The Art of Darkness

Nightmare Catcher

December 4th, 2014 by Cobwebs

Nightmare CatcherThe Wandering Mermaid Etsy shop sells “vintage inspired treasures” such as antiqued journals and little charms. The shop also offers a variety of pretty bottles labeled with things like “Fairy Godmother Wishes” and “Mermaid Song,” but the one I was particularly taken with was their bottle of Nightmares. It’s filled with black glitter and little sparkly stars, in which are nestled bits of paper listing “classic nightmare themes” which you may wish to keep bottled up.

I love the idea of having a place to capture bad dreams where you can keep an eye on ‘em. Although the ones on Etsy are surprisingly inexpensive–for $15, you could hardly buy the glitter–something similar would be pretty easy to DIY if you wanted to use a different bottle or otherwise adjust its appearance. I’d also add a pretty pen and a supply of blank paper slips for writing down personal nightmares to bottle up.

This would be a particularly great gift for a child, but it’d be nice for anyone who could use a little midnight reassurance. The bottle or jar could be personalized with the recipient’s name, and little “magic charms” representing pleasant things like flowers or teddy bears could be attached to the outside or mixed in with the glitter. Nightmares aren’t nearly as scary when they’re sulking in a jar instead of running around freely, so having a place to store them might help ensure pleasant dreams.

Posted in Bittens, Needful Things | 3 Comments »

Host a Spider Safari

November 14th, 2013 by Cobwebs

Jumping SpiderI found this a little late for those of us headed into “real” winter, but folks with mild winters and people in the other hemisphere can use it now; the rest of us can tuck it away as an idea for next spring.

I’ve mentioned Atlas Obscura, an online guide to “the world’s wondrous and curious places,” previously; but I didn’t know until recently that they also have a real-world arm called the Obscura Society. They host regional events to seek out, “secret histories, unusual access, and opportunities for our community to explore strange and overlooked places hidden all around us,” and one of their recent excursions was a spider safari in a California nature preserve.

We started the day with a little learning: Spider anatomy, spider sounds, spider molting, and finally spider sex. We also got to see an amazing video of the tiny jumping spider’s throaty mating song. After our lesson we headed into the hills and valleys of the preserve to see what we could find.

I think this is simply a brilliant idea, either as an activity for children or as an adult outing. It’s inexpensive (or free, if you go no further than your back yard or a local park), educational, and fun. Look online for field guides to spiders commonly found in your region, pack a lunch, and go spider-hunting. Once you start really looking for them, it’s surprising how abundant they are.

Admire their colors, watch them scurry around their webs, and marvel at their complex behavior. It’s a lovely excuse for a stroll, and a great way to spark an appreciation for arachnids in children (or in adults who are unenthusiastic about spiders).

Incidentally, I suspect that the video mentioned by the Obscura Society might have been this one. So adorable:

Posted in Bittens, Unhallowed Ground | 2 Comments »

Beaded Halloween Decorations

September 25th, 2013 by Cobwebs

Crystal DecorationsI ran into these magnetic beaded decorations recently, and although they’re cute I take great exception to the vendor’s assertion that $39 for three is a “Budget-friendly way to decorate.”* These are just glass beads with a magnetic hanger, and for $39 you could make a hojillion of them.

Any decent-sized craft store should have most of what you need, but you can also find materials online: Beading thread, rondelle beads of your choice, a magnetic end bit (for which you could use magnetic jewelery clasps or magnetic beads; or skip the magnet and just tie a loop in the thread), and a Halloween figure of some sort.

Glass beads with a Halloween theme are plentiful and cheap; searching for “lampwork” or “glass bead” with your chosen shape will turn up ghosts, cats, bats, eyeballs, and whatever else your heart desires (you can also find hearts). The ghost and bat/cat shapes are also simple enough that they could be easily made of polymer clay.

These are so simple and cheap, you could make a bunch to hang or give as gifts. They’d be a great party activity for older kids, too; supply them with the materials and let them bead their own decorative favor.


*I also take exception to the “bat,” which looks a hell of a lot more like a cat with wings, but that’s another issue entirely.

Posted in Bad Things, Bittens | 2 Comments »

Dia de los Muertos

September 2nd, 2013 by Cobwebs

This short film by *berf and her partners won the Ringling College of Art and Design’s 2013 gold Student Academy Award for animation. And it will hit you right in the feels.

