposite corners of the “hips.” 
  14. Cut a slit in the bottom of the “hip” piece and then punch two holes on either side of each slit (for four holes total). This is where you will attach your rib cage.
  15. Cut out two rounded corner squares from whatever leftover bits you have. These will be the kneecaps of your skeleton. Punch two holes in each that are opposite of each other.
  16. After you have everything cut out, you can make the parts interesting by drawing designs on all the bones in glow in the dark paint or Sharpie. Feel free to decorate your skeleton in either traditional Halloween or in the lighter and more decorative Dia de Los Muertos calacas style.
  17. Using a flat surface, align all the parts, making sure that you have the right connection holes punched out. Then connect all the parts together using the string, yarn or wire. Poke two holes in the top of the head and tie a loop that you can hang your skeleton from. From the top down, you should connect the pieces as such:
    • One shoulder piece to each side of the skull jug neck. Make sure they are facing the same way.
    • Tucking the ribs under the shoulder pieces so they stick out a bit, use the same skull jug neck holes to attach the rib cage. You will use the holes you created in the bottom of the rib cage jug to do this.
    • Connect your arm bones to each other and then to the shoulder.
    • Connect your hand to the end of the arm. Make sure they are facing the correct direction.
    • Connect the hip jug (bottom only) to the neck of the rib cage jug. You will use the four holes in the hip jug to connect to the two holes in the neck of the rib cage jug.
    • Connect the upper leg bones to the knee caps. 
    • Connect the knee caps to the lower leg bones.
    • Making sure they match, connect the legs to the holes in the side of the hip jug.
    • Connect the feet to the lower leg bones. Make sure they are facing the correct direction.


    Educator How-to: Make an Anubis mask!

    Anubis is the Greek name for the “jackal-headed” god associated with death and the rituals of mummification in Ancient Egypt. Anubis’ color is black, symbolizing rebirth, which parallels the belief that the deceased is, in fact, reborn in the afterlife.

    anubis 1

    Ancient Egyptian cartonnage Anubis mask.

    Over time, Anubis played several roles in funerary rituals, from protector of the grave to head embalmer, and advocated for the deceased in the Weighing of the Heart ceremony. A mask, like the one pictured below, was worn by the priest performing the Opening of the Mouth ceremony and other funeral rituals.

    Anubis 2

    Opening of the Mouth Ceremony.

    Interestingly, recent genetic research suggests the Egyptian jackal, long thought to be the inspiration for the god Anubis, may not be a jackal at all, but rather an African wolf and a member of the gray wolf family. However, at present, the animal is considered of unresolved taxonomical identity and is presently classified as a golden jackal, despite genetic evidence that suggests otherwise.


    The Egyptian jackal, or perhaps the African wolf.

    With the directions below, you can make your own Anubis mask! First, print out these Anubis Templates for the mask and ears and gather the following supplies:

    • Cardstock
    • Cardboard (you can recycle a cereal box for this purpose)
    • Crayons
    • Glue
    • Hole punch
    • Scissors
    • Stapler
    • Elastic string

    Cut out the face and ears from the template. Trace the ears onto a piece of cardstock and cut them out carefully. Color the face of Anubis any way you like, using your crayons. When finished, glue the face to the cardboard and cut it out using a pair of sharp scissors. Then use glue or a stapler to attach the ears to the top of the mask. Use the hole punch to make a hole on each side of the mask at its widest point. Finally, tie the ends of a length of elastic string to each of these holes so the mask fits snugly over your face. Now you can legitimately perform the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony yourself!



    Use these designs above for inspiration or invent your own. You learn more about Anubis and other Egyptian gods at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in the Hall of Ancient Egypt.

    Go seek: Take a photo scavenger hunt through our new Hall of Ancient Egypt

    We’re getting active on the blog today. Rather than tell you all about a new exhibit or reveal the quirks of some of our curatorial staff, this entry requires some effort on your part.

