As the self-appointed craft and cuisine correspondent here at tor.com, I’d feel remiss if I didn’t talk a little about Christmas.*
When shopping for ornaments, you’ll find dangling doodads for golfers, knitters, ice skaters, surfers, birdwatchers, all manners of hobbies. But what of the geek? What of someone who couldn’t care less for fishing but would love something from Red Dwarf? Where does one go for specialty geek items? There are shops such as Zazzle and Etsy and so on, and sometimes you can find wonderful things pre-made. But you can also make your own. The personal touch counts for a lot, I think. That’s why you’ll turn your nose up at a print of Matisse but you’ll put a kid’s drawing up on the refrigerator and show it off to your friends. You nepotistic anti-Fauvist, you.
I want, as always, to demonstrate crafts that are easy, inexpensive and require nothing hard to find. I’m going to talk about super-duper easy ornaments, Kindergarten level, really, albeit with sharper scissors. Just because something is simple doesn’t mean it has less value, after all.
Scissors or craft knife
Cardboard or craft foam or plain ornament (see below)
Magazines, non-valuable comic books, DVD boxes or pretty much anything that you wouldn’t mind cutting up.
Acrylic paints, glitter, feathers, whatever fru-fru stuff you want to add
Entertainment magazines [Premiere, Empire, Cinefex etc.] and magazines dedicated to scifi television and film are a great source of images. You can get cool images from DVD boxes, too. I keep all my DVDs in folders, so there’s no need for me to keep the boxes intact.
The idea of cutting a comic book is grievous sacrilege to some, but if you’re a heartless bastard, or you have a lot of comics you know will never be worth a dime, you can use them too.
You can use large or small images or make collages. In any event, magazine paper is flimsy, so cut out a craft foam or cardboard back for the ornament. Craft foam comes in large sheets for about a dollar and is handy stuff to have around for a number of other crafts. For a round ornament, you can get paper mache balls from craft stores for about $.99 each.
Put some glue in a small bowl and thin it with a little water, just enough to loosen it for easier spreading. Use the brush to coat the back of the image and place it on the backing, gently pressing out any bubbles. Allow it to dry. If you want, add glittery bits or whatever else you feel like adding on. The Where the Wild Things Are ornament used some left-over faux fur I used in a werewolf mask.
For the flat ornaments, remember to poke a little hole in the top so you can hang it on the tree or use it as a gift tag. Or give it as a gift to someone who will marvel at what a cheap-ass you are, but will secretly dig that you made them a Shaun of the Dead Santa.
Death Star Ornament
White acrylic paint
Black acrylic paint
String or ribbon
Foam balls are available at craft and floral supply stores. Start by using the skewer to sort of drill a hole, gently and slowly, through the center, so you can later add the string/ribbon to hang it. Next, using the toothpick, score a line around the equator, and several hash marks here and there. Using a butter knife or other bluntish instrument, press a small circular indentation, to facilitate the eventual destruction of Alderaan. Lightly score a circle around the indentation and a cross-hair sort of mark.
You will need to make two shades of gray: a light gray for the exterior and darker gray for details. Start with the light gray, covering the ball entirely. Allow it to dry. It may be necessary to re-apply paint in some areas.
Use a toothpick to clean up the lines you etched earlier, if paint has obscured them too much. Then, mix the darker gray and, also with a toothpick, fill in every line. This, too, might require re-application. Allow this layer to dry. Once dry, make a loop of string or ribbon and push it through the hole (you might need the skewer again) so that the loop is at the top. Tie the bottom in a large enough knot to keep the string from slipping out.
The last step is to apply a very light coating of thinned glue and sprinkle a very scant amount of glitter. This is the Death Star, after all. It’s not a disco ball.
Once that’s done, you’re fully operational and ready to create a joyful disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices cried out fa-la-la-la-la.
Gingerbread Zombies and Daleks
You will need:
(Recipes for these abound, so I’ll not list them here. Choose whichever recipe you fancy, but make the icing thick.)
I’ve a ton of cookie cutters, but most of the time, when Christmas comes around I don’t want to make one more ubiquitous tree or Santa shape cookie. One year, I accidentally mangled a gingerbread man on the way to the oven. I decided he should be a zombie. It’s been downhill since then.
Making a gingerbread zombie is hardly any different from making a regular gingerbread man, but you purposefully mangle them. Rip off arms, cut chunks out of the head, put the limbs at screwy angles before baking.
After baking and cooling, smear a thin coating of light green icing on them. Use red icing to highlight the wounds. You can add red cinnamon candies for eyes if you like. Make mouths and other details by adding a little red to the light green icing and creating gray. Brains can be made by rubbing red icing into bits of marshmallow.
You’re not going to find any dalek-shaped cookie cutters, but a cardboard template is easy to make. Simply place the template over the dough and cut with a knife. Lightly score the tops as pictured before baking.
Fill a pastry bag (or small plastic baggie with a small hole in the tip) with white (uncolored) royal icing, and slowly draw frosting across the pre-scored lines. Then make a few vertical lines to resemble the panels of the dalek. Repeat this until all inferior life forms are exterminated. I mean, until all the daleks are the same.
One row at a time, make icing dots as cement for the pearl dragees (a fancy name for shiny sugar balls that you can buy at craft stores and cooking supply shops). Do this between each lined “panel.” If you can’t find dragees, you can use icing itself. It looks OK, but the dragees create a better effect.
Stick a mini-marshmallow on half a pretzel stick and affix it to the dalek with royal icing. Allow the icing to harden before serving.
*(I say Christmas because I think attempts to make a generic and secular name for it are silly. As a non-Christian, I’ve only ever celebrated Christmas in a secular manner. Cookies, presents, ho ho ho, lights and trees and such. All I know of the nativity comes from Linus Van Pelt. But I’m not about to call it “Winter Holiday” or some crap. It’s Christmas.)
When Jason Henninger isn’t reading, writing, juggling, cooking or raising evil genii, he works for Living Buddhism magazine in Santa Monica, CA.