Saturday, December 17, 2011

My Steampunk Christmas Tree!

We've had our tree up for a few weeks now, adding new ornaments and finishing touches day by day - but I think we've finally reached a point where I can do the grand reveal:

So, without further ado:

Ta-da! (click to enbiggen)
Ain't it grand?


Of course, I realize that's just a jumble of lights and colors from a distance, so here are some details:

First, the tree skirt I've been drooling over for three years and finally decided to buy. It's from Disney (note the Mickey heads) and was crazy expensive (thank goodness for friends with cast member discounts), but it goes perfectly with our tree's color palette:

I started with a foundation of shiny glass ornaments in shades of orange, gold, bronze, purple and fuchsia.

Can you tell that's Lily's favorite spot? Still, better on the tree skirt than under it.

Next I added things like those keys, owls, peacock feathers, and gems, which were found on the cheap at stores like Hobby Lobby and Marshalls.

Originally I thought we might use a plasma ball for the topper, but it didn't go very well with our tree lights. So just ignore the one in this picture:

Next we began adding the ornaments we made ourselves, like those copper swirl/springs.

That's also our first hot air balloon prototype back there. It looks a bit nicer now. (More balloon pics coming soon, along with a tutorial.)

The copper springs are some of my favorites; they catch and reflect the light beautifully:

To make them, we stripped thick copper wiring and wrapped it around a broom handle.

I also gave them a quick wipe-down with Tarn-x to bring out the shine:

See the difference?

To keep the shine you can clear-coat your springs with lacquer, but I didn't bother. I'll just polish them again next year.

Oh, and I should mention the tree lights: they're all amber, which I initially thought would look grungy somehow. Not so! The amber glow is warm and simply magical:

I also used a lot of them: 900 lights for our 6.5 foot tree. And because I was trying to hide the wires as much as possible - *and* keep it from obscuring my "snow" - it took me two whole nights to do. Yeah. There's no WAY I'm taking these lights off in January. I told John he'll just have to build me a "Christmas shed" in the backyard, so I can store the tree upright. :D

More of our handmade steampunk touches:

The gears are made of clay, and were punched out with a custom gear cookie cutter John made from roof flashing:

That's rolled out Fimo Soft. By using different sized circles to cut out the centers, we were able to get two or three different styles of gears. The Fimo is flexible, too, like rubber - so there's no risk of it shattering if we drop one.

The clay isn't perfectly smooth, though, and the metallic paint really shows every imperfection. That's great if you age them, because then they look like pitted metal, but for the tree I was hoping to have a porcelain smooth finish. Any advice, crafters? Is there a better clay I should be using?

I also experimented with some tiny vintage glass test tubes I picked up at a junk mart while on tour. I thought I'd try some kind of oil and colored water combination, but then I realized the only oil I had on hand was bright yellow vegetable oil. Um. NO.

So instead, I used corn syrup.

(Yes, it's technically light yellow, but in the tubes it looks clear.)

I transferred the stickiness to the tubes with an eye dropper, and then stirred in large glitter flakes with a metal wire. The syrup is so sticky that the glitter stays suspended; it doesn't sink. (And as a bonus, the air bubbles from stirring the syrup stay, too, which looks pretty nifty.)

Like so:

At this point I got all excited thinking I could mix in tiny watch gears and springs. So I did. And it looked AMAZING. And then they all slooooowly sank to the bottom of the tube. Curses!

The glitter, however, has stayed put. You could use lots more than I did, of course, and mix colors and whatnot. I was just trying to make something that looked like sample metal flakes for a lab experiment. (Yes, I make up back stories for my crafts. Don't you?)

When I was done I used epoxy to seal the cork in place, wrapped some thin brass wire around the top to form a loop, and then adhered that with another dollop of epoxy.

The gold rope garland is cheap tinsel rope from a dollar store, but I like that it's simple and doesn't compete with all the ornaments:

And finally, let's talk about the tree top!

The hot air balloons have been our longest and most difficult on-going project - we still have a few models in the works - so those will get their own post later. They're hung with fishing line from the ceiling by tiny clear thumb tacks, so they really look like they're floating in mid air - and I love them.

The topper itself is a reproduction Edison bulb from Lowe's. John wired it through a short threaded metal rod, which he inserted down the back of the tree. Because the new bulbs are really bright, he also installed a dimmer switch on it.

We had a lot of ideas for things to add to the bulb: big gold wings, a gear halo, a mirrored starburst mounted behind it - but as time was running short we settled for something simple. For now. [wicked grin]

The silver platter cost a whopping $1 at the Dollar Tree, and is attached to the bulb base with an L bracket screwed in place. It looks like an old fashioned picture frame around the bulb, which I kind of like.

The first time John got the bulb in place on the tree, I immediately remarked, "It's like our tree just had an idea." This made John laugh so hard that I've now dubbed it our "idea tree."

