Date Archives October 2016

Get in loser, we’re going shopping: A Halloween Costume Retrospective

I’m writing this in the past at a crossroads: either I went on vacation this week or I got mashed by a tree in STORMPOCALYPSE 2016. Or, I guess, I didn’t go and I didn’t get mashed but the power was out for a damn long while and updating my blog wasn’t my first priority. Regardless, I didn’t work on shit this week to reach my Halloween goals. So here’s a look at the costumes I built for last year. That’s right, last year. I’m nothing if not timely.

I’d had a bug up my butt for a while to make Jason a Thorin Oakenshield costume. I made his ring way the fuck back in November 2013, and then I hit a patch of severe depression and didn’t do anything for Halloween 2014. I’d had my traditional pumpkin carving party, but as far as a costume goes, I didn’t do shit. I stayed at home, handed out candy, and depressed myself further because it was my favorite holiday and I wasn’t doing anything. So I started working on his costume in earnest at some point during early 2015. First, I made a duct tape husband.

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This allowed me to fit a costume to him without him needing to be present and with a slightly lower risk of sticking him with pins. I also turned these santa boots:

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into these Thorin boots:

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I cut off the faux fur top, covered them in brown fur, and made boot caps and straps from fun foam. I don’t know why I had never really used cosplay resources before to figure out how to make stuff, but it turns out there’s a whole community of people who know what they’re talking about when it comes to making costumes and props, and they’re willing to share this information with people like me. Hurrah! It turns out this fun foam stuff that I’d seen a million times at craft stores and wondered what anyone would use it for is actually a miracle substance that I may end up using for everything. It’s pliable, you can heat mold it and it will hold its shape, and if you seal it with glue and paint it with metallic paint, it can resemble metal armor. It’s pretty astounding! Cosplayers are also all about thermoplastics like Worbla, which would have also worked for this application but it’s significantly more expensive, so I haven’t dipped my toes into that pool yet. I also used fun foam to make Thorin’s bracers, shown below before they were sealed and finished:

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I also learned to do resin casting, which has turned out to be another useful tool in my arsenal. I needed to learn for this costume because Thorin wears a suit of brigandine armor under his cloak, and it’s one of the most visually striking aspects of his costume, so it’s not something I could skip out on. First I made a master in apoxie sculpt. I then made a silicone mold of the master, and then dusted that mold with aluminum powder, poured in resin with more aluminum powder mixed in, waited for it to cure, rubbed the new resin part with steel wool to make the aluminum shine, and then weathered it with black paint to give it dimension. This had to be done one hundred plus times, most of which was spent simultaneously cursing myself for having such big stupid plans that involve so much work. And most of that work was hidden by the cloak. Blargh.

brigandinel-r: master, fresh cast, steel wooled, weathered

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Thorin’s jeweled belt buckle is also a pretty big visual point in his costume, so I wanted to hit that recognition point as well. This involved resin casting some gems (the backs of which are painted with metallic nail polish, which gives them a reflective sparkling quality) and socketing those gems into a belt buckle made from more foam, this time from one of those thicker foam floor mats. Cosplayers work wonders with floor mats, but so far, I haven’t managed to do as well. It’s harder to cut, takes more heat to shape, and I think ultimately the belt buckle turned out just OK.

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I also sewed the tunic, the cloak, made leather patches for the knees of his pants, and repainted a plastic toy sword, and Thorin was complete!

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My costume was a little more fraught. I vacillated between a number of options: lady bearded dwarf, Tauriel, Bilbo, and Thranduil, ultimately deciding to go with armored up party king Thranduil. The armor builds started off ok, with foam handguards and bracers, which flexed really well with my arm and hand movements. The raised portions were made with puff paint, and while it’s useful to make designs, I have determined it is also the devil’s paint, and this is never more evident than when you’re trying to paint a long, smooth, curving line with it. Three quarters of the way through and PFHT!!!!!!!!! Surprise air bubble! which will cause paint to spurt everywhere and/or come out in a horrendous lumpy mess. And then it takes a lifetime to dry and if you touch it even one second before it’s fully, fully, fully dry, it will wetly smear all over everything. My hands were silver for at least three weeks.

