The Art of Darkness

Woven-Paper Patterns

July 5th, 2012 by Cobwebs

Space InvaderMinico has a tutorial (which is almost too easy to deserve the name) for weaving paper strips into pixellated “Space Invaders.” They’re cute and certainly simple–and cheap!–to make.

Something else that translates well into pixels are cross-stitch patterns, with the single caveat being that this paper-weaving method only allows one color per line. Simple designs like skulls and spiders are readily adaptable, and you could either weave with a single color of paper or alternate colors on each line for an interesting striped effect.

These would add a decorative touch to all kinds of things; they’d be nice as a gift topper or homemade greeting card, or just frame a bunch for a quick and interesting accent. You could also use ribbon instead of paper strips, carefully iron the result onto a bit of fusible webbing, and use it for everything from decorating clothing to covering the lid on a jar of preserves. Varying the width of the strips will change the size of the finished piece, so you can make something as large or small as desired: You could, for example, use wide fabric strips to decorate the side of a tote bag and then do the same design with much narrower strips to make a matching wallet.

Making these would be a fun group activity, especially for kids, since the only real skill required is the ability to count.

(via Geek Crafts)

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Symphony of Science

June 12th, 2012 by Cobwebs

Auto-Tune is a piece of software that was originally designed to “disguise or correct off-key inaccuracies, allowing vocal tracks to be perfectly tuned despite originally being slightly off-key.” One of its first major uses was on Cher’s song “Believe,” but for every evil use there’s a good one. It can also be used to turn the spoken word into song, and John Boswell uses it to set the words of Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and many others to music. His first effort was A Glorious Dawn, and his latest is this marvelous remix of Mr. Rogers.

You can also check out the Symphony of Science website, where you can view the videos, download the MP3s, and read the lyrics. Similar projects are forthcoming, so keep an eye on the site for future updates.

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Zombie-Based Learning

May 23rd, 2012 by Cobwebs

I know I gripe about the ubiquity of zombies in pop culture right now, but this is actually pretty cool. Middle-school teacher David Hunter is engaging his students in geography by teaching it in the context of surviving a zombie outbreak. He’s put up a Kickstarter project to help fund his curriculum design.

The narrative is what leads the learner through scenarios in the zombie apocalypse where geographic skills will need to be applied. This narrative has 5 different scenes:

Planning for the Outbreak
News of a zombie-like outbreak has reached your community. You are helping to plan in case the outbreak reaches your area.

Post Outbreak Survival
The outbreak has reached your area and chaos has followed. You use your skills to just try and survive and find other survivors.

Finding a Place to Settle
Through surviving you have met with other survivors, now you are trying to decide upon a safe place

Building a Community
With your group of survivors, you make decisions to build a safe and sustainable community.

Planning for the Future
Based on what you know about Geography, and based on a knowledge of the past, your community makes long term plans for survival and rebuilding a life.

I think this is a marvelous learning tool. One of the best ways to teach a subject is to help the students understand why it matters (even if the application to everyday life is somewhat…tenuous). Dry facts and figures are boring; information that’ll keep your face from being eaten off by zombies is something you’ll probably pay attention to.

This technique could be expanded to many other subjects and a wide variety of monstrous threats, from studying disease vectors in the context of vampirism to using Oceanography for finding R’lyeh. If you’ve got a kid who’s reluctant to study, this might be a useful way to engage their interest.

(via BoingBoing)

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“Pure Evil” Science Project

April 12th, 2012 by Cobwebs

Science ProjectBoingBoing recently featured a “mad science” display illustrating the “Teratogenic Effects of Pure Evil in Ursus Teddius Domesticus,” and commenters helped identify it as the work of Allison Lonsdale, done for a display at the 2010 ConDor convention in San Francisco. There are photos of the whole exhibit here (first three images), plus a transcript of the signage text.

In particular I was amused by the first item under Protocols, “A sample of Pure Evil was obtained from the ruins of an exploded toaster in the south of England,” as a sly reference to the ending of Time Bandits. I also liked the dryly bland note about the fate of the experimental subject receiving a 1000ppm dosage; after developing dental hypertrophy, ocular luminescence, and extreme behavioral changes, “Subject was then euthanized with a sustained burst of automatic weapons fire.”

I love everything about this idea. Not only would this kind of science-fair display be a dynamite art project (a collection of stuffed-and-mounted monsters labeled with species names, for instance, or a survey of the relative efficacy of various vampire repellants), those of us with grade-school kids also have the opportunity to subvert an actual science fair project. I don’t believe there’s anything in the rules against investigating the feasibility of the reanimation of dead tissue via lightning bolt. The heck with baking-soda volcanoes; if Shadowboy’s first science fair doesn’t get the rules amended to specifically preclude me from suggesting future experiments, I’m doing it wrong.

