Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Interview with a Mad Crochet Scientist

You really meet all sorts through crochet. I recently met a Mad Crochet Scientist. To my surprise she wasn’t diabolical or maniacal and she didn’t have plans to use her crocheted creatures to take over the world (none that I knew of in any case). In fact, Teeni from the Mad Crochet Lab uses her incredible crochet and blogging skills to do only good and, the other day, I had the great pleasure of interviewing her.

One of Teeni's Cro-ations

WT: Hey Teeni. You are undertaking a challenge called the Yarndango where you aim to make an amigurumi each week for a year. So far you have completed nine of these cro-ations, as you like to call them, designing each one yourself as well as sharing the patterns on your blog. I’m wondering, what was the first crochet item you designed yourself and why did you decide to make it?


 MCS: I believe the first amigurumi I designed myself was the one I used for my hummingbird Yarndango project.  I created it years ago because I wanted a simple bird that had more of a bird shape and not just be a ball with a beak and wings.  It was a tiny gift for an adult friend and I didn't want it to be too cutesy.  It was my first experiment with increasing and decreasing to create a shape on my own without even knowing there was actual math involved.  I guess that is a good thing since math and I don't get along well and had I known then, it might have kept me from attempting to design at all.  LOL.  The first bird I made was an awful lot like the Yarndango project you see now but it originally started out as just a regular bird so it had a small yellow beak.  I only changed the beak to make the hummingbird. I do sometimes change the wings and the tail, using different stitches for different effects.  It's neat to see how many ways you can take the basic pattern! 

WT: You know, I have noticed with your cro-ations that you strive for detail and quality and I can see from your Hummingbird that even as a rookie designer that this was something you set out to do (and achieved by the way).

MCS: Thank you!  I'm flattered that you think so! 

WT: It’s true. With the Yarndango challenge, I’m amazed that you are able to produce a new cro-ation every week. What inspires you to start a particular project? Do you have criteria for your Yarndango projects? Are their any ideas you have had to scrap? 

MCS: Hmm.  I actually started a list of possible ideas in the weeks before the challenge began because I was afraid that I might run out of ideas.  That hasn't happened.  If anything, I've added to the list and I've made six from the original list so far and three that I'd added on whims.  As for the criteria, well, obviously the projects cannot be too intricate or too large so that I can design them, actually make them, and then create a post on my blog for it.  Sometimes I forget how long it takes to upload photos, format a post, and type up a pattern from my notes.  My handwriting is horrendous and that is how I realized I was truly a Mad Crochet Scientist.  Either that or a doctor.  But crochet hooks can be warmer than any stethoscopes, and so my career was born.  LOL.  I haven't actually scrapped any Yarndango projects yet.  I did have a fail with some teeth in my last project and so I put it aside for a week, did something else, and then returned to the original idea for the following week.  I still was not extremely happy with the final dental results, but one week deadlines don't allow much time to totally switch gears once you get going.  So I think I will continue to try to finish projects that I start and just learn as much as I can from my mistakes.  I don't mind sharing that I'm not perfect, and I'm using the entire challenge as a learning process for myself.  When Yarndango is over and I can spend more time on each design, I will be more free to explore other solutions.  That is why right now all my designs are free.  I don't have the time to spend doing a lot of pattern testing or even doing a fantastic job writing the patterns themselves, so I'm sure there are errors or unclear areas in them.  But as I force myself to get more comfortable with the process, I can slowly start refining everything I do, including writing better patterns and including more step-by-step photos.  I'm hoping to sell some of my patterns and finished objects in the future and I am hoping all this will help me learn to do it all much more professionally.

WT: I love it. It’s like learning a language by living in a city where it’s spoken – you’re immersing yourself in crochet and crochet designing and by the end of your challenge it will be like a second nature to you.

So, after you have an idea for a new cro-ation, what are the next steps that go into creating it? 

Count Finger Muppet with shrink plastic monocle

 MCS: Oh, the next step is the most fun for me.  Once I have something in mind, I go looking for materials!  I have to find just the right color and texture of fiber, whether in my own stash or shopping for something new.  I am in no way a yarn snob.  Since I'm not making garments in this challenge, I feel I can use anything from the most luxurious down to the cheapest synthetic materials made - so long as it will give me the look that I want for the finished item.  And since I like to use other materials in my craft, I could be playing with shrink plastic, wire, or plastic containers that are the right size and shape that I am looking for!  Next, and almost, but not as much fun is getting it all to work together. I try to think of how it is going to be put together but sometimes that has to change based on the time I have. Then I might make a sketch (sometimes I don't need to if images of the character already exist) and start the actual crocheting. That is when I have to make decisions such as whether to split yarn, include an armature, and take notes.  I hate taking notes.  LOL.  But it has to be done.  So I draft the pattern while I'm creating it and then I test it in my head as I'm typing it up from my notes.  When I'm typing up the notes, if there is something I don't understand, I go and make that part again.  Because if I don't understand it, how is anyone else going to understand it?  This is probably not the way I would do it when I have more time than one week deadlines, but it works for now!