Posted in Bittens | 2 Comments »

Homemade Candy Buttons

May 30th, 2013 by Cobwebs

Candy ButtonsRemember those hard-sugar dots that came arranged on strips of paper that we all ate as kids? It turns out that they’re super-easy to make at home, and if you use the right kind of paper you won’t even wind up with shreds of it stuck in your teeth.

The candy is simply royal icing that’s dotted onto freezer paper and allowed to dry. Sweet Sugar Belle has a great start-to-finish tutorial on making and packaging the buttons. She also has a recipe for the icing hidden in the wall o’ text, but here’s another one:

1 lb (about 7 C) confectioners’ sugar (you may need slightly more)
6 Tbsp water
2 egg whites or 2 Tbsp meringue powder plus 2 Tbsp additional water
1/2 tsp flavoring extract (almond, vanilla, lemon, peppermint, coconut, etc.)
Food coloring (gel is best; if you use liquid, reduce the amount of water slightly)

If using egg whites, separate the eggs (if salmonella is a concern, use pasteurized eggs or go with the meringue powder instead).

Place the sugar, water, egg whites/meringue, and flavoring in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed for about 6 minutes, until thick and glossy. The icing should fall in ribbons when lifted with a spoon and allowed to fall back into the bowl, and the ribbon should sit on the surface for a few seconds before melting back in. Add a little additional water or sugar to thin/thicken it if necessary (remember that it should be a little thick if you’re going to use liquid food coloring).

Divide into bowls and tint with food coloring. Cover until ready to use. The icing will keep for at least a month (refrigerate if you used fresh egg whites).

Most tutorials suggest piping the dots using a decorator bag or a sandwich bag with one corner cut off. That’s fine if you’re only going to do a few, but if you plan to make a lot of these (and they do lend themselves really well to an assembly-line approach), I’d recommend using condiment squeeze bottles instead. They’re much less messy (I seem to have a talent for squeezing icing out of the top of a decorator bag and all over my hand), and they can be capped and stored if you don’t want to use them all at once.

Instead of piping them in a simple rectangle, you can also get creative with the arrangement of the buttons on the paper. Quake N Bake has a video tutorial for making Space Invaders dots, and any simple pattern that fits on a grid should be suitable: Cross stitch patterns (like spiders), 8-bit computer icons (like skulls), or letters and numbers.

Packages of the buttons would make wonderful party or wedding favors; Halloweenish dots can be tinted orange and black, wedding dots could use the bride’s colors. You could also leave them white and, once dry, draw pupils (and, optionally, bloodshot lines) on them with a food coloring pen for a whole package of googly eyes. The eyes are great for decorating cupcakes, too; just pop them off the paper backing and stick them on.

The packaged buttons can be stored in a cool, dry place for several months, so they’re an excellent make-ahead project. They’re also simple enough to make that they’re a good activity for kids.

Posted in Bittens, Terror in the Aisle | 2 Comments »

Tales from Lovecraft Middle School

March 27th, 2013 by Cobwebs

Lovecraft Middle SchoolIntrepid reader Sally pointed me in the direction of a new series for kids in the the 10-and-up range. Tales from Lovecraft Middle School follows the adventures of seventh-grader Robert Arthur as he discovers that his new school is somewhat…unusual.

The series kicks off with Professor Gargoyle, where Robert learns that his science teacher may be a monster in disguise. The second book, Slither Sisters, picks up where the first one leaves off:

Robert has discovered that two of his classmates are actually sinister snake-women in disguise. Even worse, his new middle school is full of “gates” to a terrifying alternate dimension – a haunted mansion full of strange spirits and monstrous beasts.

Other books released so far are Teacher’s Pest (student council president is actually a bug-monster) and Substitute Creature (a mysterious substitute teacher may have “a sinister secret”).

The overall plotline sounds as though it was ripped directly from the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but these look like spooky fun for kids who have outgrown Goosebumps but aren’t quite ready for Clive Barker. The books also each have a lenticular cover so the image morphs from “normal” to “monster” and back, which is kind of a neat touch.

The series has an amusing promotional Website, and there’s also a short book trailer for Professor Gargoyle:

(Thanks, Sally!)

Posted in Bittens | 1 Comment »

600 Monsters Strong

January 23rd, 2013 by Cobwebs

Knit MonsterNow here’s a cause we can get behind: 600 Monsters Strong is an organization whose stated goal is “Bringing friendly handcrafted monsters to children in need worldwide.” It was formed in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, and they focus on kids whose lives have been marred by gun violence.

