Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mad Scientist Halloween Set Up Walk-Through

You're about to see the lengths to which I will go for badass Halloween setups.  The fun part?  This is only the beginning, it's going to get even better over time as I add things and change them up.  So here's a bit of background on the overall plan.

For the Mad Scientist Lab I combined a few different types of elements.  Old school science labs met with a touch of modern outbreak movie and a dash of classic monster movie with a bit scifi to hold it all together.  Putting that many disparate things into one layout could very easily have looked a mess.  In that respect I'm very lucky that I've spent most of my adult life working in various types of labs.  In academia it isn't uncommon for foundations and universities to expand programs to the point where they need new buildings and sometimes those new buildings are built next to and connected to the old building.  All you need is some obvious partitioning and off you go.

Anyway, welcome one and all to my Mad Scientist Lab!

Once inside you're greeted by the eye-following scientist portraits.  The rest of the lab isn't visible owing to all the partitions.  It was a neat idea but there were two things I hadn't counted on.  1) the cats HATED the partitions but were insanely curious about the hallway (coming up) and 2) all the sheet plastic played cruddy-buggers with my thermostat.  It was fun to have up, and the effect was amazing, but it was also the first to come down.

The rope lights turned out to be a lot more useful than I had expected.  I replaced the ceiling lights with black lights and I always forget that those don't give off a ton of light unless they're in a small area.  Without the rope lights I'm not sure people would have been able to see to get in the door.

Going into the living room you see the 'office' like space where most of the props went.

The lighting went a little squirrely on me but it turned out well in the end.  The original plan was to black light the whole living room.  Well, it wasn't until it was dark out (about 30 minutes before people started showing up) that I found out how little light there was.  Thankfully I have a cupboard full of lights and was able to grab a green bulb that really helped. I also added a liberal dose of LED lights.  They may be tiny but they put off a ton of light.

And now, my favorite part.  The food!  

Here's a rundown on the food.  There are brains (roasted cauliflower), eyes (lychees stuffed with raspberry jam and a blueberry), skin culture media (broccoli mouselline), urine (cocktails with pineapple juice, apricot brandy, and bourbon), liver (heavily modified rum cake), heart cultures (strawberries in a balsamic reduction), and ears (cocktail shrimps).  There were also bones (pretzels) and sheets of skin (meat tray).  They're what's on either side of the meat head.

The eyes and the liver turned out really well, I think.  Amazingly they went over really well too.  For once people actually made a dent in the food!

And let us not forget the crown jewel of the table.  The meathead!  It's a layer of cream cheese spread on a head form and layered with prosciutto.

Now, had you turned the other way at the entrance you would have seen this.  It really is amazing what you can do with a bit of sheet plastic.

Entering the decontamination center (aka, the bathroom).

Complete with safety shower and creepy skull to watch you pee.

Again with the black light everywhere.  I borrowed from last year's bathroom setup and repeated the lights under the vanity.  Those little LEDs are really great for adding themed light into a room.

But, from the decontamination center you can go no further.  That area is restricted access.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Super Cheap Heart in a Jar

The problem with being overly ambitious when it comes to decorating is the last few weeks.  That's when you realize exactly how much there is left to do and how little time you have to do it all in.  It's also why I start making things so early, not that it seems to cut down on the deadline rush.  I've got a much bigger project that I'm working on as well but wanted to get this one up since it's really easy.  Just a heads up to those who may be interested, because of how hectic this week is going to be I won't be putting up more patterns until November.  I've not had time to work on yarn stuff  with all the Halloween shenanigans going on.

Here we have one of my dollar store treasures.  I still can't believe how good a heart this is for a buck.  Even with the seams on it it's still a pretty good heart.  Well, except that it doesn't look as nice as it might.

The solution to the problem was a blue sharpie.  I would have gone to town on it with a red sharpie too, had I been able to find it.  I have a ton of sharpies scattered through my house and somehow I can never find the one I want.  It was a total accident that I found the blue one but it certainly made life easier.  A few minutes with it and what a difference!