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While waiting for armor to dry in various stages of puff paint and elmer’s glue, I started constructing the cloth portion of my costume. No pattern, just eyeballing it. It turned out surprisingly ok except the neckline which I hated and didn’t know how to fix. I figured it wasn’t all that important because the whole thing would be covered with chest and shoulder armor anyway. I made his complicated shoulder pauldrons and though they weren’t exactly identical, I felt they looked pretty cool.

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But then I started on the chest armor and the shit hit the fan. Because it’s such a large piece, I needed to make it out of the larger foam floor mats rather than the fun foam (which is generally about the size of a sheet of paper). That foam is thiiiiick, and a piece that size needed more heat to shape than my hair dryer could provide and some dumb part of me refused to buy a heat gun for this one thing. I’m already a fat person, and the additional thickness of armor that I couldn’t get to curve in anywhere made me look like a walking barrel. And THEN there was the complicated pattern on top that turned into a goddamn puff paint nightmare world. I needed to reassess.

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Could I made the costume work without the chest armor? Eeeeeeeeehhhh. The shoulder pauldrons were supposed to attach to the chest armor to keep the weight of the cloak from straight dragging the whole business off my shoulders, so that wasn’t working super well. The wig that I bought was way too long and thick, and at this point in the game, I hated the whole thing together but it was too late to change to something completely different.

armored-upThrilled. So thrilled. Ignore the PJ bottoms. And all the Halloween bins in the background. 

Soooo it was at this point that I decided to ditch all the armor I’d made. The handguards, the bracers, the boot armor, the pauldrons, and especially that fucking chestpiece. I cut and thinned the hell out of the wig. But with the armor chopped, it really needed something  else to make it more Thranduil. I determined that something else was his branch crown. I made the crown out of twisted wire:

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which I then coated in hot glue and painted brown. At this point, it looked like a crown of weird turds, but I kept at it:

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Thranduil’s crown in the movie just has leafy bits in it, but I felt like he was the sort of dude who would probably accessorize to the season, so I added in sprigs that had tiny pumpkin looking things. And with that, I was done! And not too soon, I think I wrapped the whole thing up the day before my Halloween party.

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king-thranduil    All hail your King under the Mountain and your Party King!

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Freaky Friday: The Revenge

I was going to decorate the yard this week, but I’m glad I didn’t–there’s the remnants of a typhoon headed this way and I don’t think my little foam tombstones would do all too hot in 80mph+ winds. Plus, who the hell wants to chase tombstones down the street during a torrential downpour? Not this lady. Not that I could catch them, anyway, I’m crap at running.

So what did I do this week? My first priority was to batten down the hatches amidst all the other semi-panicked people doing the same thing. When the shelf gets down to the last bundle of firewood and you and some other guy are both eyeballing it from down the aisle, there are no laws of human decency anymore. There are only the laws of physics: the speed and trajectory of which you ram your cart into his to divert him into the garden supplies while your momentum carries you forward to sweet, wood-y victory.

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That, and I’m also prepping for a trip, which makes for weird cognitive dissonance timing. “Ok, so I need water and non perishable goods for survival, and also sunblock for the pool.”

As far as Halloween stuff goes, work continued on my Halloween costume apace, and I’m almost done with all of the necessary components. Time and motivation and whether my house gets flattened by a tree will factor into how many of my stretch goals are reached.

I also reskinned my moving photo frame. It’s not that Harry Potter isn’t seasonally appropriate, but I wanted to take it somewhere different this year. I’ve got it playing a rotating selection of black and white spooky cartoons and it makes me super happy. And my love for ridiculous fake newspapers will never die.

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A year ago on Pinterest, I saw a floral arrangement using a skull candy dish as a base, which I immediately recognized as I had the exact same one. There was nothing for me to do but shamelessly render a poor imitation of the original. Mine is nowhere near as full (fake flowers are so fucking expensive!) but it still makes me happy. I also think that it’s funny that the black branches in the back basically disappear into my curtains when I put it in its new home in the living room.