Well, I hope that was worth the wait, guys. Thanks for all the encouragement and ideas, and please, keep the ideas coming! I don't think I'll stop tweaking and brainstorming until well *after* Christmas. Especially for the topper; there are just sooo many more possibilities.

Leonard Nimoy is Awesome

Epbot reader "Goldie" sent this message out to Leonard Nimoy (and also Zachary Quinto) on Twitter yesterday:

Now, celebs get a lot of messages on Twitter. A LOT a lot. So imagine my shock when she got this reply less than ten minutes later:

I rest my case: Leonard Nimoy is spectacularly awesome.

(And yes, I might have had a minor geek-splosion seeing my Twitter handle in a tweet from the original Mr. Spock. Or a major geek-splosion. One of the two, anyway. 0.0)

I've already forwarded this on to Rachel, Bryden's mom, and I can't wait to hear both of their reactions. Seriously, this whole situation is one big warm-fuzzy-fest. I love it.

Thank you so much to Goldie and the few others of you who called this to Nimoy's attention; in all honestly, I was just too shy to do it myself. *blushing*

And thank you to everyone who's left a message for Bryden so far. Your comments are encouraging so many of us out here, so please, keep 'em coming!

(In case you missed it, you can read Bryden's story here.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Three Cheers for Little Girl Spock

When I first shared the story of Katie, the girl who was teased for her Star Wars water bottle, you Epbot readers blew me away with your immediate and resounding tidal wave of support. It remains one of the most inspiring things to have ever happened on this blog.

Well, today is "Wear Star Wars, Share Star Wars" Day - a day Katie and her mom Carrie created for geeks everywhere to wear their scifi or geek t-shirts proudly, and also to donate a geek toy to charity (making it clear that the toy is for either a boy OR a girl). Because this isn't a day just for Star Wars fans; it's for fans of all types.

Which is why today is also the perfect day for me to introduce you to 6-year-old Bryden:

A cupcake shirt and a phaser? I already love this girl.

Actually, I'll let her mom Rachel do it:

"I am a life-long trekkie and just introduced my daughter to the original Star Trek series this summer. She absolutely fell in love with the show, and Mr. Spock in particular. When I asked her what she wanted to be for Halloween, she said Mr. Spock. I responded that we could easily make her a Vulcan costume. She quickly corrected me and said not just any Vulcan...but Mr. Spock.

"So I went to work fashioning a Mr. Spock costume for my 6-year old daughter. Who cares if it's a male character? Who cares if none of the other kids at school will have any clue about who Spock is? She wants to be Mr. Spock and I was super proud.

Cutest Spock ever? I think so-ooo!

"Of course, being Mr. Spock was a bit of a learning experience for my daughter. After a full day at school in her costume, she told me that it was hard to keep explaining who Spock was. Only the teachers had any clue what Star Trek was, and several kids made fun of her for being a character that was a boy. I even overheard one of the teachers saying she looked 'weird' in her costume. That comment nearly brought out the protective lioness in me, but I settled for a sharp glare.

"After the day was done, my daughter seemed to regret her costume choice. I reminded her that she picked the costume because it was a character she liked and that is all that mattered. I also told her that I thought she was super cool and I know there were thousands of people out there that would think she was a super cool kid for picking Mr. Spock as her Halloween costume.

("You can tell it was a rough away mission since her wig has shifted a bit - lol.)

"I just wanted to share my pics with someone who would appreciate them. It's tough being a girly geek when your regular friends don't appreciate things the same way you do. Thanks for writing Epbot, it makes me feel not so alone in my interests."


It's e-mails like this that make me so stinkin' proud to know all of you. I hear pretty often that I help make being a geek girl seem perfectly "normal," as if it's nothing to think twice about or have to defend - and that's because it is. However, sadly, there are people out there who still haven't gotten the memo.

Look, I'm an optimist. I prefer to dwell on the positive rather than the negative. Stories like Katie's and Bryden's inspire me, because the next generation [smirk] is expressing themselves in ways I never did at their age. They know what they love, and they want to share those things. That, my friends, is AWESOME.

Now, could we gripe about the judgmental teacher and insensitive classmates? Sure. We could write long articles about bullying, and decry the cruelty of childhood, etc., etc - and certainly those things have their place.

Or...We could drown out the negative with a rushing tidal wave of positive. We could make Bryden our Hero of the Week. We could share her picture with all the other little girls we know. We could tell our friends about her, and remember her example any time we're tempted to feel embarrassed about the things we love.

And most importantly? We can tell Bryden that her costume wasn't "weird," it was amazing. We can show her that she just earned herself her own personal fan club. We can share our own stories of costumes and passions and reassure her that she's not alone, because we geeks - girls and guys alike - we stick together.