It doesn't have to take a lot to improve on a prop.  Just a tiny bit of detail work can go a long way. I had a nice, big salsa jar that the heart would fit in perfectly.  A bit of black spray paint on the lid (or you can use regular black paint, I happened to have a bunch of spray paint leftover from the door so that's what I used) and you have a nice specimen jar.  Pop in the heart, add a bit of fake blood (I wait until the after Halloween sales and buy up a few pints of blood on clearance, it's good to have around and the clearance price is usually half off) and voila!  Heart in a jar.

Quick, simple, and cheap.  The heart was $1 and the jug o' blood I think I got for $2 on sale.  You could also use a fake blood recipe, too.  I wouldn't recommend one that's sugar based unless you want a microbiology experiment later on but the stuff that Allan Hopps uses would work great.  His fake blood recipe is based on glue, so is his gore recipe, and either of those would work great long term if you left the lid off long enough for it to dry.  I suspect the store bought blood is going to mold on me eventually but again, it's what I had on hand so I used it.  I did leave the jar open for a few days to let some of the blood dry on the heart but that didn't work as nicely as expected.  I think if I were to redo this prop I would probably dip the heart in a bowl of the blood and then let it dry or pour the blood over the heart when it wasn't in the jar and let it dry that way.  Doing it that way likely would have gotten better coverage but it would have taken longer too since it would need multiple layers to make it look neat.  As it is, it's kinda fun to be able to play with; almost all the blood pooled in the bottom of the jar so you can shake it and treat it like a horrible mockery of a snow globe.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Always Watching. Watching and Judging...

Well, I suppose it happens to everybody at some point.  I have found a line that I've decided I will not cross when it comes to making props.  I was perusing Instructables, their Halloween section is awesome, and I found the most amazing conjoined mouse prop.  The level of detail was absolutely astonishing so I took a look at how it was made.  I'll tell you one thing right now, it's a damn good thing I'm not terribly squeamish because that prop was actually made with real mice.  That's right, it's a prop that requires taxidermy (there's an Instructable for that, apparently).  I still think it was an awesome idea but keeping dead mammals around has never really made sense to me.  Insects and spiders don't bother me at all, neither do bones or various bodily fluids but there's something about having a stuffed once alive animal that I'm not terribly fond of.  I'm not a big fan of cemeteries either; there's no way you can walk around in them without walking on someone and that's always seemed rather rude to me.

Long story short, I'm not sure I could bring myself to make anything that required me doing taxidermy so don't worry, I'm not going to be detailing adventures with mice.  I did find an Instructable that I wanted to do and that would be feasible in the rapidly diminishing amount of time I have left.  I found it by following a series of links, starting with Propnomicon and ending with She Creates Stuff.  The lady at She Creates Stuff has a number of really good ideas and it makes me rather sad that she doesn't seem to be posting anymore.  Her last post was 10 months ago so unless she's worse about keeping up than I am (which is possible) she may not be working on her blog anymore.  I'll try to remember how disappointing it is to find an awesome blog and then find that a blogger isn't blogging anymore.  Maybe it will help me stop being so freaking lazy.  Anyway, on to the Instructable!!

The project is to make a picture that has eyes which follow you no matter where you stand.  Pretty cool.  I love photographic optical illusions.  I already knew how to take pictures where the subject appeared to be watching those who looked at the photo.  It's easy, if you want the following illusion in a painting whatever is to follow observers has to be pointed straight ahead.  I saw a painting in a museum once that featured a cowboy on horseback and the muzzle of his gun was what followed observers, it was pretty trippy.  It's the same for eyes.  The trick if you're in a photo (or taking a picture of someone) and you want the eyes to follow the observer is to get the photographee to look directly at the camera lens.  There really isn't much to it (and it's an amusing way to freak people out when they start looking over their photos).  But this Instructable gave a different option.  You don't have to use a picture where the subject is already positioned to complete the illusion, you can make normal portrait do the illusion with a bit of extra work.

