Beauty & the Beast Bookookies

Britta and her Beauty & the Beast BookookiesFrom November 2010 to September 2011 I was buying new hardware and setting up the new BrittaBlvd.com site, so there is a large gap for all my Cinema Brittahytta summer movies that year! Since the new Beauty & the Beast live action remake is almost here, it seemed a good time to catch up with details about when I showed the original Best-Picture nominated animated masterpiece in June 2011, especially my Beauty & the Beast Bookookies!

Closeup of the Beauty & the Beast BookookiesMy Beauty & the Beast movie night was when I originally had the concept of Bookookies that later appeared as my Caroling Cookies for Christmas. My inspiration was the opening story told along with gorgeous stained glass panels, so I transcribed the relevant phrases from the movie and sketched my own smaller versions of the matching stained glass images that could stand the limits of piping and food-coloring pen resolution. That determined the size of each large cookie.

Custom cookie cutters in processI could have cut the sugar cookie dough with a knife around a cardboard template, but I decided to make it easier on myself and make a custom cookie cutter out of copper pipe strap tape bent into shape then joined at the overlap using self-adhesive metal flashing tape. The holes in the copper strap make it a little tricky to Custom Bookookie cutter worked great!clean if your dough is too tall, but that usually isn’t a problem for me. These need to be handwashed of course, but I’ve made lots of custom cookie cutters this way over the years, including life-size Mardi Gras Mask Cookies!

Flood coat of royal icing as smooth as possibleAfter the cookies were baked and cooled completely, I spread a flood coat of white royal icing that dried overnight so the books would be as smooth as possible for drawing and lettering such details. I didn’t get my first edible printer until October 2011, so these original Bookookies were all hand-drawn and hand-lettered, sadly messier than I hoped since I was trying to make the book page curve without any guidelines to spoil my nice smooth white royal icing surface. I drew all the black stained Piping black royal icing between the color blocks of the stained glass designsglass lead lines and lettering with a food coloring pen first, then I went over the color block outlines with a thin bead of black royal icing, which also needed to dry overnight before I could continue.

Once the black royal icing was dry, I used the small tubes of gel frosting plus custom-tinted Adding the stained glass gel frostings and final edge details to the Beauty & the Beast Bookookiesclear piping gel to have a full assortment of colors for the stained glass effect. I waited until after all the gel was finished before using food coloring pens to draw the page edges and the purple book cover edge. Even though the gel tubes were small, I still needed to use toothpicks to get into the corners and the fine detail areas! You also cannot spread the gel around too much across any black lines or it will re-moisten the black food pen and smear black into the gel. The other drawback is the gel frostings never dry, so you cannot stack these cookies for storage or they will stick together and ruin the Patio table display for Beauty & the Beast, including my brass candlestick, a small clock, teacup and teapot as you-know-whodesigns. However they did give a beautiful effect, enough that my friends lectured me on making edible art that is too much work so they felt too guilty eating them! ;)

I also decorated my patio table using my brass candleabra, a small clock, teacup and teapot Glass cloche over a real red rose from my garden that happened to drop petals during the partyas you-know-who, a glass cloche over real red rose from my garden, that happened to drop a perfect amount of petals during the party, plus I displayed some Disney collectibles and my Disneyland photo with the Beast by the Cinema Brittahytta movie clapboard sign.

Disney collectibles and my Beast photo by the clapboard sign

It was a fun night with a simple backyard barbeque menu, 10 adults, one kid and one dog. We had at least one viewer who had never seen the movie before, and he enjoyed it enough that we have reserved seats for opening night of the new movie version this week!

 

Click below to view all the photos of the party, including closeups of all six designs of the Beauty & the Beast Bookookies!

 
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Vintage Outdoorsman Birthday Cake

Vintage Outdoorsman Cake for Dad's 70th Birthday!My mom had her milestone birthday last year with the number included but not advertised on the Delicious Daisies Cake, and this year was my dad’s turn! Since I sculpted him six realistic silver salmon for his 60th birthday cake, my mom & I brainstormed how to include some of his other hobbies as this Vintage Outdoorsman Cake, with an antique wicker fishing creel and vintage wood duck decoys surrounded by cut wafer paper duck blind grass saying “Happy 70th Birthday, Gary!” in “platinum” to celebrate 70 years!

My first step was measuring the cake size so I knew my canvas size to sculpt the wicker fishing creel and duck decoys, plus how large to make the digital artwork to use my edible printer with wafer paper for the duck blind grass and birthday message. My dad requested Actual duck blind grassGerman chocolate cake, which has delicious nutty caramel coconut frosting, but tricky texture to decorate! My plan was to wrap the frosted cake in plastic wrap and use the springform rings around the plastic wrap to hold the gooey frosting in place for transit, then add the duck blind grass very last. I measured the ring circumference which was about 23″, then designed the birthday message to be about 17″ long Edible wafer paper duck blind grass with platinum birthday messageby 2″ high on 3.5″-4″ grass, with extra pages of plain grass printed to piece everything together around the full circumference. I know from experience the wafer paper curls fairly quickly in ambient moisture, but the duck blind grass should stand upright, so I planned to cut the grass texture but keep the wafer sheets flat until just before presenting the cake.

Mixing white chocolate and semi-sweet to make wood-colored modeling chocolateBefore I could start sculpting, I mixed up some modeling chocolate to be a base wood color, using a mix of white chocolate and semi-sweet baking chips, so I had to guess at how much corn Mixing white chocolate and semi-sweet to make wood-colored modeling chocolatesyrup to use since all the recipes are for specific chocolate ratios, not mixes between them. I also tried mixing a wicker color of modeling chocolate by adding a small amount of semi-sweet Wood-color and wicker-color modeling chocolatechips and a touch of yellow gel food coloring to the white chocolate chips. Modeling chocolate always needs to set in the fridge overnight as slabs covered in plastic wrap first, then it’s shelf-safe as long as kept in plastic.

I think the mix of different chocolates made my modeling chocolate more brittle than usual, since I couldn’t soften it enough just by kneading at room temperature. 30 seconds in the microwave was enough that I could knead the hot, almost gooey sections with the solid First round of sculpting with modeling chocolatesections into one consistent soft ball, then continue to sculpt for an hour or so before it got too solid again. I formed the basic duck decoy shapes while the modeling chocolate was very soft, then let them set with some folded wax paper and paper towel support so the tails and necks wouldn’t slump. It was extra tricky shaping the fishing creel base until the modeling chocolate firmed up a bit, Carving details into hardened modeling chocolateand setting overnight required folded wax paper support inside so it didn’t collapse on itself. After the creel was formed, the duck decoys were solid enough to hold their shape, then I was able to continue sculpting details, including woodgrain texture using a sewing pin and eyes stamped using a large piping tip.

