The Art of Darkness

Hallouija Board

May 4th, 2016 by Cobwebs

HallouijaAs I’ve mentioned previously, I run the Secret Pumpkin gift exchange, an annual event which seeks to bring participants a little out-of-season Halloween joy. The exchange has become an April highlight for me, particularly when I’m matched with somebody amazingly talented like Cat from Spooky Moon.

Last week I received a comically oversized package in the mail, which proved to be a custom-made Ouija board covered in Halloween-y symbols. Cat has a full post with build notes on her site, including lots of photos. She did an amazing job, festooning the board with haunted houses, cemeteries, skulls, and spiders. In particular, I love that the board’s alphabet is adorned with spooky images starting with the appropriate letter: The Z has a zombie hand bursting from its base, the J has a jack-o’-lantern perched on top, and so on.

The board came in a black velvet bag, with a separate little bag to hold the candy corn-shaped planchette. The detail is amazing, and I adore the creativity involved. (The fact that her husband opined, “You’re gonna be so sorry when a demon eats her entire family,” is something that I’m choosing to ignore.)

Thanks, Cat! You’re the best.

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Steampunk Band Patches

April 19th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Steampunk PatchA while back, Trystan of Gothic Martha Stewart made a steampunky lady artisan’s apron and decided to cover it with faux “band patches.” She eventually decided to make cross-fandom patches (including a Holyhead Harpies Quidditch team patch and a UNIT insignia), but her original intention was to use band names made up from Victorian novels.

She made a list of potential names, and although I think “Mina and the Harkers” is still my favorite, “The Madwoman in the Attic,” “The Wildfell Tenants,” “Lucy Snowe’s Secret,” and “The Desperate Remedies” are 100% bands that I would go out of my way to see.

Similar patches would be a great way to add a little life to a boring jacket or tote. If you have access to an embroidery machine or like to hand-embroider you can make applique patches. There are also many companies who will make custom patches with a small (usually 10-piece) minimum order, so if you want to club together with a few friends you can get professional-looking designs (you could probably also sell the excess on Etsy). If you have an inkjet printer you can also use printable sheets which can be ironed on to fabric. That option is a bit cheaper and would also allow for greater detail in your patch design.

Obviously, if Victorian novels don’t appeal to you there are dozens of other fandoms from which to draw inspiration. I’d pay good money to see “Captain Jack and the Empty Children” or the “Leaky Cauldrons.” It’s a fun, subtle way to show off your fannish tendencies.

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Candy Terrariums

April 6th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Candy TerrariumHere’s a cute idea that could easily be turned to darker ends: Terrariums made of edible materials. Sprinkle Bakes did a tutorial for Etsy which uses chocolate cupcake “dirt,” candy rocks*, and succulents made from candy clay. It seems to me that you could make other objects from the same candy clay. Like, for instance, tombstones.

Little individualized graveyards would be a fun party favor, or you could make a large one in a glass compote as a table centerpiece. You could use chocolate cookie crumbs rather than cupcakes for the dirt if you prefer, and switch out the candy clay with fondant or gum paste (Craftsy has a good overview of the differences between them).

The tutorial features a plastic deer as an additional decoration, but there are plenty of spooky miniatures–such as vultures and snakes–that could be used instead. The terrarium could also be made more child-friendly by using a clear plastic container (a goblet would be neat) instead of glass.


*Because the tutorial was done for Etsy she links to them for the rocks, but they’re also available on Amazon.

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Edible Flower Lollipops

March 30th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Flower LollipopsJust in time for spring (in certain hemispheres), the Geyser of Awesome recently profiled Etsy shop Sugar Bakers Bakery which offers a selection of candied flowers, including lollipops.

If you have access to edible flowers, similar lollies are easy to make at home. They have a lovely Victorian feel to them, and would be perfect at a tea party.

This is apparently a fairly popular project, since there are a zillion tutorials available online. PopSugar, Sprinkle Bakes, and Fancy Flours have good ones, and if you search “how to make edible flower lollipops” there are plenty more.

You don’t have to use a lollipop mold–the Sprinkle Bakes tutorial outlines a method using powdered sugar, and you can also pour dollops of the candy on an oiled marble slab–but using a mold makes the process a lot easier and results in a more uniform candy with clean edges. You can find inexpensive molds at craft and baking-supply stores, or online.

In addition to making sure that the flowers you use are edible, also take care that they haven’t been sprayed with pesticides or similar chemicals. Gently rinse them, then dry thoroughly on paper towels before using them in a recipe.

