The Art of Darkness

Fun with Cockroaches

April 8th, 2015 by Cobwebs

When I was cleaning out a closet recently I ran across a package of rubber cockroaches that I picked up at some post-Halloween clearance and decided to put ’em to use. This project is pretty much the ultimate in “last-minute,” since you only need three things: Fake cockroaches, small magnets, and something to stick one to the other.

Supplies Fake cockroaches are widely available at party-supply stores around Halloween, but you can also get them online. If cockroaches aren’t really your bag, this project would work well with plastic spiders or other lightweight creepy-crawlies.

You’ll need two small magnets for each roach. I used these little round guys, but you could also get flexible magnetic tape and cut it to the desired size.

Now you just need something to stick ’em together. I used a hot-glue gun, but just about any adhesive should work. (I guess you could also save yourself a step and use self-adhesive magnets.)

Roach with Magnet

Turn each roach over and glue a magnet to its underside. Let dry.

Boom. Done. That’s the entire amount of work required for this project.

Roaches on Lampshade Now to have fun with them. Place the roach on a lampshade or curtain, and stick the second magnet behind it on the other side. The magnets will hold the roach in place, so it looks like it’s crawling around by itself.

The magnets will also hold the roaches on any metal surface, so arrange several crawling around on the refrigerator too.

If you’ve got leftover bugs, you can:

  • Glue thumbtacks to their undersides and use them as pushpins on a bulletin board
  • Glue them to a bar clasp or a tie tack and accessorize.
  • If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you could also attach them to a necklace (source). In this particular case I doubt that glue would be strong enough; the rubber that the roaches are made from is fairly soft, so your best bet would probably be to poke a hole through their underside with a big needle and thread embroidery floss or thin wire through the hole. Use that to tie each roach onto the necklace.

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DIY Adventurer’s Kit

March 18th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Adventurer's KitDesigner Mitch Barchi created this attractive Adventurer’s Kit for quick, portable roleplaying:

My goal was to create a portable kit that anyone could pickup and play a quick, or introductory, roleplaying session with little to no prep time. I created a simple overland map illustration for the lid using the Art Institute of Seattle’s lasercutter. I also included a standard set of polyhedral dice since they are used in many roleplaying systems. Many roleplaying systems also use miniatures, I wanted to include some basic minis for the players. The miniatures featured in these sets are vintage unpainted Heroscape monsters. Also provided is a Moleskine notebook with gridded paper if the player or game master want to map a dungeon or take notes. Each kit also includes a pamphlet for the excellent hack and slash World of Dungeons RPG system.

There are a couple of photos of the interior on Barachi’s site; the dice and miniatures are kept neatly in place with a foam insert. He doesn’t give any dimensions for the box, but assuming that the pencil inside is a standard-size #2, it’s probably about 10″ (25cm) square.

This would be a fun project to make as a gift for a tabletop gamer. You can find unfinished wooden boxes at craft stores or online; a flat cigar box like this one would work pretty well, but if you’re making a D&D-themed kit you may as well go a step further and use a treasure chest.

If you don’t have access to a laser cutter, a color printout of a map or other artwork could be decoupaged to the top. It’d also be possible to decorate the exterior with glued-on jewels or other decorations, but if the kit is intended to be portable you’d want to be careful to use flattish, sturdy elements that wouldn’t be chipped or dislodged by knocking about. Alternately, the wood could simply be stained or painted.

Foam padding for the interior is available at craft stores, but the dice and miniatures could also be put in little fabric bags to keep them from rolling around.

The notebook with gridded paper could also be themed; this “Smaug’s Scribbles” one from Etsy is cute. This “dragon skin” one is probably a bit too expensive to include in a DIY gaming kit, but it might be possible to find something similar made from faux crocodile leather.

This is a fun, thoughtful gift that could be personalized and embellished in all sorts of ways. You never know when an adventure game is going to suddenly break out, so it’s best to be prepared with a portable kit.

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Giant Squid Pillow

February 18th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Giant Squid PillowGiant squid are undeniably awesome, but just as undeniably hard to cuddle due to their unfortunate insistence on living underwater. No more must your squid-snuggling proclivities go unslaked–this Build-a-DIY tutorial has a pattern and easy instructions for making a big plush squid of your very own.

Their sample squid is 8 feet long, but the pattern could be scaled down (or, I guess, up if you want a mega-colossal squid). You could make a whole shoal* of different sizes and colors.

