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.





As promised, I’ve been collecting some of the pictures that have been taken by people not me. First of all, Cora Buhlert posted her haul over at File770. There’s some lovely details to see. Thanks a lot, Cora, and I love that you’re sharing this with the much wider audience of File770!

The next set was taken on Friday by Anna Stefankova, one of the convention photographers:

Simon Bubb, another of the convention photographers, came by on Monday to take pictures of the finished project. All images below are copyright Simon L. Bubb:

Here’s another set of lovely pictures taken on Monday by Shana Worthen:


I love all the detail shots, and seeing all the ways my original vision for this got extended in unexpected directions. There was a paper tree! A chenille stick Raksura! Lots and lots of random little things that brought the model to life. I’m very happy that I’ve been able to inspire the kind of community we ended up having around this project.

~ Constanze

And it’s all over already…

Worldcon is over for this year. I’ve had an excellent time. I’d like to thank the Dublin 2019 crafting community that sprang up around this project. Couldn’t have done this without you! Here’s everybody who could make it to the celebration:

I definitely owe you all good pictures of the final result, but I was way too busy yesterday to take any. I know who did, though, and will do another post once I have them.

I’ve had loads of fun, and I hope everyone who was part of this did as well. Hope to see you all at another Worldcon (Glasgow in 2024, anyone?)

A very generous donation from This is Knits

I’ll be blogging from my phone for the next week, so please excuse any shortage of words.

Lisa from wonderful Dublin yarn shop This is Knit has kindly offered to donate some yarn and tools to our project. When I went to pick things up today at their lovely downtown shop, I was blown away by their generosity.

Here’s the yarn:

The colours are even more lovely in reality. I then spent some quality time with a swift and ball winder to prepare the skeins in the lot for use.

Oh, and when unpacking the bags Lisa had prepared for me I discovered that we’ll have giveaways! So, if you come to one of our workshops and make something for the tree, you’ll have a chance to win something.

Thank you This is Knit for helping this project along!

The Box

… or why it’ll feel a bit like Christmas when we’ll do move-in on Wednesday next week.

So, you make something awesome and big, and then you need to get it somewhere else on the planet so others can enjoy it as well. In this case, this:

Model, covered, with platforms

I knew I was going to have to ship it eventually, so I choose a cardboard construction that can be flat-packed like IKEA furniture. Still, the big vertical sheets are the full size, which is 50x70cm. So I needed a box with at least that base area. Which is honestly huge in comparison to most of the shipping boxes everyone stores in their basement. A friend pointed me at a shop that specializes in packaging, and I got the smallest box that fitted the requirement for base area:

Shipping Box

It may not look that big in the picture, but it was always standing in the way in my kitchen for a while there. You can just see the cardboard pieces inside already. Here’s a better look:

Box with cardboard pieces

Doesn’t look like much, lots of box space left, but the box couldn’t be any smaller because of the large size of some of the individual pieces. Time to fill up the box! Who needs packing peanuts when you have wool?

Box beginning to fill with wool

You can see the big bag of leftovers on the right, and the little box on the left holds the children’s loom. The rest of the supplies went on top, and I ended up with a pretty full box. It’s not particularly heavy (somewhere around 15kg, which is way below the weight limit for shipping), but it’s unwieldy and its dimensions are just within the size limits for a normal parcel. Here it is, all taped shut, in front of my apartment door:

box4.JPGThe text on the sides is for the lovely people doing logistics for Dublin 2019, so they know where to deliver it for move-in. After successfully dropping it off at the post office and anxiously following the tracking number, the box is now safely in the convention’s off-site storage waiting for the day it’ll be unpacked and assembled.

I’m looking forward to showing you what’s inside real soon now!

Meeting up in Dublin

With just 19 days to go, I can finally share what we’ve planned for the project in Dublin! We’ll be located in Point Square, in the same area as the Art Show. It is part of the “Warehouse Art Demo Area” – that’s how it’s called on the programme. There will be tables and chairs, and loads of materials. You’re welcome to come by during the opening times, drop off your contributions, help putting things together and making the things that are still missing.

There will be three formal workshops, one each on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, to introduce people to the project. Coming to one of those is a sure way to meet me!

The Raksura Colony Tree – A Community Art Project

  • 15 Aug 2019, Thursday 10:30 – 11:20
  • 16 Aug 2019, Friday 14:30 – 15:20
  • 17 Aug 2019, Saturday 12:30 – 13:20

On Monday, there will be two additional sessions:

The Raksura Colony Tree – putting it all together

  • 19 Aug 2019, Monday 10:30 – 11:20

For anybody wanting to drop things off, this is the last possible time. We’ll spend that time bringing the model into its final form.