For all the details check out the Instructable, I'm just going to tell you about what I did without all the extra instruction. As I'm going with the Mad Scientist theme this year, what better to use for portraits than actual and important scientists?  A quick Google Image search turned up plenty of options for each scientist I looked up.  Being a nerd and a scientist myself I had a hard time limiting who I used.  In the end I mostly picked people that were important to microbiology and genetics plus a few favorites.  I had wanted to do a bunch of these but in the end I was limited by how many frames I was able to get from my mom (5 matching frames pillaged from the old family photo wall) and then by a traitorous printer ink cartridge that gave out on me before I could do the 5th picture. That took me down to only being able to use 4 scientists which made me incredibly sad.  There were a bunch of awesome people that I had to leave out and picking them was really hard. 

Then I found out exactly how creepy it is to cut the eyes out of pictures of people you admire (it's part of how the illusion works).  You get a sudden wave of understanding for the use of eyeless photos in horror movies.  It takes a lot of precision to make cuts that don't totally disfigure the image which means giving it lots of attention.  I now sincerely believe you would have to be seriously messed up to want to cut the eyes out of photographs for anything other than props.  I equally believe that having some eyeless black and white photos around would make for some of the creepiest props ever and so I will probably have to do something like this again.  I'll tell you right now I am not looking forward to it.  While I am ridiculously paranoid I don't creep out easily.  Gore and body parts have never bothered me, I've done enough dissections to know that, and it takes more than sudden startling movements to really make my skin crawl.  Consequently haunted houses and scary movies are quite fun for me as I can take the time to study how they put everything together.  The psychology behind fear is really interesting and the methods of exploiting it are more so.  It takes something truly spectacular with a certain level of plausibility to really get to me and I absolutely adore the few films that have managed it.  I tell you this not to boast or brag but rather so you understand the magnitude of the experience when I tell you that removing the eyes from Marie Curie and Nikola Tesla has got to be, by far, the most disturbing thing I've ever done.  I'm honestly not sure I would have been OK with it had I not known that the portraits would once again have eyes for the illusion.  It really is that freaky to do.

Once everything was cut out and layered the freaky factor went way down and the coolness factor went up quite a bit.  I'm really happy with the end result which looks better in person.  My camera does a good job with most things but this one was a bit hard for it. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

DIY Mad Scientist Lab Wall Art

Today is a bonus post day!  I've had so much Halloween stuff going on that I decided the best way to keep sharing it and patterns was to do two posts today.  This probably won't be a regular occurrence but, as I'm trying really hard not to neglect the yarn crafting, it's probably going to happen from time to time.  Plus this is an awesome DIY and there is still time to try it out before Halloween gets here.

I was all ready to start sketching out some diagrams and whatnot with which to decorate the walls for my Mad Scientist Lab setup when I had to go digging for a craft book.  I don't recall if I ever found said craft book because all other thoughts were swept away in the euphoria of another discovery.  I found The Body Book on one of my shelves of random reference material and it totally changed the game.  The Body Book is a teachers book by Scholastic and it is chock full of good sized reproducibles which can then be cut out and assembled.  You can build a 40(ish) inch skeleton with this book and fill it with proportional organs.  How cool is that?

Initially, I was just going to assemble one body form.  So, I got all the bits copied onto some card stock and cut out and started playing with it.  Oh, and just FYI don't EVER cut out things directly from this type of book; if you mess up or need more pieces there is no going back if the book is all cut up.  Card stock is pretty cheap, I think I got mine for like $2 at Big Lots.  It wasn't a full ream, but I would rather spend a couple bucks here and there and be able to make a ton of pieces than have to buy another $12-$14 book which wouldn't even give a whole set.  They have print on both sides of the pages so you wold actually need 2 books to make a full body if you cut up the book.  Books that have reproducibles are generally made to be taken apart and copied.  So do that, it's better.

The awesome part was looking at all the pages of stuff to cut out and knowing that I didn't have to use scissors.  I hated having to cut things out when I was younger.  It always got really frustrating when I didn't have the motor skills to cut things out as nicely as I would have liked.  Plus there are always those little burrs from where the cutting out didn't work quite as well as it should, and the creases where you'd have to bend something, and the over cut slices when you slipped.  Gods but I 'm glad I don't have to do it that way anymore.  I'm a big girl now and that means I could (and did) go to town on my pages with an x-acto knife.  I do love my x-acto knife.  It does good work and, if you hadn't noticed by now, I use it for everything.  All my pieces have nice smooth edges and I was able to cut out more pieces than would have been easily possible with scissors.  A small thing, I know, but what a huge difference it made for the ribcage! 

