The Art of Darkness

Nightmare Before Christmas Chair

July 6th, 2016 by Cobwebs

NMBC ChairEPBOT recently shared a roundup of fan art which included this gorgeous chair makeover (click to embiggen). Reader Elizabeth C. started with an unfinished chair found at a thrift store, hand-painted the patchwork seat and detailing, and finished it off with a bow made from stiff felt.

The result is really striking, and is also one of those marvelous projects that falls within the skillset of us mere mortals. None of the patchwork patterns are terribly intricate, and the variations in the design actually add to its charm. If you wanted something a little sturdier than felt to use for the bat, thin plywood should work fine and is easy to cut.

If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you could make over a whole dinette set this way. A set of chairs in the patchwork “Sally” pattern matched with a table featuring a border of li’l Jack Skellington faces around the edges would look great and should be manageable over the course of a few weekends.

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Exhumation Side Table

June 28th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Side Table

Miss Doxie is a Halloween-decorating fool, as she has explained:

People, I love Halloween with an unrestrained passion. My love for Halloween is Not Normal. Nobody in my family knows where this came from. We are the kind of family that carves a pumpkin, MAYBE two, and that is all. We do not fuck about with spiderwebs and mood lighting. We open the door, dole out a Three Musketeers or a Snickers, and that is the end of the matter.

But something in my genetic makeup was dissatisfied with that arrangement, and somehow, y’all, I have become…I have become That Person who feels the need to decorate the everloving HELL out of her house. I am That Person who BUYS those full-sized skeletons, hanging witches, and packages of fake spiderwebs. I am That Person, and That Person is me, and together, we are a nutbag.

She posted some photos of a previous year’s decorating efforts to Flickr, and oh I am passionately in love with this side table. It is, obviously, meant to be just a Halloween decoration and I’m sure that something a little less unusual occupies its depths during the rest of the year, but holy crap I want this table year-round. I think it’s because the bones look real instead of fakey-plastic, and they’re so artfully arranged and look so elegant on top of the dirt. The dirt-and-bone color scheme matches the shabby-chic distressed paint on the table nicely, too.

The bones have enough of an archaeological-dig feel about them that they’re interesting rather than disturbing; a coffee- or end table decorated like this would be an amazing accent piece in an otherwise mainstream room. Lovely!

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Raven Room Accent

June 23rd, 2016 by Cobwebs

CrowsSometimes the simplest ideas are the best ones. Country Living Magazine featured a home ostensibly made over for Halloween although the decorations are so minimal and restrained that their “Whooo, spooky” is more subtle than my everyday decor.

However, I really love these ravens.

The ones shown here are just paper cutouts (the article includes a downloadable template) in glass vases, but you could do something a little more permanent using (depending on your budget) plastic or taxidermied specimens. You can usually find decent-looking crow props around Halloween, and they’re also available online from outdoor suppliers some toy companies.

Square glass vases are easy to find at florists and craft suppliers, although if you’re planning to display them in the bathroom or other high-humidity area you would probably want something sealed. You might look for cloches and bell jars or for the kind of glass case used for displaying dolls or other tall collectible items.

I like the varied height of the specimens in the example, so you might arrange one on the floor of the case, one on a rock or other low mount, and the last on a perch: For a “Victorian curiosity” look, a simple wooden T-shape is good (available at pet stores, or just make your own out of a couple of dowels), and an interesting branch is good for a more natural setting.

This sort of accent is the kind of “stealth goth” project that’s great if you want to inject a little darkness in your decor without being overt about it. The look is somber but sophisticated, letting you entertain dreams of Poe without making your in-laws nervous.

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Shadowbox Wall Decoration

June 16th, 2016 by Cobwebs


Empress Pam recently turned me on to an interesting decorating idea found in an unusual place: The restroom of a DC restaurant called Oyamel. (She’s not the only one who’s noticed it, either; about half the reviews I found online mentioned the restroom decor.)