WT: I hate taking notes too. Hopefully one day they’ll invent a crochet dictation hook and note taking will become obsolete.

I’m relatively new to the crochet internet community and every day I’m discovering more and more talented crocheters. I’m blown away by the things that people can do with this craft. Are there any crochet artists you particularly admire?

MCS: Oh heck yes!  You are certainly one of them!

*WoollyToons hides her red face in her hands and suppresses the urge to say shucks*

MCS: Kim Sofia of Kim's Sticks and Strings is another.  What I admire about the two of you is your style.  You each have your own very defined style.  I don't feel like anyone would look at my work and be able to guess who made it.  But I think I can see something in both yours and Kim's work that carries some certain element to it that makes it your own.  I love that and maybe someday I will also have a recognizable style but even if I don't, so long as people like what I make, I'll be happy with that.  There are other crocheters I admire just because they have great ideas or fabulous technique.  You fall into the great ideas category as well because some of the things you make are just not the ordinary ideas someone may think to crochet.  I appreciate things that are slightly different.  Sharon Ojala is one who has fabulous technique and I really admire her work all around.  One thing of hers I especially admire of hers is the fingers she does on some of her characters.  I have done fingers like she does but I absolutely hate doing it.  If you watch her video tutorial (she makes it look so easy), you will be amazed at how consistent her stitches are on those detailed digits and how calm she is when doing it.  When I do it, on the other hand, I am mangling the entire body of my creation to move it around in order to make the stitch, cussing and walking off to throw some dishes onto the floor in frustration, and then returning to try again and catching my hook between fibers the whole time.  And I finally finish.  And then there are nine more fingers to make.  LOL.  But the result is such a nice detailed touch to finished objects. Happily, my Yarndango projects have been so small that they can be done in other ways that will not affect the finished look.  I will suffer through it when needed but I will admit I avoid them when I can and I hope I get over that someday.

WT: Haha – I have seen that video tutorialand I noticed the same thing! She explains everything so calmly and gently. I love Sharon’s work and only discovered Kim Sofia’s recently. Her zombie designs are brilliant and shockingly hilarious!

I think I would actually like to try to make a zombie one day. At one time I was going to make a zombie bear. Do you have a dream crochet project, something that you have been wanting to make for a long time but for some reason or another have not tackled just yet?

MCS: Yes, I would love to make an afghan for my new bedroom.  My husband is finishing a tiny attic room that will soon become our bedroom.  It has a cozy cottage feel to it and I'd love an afghan to complete that picture in my head.  I started one but I just don't have the attention span for such a large project these days.  On the other hand, I also have a lot of small projects that I am dying to attempt.  Fortunately, the Yarndango challenge will allow me to knock some of those out.  Also, in general, I prefer making small items as gifts for others.  A little stuffed toy makes a great gift for a child or an adult.  It can be put in the car on the dash or sit on a nightstand and hopefully bring a smile or warm thoughts to them whenever they see it.  I may have some other larger ideas in my head for someday, but first I have to survive the Yarndango.  LOL.

WT: Oh, wow, your future bedroom sounds lovely. I struggle with larger projects too. I find it hard to stick with them. I enjoy making the toys for the same reasons that you do: they’re quick and generally delightful. 

I know that some crocheters are very passionate about what they do and if a non-crocheter were to criticize the craft, they would be in danger of being tortured by a selection of hooks in varied sizes. Still, with the good there is always the bad. What is your least favourite thing about crocheting?

MCS: My least favorite thing about crocheting is that it isn't appreciated enough as its own art form. Many people still confuse knitting and crochet and I sometimes get the feeling that crochet is somewhat looked down upon.  I do not understand that at all, because one really neat thing about crochet is that it CANNOT BE REPRODUCED BY MACHINE!!  Sometimes I am still surprised by this with all the technology we have these days, but it is still true!  There is one type of machine made lace I've seen that appears a lot like crochet, but a closer inspection reveals that the loops are just overlaid and fastened in place with some type of glue or stitch.  So when you think that every crocheted item you have ever seen has been made by hand, I think that is pretty amazing.  Fortunately, I think that with amigurumi becoming so popular, and with the many talented designers on the scene with their unique and creative ideas that people are really starting to look at it differently now.  The other thing I dislike and which I already mentioned, is making FINGERS!