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This week, I got caught up on Monstress comics (so good!). I also watched The Babadook, Knights of Badassdom, Zombeavers, a bit more Penny Dreadful, American Horror Story (this season is surprisingly cohesive so far), and Westworld which doesn’t necessarily fit the theme but I love it so much already.

Aaaaand now the power is flickering so I’m going to peace out and huddle with Napodog and hope I don’t end up with an entirely unintended Halloween costume.

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Freaky Friday

It’s the mooooost wonderfulll tiiiime of the yeeeear

When the store shelves are loaded

with skulls and fake blood and so much pumpkin beeeeeer

It’s the mooooost wonderfulll tiiiime of the yeeeear

It’s convenient that my two favorite yearly celebrations are nearly exactly six months apart–my birthday and Halloween, which gives me time to get super pumped, make big plans, do something over the top to celebrate, and then recover before getting super pumped again. And, you know, maybe do some other stuff in between if there’s time. I will acknowledge that my birthday celebration is a wholly selfish endeavor (me, me, look at meeeeee), but Halloween? Halloween is about sharing my love of the spooky with everyone who will allow it, whether that’s organizing a trip to a corn maze, giving out king size candy bars to trick or treaters, or decorating my yard so much that my house is starting to get a reputation. Seriously, this summer when I was out gardening, a woman walked by with her children. As they passed me, one of the kids said something that I didn’t understand–the mom explained that he was asking where the spiders were, that every time she walks past our house he asks where the spiders are, and she tells him that I only put them out at Halloween.  I’m pretty stoked to be known as the spider house, not gonna lie. Plus, I’m playing the long game: these kids are going to grow up remembering that my house is the awesome Halloween house, and when they’re teenagers, they’ll probably pick a different house’s fence to pee on or lawn to start on fire with axe body spray.

I will admit I’ve been stalking retail establishments for Halloween goods since early August, because building a truly spooky home takes passion, commitment, and a willingness to elbow your fellow shopper in the face over the only skull cake stand on the shelves. It also helps build anticipation for the holiday in me, gets me plotting on larger projects to build, and maybe even gets my wheels spinning on a costume. I think my two favorite places for Halloween stuff are Home Goods and Target–both places have stuff that could potentially make it into the year round collection. Home Goods is especially great because they get new, different stuff every week, and it starts rolling out as early as mid-August. Target’s stuff can be good, but their stocking is also a little frustrationg: even though everything shows up on their website in August with a bunch of cool things that are store only (which gets me even more pumped), they’re easily the last place to get their Halloween stuff out in store (gotta squeeze every last nickel out of back to school), and so after a month of anticipation, I find that the things I was most interested in buying aren’t stocked anywhere within 100 miles of me. DAMN YOUUUU!

acquisitionsI didn’t elbow anyone over this skull cake stand, but it WAS the only one on the shelf, and almost immediately after it was in my basket, someone else came to ogle it and asked where I got it. MINE.

Anyway, after two solid months of getting pumped up, once October finally rolls around, my spirit and enthusiasm for projects I’ve been working on can start to wane a bit, which is both understandable (it’s hard to maintain a manic level of pumpedness for a full quarter of a year) and a little ridiculous (given that it’s finally close to the thing that I was so damn pumped about for two months straight already). So each Friday this month, I’m going post about the stuff that I’ve worked on, stuff I’ve done in the Halloween spirit, and any macabre media I’ve been taking in to remember the season and keep it spooky.