One wall is lined floor-to-ceiling with small shadowboxes, each containing a calavera or other ethnic artwork, not to mention a hell of a lot of glitter. They’re like miniature shrines, and are perfect for highlighting small treasures. This would be a great way to display a collection of small items (like the calaveras), and each box could be decorated differently to really showcase its contents.

The Oyamel shadowboxes look fairly deep, so they probably wouldn’t be suitable for a small room where they might eat into the floor space. A wall of shallower boxes or a border of deeper boxes at eye level might work better. You’d also need to be careful if you put the shadowboxes in a bathroom or kitchen where humidity or aerosolized grease might damage the display items. “Real” shadowboxes with glass fronts can be expensive, but since these lack the glass you could build your own simple wooden boxes or even use sturdy cardboard. Cheap, easy, and highly unique.

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First Chapter Wall Stencil

April 27th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Wall StencilAuthor Meredith McCardle recently gave into her “huge nerd” tendencies by painting the first page of Harry Potter on a wall in her office.

Buzzfeed has some in-progress photos and project details. Instead of stencils, McCardle used a borrowed projector to display the text on her wall, traced each letter in pencil, then went back and painted in the letters. She does note that it took longer than she expected:

Can we all take a second to laugh at the fact I legit thought this would be a fun weekend project I could bang out in about 4 hours? In reality, it took 60 hours over the course of 3 weeks, thus proving once again I am absolute crap at time estimation. But whatever. WORTH IT.

This is a great way to spruce up a blank wall, and beyond the ability to trace simple shapes it doesn’t require any particular artistic ability. It’d be fun to use the first page of a classic like The Wind in the Willows or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for a child’s room, or go dark and do The Silence of the Lambs in the dining room.

If you don’t want to commit a whole wall to the project, you could do the first lines of several novels in a frieze near the ceiling:

“You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.”

“May 3. Bistritz.– Left Munich at 8:35 P.M., on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late.”

“First of all it was October, a rare month for boys.”

“The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge.”

This kind of project is great for renters, since all you need to reverse it is a couple of coats of paint.

(via Jes)

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Punk Sofa

March 8th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Punk SofaOkay, I was originally going to only comment on this sofa, but the more I look at this Etsy shop the more I’m convinced the whole thing is a colossal prank. So let’s start from the top.

An Etsy shop called Ultra Violet Production House offers the Crust Couch, which they describe as “large black couch decorated with white paint pen, sewing supplies, patches.” Prices begin at $5,000US, which is spendy, but okay, fair enough; it’s an “art piece” and you’re paying for the workmanship. However, UVPH’s About page consists entirely of these two sentences:

Ultra Violet Production House provides customers with high quality sculpture materials and fabrication guidance for all original works.
Buyers assume responsibility for the realization of materials received based on tutorials sent to them at the point of purchase.

So you don’t get a couch that looks like the photo, you get a plain couch, sewing supplies, white paint pens, punk band patches, and instructions for decorating your own damn couch. This is the part where I was going to be outraged over the idea of paying a ridiculous amount of money for a DIY project (not to mention the fact that generations of punks are rolling over in their graves at the notion of paying $5K for a couch), but as I look through some of UVPH’s other listings there’s no way this isn’t a joke. If the Upcycled Canon Lens Mug wasn’t a tipoff, the Justice Fedora would be.

So, um, ha, I guess? It’s such an Andy Kaufman-esque set of listings that it isn’t so much funny as just sort of bizarre.

However, the couch is kind of cool and there’s no reason why you couldn’t actually DIY one with a bunch of band patches and a (preferably thrifted) couch or armchair.

(via BoingBoing)

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Digital Weasley Clock

February 25th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Weasley ClockThe Weasley family in Harry Potter have a magical “clock” in their living room which displays the location of each family member. Redditor tbornottb3 converted a thrift-store clock into a custom clock for his family.

