I’m not generally a costume person, but after getting (good-natured) grief at the Halloween parties last year, I knew I had to step up my game. Of course, I also wanted to kill two birds with one stone and make it a blog project as well!
To still be “me” and keep my costs down, I decided a deer costume was the ticket. I thrifted a brown skirt to pair with my white button up and brown sweater, and the makeup was from the college theater class. To complete the look, I designed a pair of deer ears.
We cut felt really early in the blog run, way back during Week 4, Rock Band Drum Covers. We learned the hard way the smell of laser cut wool was pervasive, so I used synthetic felt to construct the ears. Jo-Ann’s has a plush felt that was perfect, and at less than $6 a yard. We needed less than 1/8 of a yard for the project.
I knew I wanted something more realistic looking than “Cut a petal shape and pinch at base.” I consulted Google for deer ear shape images and I did a practice run in paper. I’ve never really drafted a pattern before, so the paper was to test where folds would go and what the fabric to look like before folding and gathering to give it the appropriate shape.
Deer ears are brown with white inside, and than get brown again near the inside base. To really get full use of the laser, I did decorative swirls on the inside of the ears. We found that while the laser cut the material nicely, the inner swirls were too tight of a cut and got a little melty and stuck to the “plush” part of the felt. Not a big deal, but they had to be trimmed out later by hand.
The makeup was a lot of fun to do. I used the brown and white pots of my Ben Nye creme make up kit, and everything else is black eyeliner and mascara. There are a ton of you tube videos for the deer look (It’s really quite in right now) but they were a little too over the top for me and involved too many fake eyelashes. I took my inspiration from this image (unfortunately I can’t track down the original source), but I pulled back on the fawn spots, added a black lip and white to the nose which is seen on some deer – like this great photo of a mule deer by Anthony Dunn.
The costume was a hit, and just my speed. The makeup and hair, shockingly, lasted all night, and I’ll have the ears for years to come!
I’m doing my best Martha Stewart impression with our 52 Lasers version of pumpkin decorating. We are definitely not the first to put laser to pumpkin; you can see Design Sponge’s amazing punched tin style pumpkin and Seattle Food Geek’s amazing in depth study on lasering a pumpkin for some awesome inspiration.
The set of limitations I had: I didn’t want to carve all the way through the pumpkin. Probably too many bad memories of mushy, half rotted hollowed out pumpkins, but I didn’t want to cut into them. So that also cut out lighting them.
We also don’t have the awesome rotary attachment (yet) that would allow us to engrave the pumpkin in the round, and I didn’t want to go searching for that one, perfect, flat sided pumpkin that would allow us to get a larger etching space. I decided to instead work mainly with the largest flat area on a pumpkin; the top.
I had a little trouble finding the wide squished looking pumpkins I wanted, so I settled on smaller pie pumpkins. They had a lovely color, lovely shape, and there was one that didn’t have a pesky stem at all!
For our our tester pumpkin I grabbed the tall one and decided to engrave a quick image on the flatter side (pretty much contradicting what I just said above!) – no sense of setting up something complicated if it didn’t work! It features a vintage “Hallow e’en” title taken from a turn of the century postcard and a skull and cross bones. We did two passes at 50% power, and then, since it went to well, did a third at 100% power. So much for caution. It resulted in a deep etch, and and it looked great…except for the unnerving tendency to weep. Yep, we made the pumpkins cry on our laser. My guess is that we got past the hard skin into the meat of the pumpkin that had more moisture.
I did cut a little black frame for the engraving to kind of dress it up the engraving, since the tester didn’t get a nice paint job, but the paper was too thick and wouldn’t stick well. So it doubles now as a jaunty hat or a lovely (tiny) paper doily underneath.
For the larger of the squat pumpkins, I made up a ring of text with “Boo!” and little images of bats, cats, etc. The ring was to decorate the top of the pumpkin, but to get the focal length right required a bit of delicate trimming with a hacksaw. I had to trim the dried stem, because it was too long and would have hit the laser head as it moved back and forth. A little indelicate, but it didn’t turn out badly.
Once everything was aligned correctly, we etched the top at 100% power, 80% speed. The engraving isn’t as deep, but it looked great under the laser. Admittedly a moment of panic set in when I scrubbed the engraved areas and the writing all but disappeared – but when it dried the text was visible again. I finished this one off by painting the bottom half green, and covered up my paint line with a black and green ribbon. A pretty swanky effect!
Amusingly, the pumpkin idea that inspired this whole post was the last one we cut. I was initially inspired by the lace covered pumpkins I’ve seen on Pinterest, and wanted to emulate that by laser engraving. To make it really pop, I prepped the pumpkin with (decidedly unHalloween-like) teal acrylic paint. The color was a) one I liked, b) only one of three I had, and c) probably inspired somewhere in the back of my head by a friend posting on Facebook about the Teal Pumpkin Project promoting an allergy safe trick-or-treating experience (thanks Erin!). I painted it first and then sealed it to give it gloss and to protect against the weeping the pumpkin does under the laser.
