The Art of Darkness

DIY Casket Grill and Cooler

July 29th, 2014 by Cobwebs

Casket Grill

Oh. Wow.

A while back I found a photo of a barbecue grill housed in a casket and was dismayed because there were no other photos or information about it. Fabulous commenter Fiend4Halloween just pointed me to a version that’s not only much nicer, it also includes build instructions. Check out this awesomeness.

The creator is lime3D, a self-described “Inventor for Hire,” who built the grill for tailgating parties with the Nightmare Cruisers Hearse Club. The modified casket and accessories are fairly heavy, so part of the project involved refurbishing a trailer to tow the grill behind his hearse. I would enjoy seeing that driving down the road.

The casket mod is really well-done, with half of the interior housing the grill and the other half an insulated cooler. There’s storage space between the two for tools and utensils, and the storage lid doubles as a cutting board. He even installed a radio in the exterior.

Now, obviously, this is a project that requires some fairly advanced skills and tools, so it’s beyond the scope of a lot of us DIY types. However, if you’ve got the necessary experience (or can obtain the services of a welder and/or carpenter), this would be an amazing build opportunity. If you aren’t the tailgating type, mount it on a stand in your yard.

The maker answers some additional questions in the comments section, such as where to obtain a casket. U.S. law makes it fairly easy to purchase them from a third-party source; Wal-Mart sells them, as does Amazon. If those options aren’t available to you (or are too expensive), check with local funeral homes for damaged products. You’re going to rip out the whole interior anyway, and an exterior dent or two shouldn’t matter much. If you don’t want to bother with the cooler half of the project, a child-size or pet casket (why they make steel caskets for pets is another question entirely) should be significantly cheaper and could house just the grill.

(Thanks, Fiend4Halloween!)

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Design Your Middle-Earth Heraldic Device

June 19th, 2014 by Cobwebs

Herald of LuthienAs someone whose relationship with Tolkien tends to be on the casual side* it’s easy to forget just how rich and detailed his mythology and history actually are. Then I discover that not only did Tolkien create heraldic devices for many of his characters, he even laid out the rules (formulated by “the Elves”) for designing new ones.

The Council of Elrond discusses how to design a woman’s device, with the main points being:

  • It must be circular
  • The background is generally black
  • It usually contains a flower which has special significance to the bearer
  • There can be a mark which identifies the bearer’s family (such as a detail from the family coat of arms)
  • The number of points touching the edge of the field relates to the bearer’s rank

The Tolkiensällskapet Forodrim site has a detailed article on Middle-Earth emblems and heraldry; the rules for men don’t seem to be quite as cut-and-dried as for women, other than that it should be lozenge-shaped and you need to pay attention to the number of points touching the edge. There are additional examples at the Tolkien Gateway wiki, and you can also look at sites devoted to “real” heraldry for ideas on color choices, placement of charges, and so on.

If you can draw or have access to a computer graphics program, this would be an interesting way to create your own unique “brand.” Once you have a design you like, it could be used as a pattern for all sorts of craft projects: Quilts, wall hangings, cross-stitch, personalized stationery, painted fabric, and lots more. (And, obviously, if you’re into LOTR cosplay, embroider the design on a cloak or paint it on your shield.)

Couple of bonus links from the Council of Elrond site: Planning the Middle-earth Wedding and Gardens of Middle-earth, which has a bunch of theme garden ideas (including one representing Mordor).


*Saruman and Sauron should have had less-similar names. The Two Towers could have been replaced with a pamphlet saying, “They rode and rode and rode and rode….” The Silmarillion is a loooooong way across. That sort of casual.

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Unicorn Barf

June 11th, 2014 by Cobwebs

Unicorn BarfI am 100% on board with this idea, although possibly not with the execution.

