The Art of Darkness

Notes on a Plague Mask

April 18th, 2020 by Cobwebs

So how about that global pandemic, huh? Didn’t see that one coming.

With widespread shortages of protective equipment, homemade masks have become a common DIY project. Having: a) A lot of time on my hands, and b) A truly staggering amount of scrap fabric*, I’ve been making a lot of masks for my community.** I’ve been using the instructions in Button Counter’s excellent tutorial, but I’ve streamlined the process a bit. With an assembly-line approach, you can turn out a metric assload*** of masks in a short amount of time.

Here are my notes on the basic instructions:

  • You can cut this all out with scissors, but a cutting mat and rotary cutter will make your life a zillion times easier. You should be able to stack fabric and cut out three or four masks at once.
  • The 14″ measurement of the main piece of fabric is the up/down direction, so if you use fabric with a directional pattern make sure that the 14″ side lines up with the fabric pattern.
  • The shorter measurement of the two smaller strips of fabric is supposed to be 1.75″, but 2″ is a lot easier to eyeball on a cutting mat and it doesn’t make any difference to the finished mask. Also the strips have to be at least 6″ long, but since you’re going to be cutting them down anyway they can be longer. Instead of cutting an 8″x14″ piece of fabric for the main part of the mask and then cutting two 6″x2″ strips separately, it’s faster to just cut an 8″x18″ piece of fabric and then cut two 8″x2″ strips off one end.
  • Instead of marking one pleat, folding it, and then marking the next pleat from that, mark these measurements starting at the bottom (the pressed seam) of the mask: 1.5″, 2.5″, 3″, 4″ 4.5″, 5.5″
  • There’s no real need to mark the pleats across the entire width of the mask, since they’re only basted at the edges. If you only mark the edges you can just use a pencil instead of a washable fabric pen because the markings will be hidden in the seams.
  • Instead of pinning the pleats, basting them, then pinning the elastic and basting it, pin the elastic in place after you pin the pleats and then just baste the whole thing once.

Good luck! And if you’re American, make sure you’re registered to vote and remember to vote blue in November. Because this :::gestures broadly::: is some bullshit.


*I was just using Halloween prints–because spiders and skulls are always in fashion–but since I expect I’ll be doing this for a while I decided to just lean into it and ordered some of this.

**Like employees at the local grocery store whose management wasn’t providing any. Information about how to unionize may or may not have been included in the package.

***0.67 imperial arseloads.

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Cross-Stitched Pumpkins

July 7th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Pumpkin Cross StitchYou guys all ran out after Halloween and bought fake pumpkins on clearance, right? (Right?!?) Well, here’s what to do with ’em.

The elsie marley blog has this super-simple idea for poking holes in foam pumpkins with a skewer and then cross-stitching through the holes. This is a wonderfully rustic look, and with the right colors and design they’d be lovely decor year-round.

Obviously, there are loads of different ways to riff on the basic idea. Spray-paint the pumpkins in a variety of colors, or use “special effects” paint kits to make them look like marble or wood grain. Do a search on “free halloween cross stitch patterns” to find lots of ideas for the stitching (you’ll want to make sure they’re fairly simple designs). Do complementary designs on opposite sides, or stitch a different letter on several pumpkins to spell out a short message.

This idea is easy enough that even kids should be able to give it a try (although smaller fry might need help poking the holes), and fixing any mistakes is as easy as pulling out the yarn.

If you weren’t so lucky as to score any clearance-sale pumpkins last Halloween, mark your calendar now to pick up a couple this year.

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“Monster After Dark” Lampshades

June 30th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Fish Lamp

Matt Mets used paper cutouts on both the inside and outside of a lampshade to create a cute “monster after dark” effect.

This kind of fun with silhouettes is ripe for all kinds of customization: A crescent moon with bats that appear at night, a castle haunted by a nocturnal ghost, and lots of other now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t options. A reverse effect might also be possible, where an innocuous-looking doorway could have spooky eyes glowing from within. (The only caveat might be that the cutouts for the eyes may still be visible when the light is off.)

You could do something a little more permanent using stickers or even paint, but I kind of like the idea of temporary paper cutouts that can be changed as the whim suits you.

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Dinosaur Hunting License

May 31st, 2016 by Cobwebs

Dinosaur Hunting LicenseThe Museum of Hoaxes has scans of a dinosaur hunting license that was issued in Vernal, Utah in the 1950s. Vernal is rich in dinosaur fossils, and the Vernal Chamber of Commerce handed out the licenses to drum up tourist interest. They’re apparently still available (the site that MoH links to is down, but here’s an updated license), although I notice that the name of the Deputy Lizard Warden has been changed; apparently Kids These Days haven’t heard of Alley Oop.

Something similar to this would be easy to create on a home computer, and you can change the license to the monster or cryptid of your choice. Just be sure to specify bag limits and other restrictions; you wouldn’t want to wipe out the local vampire population by over-hunting. They’d be a cute party favor, and would also look nice framed on a wall.

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Mummified Fairy How-To

May 26th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Dead FairyI mentioned the Dead Fairy Hoax a while back, opining that something similar might be made using a miniature skeleton as a base. I finally decided to take a crack at making one, and I have to say that I’m rather pleased at how it turned out.

The project was much less difficult than I’d feared; there are a fair number of steps, but each individual one is pretty easy. (Also, it’s supposed to be a half-rotted corpse; if you mess something up, how would anybody know?)

If you’d like to try your hand at something similar, I’ve posted a tutorial here.

(This post was first published in October 2009; earning me a spot on BoingBoing and allowing me to sport a Been Boinged Nerd Merit Badge. To date, it is my most popular post by a margin almost too wide to measure.)

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Cemetery Terrarium

May 11th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Cemetery TerrariumUncialle’s Halloween Darksite is a trove of spooky inspiration. I love the originality of her ideas and her vast enthusiasm.

One of her projects that I’ve been itching to try is the Pocket Cemetery: A terrarium made over into a miniature graveyard. She’s made tombstones out of Sculpey clay, uses bare twigs as miniature trees, and even plants grass seed in early October so that the cemetery can be properly grassy by Halloween. My very favorite touch in her cemetery is the little plastic skeleton buried right up next to the glass, with a tombstone appropriately positioned aboveground.

Now for the fun! There are countless things you can add. Go wild in a miniatures shop! In her Pocket Cemetery, Uncialle has placed a tiny red wagon with two pumpkins in it, as if a small child had visited, and perhaps run home, frightened. Two tiny, glowing red LEDs are monster eyes, hiding in the shadow behind a tombstone. Miniscule black paper bats hang from “invisible” sewing thread in the tiny trees. A tipped-over vase beside a tombstone spills out dried flowers, while a miniature white pitcher holds “fresh” flowers. Tiny stones can create a stone wall. You could even put in a witches’ hut, a tiny hand reaching from the ground, miniature people, a goblin, or a mummy going for a stroll!

I’ve been saving various odds and ends for a terrarium of my own: A marble pestle that broke in half is eventually going to be a ruined obelisk, and I have miniature bones ready to strew about. Now that the last of our tropical fish is sleeping with the humans, I’ve informed Shadow Jack that the aquarium is mine. (He’s learned not to argue when I get that look in my eye.)

A miniature cemetery like this would be an intriguing focal point for a room, particularly if it were in a Victorian glass terrarium or a Wardian case. Add a blue lightbulb for moonlight, and you can have your own little pocket of gloom to meditate on even when it’s perfectly sunny outside.

(This post was first published in November 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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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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