Bookish DIY Gifts: An Avant-Gourd Tote

Posted by Margaret Dunham


/avänt' gôrd/

1. Unusual or experimental use of decorative gourds for artistic purposes.*

It’s decorative gourd season, and more than a few of us have been enjoying clusters of these miniature members of the squash family on reception desks, restaurant tables, and conference tables. Some have likely served as lovely centerpieces during family meals. How do you celebrate decorative gourd season all year long? With a decorated avant-gourd book tote, of course! Make your own with just a few supplies and a little creativity. Here’s how.

Gather your materials. 

Tiny gourds – the more oddly-shaped, the better

Kitchen knife – any knife you would use on a butternut squash

Cutting board – sturdy and dry

Acrylic Paints – in the colors of your choosing

Tote Bag – and tote you like

Scrap paper/paper plate – as a palate for your paint

Paint brush (optional) – perfect for adding a little extra paint to your gourds

Rag/washcloth (optional) – for added cutting stability with oddly-shaped gourds, an old kitchen cloth folded underneath works wonders.


Choose how to slice your gourds.

Cut your gourds lengthwise, widthwise, into wedges, or choose not to cut them at all! Focus on finding ways to show off the unique shape of each gourd. Pro-tip: gourds look kind of weird inside, but never fear! If your gourd is full of seeds, scoop them out jack-o-lantern-style. If your gourd has dried out inside, hollow out the spongy dry matter and use the sturdy peel as the stamp.


Choose a paint color for your gourds.

You can use any paint color you like for your project. For this example, we chose colors that were similar to the original gourd’s coloring, and added a little sparkly gold paint.  


Dip the edge of your gourd in paint.

This is where the project starts to get just a little bit messy! At this point, you may want to take some precautions and cover your work surface or clothes. Choose which edge of the gourd will be used to make the design on your tote bag, and dip it into the paint you’ve chosen. Try to get as much paint onto the stamping surface of the gourd as you can.


Apply the gourd to your tote bag.

For this tote, the green gourd slices were each used once across, the scalloped gourd was cut into two reused sections, the lumpy gourd was cut into wedges that were re-stamped multiple times, and the miniature pumpkin was simply rolled across to create the border. Get creative with your application, and have fun!


Let dry and use!

Let your tote dry thoroughly before using. Because gourds vary in shape and size (after all, that’s what we love about them), predicting how long it will take for your project to dry is challenging. Leaving it to dry overnight is always a good option!


Pack away whatever you like in your fancy new tote bag – we recommend it as a great way to carry along your travel reading as you visit friends and family over the holidays. Enjoy your unusual and experimental bag design!


**Definition of avant-gourd made up in celebration of decorative gourd season