And then it’s time to celebrate this project:

The Raksura Colony Tree – Celebration!

  • 19 Aug 2019, Monday 12:30 – 13:20

See the final result and celebrate with us what we’ve created in the run-up and during Worldcon!

I will also be involved in some more programme items, that at least on the surface don’t have anything to do with this project. Since I suspect that they’re of interest to some of you nevertheless, I’ll post them here as well.

Speed crafting – session 2

16 Aug 2019, Friday 10:30 – 12:20, Warehouse Art Demo Area (Point Square Dublin)

It’s like speed dating for handicrafts. Have you ever wanted to try your hand at something new, but haven’t managed to take the ‘plunge’? We will provide the materials and instructors. Each session will have different handicrafts, and you will try each one. You won’t end up with something you can take away, but maybe you’ll be inspired. Sign-ups in advance will be required for this workshop (limited to 15 people).

Session 2: tatting, cross stitch, tablet weaving.

Anne Coleman, Rebecca Hewett (M), Constanze Hofmann

I’ll be doing the cross stitch section for this one.

Hyperbolic crochet

17 Aug 2019, Saturday 10:30 – 11:20, Alhambra (Point Square Dublin)

This panel/workshop is for those who would like to learn a little about hyperbolic geometry, using great visual aids, or those interested in learning a new crochet technique that can produce some spectacular effects. Based on the 2007 book Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes: Tactile Mathematics, Art and Craft for All to Explore by Daina Taimina of Cornell University.

Dr Nicholas Jackson (University of Warwick) (M), Michelle Coleman (University of Nottingham), Constanze Hofmann

This is a presentation that will include a hands-on portion, which I will be responsible for.

Introduction to Irish crochet lace

18 Aug 2019, Sunday 12:30 – 14:20, Warehouse Art Demo Area (Point Square Dublin)

Irish crochet lace was created as a faster way to make lace items that looked similar to expensive Italian/French needle laces. Using ordinary crochet stitches, we’ll create an Irish crochet motif that can be used as a brooch or to decorate a piece of clothing.

Knowledge of basic crochet stitches is required to successfully participate in this workshop. Sign-ups in advance will be required (limited to 10 people) with a small fee for supplies.

Constanze Hofmann (M)

I was hoping they’d find someone actually from Ireland to do this, but of course, having made the suggestion, I got the job. There’s class samples already in existence, but please don’t ask about the state of the handout, which will probably get done at the last minute.

Putting things together

The covering has now aquired a few strategically placed holes, time to give everything one last test drive before taking it apart, putting it in a box and sending it off to Dublin.

So, here we are. First view is of the covered model without the platforms, so you can see the backdrop:

Model, covered, without platforms

Now, let’s add the platforms:

Model, covered, with platforms

And here’s a few close-ups – the entrance hole:

Model, covered, detail with entrance hole

… and the hole where the waterfall is going to come out:

Model, covered, detail with hole for waterfall

The fabric covering still needs a bit of sewing at the top edge to have something sensible to adjust the width and to hang it from, but that needs a tiny bit of shopping beforehand. And then it’s off into the mail! The next time you’ll see it in its full glory is when we meet in Dublin five weeks from now. I’m getting excited! (and nervous …)


Covering the Backdrop

In the last installment of this, the backdrop still looked pretty cardboard-coloured. I’ve since been working on covering that up with a bit of fabric and at the same time visually extending the model so we get a bit more of a feeling for this being a slice of a really huge tree.

I transferred the design of the background onto a big piece of cotton fabric and started painting:

Painting the Tree

The inspiration for this was the same picture I used previously, but now on a much bigger scale:

Inspiration for the Ribbed Tree

The white areas are where the supports for the platforms will stick out and still need to be cut out and hemmed.

Here’s the whole width of the thing painted:

Painted backdrop

You can see the entrance hole in the middle, and a smaller hole for a waterfall to come out of at the right. The paints are textile paints, and I used a simple textile marker from an IKEA set for adding some details in black.

I’ve since extended the painting upwards on the other half of the fabric which is hanging down from the table at the top of this picture. This will be attached to the wall above the model, visually extending it upwards. Still need to think about the best way to do attachment points at the top.

Onwards to ironing the whole thing to set the colours and then some sewing!