Following in the footsteps of the splendid unicorn poop cookies comes unicorn barf marshmallow treats. Instructables user Danger is my middle name discovered that the brightly-colored marshmallows used in breakfast cereals like Lucky Charms can be purchased in bulk, and used them to make what are essentially Rice Krispie treats without the Rice Krispies: The crunchy marshmallows are bound together with regular melted marshmallows to make one big wad of (admittedly festive-looking) marshmallow…stuff.

That’s where I take issue with the execution, since they’ve got to be so overwhelmingly sweet they make my teeth ache just thinking about it.

Fortunately, I think there might be a couple of other ways to achieve the same general idea which are still sweet, but not quite “mainlining corn syrup” sweet.

When I first glanced at the photos in the instructions, I thought that they were regular Rice Krispie treats, but with miniature colored marshmallows being used in place of regular white marshmallows as the binding agent. You’d have to be careful to not fully melt the marshmallows, since then they’d just homogenize into a sort of grey goo, but if you dumped in the puffed rice just as they were getting stringy, you ought to wind up with swirled colors.

The other, easier, way would be to use regular marshmallows and replace the Rice Krispies with colored cereal like Fruity Pebbles or Trix.* That would get you the same technicolor contents without quite as much sugar.

As a last resort, I guess you could also make regular Rice Krispie treats and then swirl in a few dabs of gel food coloring to get unevenly-colored patches. The mixture tends to be stiff and hard to work with, though, so I’m not dead sure how that would work out.

Rather than pouring the result into a pan and then cutting it into squares when cool, I’d suggest dropping them in individual mounds on parchment paper so they look a little more barf-like. You might also use slightly less cereal than the recipe calls for so the result is a little gooier.

However you do it, these would be a fun addition to a party buffet, especially if paired with the poop cookies. One or two pieces in cellophane bags would be fun party favors, and you could layer a bunch in a tin as a gift. Who wouldn’t want to receive a package of magical unicorn barf?


*Overseas readers, sorry about the US-centric cereal brands. If you don’t have these specific varieties, hopefully you can find something similar. (I just found out that Rice Krispies are called Rice Bubbles in Australia, so that’s neat.)

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Easy, Spooky Cake Decorating

May 29th, 2014 by Cobwebs

Monster Eye CakeI am a sucker for elaborately-decorated cakes. Unfortunately, I am stuck simply admiring them rather than making them because my cake-decorating skills are less “Julia Child” and more “uncoordinated three-year-old.” If you’re in the same frosting-smeared boat as I am, you’ll appreciate this monster eye cake from Carrie at The Cake Blog, which somehow manages to be ultra-simple and surprisingly sophisticated.

It really is simple, in the sense that even an uncoordinated three-year-old can help with the decoration: Pry apart some creme-filled cookies (such as Oreos), add M&Ms or other round candies as pupils, and stick ‘em to a plain iced cake. Brilliant!

She uses both regular-size and mini Oreos to add a little variation to the design. You could vary things even further by using different types of round sandwich cookies, changing the color of the candy pupils, or drawing little bloodshot lines with red food coloring and a toothpick. In the U.S., at least, Oreo cookies are also available with different colors of filling: A couple, such as mint (green) and lemon (yellow) appear to be available year-’round; there are also seasonal ones like bright orange for Halloween and red for Christmas, which could be purchased and frozen for later use. Some green Oreo eyes with red M&M pupils would look particularly monstrous. (A pair of mini-cookie eyes would also be cute cupcake toppers.)

Nearly as easy and even more elegant is her marshmallow cobweb cake, in which strings of melted marshmallow stand in for spiderwebs. A simple fondant spider–or even a novelty plastic one, if you’re in a hurry–completes the design.

Finally, check out these cupcake liner witch hats which make striking cupcake toppers and could hardly be simpler to make.

Be sure to take a look at the rest of the site’s DIY section, too; there are loads of other designs which take a teeny bit more work but are still within the realm of possibility: Fat little mummies, some “love bugs” which could certainly pass as standard-issue fuzzy monsters without the valentine antennae, and an airbrush-look splatter cake which could be given a blood-spattered makeover by substituting red food coloring for black.