His build notes and photos are here. The clock gets its data from a web service called If This Then That, which allows you to create workflows (which they call “recipes“) for various events. In this case, the family’s phone location data alerts the clock to their whereabouts:

Most of the rules are location-based (setting me to WORK if I enter my university library, HOME if I enter my dorm), but you can set other triggers too (set me to HOLIDAY if the forecast calls for snow, set me to MORTAL PERIL if the stock of the company I’ll be working for next year drops too low).

The discussion thread on Reddit has some good improvement suggestions by other commenters, and more information about his build choices (deciding, for instance, that LEDs were easier to program than movable hands). If you’ve been thinking about dipping your toes in the pool of simple programming and wiring, this would be a fun project. Adafruit sells both the Particle Photon starter kit (which includes a breadboard) and addressable LED strip required for the clock’s guts, and they’ve also got a huge library of tutorials to help you get up and running with the code.

Old pendulum clocks are common in thrift stores, and since you only need the case it doesn’t matter if the mechanism works or not. And if clocks aren’t your thing, you could use the same general idea to create an auto-updating magic mirror instead.

(via Geyser of Awesome)

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Use Up Scrap Fabric with a Rag Rug

February 18th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Rag RugI have a fabric-hoarding problem, and sadly there is no 12-step program to help. I just can’t quite bring myself to part with that last six inches of cute fabric, even though there are only so many patchwork quilts a person can make. Rag rugs to the rescue! They’re perfect for using up small scraps, they’re supposed to look “rustic” (which is code for “you can claim all those mistakes you made were intentional”), and when you run out of friends and family to gift them to you can donate them to your local animal shelter; they’re great for insulating the bottom of pet beds in cold weather.

Rag rugs can be knitted, crocheted, woven, braided, or hooked, so you can use your favorite construction method. The easiest way to make the “yarn” for your rug is to tear the fabric into strips more or less the same width (precision doesn’t matter too much), then knot them end to end. This is handy because you can knot as you go along and don’t have to worry about long tangled strips. You can also make yarn with less-obvious joins using this technique.

The simplest tutorials for knitted rugs pretty much consist of “use big needles and just go for it:” crazy mom quilts and She Who Measures have some tips for that method. Cocoknits has free patterns for a rag doily rug and rag bath mat which are a little more structured-looking.

For crocheted rugs, wikiHow has instructions for a simple round rug; sustainable baby steps has a nice in-depth tutorial which includes advice for dyeing your fabric, and About has a roundup of patterns.

A Beautiful Mess and Craft Passion have tutorials for making woven rugs. For braided rugs, inhabitat and Little House Living both have good instructions with lots of pictures; the latter joins the braids with machine-sewing instead of by hand, which would work okay for the thin fabric she uses but might be kind of a strain with thicker wools.

To make a hooked rug you can use rug canvas and a latch hook as described at Craftster, or hessian fabric and a crochet hook as in this tutorial at Creative Living. There’s also a sort of cheat-y rag rug made by knotting fabric through a non-slip rug pad; My Love of Style has instructions for that (although I’d ignore the part about buying fabric specifically for the project and use scraps).

If, like me, half of your fabric stash is Halloween-themed, it’s easy to make a rug in spooky colors and feel virtuous about using up your scraps.

(Image from JoAnn, where there’s also a brief tutorial)

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A Wealth of Wreaths

December 16th, 2015 by Cobwebs

During a recent attempt to find the original source for some orphaned image or another, I fell into a thicket of spooky wreaths. There’s still time to make some of these before Christmas if you hurry; if not, you’ve got plenty of time before next Halloween. (Click the images to view larger.)

Ant Wreath


This is from Better Homes and Gardens (whose site I almost hate to link to because it’s such a mare’s nest of intrusive advertising and poor navigation). It’s super-easy, consisting of oversize plastic ants hot-glued to a foam wreath base. Tie the ribbon in place before you start attaching ants, so you don’t wind up with lumpy bits where they overlap.

Spider Wreath


Another one from BHG, this is pretty much the same idea as the one above. Spray-paint the wreath base black (make sure you use paint that won’t eat styrofoam) before gluing on the spiders.

