If you’re a geek, to see the adorable knitted creations of Dawn Branch is to love them. And want to take them home.
A die-hard Harry Potter fan and anglophile, she began knitting whimsical toys when her youngest niece was born. Those creations evolved into family Christmas ornaments, then commissioned baby gifts for friends, and then scarves and gloves inspired by her own desire for fandom-related merchandise that didn’t yet exist.
Dawn’s Tulsa Toys line features a dazzling array of fandoms, from Harry Potter, of course, and Star Wars, to Disney, Doctor Who, The Chronicles of Narnia, and “Outlander.” Every last item is too cute for words. (See the photos below for proof.)
Knitted toys and accessories are a labor of love for Dawn, who works in film production technology, is developing a top secret website, and aspires to one day tell amazing stories, like the ones she loves to escape into, as a movie producer.
In her free time, she can be found immersing herself in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter or even flying to London to catch a showing of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”
Today also happens to be Dawn’s birthday.
Happy birthday, Dawn! Knit yourself something extra special.
I have been spending a lot of time online looking at the adorable knit toys and other creations you specialize in making. I can’t get over how cute they are and they represent a huge spectrum of fandoms. Do you have thousands of people wanting to shower you with money for these whimsical items?
LOL — I WISH! I think most of the people who would like to buy things sometimes can’t justify the cost, which I completely understand! It’s hard to justify $45 for what is essentially a toy, or even more for a scarf. I try to only make things I really, really love so that it’s not a job or a chore to help balance the amount of time each item really takes. A lot of people have advised that I charge per hour, but that’s just not feasible with knitting or crocheting. It’s just me with a few hours each night, so maybe keeping demand low is wiser.
Do you from any kind of pattern or template or do these originate purely from your mind? Where do you get your ideas?
I draw from the shapes I know, if that makes sense. When I get an idea, I do a quick “shape sketch” to see how the piece is ultimately made up. And then a lot of times, I just go for it! I’m notoriously bad about taking notes during that first attempt, so it’s sometimes a challenge to recreate things exactly. But that’s also the fun of handmade items — each piece is unique and, I hope, special to the person receiving it. I do have a goal to one day put all the patterns into an unofficial geeky pattern book.
How did you first begin making the geeky toys, scarves, mobiles, and other adorable items featured in your Tulsa Toys company?
Let me talk pre-geek for a minute. I first started knitting toys when my youngest niece was born (before then it was all blankets and scarves, all the time). Every year for her birthday I make her a new toy. And then one Christmas I really wanted Harry Potter ornaments for my family, so everyone got their own Mrs. Weasley-inspired sweater ornament and one snitch per tree.
After that, it snowballed as I just wanted to make things — it’s hard sometimes working a desk job because at the end of the day you aren’t able to point to something tangible and say, “That’s what I did today.” Then my friends started having babies and complaining about the lack of items they really wanted, so mobiles and Christmas stockings made it onto my to do list. As far as the most recent scarves go, it’s the lack of seeing the merchandise I want in shops and parks. I usually pick up new skills because I have an idea in mind and I NEED to figure out how to do it.
When did you realize people had an interest in purchasing your knit items?
I’d always had co-workers who would ask for certain things, but nothing on a large scale. I might have a friend of a friend ask for an item (one guy ordered four Baby Pikachus one spring as all of his friends were having babies and it became his go-to gift). I’ve had friends who have set up their own etsy stores, but one roommate took me to a Whimsic Alley craft fair in 2011. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Whimsic Alley was an atmospheric retail store that specialized in merchandise from Harry Potter and a variety of other fandoms. Sadly, it recently closed.)
I had NO IDEA what I had been missing. I talked with some of the vendors and my roommate convinced me to sign up for the holiday fair that day. I was terrified (and if you had seen my sparse little table that first show, I think you’d understand), but I am so thankful that I did it. The women I met at those shows are now some of my absolute closest friends.
What are some of your favorites of the items you have made? What fandoms are represented in your work so far?