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Plant Some “Magic” Seeds

January 19th, 2012 by Cobwebs

Magic SeedsOkay, in its raw form this idea has a Christmas theme, but there’s no reason it can’t be generalized to make any season magical. It’s an adorable project to do for small children.

Over at East Coast Mommy, the Elf on the Shelf (aka Santa’s Narc) arrived for Christmas duty with a packet of “magic” tree-shaped candy sprinkles and planting instructions from Santa (on official North Pole letterhead, which I thought was a nice touch). The sprinkles were planted in a bowl of sugar and somehow grew into tree-patterned cookie lollipops overnight.

Well, there are candy sprinkles in shapes beyond numbering, and plenty of cookie cutters. A child could receive a special package from the Great Pumpkin, the Solstice Hobgoblin, or simply the Fairy in Charge of Magical Botany. They could plant anything from dinosaurs to ghosts to bugs to autumn leaves, and appropriately-shaped cookie pops (or even regular lollipops) can magically “grow” when they aren’t looking.

No need to wait until next Christmas; this is a fun and super-easy way to make any day a little more whimsical.

(Hat tip to Empress Pam)

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Unique “Quiet Books” for Kids

November 17th, 2011 by Cobwebs

Vulcan SaluteI’ve always liked the idea of “quiet books”–soft cloth books with an activity for small hands on each page. Over at Julie’s Blog, the eponymous Julie has taken the concept well beyond felt clock hands and ribbon shoelaces. Her quiet books let you do things like give Worf his bat’leth and untie Leia from Jabba’s leash. My kids would never be able to get near these because I’d want to play with them all the time.

She’s got photos of each page of her Jedi Quiet Book and Star Trek Quiet Book up at her blog, and she also sells PDF patterns for them on Etsy.

Now, up to this point the subject matter has been somewhat more geeky than gothy, but according to her blog her next two quiet book projects will involve Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Awesome.

If you don’t want to wait for her to put them together, her clever idea might inspire you to make one of your own. I can envision activities like, “Help Aragorn Re-forge Narsil” and “Hatch the Dragon’s Egg.” (I also sort of like the idea of an “Unquiet Book” with activities like, “Put Dracula Back in His Coffin” or “Reattach the Zombie’s Limbs,” but that might just be me.)

Felt is a wonderfully forgiving material to work with, and there are lots of free patterns and instructions for quiet books (such as these and these) to help get you started. A custom book like this would be a lovely gift for a baby shower or for any small child of your acquaintance.

(via Blurgh)

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No-Bake Witch Hat Cookies

October 13th, 2011 by Cobwebs

Witch HatsI’ve been sort of peripherally aware of the idea of making “witch hats” by sticking a chocolate kiss on top of a chocolate-covered cookie, but I hadn’t given them much thought until the fantabulous Jessica sent me this photo of cookies with teensy icing buckles. That upped the Cuteness Factor by about 1000%, so I decided to monkey with the concept a little further.

You will need:

  • Cookies with at least one flat, chocolate-covered side; I used Keebler “Fudge Stripes” turned upside-down.
  • Chocolate kisses; I used plain Hershey’s kisses, but the striped “Hugs” would also be cute.
  • Frosting. You can make this from scratch, but that kind of defeats the whole “easy, no-bake” thing. Individual decorating tubes can be expensive; I just used white canned cake frosting and colored it with some gel food coloring I had on hand.
  • M&Ms or other little round chocolate candies, if you want to add spiders.

To make the hats, pipe a little frosting in the center of each cookie (if the cookie has a hole in the center, pipe around the hole). Stick a kiss in the middle; I like to use enough frosting that a little bit gooshes out around the edges to make a “hat band.” In its simplest form, you are now done.

If you want to get fancier, pipe two thin oval-ish shapes on the kiss and two lines on the hat to make a decorative bow. I found that the frosting tended to warm up after a while, making it thinner and harder to control, so I periodically stuck the piping bag in the freezer for a few minutes to firm it back up.

For extra decoration, add a spider by sticking an M&M to the hat brim with a little frosting and then piping on legs. Here’s where a very thin round tip would come in handy; I didn’t have one on hand, and just snipping the end off a disposable icing bag resulted in–depending on the size of the hole–legs that were either a bit too big or a bit too thin and ribbony for my taste. (Fortunately, even the mistakes taste just fine.)

These are super-easy to make, so they’re not only a quick and attractive addition to a Halloween party, they’re a great project for kids.

(Thanks to Jessica for the suggestion!)

Posted in Bittens, Doom It Yourself | 2 Comments »

Making a Mummy

May 19th, 2011 by Cobwebs

Tomb PaintingI’m veering into science-fair territory a little bit here, but bear with me.