The parts I was cutting out here aren't actually meant to be cut out, but I really like the effect.
After doing a rough assembly I realized that a number of organs get obscured in the total body build, which isn't quite what I was after.  It's also the reason you don't cut up the book.  I decided the best way to proceed was to make a full body and then make sections for the major body systems.  Then I could mount and frame the sections and make it more like a set of instructional diagrams.  Since the stereotypical mad scientist does monstrous things to the human body,  like in Frankenstein and the Hands of Orlac to name a few, this seemed like a really good idea.

Take a look at what you have to deal with.  You have your roughly assembled skeleton and that massive group of organs to squeeze in.  In an actual body that isn't a problem since it isn't like people can see in anyway.  For the prop, though, I wanted the majority of the organs to be visible.  The urinary system was the biggest problem.  There was just no good way to keep the kidneys from blocking other parts or being blocked themselves.  That rough out of the organs wasn't even to proper scale; there isn't that much room between the liver/pancreas and the intestines.  Even so you still can't see the stomach.  Much arghs.

If you're looking for something that will let you build a model body, The Body Book is the way to go.  My one complaint is that they only have one unit on muscles and it's more of an activity section so you can't actually cover a portion of the body with muscle.  I did hunt for a similar type book that would let me do the muscle thing but I had no luck.  It was the same story when I went looking for books with animal anatomy. How cool would it have been to have skeletons for frogs, cats, dogs, etc along side the human one?  Not to mention what I could have done by combining them.  Unfortunately, I could find a lot of books about anatomy and the musculoskeletal system but none of them had diagrams that would work.

It had never occurred to me to use educational materials for prop sources before.  I'm not sure why it took me so long to figure that out.  My mom was a teacher and we have all kinds of random stuff around.  I am now a big fan of the reproducible books because you can get so much use out of them and they really help keep costs down.  Finding ones that do what you want is a little trickier.  You can't always get a "look inside" page view and the level of detail and size of the parts varies widely.  I would love to use a proper anatomy textbook for images, but most of the images are either too small or so highly detailed that the copier would have trouble with them.  Since I don't really need heavy details the more simple children's books are better.  Proper anatomy would be nice, but for a decoration I think it is far more important that my guests be able to look at something and immediately know what it is.

It took a while to get all the bits cut out but that was mostly because I was going pretty slowly to make sure I didn't make a mistake.  Once everything was cut out I got some pastels and did some light color work on the pieces.  I didn't do any heavy coloring on them for the simple reason that you always get awkward lines and spots on things when color lines overlap and it looks awful.  I stuck to simple outlining and smudging to somewhat fill in the rest.  If you're artistic about your smudging it can give your organs a bit more depth.

During the process I decided that I needed a few more copies (again, this is why you don't cut on the book) so that I could have a whole diagram and then diagrams of individual systems.  There were three reasons for this.  First, I'm a nerd and I like scientific renderings, diagrams, and what have you.  Secondly, because I'm a nerd it really annoyed me that I couldn't see everything easily (and the urinary system didn't fit at all!) when the whole body was assembled.  And third, and possibly most important of all my reasons, just having one thing on the wall would have looked very, very sad.  Why just have a body when you could have a body, a skeleton, the digestive system, the excretory system, an eye, the cardiopulmonary system, and a diagram of the layers of the skin?  Yes, it was more work to do but the great thing about this particular prop is that it only cost me the paper.  I already had everything else I needed for it.

There was a considerable amount of time between when I started working on these diagrams and when I finally had them all done.  I wanted to wait until I had pictures of everything that I did from that book.  Why?  Because it shows just how much you can do even if you have a really limited budget.  Yes, the book is a larger expense than just getting the paper.  Since I already had the book I was able to do all of this for about $2.  That's how much the paper cost me.  The book can currently be procured for about $13 but it gives you almost unlimited prop pieces.  I will never need to buy paper skeleton decorations ever again; they're just a photocopy away!