Then, if you want to bring yourself back down to earth, browse through the cake section for designs like the vintage goth cake which we mere mortals can only gaze upon in wonder. Yowza.

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Halloween Survival Kit

May 20th, 2014 by Cobwebs

Halloween Survival KitFabulous commenter Pixel Pixie pointed me at this neat Halloween Survival Kit created by graphic designer Elizabeth McMann as part of her portfolio. I take some exception to the name, since it’s clearly a monster survival kit,* but I quite like the organization and stripped-down aesthetic. I also like the idea of an all-purpose monster-deterrent package, so you’ll be prepared for whatever you find when you investigate that noise in the basement.

Since the kit and the smaller boxes it contains appear to be simple pasteboard affairs, it’d be fairly easy to print and assemble a custom kit containing whatever ingredients you like. You could also do something a bit more elaborate using a wooden tea chest or a presentation box: This and this are pricey because they include the tea, but empty ones should be available from manufacturers of specialty containers or suppliers of bulk teas.

Devising a list of repellent items to include would be half the fun. The garlic (for vampires) and sage (for ghosts) shown in McMann’s kit are good choices; I’m not entirely sure what some of the other boxes’ icons are meant to represent (I assume the little bottle with a cross is holy water, and the box with just the cross is…maybe a cross-shaped amulet? Dunno). You’d definitely want to ensure that each item is easily recognizable, since grabbing the wolfsbane when you needed the Mothman spray could be disastrous.

Draw or find clipart for each label, and include instructions (e.g. “For use with Yeti only; attempting to use this product for Sasquatch may result in death or dismemberment”) as necessary.

A large kit would be an interesting prop or conversation piece, and mini-kits containing two or three items would make unusual party or wedding favors.

(Thanks, Pixel Pixie!)


*A Halloween survival kit would contain, one would assume, things like glow sticks, hand sanitizer, and emergency chocolate. Totally different, although also fun to make.

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Corset Leggings

April 2nd, 2014 by Cobwebs

Corset LeggingsThis is one of those posts inspired by mild outrage at the price of a commercial version of a product vs. the materials and effort actually involved in making it. The product in question are Poizen Industries’ Vixxsin corset leggings, which are lovely but could be made a teensy bit cheaper than $50.

All you’d need is an inexpensive pair of leggings, a couple strips of contrasting fabric for the inner panel, some ribbon, and some grommet tape.* Sew the contrast fabric to the sides of the leggings. Sew the grommet tape along the sides of the fabric, hiding the raw edges. Lace with ribbon. Boom; done. Maybe an hour’s worth of work.

The leggings are nice because they stretch, so it isn’t difficult to maneuver them through a sewing machine. You could try the same technique with trousers made of other material, but it might be harder to keep the fabric from bunching up. If you’re making the clothing from scratch, just apply the contrast fabric and grommet tape before sewing up the inner seams.

The same technique can be used for other articles of clothing, such as jacket sleeves or the sides of a dress. Instead of appliqueing contrast fabric and tape on top of the article, you can also cut it and apply the tape to the raw edges. There’s a tutorial at Trash to Couture showing that method. (There’s an even simpler method at Aliennation which doesn’t even use the tape.)

This is an inexpensive, easy way to add a little pop to clothing, and a great way of giving a makeover to an item you’re bored with.


*Grommet tape (also called lacing tape) can be found at fabric stores or corset-supply retailers like Farthingales and Corset Making, where they’ll also have long laces if you’d prefer something sturdier than ribbon.

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Mourning Parlor Domes

March 27th, 2014 by Cobwebs

Parlor DomeMan, the Victorians just beat us hollow where creative mourning is concerned. Parlor Domes–bell jar-type glass display cases–were a hugely popular part of Victorian decor. Also hugely popular was any kind of memento mori woe-is-us sentiment. Put ‘em together and you get gorgeous pieces like this French cemetery scene, containing hair from the deceased.

