The Art of Darkness

Unquiet Books

September 24th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Okay, this thing has been knocking around in my Drafts folder for nearly five years(!), it’s clearly never going to get out of the planning stages and I’m tired of looking at it, so I’m going to dump the half-formed mess on you guys and let you deal with it. (This is why you read this blog; for quality posts like this one.)

Way back in 2011 I mentioned the awesome quiet books made by Julie of Julie’s Blog (at the time she had Star Wars and Star Trek versions; she’s since added Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings). In that post I joked that somebody needed to do an “unquiet book” featuring spooky creatures, and the more I thought about it the more I liked the notion. I jotted down a bunch of possible ideas and then sat on them for five years and here we are today.

So if somebody with more unquiet-book ambition than I feels like taking any of these ideas and running with them, knock yourselves out. Send me pictures.

(The purpose of a quiet book, for anyone still puzzled, is right there in the name: It’s a book containing a series of simple activities meant to encourage small children to shut their piehole play quietly by themselves for a few minutes. The activities usually have the added benefit of helping younger kids learn to perform simple tasks like buttoning a button or tying a shoelace.)

Help the spider finish his web – Lace a ribbon through grommets to complete a spider’s web.

Put Dracula in his coffin – Unzip the coffin and place a felt-figure vampire inside.

Help the ghost find his grave – Follow a stitched line across a graveyard.

Rewrap the mummy’s face – Weaving with ribbons.

Put the pumpkins into their patch – Attach half of a snap closure to the backs of felt pumpkins and place the other halves in a patch of leaves so the pumpkins can be snapped into place.

Turn into a werewolf – Felted glove with claws and fake fur that the child can slip their hand into.

Reassemble the skeleton – Velcro-backed pieces of a skeleton (skull, ribcage, arms and legs) which can be placed in proper order along a fixed-in-place spine.

Dress the witch – Dress-up doll with a few different dresses, hats, and stockings.

Carve a Jack-o’-lantern – Arrange felt eyes, nose, and mouth on a plain pumpkin.

What’s hiding under the bed? – Lift the flap to find simple finger puppets.

Put eyes on the Voodoo doll – Buttons attached to the page, and a felt face with buttonholes that can be buttoned in place.

Help the witch finish her brew – Cauldron with felt shapes like snakes, toads, and bats to tuck into the top.

A couple more ideas that would probably be a little too dark in practice but amuse me in theory:

Help the Aztec priest tear out his victim’s heart – Zippered chest cavity with a removable felt heart inside.

Arrange the skulls of Kali’s victims – Pile up little felt skulls at her feet.

Help the Washer at the Ford do her laundry – Tuck little bloodstained shirts into a pool of water.

Have any other ideas? Share ’em in the comments!

Posted in Bittens, Doom It Yourself | 10 Comments »

Creepy Crackers

August 20th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Finished CrackerChristmas crackers are part of traditional holiday celebrations in the UK, Australia, and several other countries.* They consist of a cardboard tube filled with candy and novelties (usually including a paper crown and a fortune cookie-type strip of paper with jokes), a strip of thin cardboard containing the same chemical that makes popguns go bang, and a wrapping of tissue paper. When the ends of the tissue are pulled, the cardboard thingie makes a cracking noise and you harvest the treats inside.

There’s no reason why these things have to be limited to Christmas. I can think of another holiday that’s big on treats. Can’t you?

You will need:

  • Cardboard tubes; empty toilet tissue rolls are the perfect size
  • Cracker snaps (see below)
  • Small novelties and candy
  • Tissue paper (see below)
  • Narrow ribbon
  • Halloween-themed stickers (optional)

Cracker snaps can be purchased at some craft stores and online. I actually found a children’s activity kit on Amazon which included the cracker snaps, paper crowns, and jokes for cheaper than I could buy just the cracker snaps.

You can find all kinds of wonderful Halloween-themed wrapping paper meant for scrapbooking; I actually created this post as a way to use up some Halloween scrapbook paper I’d been given and…I can’t find the stinkin’ paper anywhere. So I just used plain tissue paper and you can too.

Click the thumbnails for larger images.

Cracker Strips

Make sure that the cardboard tubes you use are short enough to let the cracker snaps extend out both sides. Toilet tissue rolls work great; if you have long tubes (like those for paper towels), cut them in half.

Cracker Goodies

Gather whatever small novelties and candies you want to fit in the tube.

Add Strip

Place the cracker snap in the tube with ends extending out both sides, and pack the treats on top.

