Beyond souvenirs: Making fannish items by hand

Dana Sterling Bode

Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology, Okmulgee, Oklahoma, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Fan crafts such as knitting, plushies, painted objects, and food are a fulfilling and creative endeavor for the artists. Five fan crafters were interviewed via e-mail to discuss how and why they create.

[0.2] Keywords—Artisans; Crafts; Fan community; Handiwork

Bode, Dana Sterling. 2014. "Beyond Souvenirs: Making Fannish Items by Hand" [interview]. In "Material Fan Culture," edited by Bob Rehak, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 16.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Sports fans may wear team jerseys with their favorite player's name and number, television fans may paste a Starfleet Academy sticker in the rear window of their car, and vampire movie fans may carry a purse proclaiming their affiliation with Team Jacob versus Team Edward.

[1.2] However, far beyond the simple purchase of commercially produced souvenirs lies the labor of love that is fan crafting. Instead of spending cash on mass-produced objects, fan crafters express their involvement in their chosen fandoms by making things by hand, sometimes to sell, sometimes to give away, sometimes to keep.

[1.3] And what things! The variety of fan crafts is nearly limitless—as limitless as the imaginations of these crafters and artists. To wit: A scarf knitted in Gryffindor colors. A game similar to "Trivial Pursuit," but with its focus the world of Stargate SG-1 (1997–2007). A wedding certificate, done in calligraphy, for Sam Gamgee and Rose Cotton. Exact replicas of the futuristic sidearms in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964–68). A paper model for the Arrested Development (2003–13) banana stand. Cookies decorated as Captain America's shield. Recipes based on descriptions of meals eaten by hobbits. Christmas ornaments decorated with painted portraits of characters.

[1.4] What follow are excerpts from interviews with five fans who explore their love of particular fandoms through crafts. The interviews were conducted via e-mail and have been slightly edited for length and clarity. Aly, from the United States, has made recipes and cookbooks based on meals in episodes of The Sentinel (1996–99) and writes fan fiction about that show and others. Kivitasku, of Finland, makes character dolls. Gnat has been in fandom for a decade and loves this community full of women and queer people. She makes fan art, in particular paper crafts. Dreamflower lives in the United States and does calligraphy, paints on rocks, and does needlework, among other things. From the United States, Naked Bee makes "all kinds of things: sex toys, jewelry, clothing, food, decorative knick-knacks." Wyomingnot is a knitter from the United States who makes shawls, scarves, gloves, and other items inspired by motifs from several fandoms, including Harry Potter and Stargate: Atlantis (2004–9). She also makes vids.

2. What do you get out of making things in your fandoms?

[2.1] Aly: Any outlet that permits me to transfer my love of a show, character, etc., into something creative, something that adds to or expands the show and the enjoyment of it, for both myself and hopefully others, is what it's all about. There is a great sense of gratification when succeeding in creating that special something. For me, creating is the key and I've learned over the years during dark periods of not being able to write, that fan fiction isn't the only method of creating for that fandom. To be brutally honest, the ability to share my love of a—okay, TV show—at the age of 45 actually changed my life. Being able to create was definitely a lifesaver.

[2.2] Kivitasku: I love characters and creative images. I also just want to pay tribute to a character or a style.

[2.3] Gnat: I don't know, I think the joy I get out of making things in fandom is the same joy I get out of being in fandom period, whether as a crafter or as a reader or as a lurker or anything, and that is the joy of a shared experience. To be exact, for me, it's shared silliness.

[2.4] Like, I wanted a tiny frozen banana stand to stick on my bookshelf, and so I made a pattern for one. This is a silly thing. And it turns out, there are other fans out there who likewise want a tiny frozen banana stand to stick on their bookshelves. That is a silly thing. That's the joy I get out of fandom.

[2.5] Paper crafting is the type of craft I have the most experience with. Other than that, what I mostly create in fandom is digital art, or sometimes I make GIFs or write fic. There is a definite difference, for me, between paper crafting and other stuff I've made. But it's not because of the choice of material, as I've done other one-off sculptural projects with paper that don't feel the same at all.