The tutorial calls for felt, but the construction method seems to indicate that it would work with pretty much any fabric so this would be a good way to use up scraps from other sewing projects. You could have velvet squid, brocade squid, even faux-fur squid if you’re feeling particularly ambitious.

The tutorial also suggests polka-dot fabric for the underside of the tentacles to suggest suckers, but also links to a method for creating quilted circles for a more three-dimensional appearance. You could also do both, quilting the polka dots on the fabric for a really sucker-y look.

This is a fun project which doesn’t require advanced sewing skills, and the payoff is a cuddly squid of your very own. What could be better?

*I couldn’t remember if a group of squid was called a “school” or not, so I startled typing, “a group of squid” and Google auto-suggested “a group of squid is not called a squad,” which makes me sad. I want to be able to yell, “Look! A squad of squid!” and I’m terribly disappointed that I can’t.

Posted in Doom It Yourself | 4 Comments »

Pet Ghost in a Jar

February 5th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Pet GhostA couple of Halloweens ago, Hallmark released a trio of novelty “Pet Ghosts:” Jars which used the Pepper’s Ghost stage illusion to make a little spectre appear when a button on top was pressed. There were three, Julian Hijinks, Genevieve Ruffles, and Maxwell McSpooky, and a label on the back described their personalities. You can see one in action here, and see closeup photos of the front and back of Maxwell’s jar here and here.

They were cute, but they were also ten bucks apiece (and since they were discontinued they’re more like $25). Although not quite as elaborate, the PennyWise blog has a very cute DIY version which is a lot cheaper and easy to customize. I like his little beady eyes.

If you wanted to get fancy, you could use the same fluffy ghost to create a real Pepper’s Ghost. Googling “miniature pepper’s ghost” turns up several fairly straightforward tutorials: Make, Chest of Books, and Diorama Man are all good examples.

This is a cute, easy novelty that’d look nice perched on a shelf or as a desk accessory. Everybody needs a pet ghost of their very own.

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Velvet Pumpkins

January 20th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Velvet PumpkinsLike any self-respecting goth, you’ve probably got leftover scraps of velvet lying around that you aren’t sure what to do with. The Lemonista has an easy tutorial for making attractive velvet pumpkins in a variety of sizes.

The tutorial uses real dried pumpkin stems, which add an interesting rustic touch. If you or a friend grows pumpkins or other squash in your garden, you can save the stems after harvest. It might also be possible to find long-stemmed squash at the grocery store, and (obviously) you can save the stems from jack-o’-lanterns after Halloween. Make sure they’re completely dry before you use them, lest they mold: Just leave them in a warm, dry spot for a week or so.

If you don’t want to use real stems–some of them have teensy spines that might be unpleasant–or you don’t want to wait to collect them, you can make fake stems. anderson + grant has a method for making surprisingly realistic-looking stems; An Extraordinary Day‘s “book pumpkin” tutorial includes easy instructions for making stems with a twig and hot glue.

The Lemonista’s tutorial suggests filling the pumpkins with a mixture of dried beans and fiberfill; you could also use poly pellets or similar filler beads.

These pumpkins are so easy to make that you could turn out a lot of them in a couple of hours. They look great grouped in a bowl or arranged on a mantlepiece. They’d also make cute placecards which could double as a party favor.

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DIY Victorian Hair Jewelry

January 1st, 2015 by Cobwebs

Hair JewelryAdd this to the ever-growing list of stuff I was aware of that I never thought of doing myself.

Jewelry made from carefully-woven human hair was enormously popular in the Victorian era, both as tokens of love and as memento mori. Hair is extremely durable, and since it can be “donated” with no lasting damage it was common to take a lock of hair from a loved one as a keepsake. Eventually the practice evolved from simply being tied with a ribbon to being intricately woven into jewelry or even decorative knickknacks.

Rookie recently did an article on making simple hair jewelry, and a quick look around turned up several other resources. Going beyond a simple braid takes some effort–as The Victorian Needle discovered–but if you have the patience you can make some lovely stuff.

Some ideas to get you started:

Victorian Gothic has some great pictures, along with details about “hairwork albums” which feature woven hair from several family members.

Victoriana Magazine has information about braiding frames and tables, including photos of some ridiculously complicated-looking beads made from hair.

The Victorian Hairwork Society has loads of information related to hairwork, and Hairwork sells supplies and equipment.

The Etsy Blog has a short piece on hair mourning jewelry, and Etsy is also a good place to find glass lockets and antique findings.

