Last year we were invited to a stellar holiday party built around a diorama competition. The hostess is an expert on all things vintage, and especially loves deer, so I decided on a deer theme — initially thinking that the finished product would be something I could leave as a memento. But the idea grew bigger and bigger until I decided to put the diorama inside of an actual life-sized deer decoy. And of course I couldn’t part with that!
Buying a deer decoy is a strange experience. The world of hunting gear is completely foreign to me, so once I was in this new territory I began to feel a little squeamish about the whole undertaking. I found an appropriate deer online: one that would stand on its own, had a hollow body, and was fairly sturdy. The instruction book alone was worth the price of admission: full of weird ideas and terminology I’d never encountered. Plus, she came with two sets of ears, which is another story entirely (the ears we used are the ones that signal a doe “in estrus” — oh dear!). On top of all this, the deer was in my office for about a month before I started the project, greeting me every morning and scaring the pants off me, so I eventually became quite attached to “Deery.”
I finally enlisted the help of friends who weren’t emotionally attached to my deer decoy to do the grueling work of cutting an access door in her back, and a peephole in her rear end. Below are instructions explaining the process step-by-step, in case you’re crazy enough to do this yourself. (If you do, please send me some photos!)
The best part was bringing the completed “deer-o-rama” to the party, because when people asked what it was we didn’t tell them — we just waited for them to figure it out. Once someone found the peephole, the excitement was contagious. It was hilarious to watch everyone kneel down on the floor and peek into the back of the deer to see the unbelievable wonderland inside. I was amazed when one eagle-eyed observer spotted the dollhouse-sized Kinkade landscape painting in the back and asked, “Is that a Kinkade?!” Hilarious moment!
It was a fun way to break the ice and a great way to meet a bunch of new people. And we won first place and got a great trophy from the hostess — the look on her face was priceless. So go find yourself a deer decoy and get busy! It’s sure to be a smash, and a great decoration you can cart out year after year. Or you can just leave it in your living room year-round like we do — it’s always a surprising conversation piece. (Bonus: It also freaks out the dogs.)
Step 1: I enlisted the help of 2 handy friends with tools, who came over and cut an access door in Deery’s back and drilled the all-important peephole in the rear. This was just a simple hole; I thought about using a peephole from the hardware store, but it wasn’t necessary.
Step 2: I thought about it for another week and gathered all kinds of tiny vintage deer on eBay, and found some battery-operated Christmas lights from a local craft store. I also bought a large solid chunk of styrofoam from a craft store, along with other odds and ends.
Step 3: I started by hot-gluing the deer legs to the body in order to make them extra-sturdy. Then I cut the styrofoam and inserted it into the hollow body to serve as a foundation for the diorama. On top of this styrofoam, I glued down some paper that looks like grass (both of these were in the model train section of the craft store). I also painted the “ceiling” sky blue.
Step 4: The next step was to install the lights. I bought some tiny battery-operated floodlights and light strings from the craft store as well (they’re in the section where people buy holiday village figurines). I hot-glued the floodlights to the “ceiling” inside the deer toward the back. Then I installed several tiny Christmas trees through the neck hole and put the light strings on them. I also glued 2 light strings to the ceiling for a starry effect. All of the battery packs for the lights were based right inside the side “door” of the body, for handy access. You can cut a pocket in the styrofoam base to house the batteries if you’d like.
Step 5: Next, I placed a mirror on the foundation to act as a frozen pond. I inserted all kinds of tiny deer throughout the scene (gluing them down for extra support), and added little mushrooms, fake snow, and glued tufts of cotton “snow” to the ceiling inside. Remember to put the smallest trees and deer toward the front to enhance the illusion of depth.
Step 6: Then I cut 2 strips of leather to act as hinges for the “door” on the side and glued them to the bottom of the side entrance, with 1 leather tab at the top to help open the door and keep it secure when closed.
Step 7: I found the perfect vintage embroidered runner with a deer on it (eBay), which I glued to the top as a “saddle.” This helped to disguise the access door on the back.
Step 8: Once everything inside was set and sturdy (remember, this had to make a car trip across town in my Beetle), I fashioned a little necklace out of vintage ornaments and ribbon (since I had to remove the head to put it in my car, so this covered the open seam around the neck). Don’t forget to turn on all the lights before the big show!
About the Author:
Julie Jackson is the creator of Subversive Cross Stitch and Kitty Wigs. Her new book, Glamourpuss: The Enchanting World of Kitty Wigs is now available in bookstores.