The Art of Darkness

Nerd Wars

May 19th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Nerd WarsHere’s a pretty brilliant idea for fiber artists with unfinished projects languishing in a corner: Compete in a Tournament of Nerdery with like-minded geeks.

Nerd Wars is an ongoing competition amongst Ravelry members which features monthly challenges “focused in the areas of intellectual, scientific, technical, philanthropy, nerd culture and geek pride.”

Teams (each team unified by their geekery. For example, a person might be on the DC Comics, Dr. Who, or SCA team) “compete” by completing knitting/crochet/whatever projects that answer a set challenge (there will be a few challenges each round to choose from).

Each project you complete earns your team points. At the end of three rounds (each round being about a month long each), the team with the most points wins.

What do they win? Bragging rights, a sweet badge for their profile or a Ravatar. And, prizes!

The tournament is hopefully going to be a way to motivate people to finish projects on a (ultimately arbitrary by real life standard, but totally helpful and fun here) deadline, and also meet other Ravelers with similar geeky interests and form friendships with folks.

You can choose to join teams with names like “Brass Octopus,” “Hellmouth,” “Hogwarts Express,” “Iron Throne,” “Macabre,” and many others (Team Hellmouth and Team Browncoats recently joined up in a “Children of Joss” event to make projects inspired by Whedon’s characters). You can also join in the “Ninja Warrior” category, in which your points don’t count against other teams; ninja warriors only challenge themselves.

If you need an excuse to start a crafty project (I, myself, have a Doctor Who Fair Isle pattern that glares at me balefully from the closet) or just want to meet like-minded crafters, this sounds like a lot of fun. (This does require a Ravelry account, but registration is free.)

(via Jan)

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Stilt Spirit DIY

May 14th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Stilt SpiritIn 2010 artist Melissa Irwin and her husband built some amazing Halloween costumes inspired by the landstriders from Dark Crystal. The arms are extra-long medical crutches and the legs were stilts from The Spinsterz; the bodies are mainly upholstery foam and fabric. She notes:

We tried different faces and masks, but nothing seemed to creep out people more than the blank and expressionless human face. On Halloween we stand in yards to pretend like we are decorations then follow families down the street. FREAKS THEM OUT!!! We also walk in our town on random days in the year just to surprise people.

Here’s a time-lapse video of a couple of their build “test runs,” plus some footage of them walking around and creeping people out:

Response to the costumes has been so overwhelming that she is now offering a downloadable set of instructions for $10US on Etsy.

I love how weird and organic these things look, as though they’ve emerged from a forest that exists only in your nightmares. The build is a little ambitious in terms of price–forearm crutches are around $75 and stilts are over $200–but if you view it as a long-term investment in giving people the heebie-jeebies for years to come it’s worth it.

(via Geyser of Awesome)

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Light-Up Skirt Tutorial

May 7th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Fairy SkirtCostumer Angela Clayton, with whom you may already be familiar from when her Elsa the Snow Queen costume went viral, made a gorgeous “Christmas Angel” costume which featured a light-up skirt. You can see more photos of the costume here and read her build notes here and here. (While you’re there, be sure to check out the rest of her costumes, particularly the adorable Halloween-themed flower dress near the bottom of this page.)

Here’s a short video of the light-up effects:

Clothing with battery-powered lights has been around for ages–I fondly recall a 50’s-vintage skirt belonging to my aunt which featured a felt Christmas tree with working lights on the branches–but modern wiring, lights, and battery requirements are vastly improved and easy to use. Today, if you want to add dramatic lighting to the folds of your wizard’s cloak or wear an appliqued bat with glowing eyes, there are tons of supplies and resources which make it easy.

In addition to Clayton’s tutorial, there’s a good easy-to-follow tutorial at Gizmodo, and some some general tips at CreativeBug. If you’re feeling more ambitious, MIT professor Leah Buechley has some pretty awesome instructions for creating a tank top with a microcontroller that can be programmed to spell messages or run a Life session.

Wired has a good overview of materials for sewable circuitry, and you can buy supplies at SparkFun or Evil Mad Scientist.

