Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Why Cosplay?

Cosplay isn't exactly a "traditional" craft. So, why did I choose it as my focus?
First, despite the elaborate and unusual costumes that sometimes result from cosplay, it almost always also involves traditional textile crafts such as sewing. I'm using this opportunity to expand my expertise in sewing in general, not just for cosplay costumes. Those basic foundational skills are the same whether you're sewing an everyday outfit or a costume, so the math learning (or any other learning!) that may emerge will be comparable.
Second, cosplay, believe it or not, can be a site for social justice activism. "Crossplay," or cosplaying as a character who does not share your gender, is commonplace at cons, allowing for questioning of gender norms and play with gender identity (though problems still exist; men crossplaying as female characters is still rarer than the reverse, and more often done as a joke than in earnest). Since the main point of cosplay is to celebrate your love for a fandom and character, cosplay is teaching people to look past external cultural markers like race, gender, ethnicity, and body shape and to view diverse cosplayers not as "Others," but as valued members of the fandom community. For instance, trans and nonbinary fans are finding cosplay to be a safe space to explore their gender identity.

Female cosplayer crossplaying as Two-Face from Batman
Male cosplayer crossplaying as Sailor Venus from Sailor Moon

Cosplay also seems to be a majority-female field, even if fan convention attendees are still (slightly) majority male. So, cosplay culture fits in well with our focus on helping to overcome gender divides. And it may even help with the gender gap in STEM fields: with the math and sometimes technology involved in sewing and costume-making, tapping into youths' interest in fandom and cosplay may also help to awaken interests in STEM. Sometimes technology is necessary in order to “accurately” portray a character’s mecha-suit or magical powers, so more and more cosplayers are starting to incorporate aspects of e-textiles into their costumes.
A light-up Elsa (from Frozen) cosplay--of which I am insanely jealous!
Finally, I have a personal stake in this. I've been a fan of geek media for most of my life, and have put versions of my favorite characters in my pretend play and in the stories I write for as long as I can remember. When I found out about the cosplay phenomenon, it seemed like the perfect place for me! But until recently, I had neither the time nor the confidence to dive in. Now I'm eager to explore this exciting community and to experience its enormous potential for learning and identity development!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Woolly Thoughts: Mathekniticians

Pat Ashforth & Steve Plummer are the creators of Woolly Thoughts, a book about wearable textiles and mathematical principles. The book provides patterns and instructions for knitters of different skill levels. The book is an exploration of modular knitting, which is a game-like way to make designs (think jigsaw puzzles).

Here's the revolutionary way to knit—easy, fun, and foolproof! You can make your own rules and mix your own colors, and you can't go wrong. All you have to do is master a single stitch. The techniques in Pat Ashforth and Steve Plummer's illustrated book will show you how to make patchwork squares that you can assemble to create colorful sweaters of your own design.

More than 100 drawings and diagrams, plus four pages in full color, illustrate the step-by-step instructions for casting on, knitting, casting off, and sewing up. Even if you've never knitted before, you'll be able to make a sweater after reading the first section. If you're an experienced knitter, you'll find hundreds of ideas for designs, yarns, and textures. The possibilities are endless, and the more you explore, the more inventive you'll become.

Written by two mathematics teachers—one a keen knitter, the other an illustrator—Woolly Thoughts uses mathematical principles to make knitting in squares work every time. Everything you make will be the right size, no matter how tightly or loosely you knit. Forget about conventional knitting patterns, and give your imagination free rein with Ashforth and Plummer's patchwork knitting method.

The pair refer to themselves as “mathekniticians”, because they are fascinated by the mathematical possibilities present in knit and crochet craft. What’s more? They are a husband and wife team! Their book provides the knitter with a way to make wearable garments out of mathematical methods.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Stitch Together Anatomical Models

Max Alexander is a fiber art designer. She makes jewelry for knitters, knit patterns, and other artful creations. Among her various projects are knit sculptures. More specifically, Max knits sculptures of moths. I came across her work while searching the online pages of Make for new textile ideas.

In December, MAKE Magazine featured Max’s knit moth sculpture work. As you can see in the photos below, the moths are knitted with great detail. The article describes how the “distinctive markings on moths translate beautifully into knitted fabric”.

Knitted Moths

Max has a lot of other fabulous knit work. Head over to Max’s World to explore more interesting knit ideas.

Jewelry created by Max: Knitter’s Brooch, Crochet Hook Earrings, Skein Necklace

I chose to write about this work because I am intrigued by the level of complexity that can be modeled with fiber and textile design. It is interesting to see how realistic-looking models of biological life forms can be recreated using fiber arts. Perhaps, in the creation of physically accurate models, individuals may be able to observe finer details of seemingly mundane forms of life. I think I would like to try something like this in my own knitting - but it is clear that the level of dexterity needed for something of this difficulty level is not a skill that develops overnight (or several nights). This type of project looks beautiful but, at the moment, too difficult.

It seems that the construction of anatomically accurate models from knit may have interesting implications in education. While the maker shapes the material to make the model, the material also influences the maker’s actions. Yarn, in contrast to paper and pencil, allows for the creation of models in 3D space. Karen Norberg’s impressive knitted brain shows the level of complexity that can be achieved with stitches in model-making. Further, The Museum of Scientifically Accurate Fabric Brain Art showcases the work of Norberg and Marjorie Taylor, who have crafted many interesting models. Though these models are beyond the scope of my current ability level, I will be searching for ways to crack into this facet of knit craft while my skills develop.

Artist: Karen Norberg