Instead of flowers, you can use small sprigs of herbs. And in addition to lollipops, you can candy the flowers in sugar. Sugared flowers can be eaten as-is, but they’re also fantastic decorations for cakes or cookies.

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De “Cat” Pitated Head Cat Toys

March 23rd, 2016 by Cobwebs

Cat ToysMost cat owners know the joy of their murderous hellbeasts fluffy sweethearts gifting them with small animal body parts. Now you can re-create that special feeling with felt catnip toys.

Materials

  • 1 9″x12″ sheet of craft felt for each head (I chose grey for the mouse, gold for the fish, and yellow for the bird; you can get two toys from each sheet of felt if you cut carefully)
  • Scrap of red craft felt for the neck
  • Scraps of craft felt for details (pink for the mouse’s ear, white for eyes)
  • Embroidery floss
  • Yarn (I used all red, but you could use a mixture of white, pink, and red to suggest various dangly innards)
  • Scrap of cotton fabric (optional)
  • Catnip

Instructions
(Click to enlarge)

Fish 1 Download the desired pattern (Bird | Fish | Mouse) and cut two of each pattern piece from the appropriate color of felt. Sew the eyes on the head pieces with an X of embroidery floss (if desired, omit the eye piece and just make an X right on the head, as for the mouse). If making the mouse, sew the ears on with straight stitching.
Fish 2 Make a small pouch from cotton fabric (fold a piece in half and sew two sides), fill with about a tablespoon of catnip, and sew the final side closed. This will keep small particles of catnip from leaking out through the felt. (Note: Make sure the pouch is small enough to fit inside the toy.)
Fish 3 Cut 4 pieces of yarn, each about 5″ long. Sandwich one end of the yarn strands between the felt neck edges, and stitch across a couple of times to secure in place. Make sure that your stitching is near the end that will be hidden under the edge of the head.
Fish 4 Place the two head pieces with wrong sides together. Sew around the head with embroidery floss, using a short straight stitch, leaving the neck end open. Insert the bag of catnip. Place the red neck edge into the neck and stitch across the neck end, making sure to stitch through all four layers.
Fish 5 And…done! These are super-easy to make so you can turn them out for all of your furry friends.

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Homemade Orange Peel Firelighters

February 23rd, 2016 by Cobwebs

Rose FirelighterIt’s technically almost spring in the northern hemisphere, but here in the DC area we’ve had a very Godfather-esque relationship with winter this year: Just when we thought we were out…it pulls us back in. Our fireplace has seen a lot of use recently, and these firelighters are a handy way to get a blaze started. They’re easy to make–kids can help–and they’re pretty enough to give as a gift.

Dried citrus peels contain enough residual oil to make firelighters all by themselves, and unlike the popular DIY pinecone firelighters they don’t contain much creosote (which can build up and cause chimney fires). Dipping them in wax is optional, but it lets you choose the color and also gives you the opportunity for a little fun with chemistry.

Orange Peel Rose Start by cutting the peel off an orange in a spiral, and wrapping it into a rose shape. A picture is worth a thousand words here, so take a look at this photo tutorial from Good Home Design (click to enlarge).
Fresh Peel Place the wrapped peel in a cupcake tin (using a paper liner is optional, but will be handy later on). Put the tin in a warm, dry place and let the peel dry thoroughly. The peel will last indefinitely once dry, so you can continue adding peels to the tin as you use up oranges.

Note: It’s okay if you can’t get the peel off in one long piece; just wrap it all back up together. The cupcake tin will hold it in place as it dries and the wax will stick it back together for good. (Also be careful not to cut too deeply into the flesh of the orange as you’re cutting; if you wind up with a lot of pulp on the peel, scrape it off. Otherwise it tends to mold before it can dry all the way.)

Dried Peel When you have enough dried peels, melt some wax. Something Turquoise has instructions for making pinecone lighters which includes details on melting (and coloring/scenting if desired) wax. Their method uses soy wax flakes, but you can also use paraffin (often found in the home-canning section of grocery stores) or candle stubs. I had some half-burnt black candles, so I used those. Note: It is really easy for melting wax to catch fire (that’s what it does), so be sure to melt it over a double boiler instead of direct heat, and have a fire extinguisher to hand.

If desired, at this point you can mix one of several Common Household Chemicals(tm) with the wax so that it burns different colors when lit. Chemicals and their corresponding burn color:

Borax Powder [Yellow-Green]
Sea Salt or Table Salt [Yellow]
Epsom Salt [White]
No-Salt (Potassium Chloride) [Violet]
Strontium Chloride (found at pet stores in the aquarium supplies) [Red]

Use ONLY ONE chemical. Mix in about 1 Tbsp per C of wax.

