Steampunk Gears for CoNZealand

Nobody knows what will happen between now and the end of July, when CoNZealand is scheduled to happen. That doesn’t stop me from making some steampunk gears for yarnbombing CoNZealand, though.

Here’s what I made:

Steampunk Gears, arranged

These are three different gears, and I’m planning to make a few more. They could be sewn together to make a garland, for example. If you want to play along, I prepared the instructions as a PDF download. I’d love to see what you come up with using those instructions!


Colouring Pages

Colouring pages appeal to lots of people of all ages and it’s a pretty low-stakes activity to provide. Sitting down with a pretty picture and a set of coloured pens is a good way to take a short time-out in the middle of a busy convention. So when thinking about what craft activities I wanted to organize for Dublin 2019, colouring pages were a no-brainer to put on the list.

Inspired by the lovely colouring book that Worldcon75 in Helsinki put together, I wanted to provide images that had some connection to Dublin 2019, and I wanted to have a variety of artistic styles and levels of complexity represented. Where to get those, though? Turns out lots of artists were involved with the convention in one way or another and happy to share their work.


So, where did I find those people? First stop, the design team: Dublin 2019 Design and Branding Lead Sara Felix contributed a line art version of the Dublin 2019 logo, which was used as a colouring page as well as a plate for the letterpress printing workshop by the National Print Museum. Iain Clark was happy to share the line drawings that a lot of his art work for the convention were based on. Here’s my favourite colouring page and the poster from the NPM workshop:

Colouring page and poster from NPM Workshop at Dublin 2019

I also reached out to the Art Show team. Art Show Deputy Area Head Serena Culfeather provided some lovely geometric designs, and also reached out to two-time Hugo-Award-winning fan artist Sue Mason, who gave us lovely detailed dragons, unicorns and a super hero girl.

Posting to the Dublin 2019 staff discussion list brought the last set of pictures. Mirkka Ojala is a teacher from Finland, and drew some lovely simple horses and princesses that I was convinced would appeal to the younger crowd.

All in all we had 20 different images. As you can see in the picture above, I added a letter for easy identification to each one as well as the name of each artist and the Dublin 2019 logo. We got 50 of each image printed, making 1000 pages all in all.

During the Convention

We ended up having space both in the CCD Forum, which also had the dealers, fan tables, and displays, and in the Warehouse at Point Square near the Art Show. I split the printed pages in half to start with. For colouring, I got a selection of felt-tip pens, crayons, and coloured pencils. Initially, we put out about five copies of each design in each location. I scheduled volunteers for twice-daily housekeeping in each location, making sure there were enough supplies and things were looking good. On the last day we were running out of copies at the CCD, which was not very surprising given that there were many more people there than at Point Square. Sending most of the spare printouts over solved that problem nicely, so I’d say we were pretty spot on with the number of printouts we got.

Lessons learned

I think we got that one mostly right. The twice-daily clean-up was a lesson I’d taken away from Helsinki two years ago, when I ended up doing most of that job myself and realized that yes, it is necessary, even when most people are good about cleaning up after themselves.

Lessons from Running a Community Art Project

I wrote a long post about my experiences running the Raksura Colony Tree project at Dublin 2019. Since this got very long, here’s the short version with just the lessons I’m taking away from this.

What worked well

  • Start early – for an ambitious project like this, six months to a year is good, for smaller things less would be fine.
  • Shout it from the rooftops – a fixed location like this blog is good, but even more important is using the convention’s social media channels – the social media team will be happy to do the shouting if provided with material. I also wrote an article for the convention blog and made sure the project got a mention in one of the progress reports and in a member newsletter.
  • Get sponsoring – even if it’s a long shot, just a little bit of help on the materials side can make things much easier. I didn’t really expect this to work out, but my efforts in this area were richly rewarded.
  • Plan the space – Think about what you need and communicate your needs clearly to whoever’s providing the space – workspace, storage space, display space.
  • Get out of the way – this is a hard one for me, but letting people just run with what I had prepared und not worrying whether the result matches my artistic vision made everything so much better, and I didn’t have to expend energy policing things.
  • Be available – this was what the planned workshops on programme were for, so people knew when they could expect me to be there.

What I’d do differently next time

  • Minimize shipping of bulky/heavy stuff – for anything bulky and/or heavy, I’d try much harder to get some local help. Mailing a huge parcel is a pain.
  • Have a partner in crime – sharing the responsibility and the need to be available. Members of the community we built stepped up for me in the end, but this wasn’t planned and therefore not something I could have counted on beforehand.
  • Think about move-out – having a clear plan for what happens with the project and the materials when the convention is over would have made move-out much smoother for me.

The Raksura Colony Tree – Looking Back

How is it October already? It seems that I was just leaving the Warehouse at Point Square for the last time after a very busy Worldcon. But somehow enough time has passed that I think I can write about my experiences initiating and running the Raksura Colony Tree project. So here’s the story from idea to realisation and beyond. Hopefully it will be useful to others with similar ideas.