Until recently there was a site called Victorian Hair Jewelry which would make custom hairwork, but that site currently just has a “coming soon” banner. It may return after renovation; in the meantime you can browse some of the designs via The Wayback Machine. There’s at least one other site that does custom stuff, Lucy’s Hairwork, but I couldn’t find any information about pricing so you’d have to email for a quote.

Hairwork is pretty much the ultimate in personalization, and it’s a unique way to create a really meaningful keepsake. Sneak up on your loved ones with a razor today!

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Last-Minute Gift Idea: Vinegar

December 17th, 2014 by Cobwebs

Herb VinegarNo, wait; don’t leave. Hear me out. Vinegar can serve as an awesome gift, filling several different roles.

It’s cheap, easy, and super-fast to make, so it’s a fantastic last-minute hostess gift or stocking stuffer. You can make a whole bunch in very little time, so it’s simple to turn out lots as party favors or small gifts to give out at the office. It can be gussied up in a variety of ways, making it look Very Fancy Indeed and cementing your reputation as a skilled artisan (as opposed to somebody who shoves some herbs in a bottle and pours vinegar on ’em).

The most common use for vinegar is in cooking, and making flavored vinegar is, indeed, as easy as shoving some herbs in a bottle and pouring vinegar on ’em. Choose different combinations of herbs to create a whole galaxy of customized flavors. The basic method is to carefully rinse fresh herbs and pat dry, put them in a glass bottle or jar, and cover them with vinegar. (A caveat: Plain white vinegar has a harsh, rather flat taste, so for culinary uses it’s best to use a wine vinegar or cider vinegar.) There’s a good overview of process which goes into more detail here. I particularly like their suggestion of threading peeled garlic on bamboo skewers; there’s a “Vlad the Impaler” blend just waiting to happen.

The real fun in flavored vinegar is choosing the flavors, and if you google “how to make flavored vinegars” you will get a truly overwhelming number of suggestions. Some good basic combinations are:
Oregano, Rosemary, and Marjoram
Chili, Cilantro, and Garlic
Fennel, Orange Peel, and Star Anise
Raspberry and Thyme
Shallot, Tarragon, and Lemon Peel

The herbs should steep in the vinegar for at least 24 hours before being used, with the flavors growing stronger over time. However, if this is a make-something-before-you-run-out-the-door gift, warm the vinegar to a bare simmer (don’t boil) before pouring it over the herbs. That’ll give the infusion a little head-start.

But wait, there’s more! Vinegar has been much touted as a natural all-purpose cleaner, so step up your gift-giving game with scented cleaning vinegar. The 5% concentration sold in grocery stores is fine, but there are higher concentrations (including one that’s a whopping 20%) if you prefer; look for them in grocery-store cleaning aisles, hardware stores, or online.

The infusion method is pretty much the same as for culinary vinegar, but you’ll want to choose pleasant scents and don’t have to worry about the taste. Some ideas:
Citrus peels (orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit), one type or in combination
Strong-smelling herbs like sage, lavender, mint, or rosemary
Whole spices like cloves, cinnamon sticks, or allspice
Vanilla beans: Scrape the seeds out of the bean for use in cooking, and use the pod to scent vinegar
Fragrant rose petals
A few drops of essential oil

Cleaning vinegar is great for degreasing things like range hoods, brightening mirrors and windows, disinfecting surfaces, freshening laundry, and ironing. (It shouldn’t be used on marble surfaces or hardwood floors, since it can damage them.)

One final use for scented vinegar is as “Monster Spray.” To help ward off monsters, natch. Use calming scents such as lavender and put it in a little spray bottle (there are even labels you can use). Spritz a little around a child’s room to banish the thing under the bed, or to help them go back to sleep after a nightmare. The vinegar makes it smell like it means business, so you know it’s working.

Easy! Cheap! If you’re strapped for a fast holiday gift, help is as close as your grocery store.

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Great Gift: Bath Salts

November 18th, 2014 by Cobwebs

Poison Ivy Bath SaltsI am a big fan of bath salts as a gift idea, and here’s why:
1) They’re easy to make
2) They’re inexpensive to make
3) You can make loads of them in a single afternoon
4) They look like they took way more time, money, and effort than 1-3 would suggest

Despite how simple and cheap they are, they’re a gift you can be proud of giving: It’s fun to create something that looks like it came from a high-end spa, and recipients are generally pretty enthusiastic. Some interesting containers, a clever label, and a few simple ingredients are all you need for a splendid last-minute hostess gift, party favor, or stocking stuffer.