A simple circuit with a couple of LEDs is an easy project that’ll give you confidence to try more elaborate effects. It’s also a good intro to the world of programmable circuitry; after you’re comfortable adding circuitry to clothing, you can move on to elaborate Jack-o’lantern light displays.

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Dark Fruitcake

April 22nd, 2015 by Cobwebs

I had to write down this recipe for a friend recently and decided that fruitcake is sufficiently Victorian that it could be shared here as well. I could lie and say that I’m posting it in April as a treat for my Antipodean friends heading into fall, but to be honest I just don’t want it knocking around in my Drafts folder until October.

Frankly, if you make the alcoholic version it’ll keep until next Christmas anyway.

Unlike the sad technicolor bricks that get called “fruitcake” by people pretending it isn’t a last-minute gift that they bought on the way to your house, this cake is rich, dense, moist, and bursting with flavor. It’s also a perfect way to use up dried fruit left over from other baking projects. I toss the dried cherries left over from these cookies, the dried figs that were part of a chocolate fondue, the dates from sticky toffee pudding, and all of the half-packages of raisins that seem to accumulate out of nowhere into the freezer until holiday baking time rolls around. Grocery stores also sell chopped candied citrus peel and/or “fruitcake mix” with radioactive cherries around Christmas; I frequently wait until after the holidays and buy it on clearance, then freeze it too; it’ll last practically forever. Then I gather up all of my dried fruit and divide it between these cookies and the fruitcake below. (As a bonus, knowing that you’ve got an eventual use for leftover dried fruit means that you’re more likely to try interesting-sounding recipes that use it.)

This makes one large fruitcake, serving 8-16 (it’s pretty rich, so closer to 16)

1/2 C butter, softened
1 C dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2 large eggs
1/2 C molasses
2 C + 2 T all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp mace
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 C milk
4 C mixed dried fruit (I like to go heavy on the raisins and currants and include at least a little candied citrus peel)
1 C chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts are nice)

Preheat oven to 325F. Butter and flour a 10″ springform pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.

In a small bowl combine 2 C flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Set aside.

Cream the butter in a mixer on medium speed until light, then add the brown sugar and cream again until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in molasses. Add flour mixture and stir until almost combined, then add the milk and stir until combined.

Toss the fruit and nuts with the remaining 2 T of flour until coated, and fold into the batter until well mixed. Pour batter into springform pan and bake 60 – 75 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack, then run a knife around the edges of the pan and pop the sides. When completely cool, peel the parchment paper off the bottom and store airtight for up to a week.

Optionally, you can “feed” the fruitcake with liquor: Once cool, wrap it in a couple of layers of cheesecloth. Sprinkle about 2 T of rum or brandy over the top of the fruitcake, then wrap tightly in foil and store in a cool place. Every few days, unwrap the foil, sprinkle another couple of T of alcohol on the other side of the cake (so if you sprinkled the top last time, turn it over and sprinkle the bottom) and then re-wrap. Repeat for at least a week, or until the cake is sitting in a corner, hiccupping and talking emotionally to the toaster. When doing the liquored-up version, I like to make the cake at least a month in advance; once well-soaked it’ll last practically forever.

Also optionally, although it makes for a tasty and festive presentation: Get a 7-oz tube of marzipan and a 24-oz package of fondant (both in the baking aisle of grocery stores or available at Amazon). Roll out the marzipan into a circle large enough to fit the top of the cake and place on top, then roll out the fondant into a circle large enough to cover the cake; tuck any ragged edges underneath.

For bonus points, you can make your own marzipan and/or fondant (either the “real” way or the marshmallow version).

A little slice of this eaten with coffee is a revelation.

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Dave’s Geeky Ideas

March 10th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Ouija CarpetStop. Before you read any further, go clear your schedule for the next few hours. You’ll be spending them digging through the archives of Dave’s Geeky Ideas.

I found the ouija board decor photo above posted on an aggregator site, but for a wonder, the watermark hadn’t been cut off so I was able to find the original creator. It’s a concept design by Dave Delisle, and there’s lots more where that came from.