Antique wooden duck decoyMy mom had sent me photos of the antique duck decoy hen and drake at their house, so I used them as models to paint my chocolate duck decoys. I wanted them to look aged, not freshly painted, so letting some of the base chocolate color show was intentional like the paint was wearing away. I’ve been Painting the chocolate duck decoysusing ChocoWhite plain on dark chocolate and fudge for a couple years now, but this was my first attempt at mixing colors with the ChocoWhite to make opaque chocolate paint…very nice to discover that my gel food colors worked great! I used black, black/brown, medium brown, yellow/brown, and teal, some mixed with ChocoWhite when needed, like the yellow beaks and teal heads of the drakes. I was very pleased how they turned out so much like the originals! Since I made three duck decoys, I painted the third as another drake since they are prettier. ;)

Adding the royal icing wicker patter on the fishing creelThe fishing creel still needed its wicker texture, but the white modeling chocolate was too chalky to roll thin enough for the wicker, so I mixed up some Not bad for piped wicker!royal icing, using yellow & brown gel color to tint the wicker color, then piped the woven pattern instead. That needed to dry overnight before I could add straps to the creel…and even though the darker modeling chocolate was fine for sculpting, I couldn’t roll it thin enough to be leather straps without it cracking, so thankfully I saved the leftover royal icing from the wicker, and it was light enough I could add enough brown and red gel food coloring for the correct leather color. My Vintage style wicker fishing creelribbon piping tip wasn’t quite as large as it should have been, Adding royal icing leather straps to the wicker fishing creelbut it ended up still looking quite similar to the original wicker creel hanging on my parents’ wall!

I used a devils food cake mix in my springform pans, but I made the nutty caramel coconut frosting from scratch using an online recipe since I couldn’t access my mom’s family recipe. Since the frosting is cooked on the stove, you need to wait until the frosting is completely cooled before frosting the cake, otherwise you have a melted mess falling off the cake. As soon as everything was cool enough, I frosted the cake on a cardboard round, then immediately covered with plastic wrap and used the open springform ring to hold the frosting in place for Frosted German Chocolate Cake locked in place for transittransit, and locked down the airtight plastic cake carrier in hopes it wouldn’t dry out between Thursday night to Saturday evening. The online frosting recipe (below) that was more opaque had 75% more evaporated milk and 2 extra eggs than the family recipe that was always more translucent. The birthday boy still liked it but my mom & I think we prefer the family recipe…that I now have in my files! ;)

Vintage Outdoorsman CakeCutting the wafer paper sheets was easy enough, since it was just chopping the edge randomly to look like the cut grass used to make duck blinds. Since the wafer paper curls in ambient moisture, I kept it flat between two magazines until I assembled the entire cake just before serving. I did need to use some royal icing to glue the overlapping seams, and it’s easier to use a table knife to hold the wafer paper flat while the royal icing dries instead of accidentally getting wet or sticky fingers stuck to the wafer paper. Adding the sculpted decorations on top was easy since everything fit just as expected…sure glad I measured well!

Happy 70th... ...70th Birthday... ...Birthday, Gary!
Since the birthday message wrapped around the whole cake, it required three photos to read it all, so I also made a 360-degree video:

…and here is the birthday boy blowing out his candles!

Cake #1 coming out with candles... Just after the lotus candle was blown out by my brother

Double Birthday CelebrationI found the Happy Birthday letter candles so put them around the front edge. It was also my brother’s birthday in two weeks so we celebrated double birthdays when I was in town. We used another silly spinning singing lotus candle like my mom’s birthday last year for my brother’s cake, but this one didn’t do the same closing trick…darn! I told my brother he’ll get a fancier cake when he turns 70! ;)

Hope you’ve enjoyed the Vintage Outdoorsman Cake as much as the birthday boy! You can keep reading to see the German chocolate frosting recipe including the differences from our family recipe…

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New Year’s Eve is Time for Cheese!

Cheese HourglassThis year we were invited to a New Year’s Eve housewarming potluck, so we decided to bring two forms of cheese edible art as Time for Cheese! One was a pastry brie decorated as a pocket watch Pastry Brie Pocket Watchapproaching midnight, and the other was Glen’s family cheese ball recipe formed into an hourglass with the chopped walnuts as the sand. Easy and tasty!

Making the Pastry Brie Pocket WatchI’ve been making my Baked Brie En Croute in different designs for over a decade, so since I knew the pastry would puff too much while baking, I used hash marks instead of small numbers, with slightly longer lines for 3, 6, 9 & 12. This time I used milk instead of egg wash, so it wasn’t as shiny, but it did brown nicely due to the protein. I had to add a couple toothpicks while baking so the winding stem wouldn’t fall off the side, but it worked out pretty well even after all the detail puffed!

Forming the cheese ball recipe into an hourglassGlen’s family cheese ball recipe made its first appearance at Halloween 2009 as the Jack O’ Lantern Cheese Ball Creepy Cuisine winner, and it even became the Gargantula this past Halloween. After mixing and chilling the cheese ball recipe in the fridge, Forming the cheese ball recipe into an hourglassit is easy enough to form into whatever shape you like, as long as you use plastic wrap to keep it from sticking to your hands. Once the shape is set, smooth the surface with a table knife, or a clean wet finger for these types of curves, then add the chopped walnuts in the pattern you like, Cheese Hourglass with Walnut Sandhere simulating an hourglass with the sand almost running out for the end of 2016. This design fit perfectly on a rectangular platter I had, and we tucked crackers along the sides for serving at the party.

We had a great time chomping & chatting all evening, playing Rock Band 4 with friends, toasting at East Coast midnight as well as West Coast midnight, and wearing our silly giant dollar-store hats & beads! Thanks to Cyd & Mike for hosting at their new house!

Happy New Year! Rock Band Panorama Rock Band selfie! Happy New Year West Coast!
Hope everyone has a Happy New Year with Time for Cheese!

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Christmas at the Castle

Hope everyone is having a happy holiday season! Since we finally had Castle Brittahytta weather-stable by Halloween, we left it up and decorated it for Christmas, including projected snowfall and dripping icicles!

For 2016, Castle Brittahytta was covered in snow and dripping icicles with lighted trees in every tower window, lighted wreath and garlands, the wishing well was frozen, and even all the dragons had festive hats! As you listen to a cappella carols by Cibo Cantabimus, follow the decorations inside to see how this castle decks the halls…

Castle Brittahytta was originally constructed for Halloween 2016, details here: http://brittablvd.com/blog/halloween/halloween-2016/

For more Christmas decor and recipes, see http://brittablvd.com/blog/tag/christmas-2/

Cibo Cantabimus is Britta Peterson, Stephanie Manansala, Tracia & Doug Barbieri, Jeff Ouye, and Louie Lee, singing together each Christmas since 1990! http://britta.com/music/Cibo/

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Halloween 2016 – The Party!

The Webmistress with her portraitWhew…another great Halloween party this year! The rain that had been threatening all week drizzled a little in the morning and the afternoon gusts of wind made it difficult for tablecloths, but the weather stayed clear for the party as the Webmistress hosted a Victorian Halloween, with most of the special spider-themed menu as planned, many clever and gorgeous costumes, and even small children loved my Waltz of the Spiders front show and enjoyed posing with and hugging Winnifred the Giant Tree spider, even if the jumping and shaking spiders along the front walkway were a bit scary for them. ;) I think The Webmistress with one of her "babies"we were 58 adults and 11 kids even though I think I might be missing some of the friends of friends…but from the amount of glassware I washed immediately afterwards and rushed to pick up outside the next morning as I heard the wind and rain starting again, that seems about right! This is definitely an example of the perfect quote for me: “I am thankful for the mess to clean up after a party because it means I have been surrounded by friends.” :) Thursday night party prep!Thanks to everyone who helped me celebrate my favorite holiday!