When doing my yard decorations, I always try to straddle the line between creepy and fun–I don’t want to make anyone pee their pants or give anyone nightmares with over the top gore. It’s totally fine by me if that’s what other people want to do, but it’s not my style. And now that I have the capability to build more sizeable decorations, I don’t want to necessarily leap from theme to theme and end up with an entire storage unit’s worth of Halloween decorations, only some of which are reused*. And I also didn’t want to have to theme my costume to my yard every year, which would be super limiting. AND I didn’t want to have to do an insane push to build a whole new yard display every year, so instead, I’m doing a vaguely Tim Burton yard, which I’ll add to each year as the mood strikes me to build something. It fits that spooky but not gruesome mold I’m going for, and there’s a large library of references to draw from. This year, I’m focusing on The Nightmare Before Christmas**. So far, I’ve built:

zeroZero’s tombstone

nbc-signsSally’s herb signs

candy-wheelOogie Boogie’s Wheel of Candy

The candy wheel was obviously a lot more involved than the other two. The wheel is hand painted, I sculpted, molded, cast, and painted every single tiny Jack Skellington face on the pegs, I carved and finished the foam dice and black and white newt monster thing, and I made Oogie out of burlap and wire, burning myself pretty well with a glue gun while I was at it. Trick or Treaters are going to spin this baby to determine their candy haul–I still need to attach labels for various candy, but that needs to wait until I’ve actually bought the bulk of the candy, which I’ll do at some point next week. I did take a trip to Vancouver to buy some spooky-themed Canadian candy for the question mark slot, because what’s more exciting and mysterious than a whole new kind of candy you’ve never seen before? I also want to make sure those Skellington faces are firmly attached so they don’t go flying off with vigorous spins.

I’m also working on some other yard stuff but none of it looks like anything yet, so it’ll be posted if and when I finish it on a future Friday.

I also made, assembled, and delivered invitations for my Halloween game night party this week (all but a couple, which I need to get in the mail ASAP because the doorsteps in question are controlled access so I can’t drop them off like I did the others). I bought the coffins premade, which I then disassembled, woodburned, stained, painted, and reassembled. I then made an oogie boogie die from apoxie sculpt and learned to make a two part silicone mold so I could cast it in resin, which was definitely a learning process for me. I ended up having to make two masters and two silicone molds because I hated the way the first one turned out–the first master was, in retrospect, just OK, and the mold wasn’t super well done which made an OK sculpt cast even more poorly. Once the dice were cast, they needed to be sanded and airbrushed. The invites themselves are on the face of the skull cards, and I threw in a gold coin because I felt like it needed something else. I was going to customize poker chips but honestly, these were enough work already and it was more important that I get them out in a timely fashion so as not to arrive after people have already accepted other Halloween night invitations.

coffin

dice

I bought some fabric with skulls and pumpkins that screamed neither skull nor pumpkin(spooky, but somewhat subtlely so) which I used to make pillows for the living room. I had some scrap left over, so I made pillows for Napoleon’s bed, which he infrequently uses but I pretend he appreciates anyway.

pillows

I also decorated the house, and I’m proud of myself for waiting this long to do it. It’s been fun turning on all the spooky lights every evening to watch movies/TV. So far, not much spooky media has been happening in this room (I blame Luke Cage) but as I wrapped that up earlier this week, the full supernatural barrage of my regular programming can begin.

fireplaceYes, Gibralter is dressed up as a mummy. T-Rex costume forthcoming.

library

tabletop

lord-farnswoggle    Lord Farnswoggle, Earl of Cumberbunch, and his faithful companion, Nipper. I’m thinking that he still needs a moustache and a monocle.

This coming week, I’m planning on continuing work on both yard stuff and my costume. My costume is almost completed, but I’m definitely at a place of fatigue with it at the moment. Why is it that every idea I’ve had for costuming lately involves making hundreds of something? I’m hoping to get the yard decorated this weekend. This week I’m also planning on making time to get caught up on the Monstress comics, maybe continue watching Penny Dreadful (I want to like it, but it really has yet to grab me which means it probably never will), and the rest is TBD. Just typing all this out has helped raise my spirits!

 

*I am fine with filling a shed in the yard with decorations though, and it’ll probably come to that so as not to make it impossible to get at non-Halloween stuff like bikes and the recycling bin and the water shut-off.