The Idea Stage

I must have come up with the fledgling idea that became the Raksura Colony Tree after the 2018 Hugo nominations were published. I knew I was going to Dublin and that I wanted to do something along the lines of the Hyperbolic Crochet project I ran in Helsinki in 2017. Sometime after finding out that The Books of the Raksura were nominated for a Best Series Hugo, my love of Martha Wells’ worldbuilding and for creating organic forms using all kinds of fiber crafts collided to form an idea of sorts. I was probably excited about the possibilities as well as scared what others would think about it – sharing ideas with the world is always hard! My first written notes are from July 2018, and I think I managed to meet up with a friend and share my rough idea sometime in September. Her enthusiasm and offer of help encouraged me to actually write things up into a formal proposal. Reading through that document right now I’m impressed how close to the original vision this turned out.

At the same time I finally volunteered for Dublin 2019 for the position of Displays Deputy Area Head and consequently ended up being responsible for this project from both sides of the coin – as the initiator and driver for the creative side as well as the convention staffer responsible for all the organizational details. This made things both easier (one less person involved in the communication chain) as well as harder (more work to do for me). Getting the proposal approved took a bit longer, since at that point in time we had a serious space problem within Exhibits. It was only with the addition of Point Square as Dublin 2019’s Creative Hub and the Warehouse as additional Exhibits space that we could move forward with this.

Planning and Promoting

I knew from the start that this was going to be much more ambitious than the Hyperbolic Crochet in Helsinki, and that if I wanted the project to be successful I needed to promote it and build a community pre-convention. This blog was started with that aim in mind, the first post being from January 2019. In parallel, I started a Ravelry group, which turned out a good choice for community involvement and participation for an almost exclusively fiber-oriented project.

Next step: let the right people know about the project! I wrote a short text, accompanied by a picture for use in Dublin 2019’s social media channels, and the social media team did a brilliant job getting the word out. I also wrote a post about community art projects for the Dublin 2019 blog, which went live in April. There were notes in progress reports as well as in a member newsletter. Even if at times it felt as if nothing was happening, people kept finding the blog and the Ravelry group, and slowly a community started to emerge.

Bonus effect: we were linked from File770 in early March (point 16 at the link), and from there Martha Wells found out about the project. Seeing the author of the books you’re making fan art for being excited about this was a major source of motivation to keep pushing this as far as it would go.

Building the Model

I knew from the beginning that this was going to be the weakest point in my plan. I tend to work in fiber and fabric, after all, and this model needed something stronger than that as a skeleton. This is the part I would have preferred not to have to do. Having somebody reasonably local to the convention make and transport the bulky stuff would have made my life so much easier! But nobody volunteered, and I didn’t know the right people to twist a few arms, so the model ended up being my job after all.

Backdrop for Model

I found a light and sturdy material in the 2.5cm-thick corrugated cardboard sheets my local art shop carries, and I’m still happy with that choice for an ephemeral project like this. It was easy to cut reasonably precisely, and didn’t mind being assembled and disassembled a few times in the process. It was showing signs of wear at the end, though. Making the covering for the model was more to my speed again, and pretty soon I had something that looked pretty good:

Model, covered, with platforms

Next problem: the model was more than a 1000 kilometres and some pesky bits of water away from where it was actually needed. And some of its pieces were pretty big, if not heavy. Enter the box:


Getting it to the post office was an adventure, and the dimensions of the box were pretty much hitting the limits DHL will transport without extortionate prices. I paid a little more than 30 Euros to get it to Dublin, which after unsuccessfully trying to get it back afterwards turns out to have been a steal.

Getting some Sponsoring

A project like this is way more fun if you have plenty of materials and tools for people to work with. I donated lots of my own stash and asked people to bring their bits and pieces of leftover yarn, but in this case more is definitely better. With that in mind I approached all the local yarn shops I could find (all four of them) by email and asked for their support. Asking for things from strangers is not an easy thing for me to do, and I spent quite some time crafting that email. In case it’s useful for anyone attempting something similar, here’s the email text for the sponsorship proposal. It took a while before I got an answer, but Dublin yarn shop This is Knit ended up supporting us heavily. Here’s what I carried out of the shop for us to use:


Lesson to myself: Asking never hurts, and it can pay off big time!

Moving Into the Warehouse

Wednesday was move-in day for Displays at the Warehouse. Getting the Raksura Colony Tree up and running was only one of the things that needed doing, but I did have help here as well as in the other areas I was responsible for. Let’s talk about the space for this project, though. I knew I needed the following elements:

  • Plenty of tablespace and lots of chairs for people to work on
  • Storage space – some kind of shelving
  • Space for setting up the model against a wall
  • an additional table to store components for the model
  • boxes to put materials in so we could be at least somewhat organized

The tables and the setup for the model are well documented in the various picture sets I posted already. I have just one picture of part of the shelving setup, thanks to convention photographer Anna Stefankova:

Shelving for Raksura Colony Tree project

We used cardboard boxes and paper bags to store materials in, the shelving itself was the cheapest stuff available – not very sturdy, but sufficient for the 5 days of the con. To keep the materials sorted I had prepared a set of signs (4 A6 signs to an A4 sheet of paper). Here’s the table with the components and a better view of some of the signs:

all the components!