Thursday night was opening night for our front show the Waltz of the Spiders at Castle Brittahytta even though we stayed inside working on party food. It was drizzling constantly all evening but thankfully no wind, and everything still worked fine through the Backyard lightingadvertised showtimes as some friends & neighbors watched, but despite all our waterproofing efforts Canopy table lightingincluding investments in specialty outdoor boxes and taping the heck out of every exposed connection, by 11pm the front show circuit was down, and by 2:30am even the pathway electrical for all the jack o lanterns and the front webcam was down. This also meant that Glen couldn’t work on the backyard party lighting that night because it wasn’t safe to work with open power Small tables in the backyardcircuits in the rain. Thankfully Friday afternoon & evening was clear to get everything out Glen's backyard lighting worked so well!front working again by showtime, then Glen did a FANTASTIC job with the backyard lighting! He set up the purple beanbag spider with fun colors, enough lighting for playing the bean bag toss “cornhole” game to the side, and using my new paper lanterns with clamp lights and 100W CFL bulbs, under the canopies it was almost as bright as inside! We are definitely keeping that arrangement for future parties!

Inside food tableI wish I had been able to take more days off work, since by party week the only completed food were the Spiders of the Sea black rice crab cakes ready in the freezer and all the faces drawn on the Mandarin Jack O’Lanterns, but in the 3 days I did have, I finally caught up on food prep: 6 dozen hand-formed Sourdough Spiders, baked & piped 8 dozen Ginger Web Cookies, made 6 dozen Patio food tablePumpkin Pasties using the filling & pie dough I had prepped earlier, baked 7 dozen Ghoulish Gravestone cookies and Edible Medals for prizes, prepped 4 Slimy Spiders sculpted from cream cheese for green jalapeno jelly, prepped the Spiderweb Brie en Croute, and Glen and I finished his new recipe brainstorm Fal-Awful Arachnids!

I did pipe several dozen royal icing spiders and made cotton candy TWICE for Spooky Spiders in Wispy Webs after discovering my oldest cotton candy machine had finally given up the ghost after 15 years, but the seals on the spice jars were not as airtight as advertised, since Creepy Cuisine table in the backyardless than 24 hours all 48 bite-size butterscotch Wispy webs inside the jars had already melted from ambient air moisture. *sigh* I made more cotton candy the next day to keep in reserve in plastic bins, plus spun more webs on the bamboo picks, also saved in plastic in hopes of adding to the jars just before party time, but that recipe ended up cut for time, hoping no one noticed it was still listed on the menu board! Thank goodness I only spent free credit card points to buy the 48 spice jars. I thought I had finally solved how to serve cotton candy at a party but I was still foiled again…we’ll see what I can find by 2018 when the Webmistress hosts again…

The Gargantula Cheese Ball!Thankfully most of the special spider menu went reasonably well, including the hilarious and tasty Gargantula Cheese Ball, and those will be exclusive to the new Creepy Cuisine recipe collection book from Eerie Elegance, hopefully on sale by summer! However, as I finished the menu chalkboard on Friday night and it almost didn’t all fit, I agreed with Glen when he said “I think that’s too much food!” I usually have too many ideas than I can execute and expect some to be cut for time, which is one reason I wait until the end to write the Menu chalkboard with glass cauldron of Bobbing Apple Punchmenu chalkboard, but I was as prepared as possible for the make-ahead food, and I was hopeful for the last-minute fresh food. However, as it came down to crunch time with only Glen and me this year and no house-elves arriving early, the fresh fruit & veggies never happened, and the cheese plates, cookie plates, and apple slices with caramel dip barely happened only with gracious help from Keith & Doug when they arrived first.

I did have full my costume on before 7:30pm, but as I directed the last food being set out and let Cyd set up the lab experiment bottles, I insisted on using my new lighted test tube racks Glowing Ectoplasm Experiments!so I quickly poured green Powerade vs. green Gatorade into the test tubes, turned on the lights under the racks, and took some Ectoplasm Experiments photos! Then I finally socialized at my own party! :)

We were trying for Ogle the Owls and Ectoplasm Experiments as the party activities, but I knew the mix your own experiment hasn’t gotten much participation since it debuted in 2005, and even though I had quiz sheets ready on the coffeetable for Ogle the Owls, I ran out of time to verify what owls were out! People partied through the entire house, enjoyed the Watching the front show the Waltz of the Spiders at Castle Brittahyttabackyard couch seating areas and small food tables, played my new bean bag toss “cornhole” set, especially the kids, and roamed outside to watch the front show, then as people started trying to leave, I gathered them to the backyard to award the prizes…

We don’t always have Scariest Costumes, but this year the votes went to ghostly Jacob Marley complete with heavy chains and chin bandage (Nicholas), fancy Jack the Ripper with his stylish victim (Sean/Laura), and since I didn’t have a prize for Epic Hair, I gave Juanita a medal for Scariest Hair ;)
Scariest Costumes Jacob Marley and Jack the Ripper with his victimI didn't have an Epic Hair award so I gave Juanita Scariest Hair instead!

Most Creative Costume went to Melissa as a black & white photo even with gray makeup, Robin’s amazing spider braids with classy corset, and adorable seasonal fairies Winter Fairy Nola & Autumn Fairy Violet. I joked with Robin that I’ve lost count how many times she has won Most Creative Costume! ;)
Most Creative Costume Winners Melissa, Robin, Violet and NolaRobin's amazing spider braids! Definitely Most Creative Costume!

The Ultimate Costume category never disappoints! This year three groups went all out!

Star Wars Clan with Kaelyn as Padme, Karin as Leia, Ellie as Rey, Kevin as Kylo Ren, Alex as Obi Wan, and Nathania as Hana Solo
Ultimate Costume Star Wars Clan

The Barbieris arrived as the Edwardian-era Downtown Abbey Clan
Ultimate Costume: Barbieri Downton Abbey Clan

Last but not least was the Ghostbusters Family including Abby & Erin with inflatable proton packs (Annalise & Kira), clueless Kevin (Mike) and a glowing blue ghost (Angie)! I also insisted on taking a photo in the lab with the glowing Ectoplasm Experiments. ;)
Ultimate Costume Ghostbusters Family! Ultimate Costume Ghostbusters Family with glowing Ectoplasm Experiments
People were already leaving and I was requested to show Nola where all the owls really were, so no other prizes were awarded as a group, but I had seen some very clever Creepy Cuisine arrive, so I awarded prizes to those who hadn’t left yet, and have a couple saved Edible Medals for others who won in absentia:

Creepy Cuisine awarded individually: Mari’s Mum’s the Word mummy pizza pockets, Sheila’s Spider Deviled Eggs
Creepy Cuisine winner: Sheila's Spider Deviled Eggs

Creepy Cuisine in absentia: Robin’s Vampire Donuts, Ashlyn’s Beheaded Cauliflower buffalo style, Kian’s Zombie Balls pizza monkey bread
Creepy Cuisine winners in absentia: Robin's Vampire DonutsCreepy Cuisine winners in absentia: Ashlyn's Beheaded Cauliflower and Kian's Zombie Balls

After the prizes were awarded many of the early-night crowd left as they usually do, while the late-night people stayed to chat, including lighting the gas firepit on the patio for a little After-party around the gas firepit on the patiowhile, but I wasn’t able to join them. Even my traditional overnight guests had to get home for morning commitments this year, so Enjoying the outdoor furnitureall the guests had already left by midnight, very early for my Halloween parties, and no after-party for me to sit down and relax this year! I did get a couple of Sheila’s delicious deviled eggs and a couple cocktails so that was better than many past parties. ;) I put away the food and did the worst dishes, then pooped out around 3am. It did feel much better to get 6 hours of sleep rather than get up early to make brunch for guests, and we were able to relax on our free day with morning rain. As the sun came out again, Glen took a long nap while I retaped all the power connections in advance of the next sprinkles so we could run our front show again, then we headed out to look at other local Halloween home haunts for a change, which was fun!