Spider Topiary

Spider Topiary

This would be a nice companion to the spider wreath. The balls are just spray-painted styrofoam, and the stems are probably either wooden dowels or PVC pipe. Anchor the stems with floral foam/oasis, then cover over with candy corn. (I’m not sure about the original source for this project; a couple of sites mention Craft Town, but I don’t see it there.)

Eyeball Wreath


Country Living has instructions for making this wreath out of bouncy eyeballs. Get the glow-in-the-dark kind for extra nighttime creepiness.

Raven Wreath


This super-easy design is by Maker, Baker, Glitter Shaker and uses those inexpensive crow ornaments that pop up around Halloween.

Feather Wreath

Feathers and Spiderwebs

I can’t find an original source for this, and it looks like it’s maybe a premade commercial job instead of a DIY project. However, feather wreaths aren’t hard to make, the central bit appears to be very similar to this Kurt Adler decoration, and the other glittery bits could be made with dollar-store Halloween props and spray glitter.

Mask Wreath


Yet another super-easy idea. There doesn’t seem to be a wreath base; the masks may all be attached to a wire circle, but they’re lightweight and stiff enough that they might just be all stuck together with dabs of hot glue.

Yarn Wreath

Yarn Spiders

This would be a fun wreath for a knitter or crocheter. It was made by whimsyworkshop, and unfortunately has sold. The yarn balls are most likely yarn wrapped around styrofoam cores, and the spiders are probably made in a similar fashion (with the addition of pipe-cleaner legs and googly eyes). The central web could be made using a technique like this.

Mirror Wreath


I can’t find an original source, so I can only guess at what this is made of. A similar round mirror might be found at a thrift store (a chipped frame or cracked glass would only add to its appeal here). The twigs look like natural lichen-covered branches, but something suitable might be found in a craft store’s floral aisle. The mossy stuff is probably Spanish moss, also available at craft stores; look for black flowers there as well.

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Spooky Family Portraits

November 10th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Skull PortraitHere’s a fun little throwaway project, courtesy of the late, lamented Seeing Things blog: Creating creepy merged photos to tuck in amongst your family portraits on the mantel.

It’s a fairly automated process if you use a tool like Photoshop Elements, but if you don’t want to spend the money for PSE it’s not much more difficult with GIMP.

Start by finding a suitable photo to manipulate: It’s easiest if the subject is facing the camera straight-on, and if they don’t have anything like bushy whiskers obscuring their face. You can use real family photos if you have them, but searching for “Victorian portrait photography” will turn up plenty of good images (including some, like this postmortem photo [don’t click that link if you’re squeamish] and whatever the hell is going on here which don’t even need to be altered; they could be printed and used as-is*).

Next, search for creepy images to superimpose: Image searches for “skull,” “ghoul,” “ghost,” “witch,” and so forth should give you plenty to choose from.

If you’re using PSE:

  1. Select the two images that you want to merge.
  2. Click File, then New, then Photomerge Faces.
  3. Use the Alignment tool to mark each photo.
  4. Use the Pencil and Eraser tool to merge your selections.
  5. When you’re satisfied with the final result, click Done.

GIMP is a bit more complicated, since you have to resize and merge the images manually. There are numerous tutorials to help get you started; this and this are video demonstrations and this is a blending walkthrough. Searching for “blending photos with GIMP” will turn up plenty of others.

Here’s a few ideas for merges from the original site (click to embiggen):

Photo Merges

Once you’re satisfied with your freaky family, look for used picture frames at yard sales and thrift shops; a bit of wear-and-tear on the frames will add to the creepiness. Print your photos, frame, and enjoy.

If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can replace framed photos in your house with altered versions of the same images and see how long it takes anybody to notice.

*Images from here and here, respectively. Although the former is tagged as a post-mortem photo, I’m almost wondering if the subject was alive and the victim of some disfiguring accident. Her eyes look unusually intact; you’d figure if her decomposition was sufficiently advanced that flesh was falling off of her cheeks, those gooey little orbs would have at least deflated if not completely collapsed.

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