The joy and creativity of geeky crafting

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Apr 13, 2018, 3:01 PM EDT

You too can crochet a Porg! Or maybe you would prefer to knit a Porg instead. How about crafting one from foam? Or making a mini plushie Porg for your doll house? Maybe crafting one from clay is your style? Whatever the case, and however you like to express yourself, Porg-wise, there is a geeky crafting Porg tutorial available to help you along the way.

Artistic expression is as much a part of fandom as fanfiction and conventions, but the past few years have seen geeky crafting come to dominate the nerdy world in new and exciting ways. What was once considered an old-fashioned hobby more suited to your grandmother has helped to open the doors for unique, challenging and decidedly feminine approaches to fandom. Crafting in its various forms now feels right at home in the geek realm, be it with fans spinning sci-fi themed wool, luxuriously detailed embroideries of beloved properties, or a veritable infestation of knitted Porgs. As with so much that makes fandom wonderful, it’s women leading the way in this crafting revolution. Even Jessica Jones herself, Krysten Ritter, has gotten in on the act, essentially becoming the knitting rock star of the superhero world.

Jessica Jones star Krysten Ritter teachers Stephen Colbert how to knit.

Crafting gets a bad rap. It’s seen as too difficult, too old-fashioned, too fiddly and time-consuming to be truly fun. In reality, it’s at the heart of both art and fandom. Every time you’ve put together cosplay for a convention, you’re doing geeky crafting. One of the best things about the geek world is how it inspires its fans to go out into the world and make their own stuff.

A. Fay, a book blogger and crafter, makes quilts based on her favorite young adult novels. It was through fandom and her love of YA that she found a new way to be artistic.

“My high school librarian bought me a fun piece of fiction from the Scholastic book fair because I didn’t have any money. It changed my life. It was an awesomely silly book, not like what we had to read for class, and suddenly this whole world opened up for me. I now had art and books, but I still couldn’t find a way to get all the restless energy out of my own body. I don’t do sports. I had no outlet. Then, on my 16th birthday, after getting some money from family, I went to Walmart and bought a $60 sewing machine on a whim," Fay said. "Things changed in 2015 when the final book in a YA series I was obsessively anticipating came out. I thought I should make myself a quilt that I could wrap myself in while reading the final installment for the first time. I just loved the idea of it. Being completely consumed in the story, both mentally and physically. I actually ended up giving that quilt to the author of the book, but the idea took root, and it was all downhill from there."

Crafting is generally considered a feminine hobby. Everyone has that one grandmother or aunt who knew how to sew or make cross-stitch pictures or knit socks. Much of this is rooted in the domestic, and in the frequently male-dominated spaces of fandomespecially stuff like superheroes, sci-fi and fantasy fiction, and so onmany see crafting as incompatible with that community. Of course, that’s just nonsense. Kate Tanski is a columnist for Women Write About Comics who makes amazing geeky knitting projects, including X-Files scarves, Wonder Woman boot-liners, and a Bitch Planet pattern that was featured in the comic itself! She opposes that outdated idea.

"I find it funny in that 'gee whiz, that sure is hypocritical' kind of way when a male fan, for example, dismisses something that has been knitted or crocheted as being a stupid or worthless pursuit when that same person would praise another male fan for spending 100 hours meticulously assembling and painting a model Gundam kit or 3-D printing a sonic screwdriver," Tanski said. "I don't know how you would categorize those activities as anything other than crafting. There are plenty of examples out there of male fans doing crafts. There's still cultural disdain for any kind of traditionally feminine art, like knitting, and men who do so are often criticized for it, which is why it makes me happy to see things like Krysten Ritter posting a picture of her teaching Charlie Cox how to knit on the set of The Defenders."


A Captain America shield shawl made by Kate.

One especially exciting side effect of the revival of crafting has been its impact on mental and emotional wellbeing. It's no news to anyone that the world of fandom and its bizarre ecosystem can be a frequently stressful place to navigate, and there isn't much that specifically helps deal with that. Now, as the visibility of self-care and related activities are at an all-time high, it only feels natural for crafting to fill that niche. As explained by Charlotte, a cross-stitcher, school teacher, and writer on the website Charlotte Sometimes Goes To the Movies"After a stressful day at work, it’s a great way of relaxing and focusing on something else. I also suffer from anxiety and depression — cross-stitch helps both. It gives [me] something else to focus and channel my energies on when I’m anxious. When I’m depressed it’s immensely rewarding to make something and watch it grow. As the pieces are nearly always for someone else it’s a huge motivator, and a reminder of the fact I have got people in my life who care about me."


A superhero alphabet cross-stich pattern, made by Charlotte. Pattern available here

Speaking for myself, as a recent convert to the joys of crafting, I’ve found immense stress relief and an ideal anti-anxiety tool. I took up crocheting a few months ago and, while I wouldn’t say I’m much better than “kind of OK” at it, it’s offered me a much-needed way to focus my mind when it starts to wander away from me. Adding to that the challenge of creating something like a Porg — I did try, I swear — makes it that much more rewarding. Being able to see the results of your self-care massively helps the process. Combining that with my geeky interests is just the cherry on top of the cake.

Geeky crafting has led to incredible opportunities for some fans. Miriam Salzman, a freelance stage manager and woman behind Summer of String, saw one of her Orphan Black-themed friendship bracelets featured on the show, worn by Tatiana Maslany herself! For her, this amazing moment only further highlighted the positivity and exciting experience of being in a female dominated fandom that encouraged such artistic efforts.

"After sending [show producer MacKenzie Donaldson] three bracelets, I sent up another package of 30 bracelets for the cast and writer’s room. I kept sending up more bracelets. I received an email from MacKenzie early last year asking if I’d be interested in making some simple bracelets in blue and pink 'that an 8-year-old could make' for Season 5. I immediately replied with a photo of four different types of bracelets I could make when I was 8. Not knowing what they’d be used for, I pulled colors I used in some of my other Orphan Black bracelets. I had no idea what capacity they’d be used in for the show until the episodes aired. I also didn’t know which episodes the first ones would be in until the promo photos for the episode [Season 5, Episode 7] were released."


One of the friendship bracelets Miriam made for BBC America's Orphan Black. Image from Miriam's Twitter page.

Personally, as someone who has always wanted to be artistic but painfully lacked the appropriate skills, finding geeky crafting has been a godsend. It’s inspired me in ways I’d never thought it would. I’m able to do crochet squares and patterns with minimal panic and I have something to contribute to fandom, where previously I sat on the sidelines, feeling a bit useless. Fellow crafters have been universally kind and encouraging, and helpful when I drop stitches (which happens a little too often). Even when I suck, they still push me forwards in positive ways.

In the internet age, crafting is more accessible than ever. There are multitudes of tutorial videos on YouTube for every craft. Sites like Etsy and Pinterest offer inspiration and easy-to-follow patterns. Beginners' kits for knitting, sewing and the like can be purchased at affordable rates online. And there are always more experienced crafters, like Charlotte, to offer tips:

"It’s very tempting when you first start out to go for a big pattern. Avoid going to the dark side straight away! Start small and develop your skill. Larger patterns tend to avoid trickier stitches (beyond the simple x) and involve bulk stitching of a single color. Both things can be particularly demoralizing when you first start out and may impact on your motivation. Smaller projects mean quicker results – you’ll be able to see more clearly just how much you’re progressing."

There are communities full of people ready to help you take your first step. With fandom feeling more exclusive than ever to so many, crafting may be the thing that makes it inclusive. Anyone can craft, and I promise you, there’s a geeky crafting hobby out there that’s just for you.

Happy crafting!

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