The full photo gallery is included below for your viewing pleasure! I was extremely lucky the past few years with fantastic professional photographer Cat as a party guest, but she moved to Texas, so I am extremely thankful this year that Tracia, Sean, Robin, and Keith took photos to add to mine! Hope everyone had a Happy Halloween!

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Halloween 2016 – Waltz of the Spiders at Castle Brittahytta

Happy Halloween everyone! Tonight is the last chance to see our 2016 show live while The Webmistress Hosts a Victorian Halloween at Castle Brittahytta. Over 10,000 spiders emerge from the castle doors and crawl over the towers, ramparts and gravestones of Castle Brittahytta to an original musical soundtrack while the Ghostly Guardian watches over the castle as she has done for a thousand years. Here is the video in 4K for your viewing pleasure!

I hope everyone has a fantastic Halloween! My party photos from the weekend will be coming soon, so stay tuned!

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spider bling and other projects

Sewing custom kitty collars from silver web sheer black mesh fabricEven though getting the outside front show ready has been consuming the majority of my time until now, I’ve been able to crank through several small projects to add to my Victorian Halloween atmosphere, including elegant silver and black cat collars, custom pumpkin vines Onyx in his new spiderweb collarfor the graveyard, candle “costumes” and spider jewelry for servingware, candlesticks, and even for the Webmistress to wear herself!

My kitties don’t let me put costumes on them, but they will wear soft collars that stay out of their way. For my first black cat Kylie I found collars on sale at pet stores that were fun, but now since I have three black cats, I’d rather have them match, so I make them myself. The past few years Obsidian snoozing in his web collar on the plush web blanket...cozy!they’ve had a fun orange pumpkin and black cat pattern, but this year I found some very cool black mesh fabric with silver printed web pattern. Not only did I make myself a scarf just by cutting it (no hem Ebony in her new collar keeping one of the electronics boxes warmrequired!), but I made kitty collars AND a hair scrunchie for myself. The fabric is very soft and it looks fantastic on my kitties!

Later in September as we were cutting other projects for time, I thought I could add in some homemade pumpkin vines so I could use my papier-mache pumpkins around the graveyard. Painting veins and texture onto felt pumpkin leaves after the glue was dry for all the floral wireJust sitting in the graveyard didn’t make sense, but vines emerging from the grave of The Pumpkin Queen would be perfect! I’ve grown my own pumpkins several times, but fake vines I could put anywhere I wanted for future years to come. Before I drew my own leaf patterns, I did a quick online search and found several, so I Adding the wired & painted leaves to the sisal rope while painting the rope to match...messy!printed those as large as my paper would allow plus smaller sizes, cut out the templates, then traced around them onto scrap green felt I had in my fabric stash. I was cutting leaves forEVER, then I needed to glue green fabric-covered floral wire to them! All but the smallest leaves needed a curved crosspiece plus the long Curling the wire tail into the baby vine shape for the pumpkin leavesstem, and I left the stems plenty long, since I poked the wire through the sisal rope I was using as the vines, then I could curl the other end of the wire around a brush handle to make the curled baby vines. I also painted the leaf veins the same lighter green as the rope, which pumpkin vines in the graveyardwas very close to the wire color, but since the green felt was so vivid, I also dry brushed the lighter green over the entire leaf. They’re still too bright in the graveyard during daylight, but at night with the orange & color-changing lights, they look ok. I was only able to make three vines from the pumpkin leaves I cut, so I think every year we use these pumpkins, I’ll make another couple vines. Handstitching around the wire would make them rain-safe, and some fabric stiffener might make them even more realistic since they’re pretty floppy right now.

Ghoulish Glen Electrical Engineer hard at work hacking baby jack o' lanterns, replacing bulbs and power supplies...That’s not the only late brainstorm about pumpkins! We only have the single ghost in the tallest tower this year for story reasons, so that leaves the roof a bit boring and the other castle windows empty. I have 15 small battery jack o’lanterns, so I thought why not put them along the top of the castle walls and in the windows as forced perspective making the castle look taller? Six of Ghoulish Glen and the Ghostly Guardian watches over the jack o' lanterns in the windows and along the castle rampart wallsthe baby jackos were super-cheap dollar store purchases so long ago that they were blinking incandescent, not even LEDs, one was another incandescent found at Goodwill this year, then the other eight were I LOVE these jack o' lanterns peeking out the tower windows!from Target’s collection the past few years (but sadly Target had no jackos this year of any size!). We could have set them as-is, but that would require turning all the batteries on & off every night on the roof…so since we still had extra flicker LED pigtails already wired from our Halloween 2015 soldering partyEven a face in the far window behind the key lime tree!, I asked my resident electrical engineer to wire all the baby jackos to the roof power circuit. It took him a few days but they are now all wired together AND they all flicker brightly enough to see the faces through the gray sheet windows! I absolutely LOVE these!!!

The Webmistress is hosting a Victorian Halloween at Castle Brittahytta this year, so she deserves some new accessories. I’ve been drooling over the Victorian Trading Company catalog for years, so I finally splurged on this gorgeous spider jewelry and more using a free shipping offer! A pair of spider hair pins that are much larger than I expected, which is great since they should be noticed! The brooch has a couple colors I didn’t expect, and the bracelet is very large and more gold tones than expected, especially since the Webmistress’ color theme is black and silver.

Back in August I was browsing Etsy for a masculine swan pin for the Victorian family father to wear (separate post later, sorry!), and I came across a fabulous silver pocket watch with a giant spider on top! It would be even better on the other web case design, so I messaged the Love my new silver spiderweb pocket watch from Cogs And Gearsshop to ask. He was fine making it for me, but when I was ready to order a couple days later, his Etsy shop was down…ack! I was able to contact him, and he was just setting up a new shopify store, so I was his first shopify customer via PayPal. My items arrived last week and I absolutely LOVE them!