They create their monsters from “approved” patterns on Ravelry (I guess to prevent confusion over what an appropriately friendly monster might look like), and ship them off to kids in need. Some of the group’s completed monsters can be seen on their Instagram page. Those are some mighty huggable monsters.

Giving away monsters to needy kids sounds like a worthy goal to me. If you don’t want to get involved with the group at large, a local children’s hospital or homeless shelter would be very grateful for such a gift.

(via MAKE)

Posted in Bittens | 3 Comments »

Geeky/Gothy Nursery Themes

January 2nd, 2013 by Cobwebs

NMBC Nursery

Over at BuzzFeed, there’s an intriguing roundup of DIY themes for a baby’s nursery. They’re listed as “pop culture,” but they skew pretty much exclusively toward the geek/goth end of that spectrum.

They all seem to be aimed more at a parent’s interests, since a number of them (Game of Thrones, Twilight, Doctor Who) really aren’t baby-friendly even if you squint, and a couple (I’m thinking particularly of the Walking Dead one with the zombie-hand wall stencil) should only be considered for a nursery if you’re planning to redecorate before the kid’s old enough to start having nightmares. However, there’s no rule that says you can’t decorate to your own taste until your children are old enough to have their own opinions. There’s also no rule that says you can’t use some of these ideas to decorate your own bedroom: I’m quite taken with both the Tree of Gondor wall stencil and the NMBC Sally dresser.

There are only a few elements for each theme, but some of them are quite clever and it’s a great way to kick-start your inspiration. There are links for each featured piece, which is also helpful.

Posted in Bad Things, Bittens | 3 Comments »

Install a Fairy Door

December 5th, 2012 by Cobwebs

Fairy DoorOver on DesignSponge, blogger Kate Benbow relates a conversation with her small son about the source of mysterious noises in their house: Instead of mice, her son was convinced it was the Tooth Fairy.

Later that week, I found two inexpensive dollhouse doors and did a spot of secret crafting. Harry came down to breakfast the other morning and was astonished to discover the actual front door used by the tooth fairy, Santa’s elves and…well, who knows who else lives behind the door? We know for sure that someone lives there because they get mail and milk deliveries and are fond of leaving their boots outside the door when it rains.

She includes a simple tutorial for making doors of one’s own, plus suggestions for miniature accessories like mail and tiny flowerpots.

The “Santa’s elves” bit made me realize that with the holidays approaching this is a perfect time to surprise a child with the installation of a temporary “elf door” to let Santa’s helpers come and go as they please. Last weekend such an elf door appeared in Shadowboy’s bedroom. It was easy: Dollhouse accessories are widely available; I ordered the door, doorknob, knocker, and welcome mat online, and used some leftover housepaint to paint the door white. I had intended to further embellish the door with acrylic paint: Maybe candy-stripe it or hand-paint some holly or paint the inset panels red and green. After several false starts I realized I suck at painting and went back to white. These are Minimalist Elves.

Once the paint was dry, I used superglue to attach the doorknob and knocker. I put double-stick tape on the back of the frame (be sure to use tape rather than the thicker mounting foam, since the latter will leave a slight gap) and stuck it to the wall after Shadowboy went to sleep. The stepladder was a last-minute addition: Since there’s baseboard on all of the walls* I had intended to stick the door to the side of a bookcase–the tape is furniture-safe–but decided that it looked odd. I finally stuck it above the baseboard and filched a ladder from a set of Shadowboy’s Lincoln Logs. (Incidentally, the doorknob came with a ridiculously teensy little key; it’s hidden under the mat.) A bit closer to Christmas I may add a wreath to simulate elfin activity.

This kind of door could also be a longer-term decorative element, and could even be accessorized differently as the seasons change. And, of course, children aren’t the only ones who might enjoy a fairy door; I’m tempted to install one in my office to let the computer bugs come and go.


*It probably says something about my usual level of gung-hoedness, project-wise, that when my husband found me building the door he asked warily if I was planning to cut a piece out of the baseboard to let it sit flush with the wall. I honestly have no idea what he’d have done if I’d said yes.

Posted in Bittens | 5 Comments »

A Monster in Paris

November 12th, 2012 by Cobwebs

The fabulous Sisifo sent this my way, noting that it’s a fun, family-friendly movie. It’s a French movie which has been dubbed into English (and was posted by somebody in Vietnam, so nobody can say we’re not geographically diverse). The animation style is rather reminiscent of Pixar.

(Thanks, Sisifo!)

Posted in Bittens | 1 Comment »

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