I used the pumpkin without a stem, as this gave us a greater canvas, and engraved the lovely lace pattern I found at Recoursos2D. (The file doesn’t really give original artist attribution, so if they took it from another source, please let me know!) We went for 100% power, 50% speed, and the laser cut right through the paint and sealer. This is a happy pumpkin; it did not shed a single pumpkin tear. Apparently we didn’t engrave deep enough. I didn’t scrub this one clean because I liked the gradual color change as the lace curved down, and I didn’t want to mess up the paint job. It turned out beautifully!
I think the experiment was a success! There were no adverse effects to the laser, the smell wasn’t awful, and the end product is something I’m excited to show off. Perhaps we’ll have the rotary attachment to try pumpkins in the round next year!
One of the most interesting things I’ve done as a museum curator is work on a script for a Victorian Halloween drama presented by the museum. There are many interesting aspects to death and dying in the Victorian Age, and their interest in the afterlife. In an interesting juxtaposition, the Victorians were advancing technology and science at an amazing rate, yet clung so stubbornly to a belief in the supernatural world. They truly believed that science could explain all, and that all the scientific innovation would some day also explain what people knew to to be true of spirits and the afterlife.
Part of the production was recreating a Victorian seance, complete with a “Talking Board.” Today, they are commercially known as Ouija boards. As early as the 1850s, spiritualists were creating ways to make it easier to communicate with the dead. Flat spirit boards are actually relatively simple to make on a laser cutter, as are the planchettes (or pointers.) For the production, I wanted to make something that wouldn’t be obvious that it was being controlled by the museum volunteer, who was in no way a “professional medium.” I found a reference for obscure “dial plates” and I knew that would be perfect to model my version after.
As this post is not entitled “52 weeks ago,” it’s not meant to rehash what we did, but how we are making it better. The design and the mechanics of how the spirit dial moves was pretty solid, so what I endeavored to do for this week was to prototype the board for kits. As it was my first attempt at really any wood construction, has a lot of room for improvement and simplification.
I want to take a moment to insert a little disclaimer. The kits are made for entertainment purposes only. The original dial was created based on Victorian beliefs. It was intended to be a prop; a Victorian-style curiosity. What you choose to do with it beyond that is your choice and personal belief.
The basics on how to use the Spirit dial: the largest circle is the one where the participants’ hands rest, and this is the only piece that should be moved. Around the edge are “Hello” “Yes” “No” and “Good bye”. The text repeats so the people at the indicators opposite of each other read the same thing. The Victorians believed you need to start every communication with the spirits with a “Hello.” The yes and no are for simple answers and when you are finished (or the “spirits” are 😉 ), you tell the spirits goodbye. The pointer (which is attached to the big circle) is for more detailed messages that need to be spelled out, or have numbers.
The biggest obstacles to making the current design into a kit:
The original board was 16 inches in diameter, which was the biggest width we could easily get blanks for a the time. This worked well in a theatrical setting, but the size is almost prohibitive to ship. It would be less expensive to produce and ship at 12 inches in diameter. Since we were messing with the design and sizing of it, I also increased the turn radius of the pointer, to the alphabet text could be larger and easier to read / point to.
The turning mechanism is a little sticky: This is where my novice building skills come into play. I didn’t want board to rub up against board when turning the device. Meandering up and down the isles at the hardware store, I discovered furniture movers. The original board has little plastic furniture moving nubs between each layer in an effort to make it “glide.” It added unnecessary depth, and was a little stickier than expected.
In prototyping for the kit, I thought felt might be a logical thing to try. The wood in the kit is not sanded, because it is intended that the you customize and finish your own kits before assembly at home. The tiny rough bits of wood that were barely perceptible with the hand caught on all the fibers in the felt. It was not pleasant on the ears.
My second attempt at a new smooth mechanism was with simply, thin, laser cut acrylic washers. I’m still kind of enamored about how simple this was and how beautifully it worked. It glides like butter.
The original board involved screws and power tools. While it did make it relatively sturdy, it is stupidly hard to drill straight down a dowel rod. Consequentially, some of the alignment is a bit off. With such tight measurements, this contributed to the stickiness of the movement. I also didn’t sink the screws, to the heads were sticking out. This made for an absolute mess on the bottom. The one screw made it wobbly and prone to damaging furniture (a no no in a museum!) so I put felt feet on it. Well, the stickiness of the movement and the felt feet made it slidey. So I glued some of the grippy shelf / rug liner to the bottom of that.
There are holes for the dowels to go through, as well as engraved wells to secure the glued dowels.
So we removed the screws completely, instead creating shallow glue spots for the dowels to fit in. Using a craft or wood glue, it stays quite secure! And, of course, there is always the opportunity for people to modify their kits at home with screws and the like.
Revisiting this project has been a lot of fun. I was proud of the original, but the kits are going to be so much fun! I can’t wait to see what people do to customize then. The physical parts are done, next up is writing up instructions for assembly, and a quick history of Talking Boards!