**Since it’s Nightmare Before CHRISTMAS and all, does that mean I can leave it out until January?

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Salmagundi West

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van-city-3-of-41Super awesome art by Michael deMeng

van-city-9-of-41In case you want to start your own House on the Rock-esque creepy clown collection.

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van-city-11-of-41This hat looks awfully familiar.

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I had a friend tell me that coming to my house is like coming to a museum, that every time she sees something new and unusual. As someone whose aesthetic is undeniably “creepy museum”, I was thrilled to hear that. While I respect those who live simple, minimalist lifestyles, I can’t do it myself. I tried minimalism for about three days and then awoke at 4am on day three to find myself feverishly sleep-browsing craigslist for gothic antiques. I’m not advocating living under a mouldering pile of newspapers, clutching onto every one-use kitchen gadget or instruction manual for shit you don’t even have anymore, or mindlessly consuming trendy stuff you’ll almost immediately discard. And sure, the best things in life aren’t things. However, things are forever. The objects we choose to surround ourselves with can tell a story, set a mood, remind us of happy times, tell us where we’ve been and where we want to go.  I always have an eye out for anything that belongs in my creepy museum, and that’s why no trip to Vancouver is complete without a stop at Salmagundi West, home to oddities, antiques, antique oddities, and odd antiques, plus a smattering of outsider art and occult ephemera. In other words, it’s like stepping into my alternate dimension living room. It’s fun digging through all the drawers of the card catalogs in their “magical basement” for treasures, and it’s even more fun to try to explain what exactly I bought to the border agent without sounding like someone whose trunk they should probably check for body parts or something. And sure, I can’t take it all with me when I go–but my ghost can preside over one hell of an exciting estate sale.

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I’m just a sweet chimney cake…from traditional Transylvania

I’ve done precisely zero research on the matter, but it is my understanding that Transylvania has two main exports: vampires and chimney cakes. I never drink…wine. But I do eat cake. Maybe too much cake, but that’s really neither here nor there. So when I happened across a Vancouver bakery specializing in Romanian pastries, including the aforementioned chimney cake (or kürtőskalács), I knew I definitely wanted to incorporate it into my next visit to British Columbia, as a trip to Romania proper is a bit more involved than taking an afternoon jaunt across the border. A chimney cake is made of yeast dough which is wrapped in a spiral around a wooden dowel and baked, similarly to meat on a spit. As it rotates, it’s basted with butter until the sugary outside caramelizes into thin, golden, crackle-y perfection, which can be further augmented by rolling it in other toppings like chopped nuts. When it’s served hot, steam vents out the top like a little chimney and it’s charming as all get out.

There are two (one, two, ah ha ha ha) bakeries in Vancouver that make chimney cakes: Transylvanian Traditions, and The Kürtősh Cafe. Of course, I had to go to both. First up was Transylvanian Traditions. Transylvanian Traditions makes a variety of pastries including the chimney cake, and the chimney cake is offered in only one flavor.  When I arrived, I got one hot and fresh from the oven, steam merrily venting from the top. The cake is a revelation–soft and chewy toward the center, crisp on the outside, tangy with lemon, and light like a raised doughnut.

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The Kürtősh Cafe is the newer of the two bakeries, and they specialize solely in chimney cakes, offering it in a wide variety of sizes, flavors, and combinations, including savory cakes and cakes smeared with nutella and stuffed with ice cream. Jason got a chimney cake with nutella and almonds, Tristan got a cinnamon sugar chimney cake, and I got a half size coconut matcha chimney cake. The cakes are beautiful and well presented…but just not that good. All three of the cakes were cold, a sign on the cafe’s table proclaims that they use no butter in the cake, and between those two things, you end up with a cake where the outside is chewy rather than crispy, more like the outside of a bagel. None of us were really taken by any of them, which was really a disappointment, because I never want to say anything negative about a cake. I’d be open to trying them again closer to when they open in the morning in the hopes of getting a hot cake for a fair comparison.

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So basically what I’m saying is, like blood, you want it hot and fresh.

claudia

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