The Art of Darkness

Bringing Mary Home

December 19th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Shadowboy was recently introduced to Bluegrass by his viola teacher, and encountered this song at a concert. It’s an example of the “vanishing hitchhiker” urban legend which inspired Jan Harold Brunvand’s seminal collection of such legends.

The song itself is a fine bit of Bluegrass, with a chillingly understated final line.

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The Great Pumpkin Project

October 4th, 2016 by Cobwebs

I’ve mentioned The Great Pumpkin Project previously, and a timely note from Shellhawk has reminded me that it’s just kicked off again. Read all about their mission here and do your part to bring more random pumpkins to the world!

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The Steampunk Roadster

June 14th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Steampunk RoadsterLegendary steampunk modder Jake von Slatt has just completed his most ambitious–and, apparently, his last–makeover. He bought a 70s-era kit car on eBay and completely transformed it into a phenomenal steampunk confection. He offered it for sale and it was purchased within a day, but you can still see his process photos and drool over the vehicle in this video:

Although he’s claiming that this is his last steampunk project, it doesn’t seem to mean that he’s retiring from the steampunk community. He’s just not planning to do any more mods involving “steampunkifying” modern objects. A pity; he has a definite gift.

(via BoingBoing)

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Fun with Blavod

May 17th, 2016 by Cobwebs

BlavodDespite sounding like a Romanian sneeze, Blavod is actually a deep-black vodka from the UK. It’s colored with the extract of a Burmese tree called Black Catechu, which the company says does not affect the flavor. I’ve run across several reviews which say that the vodka actually has an “herby-medicinal aftertaste,” however, so you might take that into consideration when choosing a mixer.

Doesn’t matter. It’s pure black vodka. How can we not love it?

Obviously, the best way to show this off when serving as a mixed drink is to float the vodka so that it forms a separate layer.

  1. Figure out the density of each ingredient; the denser liquids go on the bottom (The Webtender has a specific gravity chart, if you need some help.)
  2. Pour the heaviest ingredient in the bottom of the glass.
  3. If you’re going to add ice, do it now. Putting it in later will destroy your layers.
  4. Place a teaspoon upside down close to the surface of the drink, with the edge of the spoon against the edge of the glass.
  5. Very slowly pour the next-heaviest ingredient over the back of the spoon, just letting it trickle in. Raise the spoon slowly if necessary.
  6. Repeat with each ingredient, ending with the least dense.

Incidentally, this is a lot easier to do if you use a plastic syringe instead of a teaspoon: Just suck up the necessary amount, place the tip of the syringe on the inside of the glass, and slowly push the plunger. You’ll want a needle with a fairly large bore; the syringes used for injecting marinades into meat work pretty well.

Here are a few easy recipes to get you started:

Black Widow
2 oz Blavod vodka
3 oz cranberry juice

Pour the cranberry juice into a highball glass filled with ice. Float the Blavod on top.

October Screwdriver
3 oz Blavod vodka
3 oz orange juice

Pour the orange juice into a collins glass filled with ice. Float the Blavod on top.

Dracula’s Kiss
1 1/2 oz Blavod vodka
6 oz Bloody Mary mix

Pour the Bloody Mary mix into a hurricane glass filled with ice. Float the Blavod on top. Add jalepeno pickle for spicy taste

Vampire Bite
2-3 drops red chili oil (found in the Asian section of most supermarkets)
2 oz. pomegranate juice
1/2 oz. Alizé Red Passion
2 oz. Blavod Black Vodka

Drip the chili oil into the bottom of a chilled highball glass. Layer pomegranate juice, Alizé, and Blavod on top.

(This post was first published in July 2008; I’ll be doing a few days of “blast from the past” archive posts in a probably-vain effort to catch up with real life.)

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Coffin Quilts

May 10th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Coffin QuiltY’know what’s irritating? Trying to find a photograph to accompany a blog post and discovering that there’s a book by the same title that everybody and their cousin has written about. I slogged through 37 pages of “the Hatfields and the McCoys sure didn’t like each other” to find this photo for you. I hope you’re happy.


Coffin Quilts date from the days when people were rubbing up against death all the time, so it was treated a little more matter-of-factly than it is today. As with most other types of patchwork quilt, they appear to have originally been an American invention.