They put me in mind somewhat of the desktop cemeteries I did a couple of years ago, but I think I might like these even better; the view of the interior is clearer and I love the way the tree fills the dome.

Something like this–with or without the hair–would be relatively straightforward to make. Glass display domes are available at craft stores and trophy shops. Miniature trees and other landscaping details are widely used in model railroad layouts, so there’s a large variety, in several scales, to choose from (this weeping willow and this dead maple are nice). Tombstones, crypts, iron gates, and other cemetery accessories are available for both model railroads and dollhouses; ditto the ground cover and materials used for building up the substrate.

The finished dome would be a lovely addition to a desktop or mantel. If anybody accuses you of being morbid, inform them that such displays have a long historical precedent, so there.

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DIY Steampunk Medals

March 20th, 2014 by Cobwebs

MedalsA lot of steampunk costumes have a military bent, making a chestful of medals de rigeur. They’re a popular DIY item, so tutorials are abundant, but most of the ones I’ve seen either start with a premade ribbon (which limits your decorative options) or require you to go through way too many steps to achieve the desired effect. I’ve done a (hopefully simpler) take on the technique. I gothed things up a bit with my choice of pendants, so you can wear these and sneer, “That’s Admiral Frankenstein to you.”

These go together really fast, so after you fill your uniform with them, you can make extras for personalized party favors or just to award randomly to friends and co-workers (“For meritorious service in clearing the copier jam, I present you this medal of honor”).

All the gory details are right here.

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Penne Dreadful

March 12th, 2014 by Cobwebs

Pasta IngredientsI was being a smartass on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, and commented, “There needs to be a goth pasta dish called Penne Dreadful.” I chortled quietly to myself and thought that would be the end of it, but I forgot who my friends are: A dozen people immediately started suggesting ways to make this happen.

Tanya suggested squid-ink pasta (an excellent choice), and said that a cream sauce made with purple cauliflower would make a lovely contrast. xJane noted that with food dye, all things are possible. Then JaniceMars showed up and waxed rhapsodic about the dark puttanesca sauce one could make with purple tomatoes, red onions, and black olives.

And then she went one better and actually made the damn thing.

Her wonderful, appropriately violent recipe can be found on her site, Prodigal Sock. She uses green (spinach) penne, which is nicely creepy and readily available, but if you want to go all the way and use black penne, you can find it here (they have black spaghetti too).

A fun garnish would be these “eyeballs” made from cherry tomatoes and mini-mozzarella balls.

Thanks, JaniceMars! You’re awesome.

(Bonus link: Whilst I was looking for squid-ink pasta sources, I ran across these gorgeous zebra-striped bow ties. There’s apparently an even-Halloweenier black and orange version, but I can’t seem to find an online source for that.)

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Altoid Tin Dioramas

March 6th, 2014 by Cobwebs

Altoid 221BTerribly Messy Maker Nichola “Knickertwist” Battilana decided to express her love of Sherlock Holmes by re-creating 221B Baker Street inside an Altoid Tin (she’s since made several additional versions, shown here).

I think these are simply adorable; I love the notion of a whole little world that you can carry in your pocket. It’s like dollhouses taken to the next level of twee.

I’m apparently really late to the party in being surprised by Altoid-tin art, however: Nichola has done other awesome designs like this Halloween vignette, and googling “altoid tin diorama” turns up a ridiculous number of amazing designs.

Artfully Musing did a Mini Apothecary. Miss Lorna Rose did a neat Nosferatu version. The Uniconoclast does neat Halloween ones.

Sabrina of Split Coast Stampers made a creepy Halloween tin. Jabauer did a zombie-themed one.

Jim Doran combines the tins with carefully-cut paper to create a whole series of “miniature worlds.”

If you like Altoids anyway, you suddenly have a whole new reason to buy them. The dioramas would make really interesting party favors. You can create personalized scenes for all of your friends. And after you’ve gifted everybody you know with a teensy diorama, you can squeeze out a few more tins with an Altoid Advent calendar like the steampunk version done by Over the Crescent Moon.

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