Color image of a paper artwork comprising a red, white, and blue striped truck in the background of a kiosk stand shaped like a banana and wreathed with Christmas lights, with the sign 'Bluth's Original Frozen Banana.'

Color image of the flat paper model for the red, white, and blue striped truck imaged in figure 1, with directions written in red indicating how the paper ought to be cut, folded, and assembled.

Figures 1 and 2. Model of Arrested Development's (2003–13) banana stand made out of paper, created and built by Gnat. Photos provided by the artist. [View larger image of figure 1]

[2.6] The difference is the pattern. It's other people using my pattern to build models for themselves, and changing it up in ways that suit them. It becomes a collaboration, where my contribution is just a part of it. Some other fan has printed it out and glued it together and now it's theirs. It exists now, as a real object, because somebody built it.

[2.7] I've done a cross-stitch pattern as well, which had the same feeling of collaboration when other people stitched it and sent me pictures of their completed projects. It's the coolest thing, like what I made is not a finished piece, but always a potential for more. Which sounds totally cheesy, I am aware, but there you are. Shared silliness.

[2.8] Dreamflower: I look at my fan work and my fan fiction as part of my lifelong tribute to Tolkien and his work. He made a tremendous impact on my personal life—he led me to my faith, and because of LOTR [Lord of the Rings], I met my husband of 37 years. And my participation in online fandom has led me to most of my best friends. Since discovering how I can link my various [craft] hobbies to my fandom, I have had some of the most creatively fulfilling years of my life.

[2.9] Naked Bee: Interacting with other artists has certainly solidified my identity as a fan artist and made me feel like I was part of the community, rather than just a lurker who reads a lot of fan fic but never writes anything. There's such a huge range of fannish expression it's hard to find the edges sometimes. Making a pot of tea after reading a batch of Sherlock [2010–] fic feels a little like performance art. I also do stealth cosplay all the time, like when I wear nondescript skinny jeans and a cardigan to work; no one knows I'm expressing my deep love for Abed from Community [2009–2014].

[2.10] Wyomingnot: My interaction with fellow knitters is important to my mental health, but it can also be inspiring. Different ways of looking [at] things, and sharing pics of our creations.

Color photo of the back of a white woman standing next to a staircase, holding up a V-shaped shawl in greens and browns, with a series of white squares arranged to look 3-dimensional.

Figure 3. Shawl inspired by architectural motifs and colors of the city of Atlantis, as depicted on Stargate: Atlantis (2004–9), designed and knitted by Wyomingnot. Photo provided by the artist. [View larger image.]

3. How do you choose which fandoms to make crafts for?

[3.1] Dreamflower: One thing that makes a fandom good for crafting is if there are actual artifacts identified as part of the fandom. For example, in LOTR, Pippin's scarf [has had] a pattern available online for years, and for me at least hobbit holes are a great inspiration. Star Trek has certain props (such as the pin worn by crew as a communicator). For Doctor Who [1963–89, 1996, 2005–] there's the Tardis and so forth. Another thing is how well the world of the fandom is described. In a media fandom a fan can look at props and costumes. In a literary fandom there are the author's descriptions—the better and more detailed the descriptions, the easier for a fan to visualize and then create.

[3.2] Gnat: I see a lot of writers say they wrote their first fic at age 6 or at age 9 or whatever, and that's amazing to me because storytelling has never been something that comes naturally for me like that. Set dressing, on the other hand—when I was a kid, playing pretend meant making little clothes and matchbox furniture for my dolls. Whether in 2-D art or in paper crafting, I really like objects. I like depicting them. I like objects which capture the idea of a thing, you know? Objects which are emblematic. A DeLorean, a red Swingline stapler, a black 1967 four-door Impala. Sometimes the fandom comes first; sometimes the type of project comes first.

[3.3] Naked Bee: My largest commission to date was a prop for a local theater company. They were doing a Shakespeare play set in space and wanted to have one of the actresses frozen in carbonite à la Han Solo. Adding the final coats of metallic paint was very exciting; all of a sudden it went from being a weird mish-mash of separate [plastic] parts to a real spacey-looking thing! The best part was seeing the cast's expressions of surprise and delight when I delivered the prop to a rehearsal. A close second was seeing the prop used in the play and getting to think, "I made that!"