They were usually done in somber shades of grey or brown and consisted of a plain center (the graveyard) surrounded by either pieced blocks (star, nine-patch, etc.) or by appliques such as a picket fence. These quilts were sometimes also embroidered with vines, flowers, and other funerary symbols.

Now for the fun part: Appliques in the shape of toe-pincher coffins, each embroidered with the name of a family member, were loosely basted on the quilt’s border. When a relative died, the coffin bearing his/her name was removed and sewed permanently in the center or graveyard area, along with the date of death.

Yeah, that’d be a hoot, wouldn’t it? Going to visit Aunt Agatha and seeing the little coffin with your name on it, just waiting….

Anyway, if you like to quilt (or would like to learn–it’s truly less daunting than you think), this would be a fun project. It’s nicely morbid, but can claim real historical roots if anyone complains. Depending upon your skill level you can choose a simple block (stick with squares or triangles that make up squares, like Churn Dash) or can go nuts with the appliques and make your own cemetery, complete with wrought-iron gates.

There’s another couple of photos of the quilt above on Flickr.

(This post was first published in September 2007; I’ll be doing a few days of “blast from the past” archive posts in a probably-vain effort to catch up with real life.)

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Animal Poop Candy

April 14th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Animal Poop CandyI don’t blog much about “gross-out” foods of the type that sometimes make an appearance at Halloween parties because they don’t really appeal to me, but I’m making an exception in this case because honestly my mind is sort of blown.

Travel and Leisure has a roundup of “bizarre” souvenirs that have been available at Disney parks, most of which aren’t really bizarre so much as anachronistic: Today it may seem odd that Disneyland once had a tobacco shop, but when the park opened in the 50s it was a natural enough fit. One entry, however, brought me up short: Last year, a shop at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom briefly–very, very briefly–sold candy shaped like four different kinds of animal crap. Specifically, Tamarin, Elephant, Giraffe, and Hippo. The candy was available for a two-week period, after which it was pulled due to “guest complaints.”*

The part that I found just completely mind-blowing is how in hell this ever got greenlit. I worked for Disney. They do not just casually roll out a new product. There are meetings. There are memos. Multiple levels of management are involved. There are planning sessions and recipe standardization and sample tastings and packaging decisions and requests for signage and employee training. At no point throughout this entire process did nobody in the decision-making chain go, “Um…?” Really? Nobody?


According to SheKnows, the Tamarin poop was made from pretzel pearls, chocolate-peanut butter fudge, and sweet rolled oat flakes; the Elephant was chocolate-peanut butter fudge with sweet rolled oats and yellow coconut flakes; Giraffe was rolled chocolate fudge brownie and caramel; and Hippo was chocolate fudge-caramel brownie with peanut butter and rolled oats. Those combinations actually sound pretty tasty, and the candies are certainly easy enough to make and shape.

The animal-poop thing might particularly appeal to kids (it’d be an amusing addition to a zoo- or safari-themed party). Or, y’know, serve it to your friends and then sit around wondering what the hell Disney management was thinking.

*Which I take to mean one thunderous, collective, “What the Actual Fuck?”

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Head Like a Holder

April 13th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Doll Head Candle HolderThe Little Joseph candleholder is a hand-painted ceramic doll’s head that probably moves around on its own at night. Although the commercially-available version is, uh, pricey,* there are a variety of ways that something reasonably similar could be made at home.

The easiest method would be to get a ceramic doll head (available at dollmaking suppliers, eBay, some craft stores, and occasionally at thrift shops) and epoxy a small disc-type candleholder to its noggin. If you have access to a hole saw, you could drill a candle-sized hole in the top instead.

If you’d rather make something a little more custom, look around for a “make your own pottery”-type store in your area (they seem to pop up like mushrooms). Get an unfired (greenware) doll head, drill a hole in the top, paint as desired, and have the store fire it for you.

Make sure that the doll head has a steady base or is carefully secured; you don’t want it rolling over with a lit candle inside.

The finished effect is nicely creepy, especially after some wax has built up; you can see some additional photos here.

*I wouldn’t spend $100 on a candleholder that didn’t give people the fantods, let alone something I had to hide when my mom came to visit.

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Bug Carousel

February 16th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Bronx Zoo Bug CarouselYou guys! I don’t usually share region-specific attractions but the Bronx Zoo in NY has a Bug Carousel and it is the best thing ever.