The site is devoted to just what it says on the tin: Geeky ideas that Dave has. As he says in his FAQ:

I post all kinds of ideas, usually of the geeky variety. I strive to create content that does not exist anywhere else. A lot of this is ‘dreaming out-loud’ or ‘food-for-thought’ or ‘wishful thinking’, but hopefully presented in an entertaining way.

He notes that he isn’t interested in manufacturing any of these things–frequently there are licensing or logistical obstacles–but he also doesn’t mind if somebody else is inspired to create something he’s suggested. He even recommends resources for the custom manufacture of his designs.

The site is a treasure trove of geeky and gothy DIY ideas, from a Zelda floating rupee to a Supernatural-inspired Blu-Ray case to a LOTR jewelry box (which would be a great way to showcase a prop ring).

Since the ideas are mostly just-throwing-it-out-there concept stuff, there obviously isn’t a lot of detail about how any particular item might be built. However, as a jumping-off point for your own creative ideas, this is an amazing resource.

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Silly Web Thing: Draggable Ghosts

February 25th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Draggable Ghost

Wanna see a trick? Click your mouse on that heart up above, keep holding the button, and drag. Presto! A ghostly axe-wielding bride who takes the “’til death do us part” thing seriously.

(If you don’t see the ghost, you may be using an older browser which doesn’t support HTML5. Sorry about that.)

This type of draggable image takes advantage of HTML5’s native drag-and-drop capabilities, which create a semi-transparent copy of an element when you grab it and drag it around. The images are particularly popular on Tumblr, where they’re used to display hidden messages or other now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t effects. The ghost above was created by octibbles; there’s another cute example here, made by a blogger who seems to specialize in these effects.

The images are fairly easy to create with your favorite graphics editor, since they really only require two things: A transparent background and a drawing or message which matches the background color of the page you’ll be displaying it on. When the image is dragged, the browser will “ghost” all of the non-transparent areas, turning the background-matching color a light grey and making it suddenly visible. (This assumes that your background color isn’t identical to the browser-ghost-grey. If it is, well…don’t do that.)

There are lots of tutorials for creating this kind of image; WikiHow and musings & sketchy lines have easy ones, but a quick search will turn up plenty more. For more advanced effects, check out this neat custom ghost image tutorial.

It’s a neat Easter-eggy thing to add to a site which doesn’t take a lot of time or effort. Fun!

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Haggis Pops

February 11th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Haggis PopsOnce in a while, in my webby wanderings, I encounter an idea that just completely smacks my gob. This Instructable for making haggis “lollipops” is such an idea. It is just marvelously out there in left field.

Haggis, um, connoisseur PenfoldPlant walks you through each step of making the wee haggises (haggi?), from cleaning the sheep stomach to preparing the offal, with plenty of wry commentary and suggestions for extracurricular activities like using a drinking straw to inflate the lungs (fun!).

He brilliantly uses a ping-pong ball as a pattern for cutting out bite-size bits of stomach to wrap the pops; the honeycomb texture of the finished lollies makes them look like pretty little mushrooms.

If you can’t find sheep bits or don’t feel like making your own haggis from scratch, similar savory pops could be made using cow stomach (which seems to be more widely available in supermarkets) and the sausage mixture of your choice.

It’s too late for Burns Night this year, but this is worth saving for next year.

Be sure to check out some of PenfoldPlant’s other Instructables, like Frankenstein’s Meatballs and–just in time for Valentine’s Day–Candy Hearts (made with real heart). I like this guy. He’s twisty.

(Hat tip to Kitten Herder)

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Addams Family View-Master Slides

February 10th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Addams Family View-MasterHey, do you guys remember View-Master stereoscopes? If not, you can read the following in Peter Falk’s “When I was your age, television was called books” voice from The Princess Bride: They were a toy that looked like binoculars, into which you slid a paper disc containing color transparency film cels. When viewed through the lenses, the images appeared to be three-dimensional. They were originally intended to be an alternative to scenic postcards, and the first discs featured natural wonders like the Grand Canyon.

Eventually they expanded into other subject material, and in the 60s and 70s they were immensely popular as supplementary marketing media for cartoons, TV shows, and movies. The discs were usually accompanied by a booklet which explained the contents of each slide, so you’d view an image and then read its description in the booklet. (Yes, we were lame.)