Here, I'll start:

Bryden, you rock. Your costume rocks. And, speaking as a life-long Trekker, I would be proud to call you my friend. I hope to bump into you at a convention someday, but 'til then: live long and prosper! (And please tell your mom she's awesome, too.)

Ok, guys: your turn.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Don't Blink" Angel Topper & Other Holiday Geekery

Diana W. tells me her dad made her this Doctor Who-inspired weeping angel tree topper:

I can't decide if it's the most awesome thing ever or the most disturbing. I'm also totally jealous I didn't think of it first.

And here's another menacing tree topper for you: Robot Santa from Futurama!

Tracey M. crocheted this little guy herself, and I love that she even included the spikes in his hat pompom:

Check out Tracey's post at Mostly Nerdy Crochet for more pics and instructions.

Remember the Star Wars snowflakes from last year? Well, Buzzfeed has compiled a new list of "nerdflakes," including an Enterprise design, a few Doctor Whos, more Star Wars, and even a Cylon pattern. I'm still deciding if I like the Enterprise best or this one:

Timey wimey fun.

Plus they include all the templates, so you can make your own! Just hit the link above.
(And thanks to Lindsey for the link!)

These retro space stockings are really - REALLY - making me want to learn how to sew:

Those of you already blessed with that ability can grab the templates - for free! - over on tried & true. There are also lots more pictures and close-ups.
(Found via craft:)

Speaking of sewing, last year Melanie W. hand stitched the most amazing set of Lord of the Rings ornaments:

Look at all that detail! And so tiny!

Not only that, Melanie also did a Mega Man set:

Confession: I know nothing about Mega Man. Are all the characters this cute? Should I be watching? 'Cuz I'll totally watch for cuteness.

[Edit: Ohh, it's a video game! Sorry. Ok, change that to "I'll *play* for cuteness."]

And finally, here's a little more paper craft for you, although this one's not quite so geeky:

I made this a few nights ago from a free template by Scout Creative. They designed an awesome pattern like this every month this year, which you can see and download at the link. (Plus I think most - if not all - include a cutout you can glue over the calendar portion, so you can display them year-round.)

I'll be making January's and November's next; just look how fun:

So, what holiday geekery are you working on, guys? Share your links and pics in the comments - I wanna see!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Quick & Easy Ornament Upgrades

While digging through my ribbon bag I found these miniature ornaments from last year:

I like to tie tabletop tree ornaments in with the bows on gift boxes, but I guess I never got around to using these. When I found them I immediately thought they'd be perfect for my steampunk tree - but they're just so small.

Enter two flat glass ornaments I just found at the Dollar Tree for - yep - a dollar:

Pull out the miniatures' metal ornament hooks, add a little epoxy adhesive, and hellooo, match made in heaven!

Aren't they pretty?

[Note to self: next time don't wear bright fuchsia while photographing shiny things.]


I've noticed this flattened ornament style all over this year, so you should be able to find some for your own craft-ventures. Then shop the miniature tree ornaments for ideas, or raid your jewelry box (old earrings, perhaps?), scrapbook supplies, metal stampings, etc. etc. (Oh! Wouldn't these be gorgeous with some decorative key hole covers?)

Ok, one more:

I found these cute plastic owls at Home Depot. They're by Martha Stewart, so I was surprised by how cheap they are. Not in price (I think the pack was $10), but in quality. The plastic rings for the hangers were messily hot glued in place, (two popped out), and though the gold finish had a nice sheen to it, they still looked so...plastic.

Enter a heavy coat of water-based glaze:

...which we then wiped off with a paper towel...and our fingers, after a while. The gloves started to stick, and it was more fun getting paint all over our hands anyway. Heh.

You can use simple craft paint for this: just make sure you put a thick coat on so it gets into all the valleys and cracks, and then wipe the peaks clean so the original finish shines through.

For my first attempt I used watered down brown paint, which gave the owl a reddish, almost coppery finish, but not nearly enough contrast. After that we switched to thick black glaze, and you can really see the difference:

That's the black glaze on left, original plastic finish in the middle, and watered down brown paint on right.

Again, we used leftover water-based glaze, but a thick acrylic paint should do the trick just as well.

And here they are, all lined up! Don't you think they look a lot more like metal now?

(I left my original brown aged one alone, there on the right. The finish isn't as dramatic, but it's still kind of pretty.)

And now a few "action" shots in the tree:

What a hoot!

(Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

Consider that last pic a sneak peek; we're still not quite done with our steampunk tree, but it's really coming along! And if we can get the topper wired up and finished the way we're hoping, then it's REALLY gonna be something.

I also have a few steamier ornament crafts coming up, including some test tube experiments and little hot air balloons. (Although these just hit the web yesterday and are totally adorable.) Stay tuned!