Super easy spider bling for curtainsSince I knew chances to use fancy spiders were coming, the past few years I’ve been buying interesting items, even if I didn’t have a concrete plan how to use them…like these “crystal” spiders I’ve Super easy spider bling for curtainsseen at several stores, even including Dollar Tree this year. I ended up with 4 that didn’t match, but I have four tassels for my Halloween curtains in the living room, so I thought the Super easy spider bling for curtainscrystal spiders could easily dress up those! I just bent the front legs to hook around the top of the tassel and they’ve stayed all month! This is probably a detail others might Super easy spider bling for curtainsnot notice, but I know it’s there. :)

Last Halloween I found a black square tier tray at a discount store that was missing a couple beaded drops, but obviously had potential to add my own spider bling! I also found a black beaded silver candlestick at a thriftstore half-off sale that was also screaming for spiders! Silver candlestick and black tier tray before spider bling...Before Halloween Shopping Weekend I was able to quickly add some spider bling to some thriftstore items to make them more the Webmistress’ Victorian style. It’s a much faster project by already having silver Black tier tray after adding spider bling!spider charms, beading wire, and a bevy of beads in my crafting stash! Now I need more silver spider charms so some are coming from China via Amazon free points, but Silver candlestick spider bling!arriving probably too late for me this year, so stay tuned for more spider bling when the Webmistress’ party returns in 2018… ;)

Covering pillar candles in sheer web fabric "costumes"Speaking of candles, I had converted four pillar LED flicker pillar candles to sit over the spiked sconces years ago, but they are just plain black. I took the same silver web mesh fabric I used for my new kitty collars and taped it around the black pillar candles to make them extra fancy. This makes Pillar candle "costumes" of silver webs on sheer black mesh fabricthem stand out even more, since the black candles against the dark iron finish of the metal sconces blended in a bit. I used the same removable poster tape that I use to attach my flagstone gossamer to my painted inside walls, so I can remove the web fabric and have plain black candles again for future Halloweens if I have a theme where the web design won’t fit.

More candle "costumes" from cheap translucent web tablecloths!I was gifted a couple gorgeous carved black gothic candelabras, but putting my black candles in them all blended too much together. I found long white taper LED flicker candles at Dollar Tree, but that same black mesh fabric didn’t work on white candles. However, a cheap More candle "costumes" from cheap translucent web tablecloths!translucent web pattern tablecloth was absolutely perfect! Now not only are these candles “costumed” much more in the Webmistress’ style, but I can remove the tape and have white candles again for other occasions!

Dressing up a lantern with more cheap web tableclothI have several candle lanterns of various sizes, and I had a different plan for them but am running out of time (maybe for 2018?), so I used the same cheap web tablecloth (seriously, I’m still cutting up ONE tablecloth for all these projects so far!) to line the windows of this lantern using clear removable poster tape. It’s just the right opacity for the flicker LED tealight to glow without showing the fake candle inside…perfect!

making my Eerily Elegant Victorian spider wreathI really wanted a fancy spider front door wreath with as much Victorian style as possible, so I bought a bunch of ribbon on clearance from Michaels last year. I also splurged on the albino spider battery light string from Pottery Barn since I expected so much of the wreath would be black so you would have trouble seeing black spiders. I wanted to make this early in the summer, but everything got too busy, so I didn’t start it until 4 days before my party…ack! The large sheer silver net ribbon was wrapped with a black layer to show the pattern, so I had to spray the pressed white foam wreath form before I covered with the silver web ribbon. I used a whole roll of the white spider wired ribbon to make a Closeup of my Victorian spider wreathlarge triple bow wrapped around, plus some thin stripy black & silver looped several times to hang in the middle. Some black and dark purple roses from Dollar Tree added some Spider Front PorchVictorian flavor, then I arranged the albino spider lights before hotgluing almost an entire sandwich bag of bulk plastic spiders! It looks perfect on my front porch between the giant shaking spider in its huge web, web doormat, spiderweb wind chimes, and my black urn floral arrangement. I think this spider wreath might be the definition of Eerie Elegance! :)

New brass dragon door handles for the archway door!My patio archway door that has been in service about a decade now finally got an update! When I splurged on the dragons for the columns, I also found these brass dragon door handles cast from some original in Europe, but they don’t have latches so I coudln’t use them anywhere else in my house…but they fit perfectly on the archway door! I expect this may be another detail others may not notice, but I really like expanding the dragon theme. :)

Fabulous fringe added to the tiny web lampshade above the patio fridgeBack when the sheer purple with web-flocked fabric was available, I bought enough for matching living room curtain panels, pillow covers, a drape for the piano, front door moon window panel, a tiny lampshade cover for the little lamp above my patio fridge, and a big lampshade cover for my floor lamp in the living room. I had another lampshade I covered with Eerie Elegance Beware Adding fabulous fringe to my web lampshade coversthe Brocade but thought I should have all matching webs this year. However, I only have tiny scraps left and haven’t seen that sheer purple web fabric for sale in several years now…but I scrounged through my fabric stash, and I had just barely enough of my original sheer black web lace from the original Webmistress costume from 1999 to piece together a new lampshade cover for the Library Laboratory floor lamp! When Double fringe = extra Victorian opulence...I like it!the light is shining through, you can’t really tell the difference between the purple and the black anyway, so they fit together just fine. All this work was inspired because during Halloween Shopping Weekend this year I found a Just enough original black web lace from 1999 to make another lampshade cover WITH fabulous fringe!FABULOUS black fringe trim that I could not resist, so there was $50 AFTER coupon, but now I have extra opulent Victorian web lampshades now, worthy of this Webmistress! One even has double layers of purple and black fringe, which I didn’t expect to like, but I think it fits as over-the-top Victorian.

No time left for any more updates since my party is Saturday and I’m taking the next three days as vacation from work! My costume is ready, and the front show is all set with over 10,000 spiders crawling all over the castle and graveyard, but there is still a lot of food to make! Hope everyone enjoys their Halloween weekend and I’ll be back with more updates after it’s all over!

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Castle Brittahytta 4.0

Castle Brittahytta began as a secret project for Halloween 2011, reprised for the first Verdigris Saga year for Halloween 2012 and again for Halloween 1914 in 2014, so this year is our fourth version of the castle, with improvements added each time. After some strife earlier this September, I think we’re Castle Brittahytta 2016 finally done since we survived the rain this past weekend with lighting intact and only a minor glitch from some giant blustery wind. I still have some last final decorating touches to add, and the front projection show is still being edited, but here is Castle Brittahytta 4.0!

I was hoping for the castle to be up by the end of Labor Day weekend, but as we got the castle walls down from above my garden sheds, one piece of the tall tower was completely missing so needed to be made from scratch to fit, there was a lot of rat chewing damage to Glen hard at work cleaning castle walls from two years stored above my garden shedsrepair and repaint, plus the thin foam we used for the round towers in 2014 got too brittle during two years in outdoor storage to bend into shape again…so we had a lot more work to do! Glen brushed all the walls clean of all the dead leaves and blossoms and general crud, I cut, carved and Hard at work touching up the castle walls with matching paintpainted the replacement wall, then we both did all the touchup painting, including all the chewed white spots, and lightening the darkest stains to blend with the rest of the walls. Scary Jerry was able to help us hang the ramparts and corner towers on Sunday, but we were still redesigning the round towers and the support for the tall tower. Both of Ghoulish Glen & Scary Jerry helping hang the ramparts from the roof sidethem helped me sketch the curve for the new garage door archway, and convinced me just to buy new foam sheets instead of attempting to recycle really old pieces I had…heh!