Over in the Facebook Elders of Goth group, “Roman Gheesling” recently shared a link to a View-Master set featuring The Addams Family.

He noted:

“Portrait of Gomez” is the fourth episode of season 3 of The Addams Family. This rare View-Master packet recreating the episode was part of merchandising for the show. Sawyer’s, the makers of View-Master, always sent their own photographers to set when creating licensed View-Master packets of TV shows and always shot their slides on Kodachrome color film.

Thus, this images in this View-Master packet are the *only* color images in sequence depicting an actual Addams Family episode. In short, it’s the only color “episode” of the original TV series.

I found seeing the Addams Family in vibrant high-chroma Kodachrome color quite weird. Even the in-color Raul Julia/Anjelica Huston film had a muted color palette to stay in harmony with the original ink wash illustrations of Chas Addams.

He’s quite right; the colors are rather jarring. Here’s the first slide, along with its accompanying booklet description:


A full moon shed its eerie light over the front yard of a gloomy Victorian mansion on the outskirts of town. Reveling in the silvery brightness, a strange-looking family moonbathed in the yard.

Morticia Addams, wearing dark moonglasses, sat under a tree, affectionately watching her children, Wednesday and Pugsley. With little buckets and pails, they were busily building up an oddly human-shaped pile of sand. Her husband Gomez, in a gaudy 1910-style bathing suit, peered at the moon through a telescope, while bald, beady-eyed Uncle Fester sprawled in a beach chair.

Morticia looked at the pile of sand. “Are you all right, Mama?” she asked it. “Getting enough air?”

“Fine—fine,” came a muffled voice. “I took a real deep breath before they covered me up.”

(Told you we were lame.)

The site–it makes me oddly happy that there’s a site devoted to nothing but View-Master reels–has some other color episodes of black-and-white TV, such as Dark Shadows and The Munsters. If nothing else, they’re a rich source of avatar thumbnails.

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This Would be an Awesome Hobby

February 4th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Werewolf Lecture

Self-described (at least according to Google Translate) showman Camille Renversade has a marvelous routine where he dresses in Victorian-esque garb and gives lectures about the anatomy and habits of supernatural creatures. Last September he gave a presentation on “la malédiction des loups” at the Lyon Museum of Natural History.

From his site, it looks like he does this sort of thing fairly often: He’s got lecture material and props covering mermaids, dragons, and what may be my favorite version of Nessie ever. Even if you don’t want to bother with running everything through Translate, his site is definitely worth browsing just for his photos: His presentations involve a whole collection of photos, illustrations, notes, and other supporting documentation.

If you feel like you need an excuse to dress up as a steampunk adventurer and/or create more props for your cabinet of curiosities, this would be a lot of fun. Give lectures at museums or libraries, or make it part of your persona for cosplay.

(via Propnomicon)

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Epic Harry Potter LARP

January 21st, 2015 by Cobwebs

Unlike tabletop role-playing games where the players roll dice and move miniatures, the players in LARPs act out their characters’ moves. Last month, 180 LARPers gathered at a 13th-Century castle in Poland to spend a weekend as students at Hogwarts. The College of Wizardry LARP was an “unofficial” big-budget adventure organized by RollespilsFabrikken and Liveform, assisted by local Polish players.

Earlier this month, 180 players from 12 countries (including the United States) came to Czocha Castle to enter the world of Harry Potter. Armed with wands and wizarding robes, textbooks and potion bottles, these live action role-players came to Czocha to live out their dream of entering the wizarding world and experiencing, if only for one weekend, what would have happened if that owl had shown up to whisk them away from the muggle world forever.

Here’s a promo for the game:

There’s also a longer followup documentary here, and Kill Screen wrote about the experience.

The game was supposed to be a one-shot event, but response was so enthusiastic that they’ve got two additional ones planned for April 2015: One a sequel for participants of the first game and the other for new participants.

The sites for the LARP teams involved, RollespilsFabrikken (all Danish) and LiveForm (which has an English version of the site) both have loads of other interesting-looking past games which might serve as resources for homebrew events.

(via Super Punch)

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