GeekCraft Expo Midwest's Spring Thing is right around the corner—have you RSVPed to our free, family-friendly show? Come to the Madison Masonic Center March 3-4 for the coolest, geekiest crafts handmade by local creators, plus enjoy free kids activities thanks to The Bodgery!
One of our returning exhibitors is The Bittiest Baubles, makers of adorable mini amigurumi. We chatted with crafter Justine Gerns about when she learned to crochet, how she designs her figures, and what you'll find on her table!
GeekCraft Expo: How did you come up with your shop name?
The Bittiest Baubles: The inspiration for my shop’s name comes from several of my geeky interests, including video games, fantasy and sci-fi novels, knitting, crochet, and digital art.
After showing my first few creations to friends, and expressing my struggle in coming up with a name, someone made an artsy comparison. They noticed how stitches in crochet can look like pixels, with squared off and unblended color changes. Fiber pixel art, so to speak, like 8-bit color graphics. 8-bit and tiny then. No, wait. Not tiny, bitty.
Now, "Baubles" isn't a word commonly used in modern society to describe small showy trinkets, decorations, jewelry, keychains, knick knacks, bits and bobs—which were exactly what I was beginning to create with a hook and thread. However, it's a word that lives perfectly in the worlds of the medieval fantasy novels I've consumed with a passion since 6th grade. Needless to say, I have a fondness for older vocabulary.
This you might have guessed, but I love miniature things. I find them fascinating and adorable! So when I learned to crochet I determinedly started small right away. (Anyone who’d ever even considered making something in miniature can tell it takes some determination.) When I first started making my mini amigurumi I noticed that there didn't seem to be many artists making them at the scale that I was, which is to say hardly any at all. I wasn’t just creating “itty-bitty baubles” but The Bittiest Baubles. Bold, I know, but when your art is as small as mine, a little boldness doesn’t hurt. Plus, who doesn't love a little alliteration?
GCE: What drew you to crochet?
TBB: Necessity! My grandma taught me to knit when I was six, and while you can knit amigurumi, knitting just doesn’t have the same 3D structural capabilities that crochet does. Knitting was severely limiting my amigurumi crafting potential, and I was just so darn excited to make my ideas a reality. I needed to know how to crochet in order to be able to bring to life the designs that I was dreaming of. So I learned, and it’s like magic in my fingertips.
GCE: What are some of your influences?
TBB: Well, the general form of my craft is called amigurumi, which is the Japanese art of knitting or crocheting small, stuffed yarn creatures. As a fan of anime, manga, and Japanese culture in general, I draw greatly from the aesthetics of “kawaii,” (the culture of cuteness in Japan) and “chibi.” From there I incorporate those stylings into designs of the creatures or characters that I model out of embroidery floss.
One thing that I find challenging when working with these styles is simplifying details out of my doll designs. I love attention to detail, but working in miniature is already highly time consuming and leaves me with less physical space to work with. Besides that, a big component of chibi and kawaii art is simplification. Leaving behind some details and accuracy for the sake of emphasizing a few key features to crank up the cuteness levels.
GCE: How do you choose which characters/things to make?
TBB: I tend to go with what I feel really excited about making at the time. I know that seems like too straightforward of an answer, but what prompts that inspired motivation is often a bit mysterious. Sometimes it corresponds with what’s big in pop culture at the time. Other times I might be revisiting an old favorite fandom. It just kind of has to feel right, energizing.
For instance, I’ve been struggling all week to get myself to restock Pikachu dolls, but all I’ve really been thinking about is rewriting my R2-D2 design and busting out a bunch of them for GCE. I’ve not watched Star Wars since the most recent release, but here I am, daydreaming about a cute little blue-and-white robot.
GCE: What are your favorite geeky movies, TV shows, comics, or video games?
TBB: Absolutely everything from Studio Ghibli, especially works created by Hayao Miyazaki. My childhood was built on Ghibli, Harvest Moon, Harry Potter, and Pokemon. The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, The Inheritance Cycle; Just think of some combo of medieval fantasy, magic, dragons, mages, knights, adventure, and bad*ss female warriors, and I’m happy.
A large part of my heart is reserved for adoration of anything written by Tamora Pierce. Avatar The Last Airbender will forever be like a best friend I can go to who will always lift me up. World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, and Skyrim are some of my favorites to play, though Horizon Zero Dawn stole my breath away the moment it was first announced in 2015. I’m taking my time to work through it still, and I’m loving every minute of it.
GCE: What is your favorite convention snack?
TBB: Ah, my snack desires change on the daily, but always at least one salty and one sweet treat. The combo I seem to be coming back to a lot this month is PEZ candy in a BB-8 dispenser, and salt and vinegar potato chips. In case you’re wondering: no, I do not eat them in the same mouthful. Alternating bites is key, my friends!
GCE: What are you bringing to GeekCraft Expo Midwest this spring?
TBB: Superhero, Star Wars, Studio Ghibli, and Pokemon fans will all be in good company at my table. I’ve revamped a few older designs and temporarily retired some others whose patterns I’d like to rework. It’s been a few months since I’ve been able to design anything new, so I’d like to bring a few new characters this time around. Have you seen Black Panther yet? (hint hint) And, of course I’m always expanding my Ghibli collection.
Big thanks to Justine for putting down her crochet hook long enough to answer our questions! Come see her (and dozens of other amazing crafters) at GeekCraft Expo Midwest's Spring Thing. Make a day of it: dress in cosplay, pose for photos at our backdrop, and grab a bite at the Masonic Center's "Mos Eisley Cantina"!