WT: I completely agree with you.  *WoollyToons shakes her fist angrily at the world* I hate it when the media refers to a crochet artist’s work as knitting. Oh, and I didn’t know that crochet couldn’t be reproduced by a machine! That is awesome. Vive Le Crochet!

Ahem ... moving on …

Through crochet, have you discovered any other interests?

MCS: Well, I've always been interested in miniatures and stop-motion animation.  And crochet seems to be really taking steps in those areas.  I think it's fabulous!  I'm not saying I'll ever be actually doing any of those things myself but my interests in those things has definitely heightened recently.

WT: Yeah, I agree. It’s incredible some of the things that are happening with stop-motion animation and crochet, particularly over on saddayscrochet.tumblr.com. I would love to have a go one day.

You have a knack with coming up with fun challenges and activities that really bring people together. What other challenges do you have planned for the future?

MCS: I really try to be a people person.  Sometimes I have to force myself out of shyness but I come up with challenges for two reasons. One is truly to force myself to do things I wouldn't normally do so I can improve in different areas, and also to have company!  I usually hope that when I come up with a challenge for myself that others may be interested as well.  I'm very bad at joining existing groups because I always feel intimidated and that I'll ask too many questions to try and catch up or that I won't fit in, blah, blah, blah.  Shy person's social nightmare.  And that is why when I do a challenge or come up with one, I like to have anyone feel extremely welcome, the way I would want to be treated.  I could be sitting here all alone doing my challenges myself, but that would be no fun.  The internet has allowed me to include people from all over, in different time zones, and we can share the love of our craft together.  Well, as you know, lately I had been thinking that it would be neat to cro-ate an amigurumi version of myself to be my little mascot and profile picture, so I just put the question out there on Facebook as a challenge to see if any other designers would be interested in doing it with me.  I gave a generous amount of time to finish the challenge and there were quite a few interested people!  There were even a couple who had already created amigurumi versions of themselves!  So the Ami-Me Challenge of 2013 has been born. I don't have any other challenges planned at the moment, but my mind works in mysterious ways and I never know when something might pop up.

WT: I think it’s wonderful and I really admire the way you take the initiative. You reach out to people and include people in a fun and interesting way while at the same time you encourage them to experiment with their craft. I’m extremely shy and I can find it hard at times to connect with people even over the internet. These kinds of activities give me they nudge to participate. I’ll be doing the Ami-me challenge. I can’t wait to see everybody’s dolls.

Okay, this question is a bit out of left field, but lately I’ve been noticing how popular designs based on movie and TV characters are and how few there are based on literary characters (maybe I’m not looking in the right places). Is there a literary character you would like to make? I’ve been thinking that Marley’s Ghost from A Christmas Carol would be a fun one to try.

MCS: That is a great observation.  I'm sure I could think of all kinds of literary characters I'd like to make!  It would take a little time though because I'd like to make characters I really loved and that have not been interpreted too many times already.  I love to read so I'd have to go snooping through all my books to find some good ones!  Marley's Ghost would be great!  You should definitely do that and you know, I think you just came up with a great idea for a challenge yourself!  If you put it out there with a generous deadline, I bet you'd get some takers.  I'm in!

WT: No way! I didn’t even know I was doing it! Hehe. It’s a shame I didn’t think of it earlier – this year was the National Year of Reading here in Australia. It would have been a great challenge to hold at the beginning of the year. It would be exciting to set up a challenge. I shall have a think about it.

So, we’re at the end of the interview. Is there anything else you would like to add?

MCS: Just a couple of credits here: First, a big thank you to my hubby who allows me to be me, with all my imperfections and flaws, who other than an occasional request for some clean clothes or a home-cooked meal, supports me in my craft.  Because of him, I have been able to lower stress levels in my life and find my creative outlets.  And he's cute too!  And also a big thank you to all the people who take the time to post positive comments or messages about my crochet designs.  It takes time and effort to do the work, write it down and print it up, no matter how big or small the project may be.  In this day of simply being able to click a button to "Like" something on Facebook, those comments and messages mean a lot.  Those positive messages fuel my desire to continue to create fun patterns and to always strive to improve.  Thank you to you, Kim, for coming up with great new questions!  And one last thank you to everyone who read this interview.  It's good to have you here - don't be a stranger!  :)

WT: Thanks, Teeni! I had so much fun doing these interviews and learning more about you and your craft. I’ll be following you and cheering you on as you do the Yarndango!

Want to learn more about this wonderfully Mad Crochet Scientist? (Of course you do) Read a wonderful interview she did with Jaime Maraia on Crochet Dynamite here. You’ll also want to check out her blogs, Mad Crochet Lab and Aunty’s Tea Room, and her facebook page.

Thanks for reading, everyone!

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