Also in that picture: some of the ribbons everybody who participated in the project got.

A word regarding the tablecloths: They did look pretty for about 5 minutes, but turned out to be way too flimsy to survive the convention unscathed, because just touching one with a fingernail tore a hole in it. Lesson learned: be careful when ordering online that you know exactly what you’ll get.

All in all, our setup turned out to be pretty good for what it was intended for.

The Convention

The space I prepared was available to convention members during the convention whenever the Warehouse was open. In order to help new people to find out what this was all about and to have times when I would definitely be available for questions, I offered three introductory workshops Thursday through Saturday. I ran those as regular 1-hour programme slots, and while a shorter timeframe would have been sufficient – I ended up talking for about 10 minutes and then everyone was creating things with minimal input from me – I think the format worked well. For the times when I wasn’t there, I had prepared some printouts with background information and basic instructions. Those were printed out and laminated and laid out on the worktable. Here they are for posterity:

For the last day of the convention, I had scheduled another workshop for putting everything together and to make sure everything was finished, and a celebration as an opportunity for everyone to see the model in its finished state and to celebrate our achievement. 20190819_123446.jpg

Clean-up and Move-out

All too soon, the Dublin 2019 Worldcon was over, and I was left in a quiet Warehouse with the task of moving everything out that we moved in just a few days before. This was the part that could have used more planning and preparation – basically, I never got around to thinking about it before the con, and I wasn’t in any state to make good and informed decisions at the moment when I got huge parts of the Warehouse to clean out in just a few hours.

After the celebration everybody who wanted could take the pieces they contributed to take home with them. I packed up most of the leftover wool to go to a local charity that makes items for people in need. Then I took the model apart and packed pretty much everything else into the big box of doom to be taken to the convention’s offsite storage facility for the moment. Which got the problem out of my way for that day and the rest of my vacation. I still don’t have the contents of that box back home, since it turns out that there’s a strong asymmetry in the cost of shipping – it’s impossible to get something that size shipped from Ireland to Germany without paying through your nose. We’re going to ship a much smaller box with the important bits and pieces in it, and the cardboard pieces which made the size so problematic have been discarded – this is one of the decisions I wasn’t able to make at move-out, which should have been made much earlier.


This was a fun project, and it went much better than I ever dared to hope for. But it also is a nontrivial amount of work with lots of things to think about beforehand. Since this article now runs to almost 2000 words, I’ll post a much shorter one with just the lessons learned for anyone wanting to do something similar soon.



The Loncon 3 Pigeons

Loncon 3 was the 2014 Worldcon in London, UK. The Loncon 3 Pigeons were a community project that primarily happened before the convention. Here’s some information on the project, provided by Shana Worthen:

London has pigeons, obviously. That connection was turned into a fun project that got people to make their own pigeons pre-convention. The resulting pigeons acted as Loncon 3 ambassadors around the world, being photographed on their travels. The proof of this lives on their Pinterest page. Pictures of the pigeons on their travels were part of Loncon’s display at LoneStarCon 3 the year before Loncon 3.

Serena Culfeather, who ran the Loncon 3 Art Show together with John Wilson, designed the pattern for the pigeon. She made it available to others, and also put together kits. There was a pigeon making workshop at the 2014 Eastercon, where lots of people started their pigeons, finished them at home and sent them back to the convention.

At the convention itself, the pigeons became part of the Guest of Honour display for Robin Hobb/Megan Lindholm, which featured a mannequin dressed as the Wizard from Wizard of the Pigeons, sitting on a park bench. The pigeons congregated at the Wizard’s feet. That display was put together by Farah Mendlesohn.

Here’s Serena Culfeather’s account of the project:

We had four Ambassador Pigeons in red, white and blue who went to different parts of the world for adventures. I made a leather, steampunk version and also a Pearly King version to give to Robin Hobb. We made up pigeon packs where I basically got a kit together with EVERYTHING you would need and these proved popular. I expected that people would be more inclined to make pigeons if they had more than a downloadable pattern. Some packs had pre-cut out pieces and others squares of felt. I like working with felt and I think it’s an easy medium for all levels of skill to work with. It was also a deliberately simple pattern and by creating it myself I avoided any copyright issues.

Having quite a few pigeons already made at the start seemed to encourage people to make them and at a few conventions ahead of Loncon we had workshops where you could make or start to make a pigeon or two. This worked well and inspired people to be quite creative with colours and styles as they saw what others were doing. I took pigeons with me everywhere and at one convention they came along in a small wicker pet carrier!

Everyone likes to show off their creations so inviting people to send in photos of their pigeon worked well too. This was the The idea behind the Ambassador pigeons was based on the concept of Flat Stanley. The more that are shown off, the more people want to join in. In some cases, pigeon makers were too fond of their pigeons to bring them along!