Getting Started With Geeky Crafts

Your dilemma: You see tons of cute geeky craft projects everywhere you turn on the interwebs and you want to hop on board…but you can’t craft to save your life. And you may be afraid that trying to take up crafting is going to leave you with a ton of junk that’s going to sit around your house for the next few years as you mumble, “I’ll get to it this weekend…” every time you walk by.

I’ve rounded up a short list of crafts that require very little time, space, and money investment to get started in.

1) Amigurumi

Amigurumi character
Source: SNCxCreations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amigurumi is a very simple crochet style that is beginner-friendly for a variety of reasons:

  • Most patterns only require you to know the first two stitches a crochet student has to learn: the chain stitch and the single crochet.
  • Since toys are much more forgiving of size variation than clothing, you only need a few hooks.
  • You can buy the absolute cheapest, bargain-brand, super-clearanced yarn you find, since you don’t have to worry about it being comfortable to wear and 99% of projects require less than a single skein of yarn per color (Added bonus: the cheap stuff is the easiest to wash if your ami ever gets dirty).
  • Because it had an explosion of popularity a few years ago, there’s a staggering amount of tutorials and you can get free patterns for hundreds, if not thousands, of amigurumi on sites like Craftster and Ravelry. There are entire blogs dedicated to giving out free amigurumi patterns. If you don’t mind spending a few dollars for patterns you have access to an even greater variety.
  • Because of the simplicity, once you’ve had some practice and can comfortably follow patterns, it’s very easy to start coming up with your own designs. Eventually you’ll be able to whip up cute figures for your favorite characters.

A few links to get you started:

Note: Sometimes it can be hard for crochet newbies to understand exactly what is going on in a video tutorial because a strand of yarn being twisted around can be a hard target to follow. Don’t be discouraged if you have to rewatch portions of a video several time to be sure what is being demonstrated.

 

2) Decoupage (Picture + Glue + Surface of your choosing + Sealer)

Comic Book Decoupage
Source: Heath

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a very simple craft technique that can be adapted to a variety of base materials. You can use decoupage to make coasters, pendants, cell phone cases, wall art, cigar box purses/containers, magnets, switchplate covers, etc. There are two main limitations: you want the surface to be free of lumps, and the material you’re using for the image should be tested to make sure it doesn’t bleed colors when you brush on the Mod Podge.

The easiest method is to cut up pictures from comic books, magazines, or your home printer, adhere with Mod Podge, and spray with sealant. Allow to dry for as long as the sealant says it must cure (often 72 hours).

Note: Decoupage was the original go-to term to describe this technique. Mod Podge, the most commonly used product as a dual purpose adhesive and sealer, has begun to supplant decoupage as the generic word for the technique itself in common usage. When you’re looking for tutorials and inspiration, you’ll often have better luck doing searches for both terms.

Some basic tutorials:

3) Cross Stitch & Embroidery

Source: Gillian
Source: Gillian

 

 

 

 

 

 

All you need is an embroidery needle, a package of several floss colors, and some fabric. It’s literally as simple as learning how to make a few lines and “X”s on fabric. If you’ve seen the extremely detailed counted cross stitch and needlepoint kits in stores, you may have been too intimidated to try this craft. I assure you that you can find (and design) simple beginner projects that are orders of magnitude easier than commercial kits.

Like decoupage, this is a case where a very simple technique can be used to create any image you can think of on a variety of surfaces. Aida cloth and felt are the most common, but you can graduate to harder surfaces like leather, denim, and canvas once you have a hang of the basics.

Some basic tutorials:

 

 

Tabletopia: A Kickstarter For Tabletop Fans

I can’t deny being more than a little hyped about Tabletopia. If the developers can deliver on their promises, this looks to be an exciting platform for both playing and creating a wide variety of tabletop games in a virtual setting. While I’m committed to the search for a local tabletop game group to attend in person, the ability to play these games with online friends would be very welcome.

The game design features seem very user-friendly, though at this point it’s hard to tell exactly how much experience one will need to make use of this aspect of Tabletopia. I’m curious if they’ll model their distribution platform like Steam Greenlight, which requires community support, or if anyone who makes a game will be able to sell it without a screening process.

 

Tabletopia was conceived by Russian businessman Tim Bokarev along with two partners in the gaming industry, Artem Zinoviev and Dmitry Sergeev. The project reached its initial Kickstarter goal of $20,000 within 24 hours and is now working on a $35,000 stretch goal. You can follow them on Twitter and check out their blog.