The round tower spires I made umbrella-style from marine vinyl, wooden dowels and hula hoops rolled up nicely to stand in a corner inside my garden shed, but those hula hoops were Reinforcing the marine vinyl aged-copper-look round tower spirespressed paper and didn’t last the big 2014 storm season. During the year I had found plastic hula hoops the same size (and price!), plus the thin wooden dowels had warped under the weight of the fabric, so I was on the search for additional sturdier spines. Metal rods were $3 each (!) so cost prohibitive, and I tried using some 9 gauge wire which didn’t do much, so I went back and bought 35 wooden dowels 3/8″ diameter. Since the original dowels already met at the top, I placed the new thicker dowels between them, wedge them into the top and taped the bottoms. The tape won’t hold forever, but by pulling them tight over the new columns like a close-fitting hat, they even stayed on the columns during the worst wind we’ve had yet!

Sponge-painting the newly-sewn square spire cover to match the round spiresSince part of our plan to reinforce the tall tower was to screw through the square foam spire, I decided to sew a matching marine vinyl cover from the last bit of vinyl I had bought in 2014…whew! I pinned it in place inside out over the foam spire to be sure of the fit, sewed it inside, sponge painted it to match the other aged copper look spires, and it works great!

Having the rectangular white garage door staring me in the face while the rest of the house looks like a castle has been the bane of my existence since 2011. I made a canvas curtain covered in wood gossamer but still was a rectangle, then I tried woodgrain contact paper, New garage door archway surround looks so much more like a castle!which fell off last-minute in wind & rain, but also was still a boring modern rectangle…so I demanded castle doors this year! Not only would the garage opening get a rear-projection screen (more in a separate post), but a new foam-carved “stone” garage door arch surround was planned all along. I was finally able to cut, carve & paint it the following weekend and it immediately made a huge difference! Even with the white garage door inside, the arch shape of the surround and the dragon sconces and drawbridge chains at the sides made it look so much more like a castle…and just wait until the garage screen shows the portcullis opening to reveal the heavy wood plank door with giant iron hinges!

The wind kept blowing over the round foam towers so many times in 2014 I was a nervous wreck, so I had already planned to make all of the castle as wind-safe as possible, including Redesigned round tower of vinyl over a double-layer of wire fencinginternal structure for the round towers. Now that the thin foam walls from 2014 were no longer an option, we completely designed the round towers to use two layers of strong galvanized wire fencing stapled by air compressor to the same plywood bases, then covered the wire fencing in matte finish vinyl fabric that thankfully matched the castle wall basecolor perfectly. I had painstakingly painted a smaller brick All the castle up in time for sunset!pattern on the foam towers for 2014, but we realized in the dark they weren’t even noticed, so this year the towers are plain tan, with the breeze pushing the fabric against the rectangular pattern of the wiring inside giving a little brick effect. Even those strong staples didn’t completely hold through two weeks of constant breezes, and after enough staples worked themselves loose, we had a couple towers come off the plywood bases! We took the nail gun back up onto the roof (thankfully the hose is long enough that the air compressor can stay on the ground!), stapled almost every inch, We never expected wind to blow the plywood bases sideways...wow! But the spires stayed on the columns!and that lasted through wind so strong this past weekend that it blew over the plywood bases…but the towers stayed intact! Now we have added some more sandbags on top of the plywood bases so we think we’ll be good for the rest of the season…famous last words? ;)

There's a giant in the castle tower! ;)I am being careful about phrasing since as soon as we thought we had the tall tower really solid on a custom-built wood frame over two metal workbenches, plus the old heavy 24″ monitor set up inside the window, not even 24 hours later a huge gust of wind must have blown the top workbench off We have a tower down! :(the roof, since I came home from work to see it backwards on my front lawn, with the other workbench still standing on the roof! The rampart wall and angel’s trumpet tree must have broken the fall and turned it backwards, and all the foam cushioned Amazing that none of this had any more damage, and that the computer monitor inside survived the fall!the monitor so it still works fine…whew! Amazingly and thankfully the top tower was salvageable with only some minor repairs, but since the lower walls were anchored to the lower workbench and the frame, they tore apart and had to be rebuilt from scratch…just when I had put the paint sprayer and foam carving tools away of course! So back to buy two MORE foam sheets, use the broken pieces Cutting replacement tower walls using the broken pieces as patternsas patterns, then cutting, carving, painting & aging them…which couldn’t happen until after Halloween shopping weekend. We not only added one more framing piece across the bottom, but lashed both workbenches together with large zip ties, added sandbags to both levels, AND added a rope tied around my one tall skylight so if it does tip over, it won’t be able to fall off the roof to hurt anyone or anything. Good to know that it didn’t even budge when the wind knocked over all the round columns last weekend, so we might have finally triumphed…? ;)

Testing the baby jack o' lanterns in the castle windows...cute!I had a late brainstorm to try my baby battery jack o’ lanterns up along the castle walls and in the windows as more forced perspective. They do make the round towers look huge, and they are adorable in the castle windows! Since turning on all those every night will be a pain, plus we have flicker LEDs from last year’s candles, Testing baby jack o' lanterns on the castle walls...love it!and I have a resident electrical engineer at my disposal, we are wiring all 15 baby jack o’ lanterns to AC power so they’re on the roof power circuit. The ones on the walls are finished but we need brighter static LEDs for the faces to show through the windows, so those are still in process. They stayed in place during the wind since we used a pair of bamboo skewers angled into the foam so they have to bend to set the pumpkin on top, giving pressure outwards for a tight fit. I’ve built foam shelves to get the pumpkins in the correct window placement, so those are just waiting for their LEDs to be wired in place. Since The Ghostly Guardian has watched over Castle Brittahytta for a thousand years. Her gravestone is all in runes.I’ve already had some feedback that my crawling spiders video show is too scary, hopefully this cuteness might balance the creepiness…? ;)

Glen aimed three warm white lights to hit all the roof towers from the side, which looks great, and our waterproofing succeeded…whew! Scary Jerry came over again as our lighting consultant, and some slow color-changing outdoor LED spotlights aimed from up in the front tree really makes it all pop! It is very nice not to have so many power cables out on the grass, even though I’ll end up with trip hazards anyway once my handmade Castle Brittahytta 2016pumpkin vines are finished and added. ;) The Ghostly Guardian is still watching from the tall tower, but this year you can see her gravestone in the foreground, entirely written in old Nordic runes. All the gravestone spotlights and several of the towers are coming from the projector hidden under the garden well at the front corner…but more about that when I can reveal the full front show with original soundtrack written by yours truly!

Castle Brittahytta 2016All this work looks wonderful, but we are not finished quite yet! I have some garlands on the graveyard fence with hopefully a few more arriving soon, all the gravestones are up on rebar, also not budging in the wind, jack o’ lanterns are almost all in place with extension cords successfully taped against a full day of Castle Brittahytta 2016constant rain, giant pumpkins are still being placed since I’m making pumpkin vines for them, a giant spider photo op will be under the front tree along the sidewalk, and I still plan on placing fake spiders on the pumpkins to go with the spiders climbing the castle walls…but at least we have made this much progress by October 18th, with one more full weekend and week before my big party! Click below to view the entire photo gallery for Castle Brittahytta so far…

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the Halloween fun begins!