Wrap Tissue

Cut a piece of tissue paper wide enough to enclose the ends of the cracker snap and long enough to roll around the tube a few times. Roll everything up, and pinch in around the outside of the tube.

Finished Cracker

Tie the ends with ribbon, making sure to securely enclose the ends of the cracker snap inside. If desired, decorate the outside of the cracker with stickers or other lightweight items.


And…done! The ends of my cracker are a bit wrinkly; for more precise edges with only a bit more work, check out Chica and Jo’s tutorial for making Christmas crackers.

These are easy to make and a pile of them would be a big hit at a Halloween party.

*But not in the US. When I was in fifth grade my dad returned from a business trip with a bunch of crackers for me to hand out to my classmates. My teacher made me wait until after lunch because he didn’t want everyone spoiling their appetites by eating them; he was deeply perplexed when I told him they weren’t those kind of crackers.

Posted in Bittens, Doom It Yourself | 6 Comments »

Ghosts of Cartoons Past

June 18th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Gather ’round, kids, as your Old Auntie Cobwebs reminisces about the 1970s, a dark epoch when the only time it was possible to watch Saturday morning cartoons was on Saturday morning. Look upon the Saturday programming schedule (not to mention the prime time schedule) and weep with despair at our limited choices of crappy cel animation. There were a few weird gems to be found, though, and they featured some of the funkiest monsters you’ve ever heard of.

Beginning the decade was Sabrina the Teenage Witch, based on the Archie Comics character of the same name (the series itself was a spinoff of the earlier animated Archie Show).

The first season of Sabrina included The Groovy Goolies, which then spun off into its own show. The main characters Drac, Frankie, and Wolfie resided at Horrible Hall, along with a collection of other “hip” monsters like witch Hagatha and skeleton Boneapart.

The 70s also kicked off with the first incarnation of Scooby-Doo, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!. The show actually premiered in late 1969, but became an absolute juggernaut in the 70s.

What followed was a series of knockoffs, all trying to capitalize on the ‘Doo’s popularity. Some were overt, like Goober and the Ghost Chasers, whose pitch I imagine going something like, “Okay, we’ve got mystery-hunting teenagers and their cowardly dog; how do we not get sued?” “I know! Let’s make some of the ghosts be real!” “Perfect!”

…and Fangface. (“I know! One of the characters can be a teenager and the dog!” “Perfect!”)

Some tried slightly harder to cover their source material, like The Funky Phantom. (“Mystery-hunting teenagers, dog, but the ghost is not only real, he helps solve the mysteries.” “Perfect!”)

…and The Drak Pack. (“The teenagers are the monsters.” “Perfect!”)

There were a few animated versions of previous properties, like The Addams Family animated series (originally featured as a guest appearance on Scooby-Doo, voiced by the actors from the TV series, then launched as a standalone show).

…and Godzilla, in which Godzilla is the good guy. The show was notable for its introduction of Godzuki, the “cowardly cousin” of Godzilla, who filled a role similar to Scooby-Doo’s nephew Scrappy-Doo but somehow managed to be even more annoying.

Finally, an honorable mention to Thundarr the Barbarian, which took place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, had some monstrous villains (a group of werewolves with the acceptably-spooky name “The Brotherhood of Night” and the vampiric Stalker from the Stars), and even inspired a band name.

This was the cartoon landscape of my youth. Now get off my lawn.

Posted in Bittens | 4 Comments »

A Monster to Love

April 28th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Plush MonsterA Monster to Love is an online shop with a really great deal: For every one of their cute, huggable monsters you buy, they’ll donate one to a kid in need.

Whenever you buy a monster from A Monster to Love, we give a monster to a child who could really use a monster to love. Sometimes they are children that cannot afford a monster or a child who is in the hospital and could use a friend to hang out and snuggle with.

Their “Monster Drops” partner with children’s hospitals, shelters, and the World Relief Refugee program to bring a little monstery friendship to children who need it. Best of all, they’ve made a free pattern for their monsters available on Craftsy. You can make your own monsters to give to local kids in need, or send them to their Monster HQ in Colorado to be donated.

Geek Crafts has some great suggestions for organizing a Monster Making Party to turn out a whole heap of cuddly monsters. You can hang out with friends and make the world a slightly less-scary place at the same time.

So, buy a monster from their store–I’m partial to the crazy-eyed joie de vivre of Henry and Theo–and they’ll make a matching donation. Or make monsters of your own to give away to local kids (I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if you kept one for yourself). Either way, it’s a worthy cause. The monsters all approve.

Posted in Bittens | 1 Comment »

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 »

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