Viscera Cleanup Detail: Spotlight On Space-Janitors

This bizarre little gem is one of my favorite games for when I just want to de-stress and listen to music while playing something relaxing. And the perfect way to do that is to clean up entrails, bloody smears, shell casings, and green goop of an indeterminate nature.

Viscera Cleanup Detail

Viscera Cleanup Detail puts you in the shoes of the people who clean up the aftermath of the type of bloody space battle other games simulate. It has a lot of WTF potential if you’re looking for a fun, simple game to use as the basic of a Let’s Play type video or a stream.

The player is tasked with cleaning up various levels of a space station. They’re given mops, buckets, an incinerator, and a few other very basic tools. Everything is reactive to the player’s movements: if you handle something carelessly, you’ll make an even bigger mess. Knocking over dirty water buckets, tracking blood on the bottoms of your shoes, and letting bloody limbs bump into walls are some ways of creating more trouble for yourself.

Viscera Cleanup Detail 2

Multiplayer is enjoyable though you’ll most likely spend the entire time trying to make a huge mess and undo everything the other player has managed to accomplish (Or is that just me?).

The downside is that there isn’t much action. The game would be improved by a bit of random violence. There’s technically a few ways to die (plus a few glitches in multiplayer that can result in death) but I’d like for there to be even a small danger of getting smushed by something when poking into shadowy corners.

From the Steam page:

Disaster! An alien invasion and subsequent infestation have decimated this facility. Many lives were lost, the facility was ruined and the aliens were unstoppable. All hope was lost until one survivor found the courage to fight back and put the aliens in their place!

It was a long and horrific battle as the survivor duelled with all manner of terrifying life-forms and alien mutations, but our hero won out in the end and destroyed the alien menace! Humanity was saved!

Unfortunately, the alien infestation and the heroic efforts of the courageous survivors have left rather a mess throughout the facility. As the janitor, it is your duty to get this place cleaned up.

So grab your mop and roll up your sleeves, this is gonna be one messy job.
Today, you’re on Viscera Cleanup Detail!

There are two similar titles released by RuneStorm: Santa’s Rampage and Shadow Warrior. Santa’s Rampage, as you might have guessed, takes place in Santa’s workshop after he goes postal and massacres his helpers. I’ve been saving that one for this December; it seems like a game that’s perfect for a cozy winter night with cocoa and Weird Al’s ‘The Night Santa Went Crazy’ on repeat.

 

Beyond The Brick: A Lego Brickumentary

Lego BrickumentaryA Lego Brickumentary is a documentary narrated by Jason Bateman. It starts with the early days of Lego and is packed with interesting factoids about the iconic company, from the factory burning down an alarming number of times to the information that it’s the biggest toy company in the world despite essentially only offering one product. The Brickumentary had limited release in theaters but it’s available on DVD and as a digital download.

We’re also given a peek inside the Lego headquarters and interviews with Lego Master Builders who stand proudly beside their stunning projects.

The film delves into a multitude of Lego subjects such as:

  • The computer programs used for the most massive Lego construction projects
  • Lego Conventions
  • Husband & wife Lego builder teams
  • Hacker-friendly Lego projects like Mindstorm
  • The origins of various lines
  • The founding of the website that allows fans to vote on sets to be produced
  • Fan creators who sell custom accessories like weapons

A really interesting portion of the documentary covered the near financial ruin of the company in the late 90s/early aughts. Everyone from the company that they interviewed took full responsibility for losing sight of the Lego vision. It was an inspiring story of how a company can listen to feedback from their long-time customers and make a phenomenal comeback with hard work and respect for the consumer.

While much of the information in this documentary can be found in text sources like Wikipedia and Lego blogs, the visuals are stunning and wonderfully immersive. It’s one thing to read about an out-of-work architect helping to start the Lego architecture line. It’s quite another to see and hear the man as he’s surrounded by epic, towering designs put together in his own living room, talking about the passion that gave him direction after his architectural firm went bust.

The tone is excessively upbeat; I found it charming but people who aren’t head-over-heels in love with all things Lego might get a bit fed up with it by the end.

The Brickumentary is rated G and should be fairly appropriate for all ages. My only real complaint about the film is that I wish they’d have omitted the commentary about men having a code word for attractive women at Lego conventions: A “one-by-five,” aka something that’s virtually nonexistent. A G-rated film that’s intended to be family-friendly should have thought a bit harder about what message that sends to little girls.