Annual Halloween Shopping Weekend 2016 begins with Tash at my parents' house!Well, really there has been Halloween fun all year, with our Spanish castle road trip in June, and a couple new party projects already finished, but for me, the Halloween season officially kicks off with Annual Halloween Shopping Weekend with my dear friend Natasha! Due to coordinating our schedules we have ranged a week or two earlier or later, but usually the last weekend of September is a good time, since most of the pop-up Halloween stores are open, and major stores have stocked their Halloween treats without them being too picked through already. This year we had a great Halloween Haul with 20 stores visited before I drove home Sunday evening…whew!

Halloween Haul Day 1Highlights from Halloween Shopping Weekend Day 1: my Halloween Haul from 11 stores even includes more color-coded Halloween storage bins from Target. Spiderweb chain candles were stunning at JoAnn! The beaded tassel trim from Hobby Lobby was too gorgeous to resist so the spiderweb lampshade covers will be embellished! Always fantastically fun items from the 99-Cent store, including spider tongs and lots of sizes of 3D spiders!

Super score at World Market for Haunted Hollywood next year!Halloween Shopping Weekend Day 2 we hit 7 stores, with the best stops at Marshall’s & World Market, including great finds for Haunted Hollywood next year with 25% sale AND 10% total purchase coupon expiring that day! That’s 18 stores in 1.5 days and about 15,000 steps…whew! Thanks for another fun year, Natasha!

I went to Dollar Tree after Tash left, with a special 10% customer appreciation coupon saving me another $4 on more 3D spiders, more web paper lanterns, black and dark purple roses & berry stalks, and another spider & web ice cube tray…then I didn’t actually buy anything Halloween at Bel Air, but at the tail end of Annual Halloween Shopping Weekend, I was patiently waiting for my brother to finish his grocery shopping, when the staff thought my jack o’lantern tee and handknit pumpkin purse were cute enough to pose by their pumpkins and post on their Facebook page…haha I’m famous! ;)

Bel Air's Facebook post starring yours truly...haha!

I have also been posting teasers on the Eerie Elegance Facebook page all summer, especially of smaller projects, so let’s catch up on some of those here:

Gothic Garden Seeds I tried starting some seeds purchased over the past few years of several black and purple flower varieties in hopes of a gothic garden for the Webmistress, but it was already summer heat, and ever after careful care multiple times a day and moving Dark Opal Basil was doing well but one hot day unwatered fried them :(them from sun to shade so they wouldn’t fry, I only had a couple sprouts, then one hot day without water killed what did sprout, so sadly that was a bust. Thankfully a local nursery lost its lease so I got this whole cart of mature perennial Ghostly Greenery for 35% off, including two purple heart-shaped sweet potato vines, two Sale score at my local nursery!hard to find Japanese painted ferns, two gorgeous frilly purple Little Zin hibiscus, silver Hairy Canary Clover, and striking green and black Velvet Elvis! Those are still doing well split up into several pot arrangements, along with several of last year’s Halloween plants that I nursed along through the year.
Gothic Garden & Ghostly Greenery

We haven’t had as many full Scream Team workdays this year since Scary Jerry is doing his own party and is busy with his own projects, but we started on August 22nd when I could give them their special shirts and take a team photo! I had fun with a Disney store sale and Halloween Scream Team 2016!bought myself the adorable Haunted Mansion Ghost Host apron and matching Ghost Host tees for my guys! I even wore some Madame Leota hair and my teal musical Haunted Mansion shirt for the occasion! We had a fun but long & hot workday, almost finishing a new major project, since by the end of the day we had a functional garage door seamless rear projection screen, but larger storage hooks and different nails were still needed before it was completely ready for prime time! The garage screen will be fully documented in a later post when all is finished, including the projection content.

Cleaning & repainting castle walls after 2 years of outside storageOn Labor Day weekend Ghoulish Glen and I got out all the castle walls after 2 years storage above my garden sheds with leaves & blossoms mess, brushed, washed, repainted, created a replacement for a missing wall, and Scream Team boys working on the roof...but Jerry is still a little scared! ;)Scary Jerry helped again on Sunday, including a complete redesign of the round towers. Jerry conquered his fear of heights by going up on the roof with us! On Monday Glen & I needed more supplies so ended up having some fun shopping before we continued putting up the castle. We took advantage of Spirit’s 2-day 20% off entire Ghoulish Glen at Spirit Halloweenpurchase coupon, and I never thought I would buy any inflatables, but Home Depot’s 11ft dragon with moving wings and their 17ft pointy-legged spider in web have a lot of future 11ft inflatable dragon and 17ft spider in web for future decor! :Dpotential using some artistic painting techniques to make them more realistic!

This year’s Edible Medals are a new spider design, printed onto frosting sheets, cut, and ready for baking onto cookies! I bought a bunch of thin web print ribbon on Halloween clearance last year to thread through the new Edible Medal spiderweb design for 2016medals after they are baked later this month. I also have a stash of various ribbons to make a new elegantly Victorian style door wreath but covered in spiders. Speaking of spiders, I’ve been buying Speaking of spiders...do I have enough yet? ;)spiders for two seasons to add to my already large collection, but I’m still not sure I have enough! ;)

One of my stone walls for my screened patio had already been repaired several years ago from a giant hole rats chewed completely through it, and this year the extra rat damage Aging the new left wall to match the older foam stone wallsmade me give up and make a new wall. Of course making the aging treatment blend with the existing archway and wall was a Touching up the chewed holes on the archway...darn rats!bit tricky, since those had years of blossoms and grunge naturally aging them further, but using brown and black spray paint helped a lot. I also had a lot of chewed holes inside the archway that required touch up paint and aging…but as I was carving the replacement stone wall in place to match the other pieces, there was a Gorgeous orb web in action catching dinner!gorgeous orb web next to me on the patio…I witnessed a moth get stuck, wrapped and eaten!

I still need to replace the screen door with the archway door which will have a small new surprise of its own, but the main new feature for this area is that I have upgraded from the doggie Original finish dragon nestling in its custom-carved columngargoyles on the entrance columns to DRAGONS! I toyed with sculpting my own dragons, but I found these dragons on sale at Design Toscano, so I splurged. They are much too long to place looking straight ahead since there is always too much traffic near the columns, but I like them facing Spraying the dragons with a light dusting of copper preserved the shadinginward, evaluating everyone entering through the doorway. First I traced around the dragons and cut recessed areas from the foam top of the column so the dragon would stay in place. I got a pretty good fit, and even in some strong breezes they haven’t fallen yet. The dragons are solid resin Making the eyes pop like the other Verdigris dragonsalready painted gray with darker shading, but they are too intricate to look like stone even if I painted them to match the walls. However, since copper is a theme for the Verdigris clan, I bought a can of metallic copper spray paint, Final dragon finish on the patio columncarefully gave the dragons a light dusting, and it preserved the shading but gave them a spectacular sheen! I wanted to make the eyes pop, so I used aqua and opalescent nail polish like I did with the other Verdigris dragons for Halloween 2012. The final effect is definitely an improvement, and not something we could buy ready-made!