I recently ran across this article on BoingBoing which discusses a chicken mummification currently in progress at the Science Museum of Minnesota. I was struck by several things: 1) The comments on the article which indicated that this is a common elementary school science project (and also that it shouldn’t stink); 2) The comments which discussed other animals that could be given the same treatment. 3) The fact that they named the mummified chicken Nefertweety.

I did a bit of research and found that there are a bazillion pages devoted to mummifying chickens,* and no two of them seem to agree on a method. So here’s an amalgam of instructions from a number of sites, with notes about differences in technique. In addition to being an interesting educational project to do with kids, you could also use mummified bits as jewelry or art. It might also be possible–perhaps by practicing on chickens until you’re sure of your technique–to send a beloved pet into the afterlife this way.

You will need:

  • A small animal to mummify. A chicken or game hen seems to be the standard, but I’ve also seen projects that use fish, squid, and mice/rats. All but the last are available at the grocery store. Frozen mice and rats are available at many pet stores and via mail order; they’re used as reptile food.** Note that animals can’t be mummified with their internal organs in place, so if you’re squeamish about the idea of gutting an animal you should probably stick with a grocery-store chicken.
  • A drying agent. You can use salt, a mixture of salt and baking soda (a ratio of 2 parts salt to 1 part soda seems to be the standard), or sodium carbonate. The latter is natron, which is what was traditionally used for Egyptian mummies. It’s available at grocery stores (look for “washing soda” or “soda ash”) or at swimming pool supply stores.
  • Disposable plastic or rubber gloves.
  • Several resealable plastic bags, large enough to contain both your mummy and plenty of drying agent.
  • Lots of paper towels.
  • Rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol. This is an optional component, but it appears that using it will reduce the odor significantly. Its use also jibes with the Egyptian practice of washing the body in wine.
  • Spices such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice (whole rather than ground) and/or dried rose petals. These are optional, but can be mixed into the drying agent to help perfume the mummy. They can also be used to scent anointing oil.
  • Oil to anoint the finished mummy (optional). You can use food-grade oil like canola oil or olive oil, mineral oil, or even baby oil. To perfume unscented oil with spices or rose petals, fill a small lidded jar with whole spices or dried petals and then pour in enough oil to cover. Close the lid tightly and place in a sunny location for a week. Give the jar a good shake a couple of times a day. Strain and discard the spices/petals. If you prefer, you can also perfume the oil with essential oils: Just add them until the desired scent is achieved.
  • Strips of gauze, cheesecloth, plain cotton, or linen, if you wish to wrap your finished product.

Read the rest of this entry »

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DIY Dragon Tails

April 7th, 2011 by Cobwebs

Dragon TailsThis is a very squee-worthy project indeed. Jessica of Running with Scissors created these adorable little dragon tails (or dinosaur tails if your kid is more down with Velociraptor than Smaug) with easy-on Velcro waist straps.

Her tutorial has detailed instructions and lots of photos, plus several suggestions for variations. They’re mostly made out of scrap fabric, so you may already have the required materials on hand. These would be a great addition to a dress-up closet, and you could run up several and keep them around for playdates. (Or, y’know, wear them yourself when you’re home alone.)

This is also a nice, simple design for any Halloween costume requiring a tail, and could also serve as the base for a last-minute costume: Just add similar spikes to a matching sweatshirt.

Cute! Easy! Yay!

Posted in Bittens, Doom It Yourself | 2 Comments »

A Young Wizard’s Handbook

February 28th, 2011 by Cobwebs

How to Trap a ZombieOh, wow; where was this book when I was ten years old?

A.R. Rotruck used to have grand imaginary adventures when she was a child, with the help of props she made herself.

When she wasn’t reading, the ten-year-old me (we’ll call her “Tamie”) spent a lot of time playing in the woods and making crafts. For all the books she read, she never found one that would help with this particular hobby. Most of Tamie’s ramblings involved imagining various fantasy scenarios; grand quests and adventures. Tamie made a burlap sack to carry into the woods because it seemed like something the fantasy version of Tamie (maybe call her Fatamie? No, that’s getting a bit ridiculous.) would carry. It was bulky and scratchy, but it also, to Tamie’s ten-year-old brain, seemed authentic. Tamie would cobble together bits and pieces of crafts from books on Native American and colonial/pioneer folk art. Tamily only had one children’s book in this genre; the rest of the crafts were far too advanced for a ten-year-old. With Young Wizards Handbook, I wanted to write a book for the children like Tamie: fantasy fans who want to make things to help their imagination come alive with physical tools.

You can read the rest of the “big idea” behind her book here.

I love this idea. I want to go back in time and give myself a copy.

It’s great that the projects are both age-appropriate and engaging: It not only encourages imagination, it sounds like a great crafting primer for kids.

If you’ve got a young adventurer who yearns to track vampires to their lair or hobnob with hobgoblins, this would be an excellent gift. (Shadowboy will be receiving one shortly.)

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