Deathly Spirits: Bite-sized Horror Paired With Classic Cocktails

Deathly Spirits is a horror-themed web series with a fun, old-timey aesthetic staring Ted Raimi. Each episode ties in with a cocktail, the recipe being narrated by Ted at the end. The narrator is a throwback to the lovably creepy staples from the days of black and white film.

Its greatest strength is that it’s completely unselfconcious; Raimi clearly made this series as an homage to horror from an era that might be considered silly by modern audiences. More often than not, creators fall into the trap of trying too hard to be “ironic” and poking fun at their childhood inspirations instead of embracing all the things they loved about them. Raimi chose sincerity instead of irony and the series is much more memorable for it.

Each episode is a little over 4 minutes long, including the drink recipes and credits. The stories are simple and rely on narration with a few key sound effects. It’s far more reminiscent of old radio broadcasts than a web series, but the setting and acting add enough atmospheric charm to justify releasing it in a visual medium rather than as a podcast.

The episodes are all completely self-contained and can be watched in any order. My personal favorite is episode four, The Greyhound:

 

This excerpt from Raimi’s blog gives the viewer (listener?) an idea about his inspiration for this series:

I love old time radio dramas.

I really do.

I love how the writing there is king and acting is the prince and the sound effects and music are the royal court.  There’s really nothing else that is half as entertaining when it’s good.

I love movies, too.  Love, love, love them. But they are a pale shadow compared to the drama of radio.

Which is to say, nothing is more sensational to the mind when words are spoken and your brain has to piece the images together.  Can you guess which images it picks?  Yours, naturally – not the filmmaker’s.  Now there’s nothing inherently  bad about images. They are powerful and meaningful when presented correctly.  It’s just that they don’t have the same meaning as the ones you are familiar with.

You’re Never Weird On The Internet (Almost)

You're Never Weird On The InternetThis is part review, part love letter dedicated to a book about a creator who has inspired me like few others ever have. You’re Never Weird On The Internet (Almost) is the memoir of Felicia Day, creator of The Guild, co-star of Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and co-founder of Geek & Sundry with Kim Evey and Sheri Bryant.

At the risk of being dramatic, I partially credit Felicia and The Guild with the fact that several years ago, when I was at a low point in a lifelong battle with depression, I chose life instead of suicide. (That’s a subtle hint that this book review is going to be somewhat biased; I promise, on my honor, to return to my regularly scheduled nit-picking of all things nerdy on Monday. Ahem.).

You’re Never Weird On The Internet is essentially a book about two things: being an outsider and finding your place on the internet, and the story of a young person who decides to create her dream job after spending most of her 20s trying to chase one that never materialized. If you’re a geek who’s been suffering the oh-god-what-am-I-doing-with-my-life blues, this is the book for you.

Never Weird starts out with an anecdote about Felicia feeling uncomfortable and out of place for going into Build-a-Bear as a 30-something year old woman. I know what you’re thinking. For a split second, even I had a reaction of, “Oh, come now, there’s nothing really weird about that; lots of adults go to Build-a-Bear by themselves!”

Except…I had an almost identical experience this year, just a few months prior to turning 30. I breezed in thinking I’d get myself something cute, pretending that nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I’d be out of place didn’t exist. But there I was, suddenly surrounded by moms with little kids in tow, and I felt like the creepy adult intruding in a space where I didn’t belong.

Source: Gage Skidmore
Source: Gage Skidmore

Geeky media and the enthusiasm many of us having for ‘kids’ things has become so much more mainstream in recent years it’s sometimes hard to remember that our shameless enjoyment of such isn’t free from those fumbling moments of awkwardness. It was the perfect story to begin the book with, because it’s a great example of something none of our internet friends would find remotely odd–or even suspect that other people still find it odd–yet it plays out so uncomfortably in the real world. These conflicts still crop up.

There’s a joyful bit of nostalgia as Felicia talks about the early days of online communities; even if you can’t relate to being homeschooled, you probably have fond memories of the first days you went online and found out that people who shared your interests were right there at your fingertips.

I think a lot of people from Gen X and the Millennials can relate to Felicia’s struggle in the years prior to making The Guild. In many places I felt like I was reading about myself. The struggle with trying to break into a field for years only to cling to the edges, constantly unsure if you should surrender to the inevitable or keep trying. Burying yourself in an online community because it feels so much more real and tangible than the bland hamster wheel you’re endlessly treading on in the meat space. The crushing fear as your 20s slip away and every new year brings more anxiety and the sureness that some cosmic clock is running out on you. It’s a story that resonates with my generation; I feel it in my own life. I hear these anxieties from the people I know on a constant basis.