There are a zillion recipes for bath salts, some of them involving an astonishing number of ingredients, but all you really need is Epsom Salt. It’s the basis for most bath salts, and I suppose if you were in a real hurry you could just bung some into a jar and call it a gift. However, a few additional ingredients make things a lot nicer: Salt (of the sodium chloride variety) is better at absorbing fragrance and coloring than Epsom Salt, and different-sized grains can be used to vary the texture of the finished product. Sea salts add trace minerals and natural color. Even table salt can be used, although be aware that some people’s skin may be sensitive to the added iodine and/or anti-clumping agents. Baking soda acts as a skin softener and water conditioner. All of those can be found at your local grocery store or, if you plan to make a large quantity, can be ordered online from soap- and skincare suppliers (I like From Nature With Love). The other ingredients you might want are skin-safe fragrance oils, colorings, and botanicals (like dried flowers or herbs).

An easy recipe with a spooky twist is this Poison Ivy Bath Salts from Paging Supermom: Dried mint provides wicked-looking green flecks, and they even have a downloadable label if you don’t want to design your own. These Blood Orange salts are also attractive, and even includes instructions for a little witch-hat bottle topper. These Pumpkin Spice Bath Salts are just Epsom Salt with fragrance and coloring.

If you want to get a little more ambitious, you can layer different colors of salts in a clear container: These single-serving Candy Corn Bath Treats are adorable. You could just use three colors of bath salts, but if you want to make it fizzy as the recipe suggests, that’s easy too. (Citric acid is available from soapmaking suppliers, but it’s also used for canning fruit and can be found at some grocery stores.) For another layering idea, the fragrances and colors suggested in this Halloween Foaming Bath Salts recipe sound nice (it’s based off of the same site’s Foaming Fruity Layers recipe, which has some helpful pictures); the “foaming” part is optional if you don’t want to bother with Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate.

Once you’ve got your salts, you can choose a suitable container. You can find all kinds of interesting bottles and jars at craft stores or online; if you’re giving just a few gifts you might select a container that can be re-used later: A pretty salt cellar or sugar jar, for example (or really go nuts with a themed sugar shaker). If you’re making a large quantity of bath salts as gifts, you can find a variety of containers at wholesale specialty suppliers like SKS.

You can also get creative with labels and decoration: This packaging for Halloween Bath Salts is attractive and easy, and I love this set of Halloween Party Favors, each with a different label and scent.

If you want to gift a whole set of differently-scented bath salts, take a leaf from the seasoning salts sold by Hoxton Street Monster Supplies (whom I’ve covered previously): Their Tears in a Bottle series boasts:

Salt Made From Tears combines centuries-old craft with the freshest human tears which are gently boiled, released into shallow crystallisation tanks, then harvested by hand and finally rinsed in brine. Experience the full range of these flavours in this exclusive collection.

~ Salt Made From Tears of Anger
~ Salt Made From Tears Shed While Chopping Onions
~ Salt Made From Tears Shed While Sneezing
~ Salt Made From Tears of Laughter
~ Salt Made From Tears of Sorrow

Each variety has its own description, which could be easily modified for scents rather than flavors: “This delectable salt, made from tears of abject sorrow, is collected only at moments of complete misery. With its delicate lavender flavour, it’s the perfect seasoning for limbs and organs.” “This robust salt is made from tears that sprang forth during explosions of anger. With a rich and smokey flavour, it can help to induce fit of uncontrolled rage, as normally experienced only by Ogres and Trolls.” and so on.

Blood Bath SaltsFinally, check out this super-awesome “Blood Bath Salts” canister which I can’t seem to find out much about other than that they were some sort of limited-edition Halloween home decor item and are widely sought after. (Click to embiggen.) A reasonable facsimile might be created by hot-gluing a novelty plastic skull to a canister lid and then spray-painting it with metallic paint. A similar label could be created in the graphics program of your choice and either glued on or (if you’re particularly ambitious) used as a template for stenciling. Color bath salts red and add some dried rose petals or hibiscus flowers for additional color, and you’ll have an extremely cool bathroom accessory.

Bonus link: For a Christmas rather than a Halloween gift, The Idea Room has a neat set of Myrrh Bath Salts and Frankincense Sugar Scrub. (The “gold” was represented by chocolate gold coins, but you could substitute a little bottle of Goldschl├Ąger.)

