Living Inspired: Nerdigurumi

Posted by Autumn

MJ Bailey is the creator of the super-popular amigurumi website, She is also a administrative professional, mother to a "nerdy rock n' roll" teenager, and a crochet pattern designer.

When did you start to crochet? Is it true you started crocheting because of a videogame?
I started crocheting successfully in the fall of 2009.  I had attempted to crochet on a few occasions prior to that, but struggled with various aspects of the basic concepts and techniques and usually gave up.  As a craft it's a lot like riding a bike.  It seems incredibly complex, bordering on madness and impossibility, until you have that light bulb moment and it clicks and all makes sense for you.  After that it's pretty much gravy and you can sort out anything you want to with a little additional focus and elbow grease.
My driving force in learning was to make an amigurumi Sack Boy from Little Big Planet.  Amigurumi in general were awesome and something I really wanted to make, but the Sack Boy was the dangling carrot for me.  In the vide game he is knit, so felt wouldn't do, and knitting looked wrong scale wise.  Crochet amigurumi had a look that would suit him perfectly, and it just had to be.

What inspired you to start writing patterns?

Sack Boy again was a driving force.  Most of the crochet patterns that were circulating for Sack Boy were for purchase only, and many of them looked very little like the character from the game.  No one pattern had a look I was happy with, and I was not willing to shell out money for a pattern anyhow.  Once you understand crochet stitches and what roles they play, it's not hard to begin visualizing and constructing your own shapes.  For me it was not only more rewarding to be able to construct my own, but it was easier too.  I still hate trying to follow patterns and prefer winging it to deciphering patterns.
Sharing the pattern was a no brainer for me.  I'm a firm believer in the value of open source and shared information.  The Internet can and should be an amazing collective hub of teaching, where pretty much anyone can learn pretty much anything from a random stranger 70 billion miles away who is deeply passionate about a subject and gets gratification from sharing what they know.


What does crochet bring to your life?
Purpose beyond self-gratification.  I love the hobby, but being able to share my work and help people learn and figure it out brings it to another level

Could you tell us about your favorite project of all time?
I would have to say the Bioshock Big Daddy.  That being said most of my work is given away or collects dust in a bag in my room.  Making the things and the joy the things bring to whoever I give them to, is the payoff for me.  I guess I don't really value the finished items as much as the creative process.  I crochet because I like crocheting stuff, as opposed to crocheting because I want to have crocheted items.

Many of your patterns are inspired by “nerdy” things like comic books, sci-fi and video games. Do you find there is a lot of crossover between the nerd chic community and crafters?
I think nerds by their very nature are tinkerers so there is a lot of geek culture related representation in many types of crafts, sewing, cross stitch, fuse beads, polymer clay, knitting and crochet being likely the most common.  I suppose there is a fair bit of cross pollenation in that people who have no interest in those things might be bugged by their children to make a Minecraft amigurumi or be motivated to make a Bat Man beanie for a relative who is a huge fan.  Nerdery at it's core is very diverse, spans many genres, genders and generations, so all types of people are interested in many different things.  Even just within the crochet world, if you look at folks who have made my stuff, most of them have made more mainstream or traditional crocheted items as well.

One of our favorite projects was the amigurumi Big Daddy, from the video game Bioshock. How long did it take you to create a working pattern for that character? How long to complete the amigurumi?
That amigurumi is my favorite as well, not so much because of the work itself or how it turned out, but because of my affinity for Bioshock and the Big Daddies themselves.  The Bouncer took around 15 hours or so to complete and his pattern was written out as he was constructed.  Many pieces were ripped and redone because of scale or other quality issues which added to the time.  I think a skilled crocheter working from the completed pattern might be able to get him done in 5 hours or so, maybe less.  It's the sewing and the details that are real time vampires.

You mention on your site that you’re a mom to a “nerdy rock ‘n’ roll teenage daughter.” Is crocheting, or crafting in general, a family affair?
When she was younger yes, but now she has no interest, which is fine.  She spends the bulk of her spare time perfecting designed items, levels, and logic in Little Big Planet and Little Big Planet 2, which is where the bulk of her creativity is applied.  She and her friends build some pretty cool things and come up with really neat concepts.  She draws well and doodles little manga style comic characters but it's more of a casual pastime.  My mom knits and needle felts but crochet itself isn't really a shared passion or group activity.

You’re a professional, a wife, a mom, and a pattern designer. You teach classes at conventions, create  tutorials, and maintain your own website. How do you find time to do it all?
I have a very awesome husband who is a stay at home dad/homeschool instructor for our kid and takes care of most domestic things that need attention and is supportive of my hobby.  For me crochet is a great way to relax and focus on something positive and fun in times of stress, problems or boredom so it's not really hard to work it in.  The feedback and support I get from folks who use my work is also overwhelmingly positive, appreciative and engaging, which is really validating and empowering and motivates me to keep it up.  I also don't have cable TV which probably helps.  My biggest problem is probably seeing projects through to completion and controlling the urge to drop what I am doing and start this other awesome thing I just thought of but will probably never finish either.

You're a fan of the charity Child's Play. Could you tell us about that?
I am a big supporter of Child's Play. They provide gaming stuff to children's hospitals and pediatric wards.  I've seen first hand the massive impact an old dilapidated copy of Super Mario World can have in distracting a sick child from the reality of a crowded hospital room, an upset gurgly tummy from medications, the IV and the general exhaustion, noise, chaos and scariness of being in a hospital.  A beat up old SNES and a couple of old games brought my child joy and sanity during a very trying and agonizing ordeal.  The relief that brought us was also priceless, because honestly it can be just as hard on the parents.  A charity that works to help hospitals offer sick kids a little distraction and a little fun is definitely tops in my book.

What advice would you give someone who is just starting out in your craft?
I would say: Don't give up, we all sucked at first. There are two sides to the learning experience, one being the tools you are using and the other being the ability of the instructor's style to make sense to you. Do some research before buying your tools, a good hook and good yarn make all the difference, seriously.... I can't stress that enough.
For instruction, forget about buying a book or a kit.  If you are excited about books, go to the library first.  Don't feel like you need to buy anything to learn, save that money for a good hook and some good yarn. The importance in free learning resources is that you will be free to toss them aside and move on to others if the method of instruction is not intuitive to you. If you shelled out $15 for a book you are more likely to pressure yourself to keep trying to use it to learn and may get frustrated faster if it's not meshing with your learning style. Youtube has gobs of instuctors, myself included, with gobs of videos for every stitch. Some are right-handed, some left, and most of them have slightly or extremely different ways of holding the hook, different ways of explaining the steps and different techniques and camera angles. Keep trying different ones until one makes sense to you then trial and error until you have the basics down pat.
Essentially, in learning a stitch and learning the rhyme and reason to increasing and decreasing, you are learning not only how to make one pattern or one thing, but how to create and construct shapes. Once armed with that knowledge, you can make pretty much anything you want without a pattern and are unstoppable.

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