Color photo taken in a workroom (with a playwood floor and a battered-looking oblong table and chair) of a slab of 'carbonite' (dark-colored solid substance) with a bas-relief of a man pushing through.

Figure 4. Theater prop replicating the carbonite slab from The Empire Strikes Back (1980), made by Naked Bee. Photo provided by the artist. [View larger image.]

[3.4] Wyomingnot: Colors and shapes tend to give me ideas. House scarves are something I think every knitting HP [Harry Potter] fan makes. The gate room and general colors in Atlantis had me shopping for colors that fit. And I spent a lot of time looking for the right shawl pattern that was reminiscent of the stained-glass window of the gate room.

[3.5] Aly: Many of my ideas come from my fellow fans and their requests. They ask me to create a banner or whatever, based on their specific fandom. Viewing the brilliant works of friends and strangers inspired me, encouraging me to push the envelope using anything that helped [with inspiration], be it music, watching episodes as I worked, whatever it took.

[3.6] Dreamflower: When I read [Tolkien's] poem "Bilbo's Last Song" [1966], for example, I just knew I had to calligraph it. My hobbit marriage certificates and adoption certificates, however, were inspired by stories I wrote, in which those items figured prominently.

4. Do you interact with other people who make fan crafts?

[4.1] Kivitasku: I don't really interact with other creators. Making dolls and drawing pictures is something I do alone, to the sound of a cop show, and I rather like it that way. Feedback, comments and help solving a thorny problem of design are always appreciated, though.

[4.2] Aly: Absolutely. Otherwise I'd be creating in a vacuum and I can't work that way. Besides increasing my education and providing ideas, and maybe a form of validation, I get, to put it simply, friends. And friends who do what you do, who understand it—well, that's priceless.

[4.3] Dreamflower: I love seeing what others have made. It's always inspiring and fun. I would never have begun my The Hobbit quilt without the "There and Back Again" community [an online project by the group Fandom in Stitches].

Color photo of a blue quilt hung on a wall, with five smaller images (of burning trees; a silhouette of an animal with a mounted armed creature mounted; snow-capped mountains with a cloud behind; an erupting volcano spewing fire and ash; and an obelisk in silhouette) edging a central larger image of three eagles against a sky with clouds. A Tolkien-inspired decorative font across the top reads, 'The Eagles are coming!'

Figure 5. Portion of an in-progress quilt depicting scenes from The Hobbit, sewn by Dreamflower. Photo provided by the artist. [View larger image.]

[4.4] Gnat: I have crafters all over my dash and my RSS feed and my reading lists. Yarn, silicone, felt, sugar…Someone is always experimenting with some new material, something cool and unusual that would never have occurred to me. I also sometimes read forums devoted to specific types of fan projects. And cake-decorating competitions! Oh, those are incredible, and they always have lots of fannish entries. I love those cakes.

Color photo of a tabletop with a cake and ten clear plastic cups atop, each cup filled with brown pudding topped with a brown crumbly layer. In each cup is stuck a colorful swizzle stick, to which has been affixed a color cutout of a fandom character either nude to the waist or (if female) wearing a minimalistic top, including (among others) Spike of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and Mystique from the X-Men film series.

Color photo of a tabletop with uncooked bacon-wrapped nibbles arranged in a foil-covered baking pan, a package of Seagrams rice cakes, and nine clear plastic cups atop, each cup filled with an unlikely-blue-colored Jell-O shot. In each cup is stuck a colorful swizzle stick, to which has been affixed a color cutout of a fandom character either nude to the waist or (if female) wearing a minimalistic top, including (among others) Harry Potter, and Kirk and Spock (from the original series) gazing at each other.

Figures 6 and 7. Thematic snacks from a Kink Bingo party hosted by bironic. Kink_bingo (at Dreamwidth) is a fanac challenge community. These pudding and Jell-O shots fill the "wet and messy" square on bironic's card. Photos provided by the artist. [View larger image of figure 6 | View larger image of figure 7.]

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