    In order to fully enjoy today’s post, you’ll have to get your tuchus to 5555 Hermann Dr., where you might have heard a little something about a new Hall of Ancient Egypt:

    Egpyt Photo Scavenger Hunt

    Our education department teamed up to take stock of the new hall — which is teeming with artifacts from the earliest investigations to those examined with 21st-century technology — and created an engaging Egyptian scavenger hunt.

    Egpyt Photo Scavenger Hunt

    Navigate the hall on your smartphone or click here to print these pages for an extra activity during your next visit!

    Mock Mummification

    * Walk Like An Egyptian *
    Creative Commons License photo credit: pareeerica

    We will be having an educator overnight soon at the HMNS – these events allow teachers to come in after hours and learn new activities to do in their classrooms with students. Teachers are also able to wander around our exhibit halls, have a catered dinner, and watch a planetarium show. Today I thought I would share with you one of the classroom projects for our Mummies, Tombs and Catacombs Educator overnight happening in April. (Teachers – you can sign up now at www.hmns.org

    Bendable action figure
    Paper clips
    Small heart sticker
    Red food coloring
    Scented oil
    Udjat eye stickers – find an Udjat Eye design and print it on label paper
    Paper plates
    Black Sharpies
    Paper towels

    1. Get a parent to help you (this only applies for kids.)

    2. Talk about the different steps that took place during mummification. You may want to check out the book Mummies Made in Egypt by Aliki. You can find it at your local library.

    3. Now it’s your turn to make a mummy! Grab an action figure and place it on a paper plate.

    4. Get a small amount of water and a Q-tip. This represents water from the Nile River. The dead were first washed with water from the Nile. Dip a Q-tip in the water and use it to “wash” your mummy. Then, dry it with a paper towel. Save the towel. You will need it later.

    5. Now it’s time to remove the organs from the body. Organs contain a lot of water, so they must be removed in order to preserve the body. Take your paper clip and bend it into a hook shape. This is the shape of the instrument used to remove the brain from the head. The embalmers inserted it through the nose. The brain was considered a filler for the head (kind of like stuffing) and not important, so it was discarded. Pretend to remove the brain using the hook you made.

    Egyptian Embalming Urns
    Creative Commons License photo credit: mamamusings

    6. Next you need to remove the viscera from the body. A cut was made into the left side of the mummy using an obsidian blade (Use a black Sharpie marker to draw a line on the left-hand side of the abdomen); it was from here that the internal organs were removed. Four of the organs were taken out and embalmed separately. The liver, lungs, stomach, and intestines were embalmed and placed in separate jars called canopic jars to be entombed with the mummy. The heart was left in place inside the body. They believed the heart controlled thoughts and emotions and served as the place where memories were stored. The mummy would need to keep its heart. Place your heart sticker on the mummy’s chest.

    7. The body was then covered in something like salt called natron. It took 40 days for the body to dry out. The natron was changed often. Sprinkle your mummy with salt to simulate the natron.

    8. When the body was dried out it was washed again using palm wine. Wash off the figure using water dyed red (palm wine). Pat you’re the body dry with a paper towel.

    9. The body was then stuffed with aromatic spices and resins. This made the body smell at least a little more pleasant. Use a drop of scented oil on your body to make it smell nice.

    10. The incision in the side will need to be protected. Place your Udjat Eye sticker over the incision on the left hand side of the abdomen.

    11. Next comes the resin. Resin was made from tree sap and was painted on the body to make it waterproof. Paint the body from head to toe with a light coat of Elmer’s glue. You may use your finger to do this.

    12. Next are the amulets. Amulets are carved figures that are thought to have magical powers. The most important amulet for the mummy was a large scarab that was placed over the heart to provide protection. Place a sequin over your mummy’s heart to act as the heart scarab.

    13. Next, the bandages. Mummies were wrapped with linen bandages. Linen is made from flax, which is similar to cotton. Take a length of cotton gauze and wrap your mummy from head to toe.

    14. Now you have your own mummy! Maybe you can make a sarcophagus to hold your mummy!