The “first and only entirely insect carousel” is adjacent to the zoo’s butterfly exhibit, and you can ride on the back of a praying mantis, ladybug, grasshopper, and several other lifelike giant insects. The carousel also has two stationary “chariot” seats, one of which is utterly brilliant.

The Carousel Works site has some additional information, and if you search Google Images for bug carousel there are loads of photos.

I’ve occasionally seen kits and DIY projects for making miniature carousel toys. It’d be fun to replace the horses with insects (or arachnids; a spider, scorpion, tick, and mite merry-go-round would be entertaining), particularly if it was tucked in a normal-seeming train layout or diorama.

(via Bill)

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Mourning Handkerchiefs

January 28th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Mourning HandkerchiefYou gotta give it to the Victorians: When it came to death, they did not believe in half measures. There were strict rules about proper mourning attire, and one essential accessory was the mourning handkerchief.

The handkerchiefs were traditionally white, trimmed with a black border; the border width varied depending upon how long one had been in mourning. (There were rules about that, too. The customary mourning period of a widow for her husband, for instance, was a total of 2 1/2 years: First Mourning, 1 year and 1 day in bombazine and heavy crape; Second Mourning, 9 months with less crape; Ordinary Mourning, 3 months in black silk; and Half Mourning, a minimum of 6 months where “half mourning colors” like grey and purple were allowed, and a greater variety of fabric and trim was permitted.) A proper handkerchief would sport a heavy black band during First Mourning, after which narrower bands could be used.

As with most customs, eventually there were embellishments. The handkerchiefs might be made of delicate lace or feature embroidery and fancy fabric.

These are a perfect small craft project, whether or not you have any actual funerals to attend. (Although if you do, a pretty hanky decorated in a motif that was meaningful to the deceased would be a thoughtful gift; either for for a mourning loved one or as a keepsake for yourself.)

Handkerchiefs are easy to make–there are good instructions here and here–but you can also start with a premade handkerchief and add lace, ribbon, or embroidery. Tutorials for all of these techniques are just a quick google away.

It’s always a good idea to have a hanky on hand, and one with gothy overtones is even better.

(Hat tip to xJane)

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Flaming Spellbook Prop

January 26th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Burning BookYou guys, have I ever mentioned how very, very stabby Pinterest and similar aggregators make me? This damn photo is everywhere, but I can’t find an original source or any other information about it. It’s a pretty neat-looking prop that would be great for a “witch’s kitchen,” but would also be attractive just displayed on a shelf. (It’d also be an awesome library display piece for Banned Book Month.)

I found a somewhat similar book that was previously available on Etsy from which it’s possible to glean a little more of the general construction.

Here’s my best guess on making a similar prop:

  1. Get a large hardback book from a thrift store; if it’s a little battered-looking, so much the better.
  2. If you intend to display the book opened flat or with the cover only slightly visible, just spray-paint the cover black (cover the edges of the pages with masking tape if you’re concerned about overspray). If the cover is going to be visible, you may want to decorate it further.
  3. Open the book to the middle, place it at the angle it’s going to be displayed at, and liberally paint white glue or Mod Podge around the edges of the pages to stick them all in place. (If desired, before this step you can spray all of the edges with water and let them dry so they’re a little more crinkly and old-looking.) There’s a good step-by-step tutorial for making an open-book spellbook here, to give you a general idea of what you’re shooting for.
  4. Distress the edges of the pages and add fake text to the visible top pages, if desired. This site has good instructions for doing that.
  5. Use an X-Acto knife to cut a hole in the center of the pages, large enough to accommodate a flickering LED tea light.
  6. Cut scraps of paper and glue them around the edges of the hole; stiffen them with a little Mod Podge if necessary. Build them up and out so they’ll hide the tea light, but don’t make them so dense that they hide the flicker. You could use paper with text for the outer edges and thin tissue paper for the inner stuff. You might also try tucking in a bit of red or orange cellophane to suggest flames.
  7. Make a few twists of black wire and attach tufts of scrap paper to one end of each. Hot-glue the other ends amongst the bits of scrap paper around the edge of the hole.
  8. Nestle the tea light inside and you’re good to go.

It’s a reasonably straightforward project; the hardest part would be making the central combusty bit look right. It might be worth doing a couple of test runs of just that part on other thrifted books before committing to the full paint job.

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