Of course, just hanging up stuff on the wall is boring and no fun.  How lucky for me that my mom had a photo studio a long time ago and therefore knows how to do things like mat out photos and such.  Turns out she had some mat board that she didn't need and that she would let me have.  That and a spray can of photo adhesive and I went nuts.  You could just as easily mount the body parts on colored poster board but I highly recommend you use a spray adhesive, instead of the standard Elmer's type glue, to do so.  If you use normal glue it makes the paper warp and ripple and that doesn't always resolve when it dries.  Spray adhesive has a huge advantage in that it has very little moisture in it and so takes almost no time to dry and it won't warp the paper.

Not too shabby, if I do say so myself!

Bright Contrast Lacy Hat

Well, it looks like I've found a way to combine my hobbies again.  Life would probably be easier if I had fewer hobbies but I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen.  I enjoy far to many things to ever try to choose between them.  Overlapping them, though, that can get interesting.  I just discovered that I do some of my most creative crafting while watching horror movies.  I'm not certain if it's just because I'm often watching horror movies or if it's something about the genre that does it but some of my favorite projects happened while I was watching darker films.  The odd thing is that none of my more macabre projects were made in relation to a horror film; my horror projects tend to be quite normal.  My Favorite Scarf is rather different but it isn't gruesome or Halloween-ish at all and I made it while watching The Crow.  Comparatively, I think I came up with the idea for the Blood Scarf over lunch one day.  There really is no telling what's going on in the dark recesses of my brain at any given moment.

I think what probably happens is that I pay more attention to horror/suspense movies than I do to other types of movie.  If you aren't watching carefully you can miss something important or a good shock moment.  Having to pay extra attention means that my options for other things to do while watching the movie is pretty limited (I simply cannot sit still while watching movies or TV, I have to have something else to do or I get bored).  The one thing I can do without having to pay much attention to it is crochet.  For whatever reason my fingers can keep doing what they're doing while I pay attention to something else.  

I guess the point of the whole story is that I recently purchased a large quantity of horror flicks to add to my collection (I'm up to 78 films that qualify, if you count some of the cute ones like Hocus Pocus).  As I intend to watch as many of the 40ish new films (plus what I have scheduled to DVR) before Halloween we'll get to see if my theory holds water or not.  If I'm right I ought to have a bunch of new things to put up.

The pattern I have for you today I came up with while I was watching The Fog.   It has no relation to anything in the movie, it's just what came off my hook while I was absorbed with watching.  I had never seen The Fog before and that kept my fingers steadily stitching along.  Hmm, maybe that's the link.  It may be movies that I've never seen or have seen very infrequently that do it.  Testing that should be stupidly easy and incredibly enjoyable.  There are a great number of horror flicks from the 70's and 80's that I've never seen as I was far to young for them at the time.  For instance, I've never seen Nightmare on Elm Street, it's many sequels, or any of the Halloween movies.  I'll just have to sit down with a big sack of yarn and some hooks and alternate the nights where I watch new movies with nights where I watch my old standbys like Hannibal and From Hell.  Oh yeah, this should be fun!

Bright Contrast Lacy Hat
Fits a 22 inch head


50g (about 165 yards) of Red Heart Designer Sport, about 25g each color for a 2 color hat

Gauge: The first three rounds should be about 3 inches in diameter

A few notes on this pattern.  I did not designate a "color A" or "color B" for this project, mostly because I'm lazy and it made writing the pattern easier not to have to have to add that to it.  Also, since I was only alternating colors it seemed silly to specify.  You could use as many colors as you want, really.  I happened to like just using the two I did for contrast purposes.