Dipped Roses Remove the melted wax from the heat and dip each peel, rolling it around to thoroughly cover. You can use tongs, but the temperature of the wax is fairly low; I just dipped them in with my fingers. Let the excess wax drip off and set them on waxed paper to dry. You may want to re-dip them two or three times, letting them firm up in between, to get a nice all-over coat.

Once dry they’re ready to use, but I like to give the bottoms one final dip and then place them back in their paper cupcake liners so they’ll stick to the bottom. Then you can light them just by putting a match to the edge of the paper liner.

If giving these as a gift, pile a bunch in a glass jar or wire basket.

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Homemade Shaving Cream

February 4th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Shaving CreamOne of my favorite quick gift ideas is homemade bath products, because people are so often under the impression that they can’t be made at home and you wind up looking like some kind of miracle worker.*

Shaving cream is particularly nice to make yourself; it doesn’t dry the skin like most commercial products, and you can personalize the fragrance as desired. The ingredients are easy to find, either at health food stores or online.

Ingredients
1/3 C virgin coconut oil
1/3 C shea butter
4 Tbsp sweet almond, jojoba, grapeseed, or olive oil, OR 2 Tbsp oil and 2 Tbsp liquid castile soap
10-20 drops of your favorite essential oil*
2 tsp baking soda (optional)
3-4 drops Vitamin E oil (optional)

Directions
In a small saucepan over low heat, stir the shea butter and coconut oil until just melted. Remove from heat, transfer to a heatproof bowl, and stir in the rest of the ingredients. Stir until thoroughly blended, then place in the refrigerator until the mixture solidifies.

Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer (or to a medium bowl if you’re using an electric hand mixer). Whip until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, until the cream looks like you could ice a cupcake with it.

Spoon into a jar or tin and keep covered in a cool, dry place. Makes about 8 oz.

*Be sure that the oils you use are skin-safe; some varieties can be irritating. Some nice fragrance blends are 10 drops rosemary/3 drops peppermint, 10 drops lavender/5 drops peppermint, or 5 drops lime/5 drops bergamot.

Note: The baking soda acts as a mild exfoliant, and also makes it a little easier for the razor to cut cleanly. The Vitamin E oil acts as a natural preservative, but the cream will last several months without it. The amount you need for one batch of shaving cream is more or less equal to the amount in a Vitamin E oil capsule.

*I once gave a bar of homemade soap to an acquaintance and she was astonished. She babbled something about, “I thought soap was made of…soap.” Apparently she thought it was quarried out of soap mines or something.

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The Miskatonic Railroad

December 29th, 2015 by Cobwebs

General StoreModel railroading enthusiast John Ott has spent years creating a detailed miniature version of Lovecraft’s Arkham, complete with historically-accurate train engines and cars. He’s mapped out the rail line (with stops at Dunwich, Innsmouth, and similar towns), and all of the buildings have appropriate backstories.

Across Garrison, the Bensalem Building hosts a variety of enterprises. The mesmerists, Drs. Nikola and Mabuse, have set up shop selling questionable cures and “rubber goods.” One of the shady mesmerists can be seen with a female patient in the bay window, doubtlessly trying to convince the young woman how theraputic it would be to reveal the combination to her husband’s wall safe.

Next door, Messrs. Maskull and Nightspore offer astral travel for the adept, with tours of Tormance, Leng, and Barsoom a specialty. One would think they wouldn’t have many clients, but some prominent Arkhamites, namely the Carter family— Randolph, John, and Nick— rely upon them heavily. Dr. Caligari’s Cabinet, a curio shop, occupies the last address. Is that a shining trapezohedron in the window?

Up on the roof, Professor Pickering has his private observatory. Prof. Pickering is famous for having confirmed the sighting of those flashes on Mars a few years back. These days, he’s searching for a ninth, trans-Neptunian, planet— which he calls Yuggoth, for some reason— which he’s sure is there.

There are lots of photos and project details on his site:

The Miskatonic Railroad – Project overview.
Welcome to Arkham – City details and building backstories.
Arkham Wasn’t Built in a Day (or a Night) – Information about lighting and decor.
Deconstructing Arkham Station – Build notes for the railroad station, which was based on a real one in Salem.
Train Number Nine is Missing – A fictional history of the Miskatonic Railroad.