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Life-Size Ghost Decorations

October 8th, 2014 by Cobwebs

Human Ghost DisplayI found this Human Ghost Display by Grandin Road via Scary Jane, who was righteously outraged that: 1) Standing a mere 5 feet tall, they’re only suitable for scaring very short people, and 2) Despite all of the photos implying that they’re sold as a group of 3, they’re actually sold individually…for $129. Oh my stars and garters.

A foam wig head, bolt of cheesecloth, and some glue will run you about $15. You could make a whole army of these for less than a single pre-made one. The method could hardly be simpler: Tie long strips of cheesecloth around the neck of the dummy head, layering them to make the body. Paint white glue–liquid starch would probably work too–all over the dummy head, then press another big piece of cheesecloth into the glue; make sure the piece that covers the head is long enough to also cover the neck and hide the attachment point of the cheesecloth strips. Let dry. Boom. Done.

These would be really lightweight, so you could simply hang them from the ceiling using invisible monofilament fishing line. You could also drape them over hat racks, floor lamps, or other tall skinny furniture to loom over your guests.

If you want transparent ghosts instead, you can make good-looking ones using packing tape. The basic method involves wrapping transparent packing tape and/or plastic wrap around a human form (a wig head and dressmaker’s dummy if you have them, a willing assistant if you don’t), carefully cutting a slit up the back to release the mold/person, then taping back over the cut. With several layers of tape the resulting ghost is sturdy enough to stand on its own, and is also light enough to hang just about anywhere.

Googling “packing tape ghost” will turn up loads of tutorials; there are some good ones at The Crafty Geek, Bandit, John Rozum, and Tape Sculpture (which also has a gallery of examples). There are also a couple of Pinterest posts (with no instructions) for visual inspiration: I like these spooky ladies in dresses floating around a tree, and this great-looking ghost made from a combination of packing tape and cheesecloth.

Somewhat related is this Instructable for Ghost Shoes, which includes solar-powered lights so they glow at night. Their method involves hacking cheap solar-powered garden lights for components; you could also save yourself a couple of steps and just buy the solar circuit and LED (in whatever color you like) from someplace like Evil Mad Scientist (who also has a tutorial for making simple solar circuits).

A fun yard decoration would be to make individual packing-tape ghosts of each family member (and the pets, if they’ll hold still [they probably won’t hold still]) and then pose them in a tableau. Whatever you do, I bet it’ll be cheaper than $129.

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DIY Dragon Eggs

September 16th, 2014 by Cobwebs

Dragon EggsFrom an evolutionary standpoint, I’ve always been puzzled by the idea of scaled eggs: Not only would the egg-layer have to have a teflon cloaca to extrude them without damage, the scales would be a hospitable environment for microorganisms.

On the other hand, scaled eggs look badass and since the thing that’s supposed to be hatching out of them is pretty evolutionarily improbable anyway I should probably find something else to worry about.

Anyway. Scaled eggs. Imgur member “pellantana” has put together a great tutorial for making good-looking dragon eggs by covering a styrofoam egg form with thumbtacks. The basic idea could hardly be easier, although I might suggest a couple of minor changes:

1) The styrofoam peeks through a bit at the end of the egg where the final thumbtacks are placed. It might be a good idea to either paint the egg black (which can be tough–styrofoam is hard to paint and some types of paint will eat it away) or slip a piece of black nylon stocking over the egg before starting in on the thumbtacks; the tacks will hold the stocking in place. I suppose you could also cover the end of the egg with thin tissue paper; brush it with a little watered-down white glue to form it to the shape of the egg and help hold it steady.

2) All of the thumbtacks–625 of ’em–were hand-painted. That’s…a lot of thumbtacks to hand-paint. Since the tutorial recommends sticking them in the top of a pizza box to hold them steady anyway, it seems reasonable to go one further step and spray-paint them (this is mentioned briefly as an option at the very bottom, but the artist eschews it in favor of the hand-painted look). There are lots of neat metallic and faux-finish spray paints available, including “glitter spray” and marbleized varieties. There’s even a webbing spray; hitting the finished egg lightly with that might be interesting.

The finished egg could be displayed nestled in cotton wool in a wooden box so it resembles a specimen collected on expedition. It would also look nice placed on a pedestal candleholder.

It’d be fun to make one of these and hide it before an Easter egg hunt.

Bonus links: There’s a neat alternate method for making dragon eggs using hot glue. Also check out this lovely jeweled paperweight.

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