Round 1:  Ch 2, 8sc in first chain. Join and turn.
Round 2:  Ch4 (counts as first dc and ch 2 throughout) then 1 dc, ch2 in each stitch around.  Join final ch 2 to the second chain of the first ch 4.  Turn.
Round 3:  Ch4, (dc, ch2) around in both the ch2 spaces of the previous round and in the tops of the dc's, join and break off.
Round 4:  Join your new color and sc around, 2 sc in each ch2 space and 1sc in the top of the dc.  Join and turn. 
Round 5:  Ch 4, skip 1, (dc, ch2, skip 1) around . Join and turn.
Round 6:  Repeat round 3, including the break off.
Rounds 7:  Repeat Round 4.
Round 8:   Repeat Round  5 skipping 2 sts instead of 1.  Round 9:  Ch 4, (dc, ch2) in each dc around.  Join and break yarn.
Rounds 10-12, 13-15, and 16-18: Repeat rounds 7-9
Round 19:  Repeat Round 4.
Round 20:  Work 1 stitch sc decreases all the way around.  Join and turn.
Round 21-22:  C1, (sc, ch1) around.  Join and turn.  Break yarn after Round 21.
Round 23-24:  Join the second color and work as for rounds 20-21.  Break off, weave ends.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Crochet Sampler Winter Headband

With the nasty cold weather slowly abating I figured I would use the temporary warm weather to make some things for the next cold snap.  I know there will be one, I have no idea when but I have no doubt that it will happen.  When it does I want to be prepared with a new variety of warm things.  Today, that project is a nice, warm headband.  I have massive problems with ears getting cold and since my first attempt at an ear warming headband worked so well I decided to try making more.

As I often do, I took a peek online to see what kinds of headbands already exist and I met the usual problem.  Boring!  So very boring!  I swear, headbands are as bad as scarves.  They're all just glorified rectangles.  Admittedly, some headbands had little flowery things that you could make and put on them but that doesn't change the headband from being a rectangle with its ends sewn together.

People are always amazed at how fast I crochet. There is a reason for the speed.  In my house you have to be fast or you get 'help' with the yarn.

This is attempt number one on my quest to make headbands more interesting.  I quite like how it turned out.  It's like a crochet sampler.  There is a little bit of everything in the construction; color work, rounds, single and double crochet, chains, clusters...I even almost put in a join as you go section but thought that might be a bit much. In my usual style there is very little sewing involved and it only took a little over an hour to make the headband, counting the design process, so you can turn them out pretty quickly if you need to.

 Crochet Sampler Winter Headband


2 colors of Vanna's Choice, about 50 yards total.

Gauge- 5 sc in 1 1/2 inches, 4 rows is just over 1 inch.

Ear Disks, make 2.  They should be 3 inches in diameter

With color A chain 1
Round 1:  5 sc in chain 1, join and turn. (5sts)
Round 2:  Ch 1, 2 sc in each stitch around. Join and turn. (10 sts)
Round 3:  Ch 1, (1 sc, 2 sc in next st) around.  Break off color A, join with color B, and turn. (15sts)
Round 4:  Ch 1, (sc 2, 2 sc in next st) around.  Break off color B, join with color A, and turn. (20 sts)
Round 5:  Ch 1, (sc 3, 2 sc in next st) around.  Join and turn. (25 sts)
Round 6:  Ch 1, (sc 4, 2 sc in next st) around.  Join and turn. (30 sts)
Break off

Upper Band, work once on each ear disk

Join color B to the edge of the disk.
Row 1:  Chain 2, 2 dc in the joining stitch, ch 1, 3 dc in the same stitch.  Skip 3 sts, (3dc, ch1, 3dc) in the next stitch.  Turn (2 clusters)
Row 2-6:  Sl st over to the chain 1, (ch 2, 2 dc, ch 1, 3 dc).  In the next ch 1 space (3 dc, ch 1, 3 dc).

Joining Halves
Attach color A to a disk 1 st away from the color B cluster. Ch2, sl st in the point of the first cluster.  Continue with ch 2, sl st along the whole edge until you reach the last sl st.  Then sl st in the first cluster point on the second piece and resume the ch 2, sl st pattern making the final sl st on the other ear disk 1 st away from the the color B cluster.

Ch 1 and sc over each stitch back to the other ear disk and break off.  Repeat for the other side.

Back Band, work on each ear disk.

Count 10 stitches from the edging join and join color B.
Working toward the other edging join, ch 1 (counts as sc)  and work 4 sc.  Turn.
Work 10 more rows in even sc over 5 sts and break off.

Sew the back band ends together using the yarn tails from the break off.  Again, using the yarn tails from the break off, sew the ends of the upper bands together leaving a gap in the center.  Weave in ends.