I’m a sucker for highly-detailed miniatures, and Ott’s layout has all kinds of fun stuff (like The Sarnath Theater, with posters advertising an upcoming show: “‘The DOOM’ Comes To The Sarnath, Sept. 24-30.” There’s also a group of workmen hauling a giant squid through the streets on a flatbed). It makes me want to grab a big sheet of plywood and start putting down track.

Ott has also done a couple of other non-spooky layouts, the Salem & Cripple Creek R.R. (inspired by Citizen Kane), and the San Diego and South Coast R.R., depicting San Diego’s gaslamp district circa 1908.

(via BoingBoing)

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Spiderweb Quilt

December 22nd, 2015 by Cobwebs

Spiderweb QuiltPatchwork quilts are a great way to use up leftover scraps of fabric that fall in that awkward area between “too small to use for a project by themselves” and “too big to throw out without feeling guilty.” If you happen to have some scraps of Halloween-print fabric stashed away, this spiderweb-themed lap quilt by Life in the Scrapatch is a brilliant way to use them up.

She made a small version in 2013, detailed here, and then followed up with a larger version the following year. Her instructions are easy to follow, and there are lots of helpful photos.

She uses a couple of tools that you may not have lying around if you aren’t a dedicated quilter, but it’s possible to improvise substitutes (such as using the edge of a plate instead of a curved ruler). I do wonder, though, how a construction method which differs from hers would work out. Her method involves sewing square patches into a pyramid shape, trimming the edges into a triangle that represents a whole “wedge” of the quilt, and then cutting the triangle into pieces width-wise to sew in the black borders. This allows the same fabric to appear on both sides of the border, which is pretty, but if you don’t care about that I’m thinking that it might be easier to work outward from the middle: Cut a small triangle, sew a black strip to its wide end, cut a trapezoid and sew its narrower end to that strip then sew another strip to its wide end, and so on until you’ve built up a full wedge. (This will also give you straighter black borders instead of her curved design but if, like me, you loathe and fear sewing curves it’ll also make your life easier. The spiderwebby vibe should still be clear enough.)

Be sure to check out the rest of the site as well; there are some other great ideas for using up scraps, like this trick-or-treat bag (which would also make a nice tote bag) and this September quilt which features pretty autumnal fabric.

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Creature Comforts

December 15th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Bug SoapHere’s an easy, mildly creepy, stocking stuffer idea that’s a particularly big hit with kids: Soap with a big icky insect embedded inside.

The project uses melt-and-pour soap base, which is easy to work with and doesn’t require any specialized equipment. You can make lots of these in a single afternoon and they’re ready for giving the next day.

The soap base is available at many craft stores and can also be found online at soap supply retailers (I like Bramble Berry) or Amazon. You’ll want to choose a transparent base (instead of something like goat’s milk) to be sure that the bug is visible.*

For nice, uniform bars you might also wish to purchase a silicon soap mold (which should be available at the same suppliers which carry the base); you’ll probably want just a plain bar mold for this project, but they also come in all kinds of fancy styles. You can also use margarine tubs, plastic food-storage containers, or similar items; just make sure that your molds will “give” slightly when twisted, to make it easier to remove the solid bars.

Then all you need are some novelty plastic bugs. You can find these in toy stores, party-supply places, or online. Choose ones that are fairly flat–you don’t want to displace most of the soap–and which don’t have legs or other bits that extend to the edges of the mold.

The soap base will probably have instructions on the package, but the basic method is simply to cut it into chunks and then melt it; either stir the chunks in a saucepan on low heat, or heat them in bursts in the microwave, stirring occasionally. The Dummies site has detailed instructions.

Place the molds on a flat surface. If desired, spray them lightly with vegetable oil to help the bars slip out easily. Pour a thin layer of melted soap into the bottom of the molds and let it sit for a few seconds, then carefully position an insect belly-up in each mold. Slowly pour in soap until it reaches the top of the mold. If bubbles rise to the top, carefully scrape them off using the edge of a knife or spatula.

Let the soap sit undisturbed overnight, then pop the bars out of the molds. They’re ready to use immediately. If you plan to store them for a while, wrap them in plastic wrap and store in a cool dry place. To give as gifts, put them in cellophane bags and tie a plastic magnifying glass to each bag with a bit of ribbon.

You can vary the basic project by coloring the soap and using different inclusions: Embed a spider in a bar of radioactive green, or a set of plastic vampire fangs in blood-red. You could also color the bars to resemble amber and add “fossil” insects for a more Jurassic Park-like vibe.


*If you’re feeling evil, you can use an opaque base instead and not mention the bug. They’ll find it when the soap wears down far enough to expose it.

(Image from Country Living)

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