Hope your Halloween season is going well! You can see a few more of our photos by clicking into the gallery below. We have a million projects underway as usual that make more sense to post as separate projects, so stay tuned for the new well illusion, the garage rear projection screen, Castle Brittahytta 4.0, and hopefully even more new surprises!

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Up-Graded Gravestones

Tasty Tombstones Verdigris EditionAnother finished project! In our first story of the Verdigris Saga told in 2014, the family gravestones were not moved to California when Castle Brittahytta was moved. Since I didn’t need to make new physical gravestones for our display, I took some of my favorite elaborately-carved foam Haunted Headstones from past years and digitally changed the epitaphs to the Verdigris family for the Tasty Tombstone cookies that were one of the clues to match the portraits with the ghosts for the Studying Spirits quiz. Well, since this Halloween we are going back a generation to when the Webmistress lived in the castle in its original location, now we need physical Verdigris gravestones. Ironically I did make the Webmistress’ gravestone for filming Miss Wells in the graveyard, but that’s the only gravestone we do NOT need this year…heh!

Rough-cutting the thin foam plaques to fit the original gravestones and the new epitaphsNot only did I not feel like carving all the fancy gravestones from scratch again, and would rather recycle to save storage space, but a couple designs included plastic angels that I could not find again, so I had saved thin foam sheets from previous projects and any good packing material to make plaques over the original epitaphs. That took some artistry to figure out what plaque shapes would look the most integrated with the gravestone designs. Once I had rough-cut the basic panels with my serrated knife, I cleaned up the edges with my hot wire cutter, then most looked even better with the plaque edges beveled. I was very pleased I could cut a smooth enough angled line with that wiggly hot wire for those bevels….whew!

Special Tasty TombstonesOf course I insisted that the physical foam gravestones should match the digital cookie art, and it would have been easier to photograph the new epitaphs and make new edible prints, but I was having problems with my edible printer this spring, so while it was not quite completely dead, I quickly printed all the Verdigris edition Tasty Tombstone frosting sheets so they would be ready for baking cookies closer to Halloween. Going backwards this way retrofitting the stones to the image has been extra difficult! I guess it’s a new challenge since I’ve been carving gravestones for so many years now. ;)

Old-school cutting & pasting to get the epitaph outlines large enough to carve to match the digital gravestonesI prepped by printing the cookie epitaphs as large as possible, some requiring multiple sheets of paper trimmed and taped together to fill the gravestone at the proper scale. Usually I free-hand sketch my epitaphs before carving, sometimes using a printed font as a guide for centering and spacing, but this time I wanted Transferring the epitaphs to the foam before carvingthem as exact a match as possible. I didn’t have any carbon paper left in my stash (do they even sell that anymore at art stores?), so I tried several methods of transferring the epitaphs from paper prints. I used chalk on the back of the paper and scribbling a pencil like carbon paper on the back, but both of those were only moderate success, mostly the imprint of the ball-point pen through the paper into the foam is what helped me carve accurately. I Transferring by laser-copied reverse image then ironing with water spray had moderate successsaved Dynia’s epitaph for last since that was the most intricate font, so I printed in reverse, copied on a laser toner copier, then tried water spray with a medium iron, moving constantly so as not to melt the foam itself. The coolest setting on my iron wasn’t warm enough, but a couple notches hotter worked much better as long as I had a good mist of water between the foam and the paper. I’ve read online that various solvents might work better for this kind of transfer, even though some solvents might eat away different kinds of foam, but I didn’t have any of the solvents handy and wanted this finished! The best method seemed to be a quick spray of water between the paper and foam, working a small section at Carving the new epitaphs using my woodburning tool on a dimmer switcha time with the iron until you could see the ink through the wet paper, ironing until the paper started to dry again, then just peeking one area to check while leaving the rest of the page in place to keep the exact position.

Between tracing and carving with my woodburning tool on the plugin dimmer switch (see my video series for Haunted Headstones and Carved Stone Walls), it took about an hour per gravestone just for the new epitaphs, so I finished one each evening during the week when it was nice and cool outside on my patio with plenty of Carving the new epitaphs using my woodburning tool on a dimmer switchventilation for the burning foam fumes to dissipate. Once those were complete, I used the Tasty Tombstone artwork as my guide to integrate the cracks between the original gravestones and the new foam plaques.

Digitally-squashed Ergelise gravestoneI waited until the end to decide how much I would make Ergelise’s stone match her cookie, since I digitally squashed it from the original double-wide stone for the twins from Fall of the House of Usher, Farewell Forever to the House of Usherrequiring cutting out the middle and making the sides meet again. Since I was making decent time on this project, I decided the foam plaque in front would help hide the vertical seam, and hopefully glue and surface spackle plus a new horizontal base would help it stand better, since it was always too top-heavy before, especially with the plastic angels sticking out so far. After the spackle dried, I sanded the back by hand as smooth as I could, but since the front recessed Sarina's gravestone also received a new base using Day of the Dead foam scrapsarea was carved into rough lines and spackled to blend those lines together, it didn’t need any sanding.

I had saved some of the inner edges of the Giant Gravestones from Day of the Dead, so I added those as bases to a couple gravestones, cutting a u-shape so that two foam strips nestled around the original gravestone for the best stability. I didn’t glue any of the new foam pieces to the original gravestones until after their basecoat gray was painted so I could get paint all the way into the corners and edges completely. For extra stability and to hold the pieces in place while the glue dried, I used wooden toothpicks at toed-in angles, making sure the toothpicks were recessed and the holes hidden.

Mashing black oops paint into the carved epitaphs before the gray basecoatI had seen other home haunters online recommend painting inside the epitaphs first, then rolling gray paint over the flat surface, so I thought I’d try that technique this time around to compare. It does work, and it’s equal brush mashing since you need to get paint into all the crevices of the carving detail whether it’s gray paint or Carefully brushing the gray basecoat without painting the recessed epitaphsdarker, but I’m not sure it’s any easier than my original technique of gray basecoat, aging, then accenting with watered-down black paint very last. All my epitaph plaques were too small for a normal paint roller, and I didn’t have a small one, so I carefully used my large brush gently across the surface as dry as possible to avoid getting any gray into the already-painted epitaphs.

All 6 gravestones ready for aging treatmentI actually glued the foam panels while they were still wet with gray paint so they would be ready for aging the next day, but I didn’t take photos. Aging foam stone in daylight often ends up too subtle for night lighting, so I have found that it’s easier to do the aging treatment in similar lighting as your final display so you can be sure the effects are dark enough. I used the same black spray paint and spray garden hose technique I’ve been using for 13 years now (?!?), but it’s rather difficult to take a photo of yourself with the hose in one hand and the spray paint can in the other, so you can watch my All 6 gravestones after aging treatmentvideo series for Haunted Headstones and Carved Stone Walls to see the aging technique in action. Basically you are simulating centuries of dirt, dust and rain over and over, until you have the effect you like. Leaning the gravestones at a slight angle to the back helps control the dribbling, but make sure they’re not cocked to one side compared to their final display position.

I was very glad to have all these Up-Graded Gravestones COMPLETED by mid-September, all ready for the front yard display of Castle Brittahytta…but there are still plenty of projects underway for Halloween 2016 so stay tuned!

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