This book is about all that anxiety and dread and how one woman basically said no more; I’m going to really do something. I can’t really describe how much hope and joy there is in You’re Never Weird On The Internet for people who have been wrestling with creative block and depression. Most of us will never come close to her level of success, but that’s never really the point of books like these. The point is to get excited about carving out a living on your own terms through hard work and finally being able to say that you feel as if you’ll be leaving something good behind when you’re done here.

At this point some of you might be asking, “Yes, yes, that’s all very inspirational and I might even watch it if it ever gets made into a Lifetime movie when I have a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and nothing to lose, but who the hell is this Felicia chick and why should I care?”

The Guild Cast
Source: thebuibrothers.com

The Guild was a sensation in the earliest days of YouTube and a pioneering project in online TV. Though it finished its final season several years ago, The Guild’s influence is still felt in the world of crowdfunding and independent media. It was one of the earliest and best-known examples of a large-scale crowdfunding effort. It was Felicia’s baby, and it’s the reason I (and, I suspect, quite a few other people) started playing World of Warcraft.

I remember the very moment I decided to start playing. It was because of Clara.  Clara, singing an in-game holiday song with cheerful abandon along with the NPCs, The Guildwearing that silly squid hat. It wasn’t even the first time I’d seen that episode; I started playing WoW in mid 2012, two years after the episode premiered.

But watching it one day, I couldn’t sit in my chair one minute longer; I was in the car and heading to Best Buy for a copy of the game before I was even fully aware I’d made a decision. I stopped playing after a while because I was shy and hadn’t joined a guild. But a year later, when my depression was at its worst, my 10 year high school reunion was fast approaching and I had nothing to show for my time on this earth except a crappy retail job and a hard drive of barely-started writing projects, I gave it one more shot.

And I came alive. I felt like I belonged for the first time in almost a decade. I had friends. I never actually noticed when the suicidal urges fell away. It wasn’t until a few months later that I recalled how often, in the months preceding joining my guild, that I wanted to end it all. It’s not the perfect solution to unhappiness with real life; the six months or so, I was a woman obsessed, much like Felicia was. Thankfully my interest relaxed to a more reasonable level and I didn’t have to give it up cold turkey; Warcraft is very much still a love of mine and a big part of my life.

Thank you, Felicia Day. And extra special thanks to the employee at Build-A-Bear who didn’t make me feel weird for shopping there (even though he did make me kiss the little fabric heart before he’d put it in the bear’s chest) and even suggested I let him overstuff teddy bear Hulk’s muscles so they look like they’re about to burst at the seams. I sleep with him every night (Teddy bear Hulk, not the Build-A-Bear guy).

Star Wars Imperial Handbook: Your Friendly Guide To Ruling The Galaxy

The Imperial Handbook was released last year as part of a deluxe boxed edition forImperial Handbook a whopping list price of $99 ($78.00 on Amazon Prime). This week, as the newest entry in a popular series of guides including The Bounty Hunter Code, The Jedi Path, and The Book of Sith, the book by itself was released at a much more wallet-friendly list price of $19.95 (discounted to $9.54 on Amazon).

The Handbook is an Imperial publication stolen by Rebel forces for intel purposes. Famous characters such as Leia, Luke, Mon Mothma, and numerous others have scribbled humorous notes in the margins at some of the more outrageous propaganda-laden passages. Wedge and Han often provide perspective on sections that relate to military strategy and organization.

Star Wars Imperial HandbookThe book is divided into five parts: The Imperial Military, The Imperial Navy, The Imperial Army, The Stormtrooper Corps, and the Imperial Doctrine. The military and doctrine parts focus mainly on propaganda and the political philosophy of the Empire, while the three specific branches of the military focus on things like uniforms, chain of command, and so on.

The value of this book to the consumer is likely somewhat proportional to how many Star Wars reference books one already owns. While enjoyable and containing some truly beautiful art, much of this information is likely covered in the existing Star Wars guides to vehicles, fauna, and planets.

However, the commentary from the Rebels does make the book a pleasant read even if you do know much of the information already. Its small size also makes it an easy reference to keep handy, unlike some of the more cumbersome large-format books.

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