I used to actually hate making them, but I’ve really come back around to the Weasley sweaters. Just knowing that it will be hung on a tree year after year makes me happy. I adore my niffler! We have so much fun taking him to the park and seeing everyone’s reactions. I also really like my fingerless gloves because I make my own buttons for them — have you ever tried to find geeky buttons?!? It’s impossible! So, there’s definitely Harry Potter and Doctor Who, and some Disney in the portfolio. The first few episodes of “Outlander” had me running to the chunky yarn section to make cowls and shawls! And a Tumnus (from “The Chronicles of Narnia”) — can’t forget him. And Chewbacca! (This could go on all day.)
You are quite the Harry Potter fan. How did you first become interested in the books?
I actually saw the first movie before I read the books. It was right before “Chamber of Secrets” (the movie) came out and there was just something so special about the story. (It could also be that I’m crazy for a British accent.) But after that, I read all of the books that had already been released, then bought the others the day of release. I showed that first film to my mom and sister and got them hooked, too.
I understand you spend a lot of time at The Wizarding World in Hollywood. What’s your favorite thing to do there?
Shop. Eat. Do the spell where the dragon chases Harry around (WHY is that not something I can buy? I would. You hear me Warner Bros?!?) I would say we shop more than anything. Just being there is so nice, even when it’s crowded and hot. I cannot wait for the Christmas decorations they plan for this year. Christmas at Hogwarts — what else do you really need?
I also have it on good authority that you actually flew to London to see “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” I’m practically crying with jealousy, and also I must know what that experience was like.
First and foremost, #keepthesecrets. As soon as that play was announced, I knew I was going. I got up early to buy tickets, gave up as the site kept crashing, logged on a few hours later and found two non-obstructed view tickets for Thanksgiving weekend. SOLD! I ended up taking my mom to London, and it was her first trip out of the country.
I had read the book (it was delivered to my house by Amazon at midnight and read immediately) and was pretty skeptical about the story, but the show itself blew me away. It was so easy to slide into “new Harry Potter film” mode. Some of the people sitting near us were obviously huge fans who had not read the book, so hearing their reactions actually upped my excitement level. As soon as it was over, I wanted to buy more tickets.
Another thing I have heard about you is that you know all the cool Harry Potter people in Los Angeles. Is this true? If so, can we hang out with you?
I don’t know about ALL of them, but the ones I do know are pretty awesome. You can usually find us at the (Wizarding World) park, in Hogsmeade. We don’t really wander far from home.
You’ve said that ever since you were little you would “escape into stories and their worlds.” What do you think sparked this interest in fantasy and storytelling?
Life can be grim. Even normal, happy life has darkness. I have always been an anxious person — I will worry about anything. Just ask my mom! (Actually don’t, because then she’ll worry about me, and I’ll worry about her worrying about me … .) I love going to movies and living in someone else’s world for a few hours. I loved to act when I was younger, so it was very easy to let my imagination go wild in a story and spawn substories.
You work at a film studio in production technology. Tell us more about your job. What do you like about it?
My job … hmmmm … . Our group is responsible for testing new production equipment/systems/workflows to see what might be best suited to a particular production. That way when a director or producer wants to be the first to do something, we can advise them on how to actually do it. It probably sounds more interesting than it is most days, but it does put me in a position to stay somewhat current on new technologies and find economical ways to tell stories.
It’s your dream to make your own movies someday. Do you want to be a producer?
Yes! I love finding stories, and to tell them in a way that connects with an audience is really the goal.
What kind of movies would you like to make?
It’s funny because I’m all over the place. I have a fantasy book series that I would love to adapt (I’ve gone so far as to pitch my dream cast to the author — luckily she also likes my knitting creations, so we’re on pretty good terms.) and I have a drama based on true events. It really all depends on the story. The first book I read after moving to L.A. that I really wanted to see as a movie was “The Hunger Games,” but I’m also a sucker for rom-coms and musicals.
You’re also working on launching a top secret website. What can you tell us about that?
Well, it has nothing to do with crafting, but hopefully it will make all these stories I want to tell easier to tell! That’s pretty cryptic, but as we aren’t launched I can’t say too much.
We have a Whovian in the house. What do you love about Doctor Who?
It always amazes me how relatable that show is because it should absolutely not be relatable in any way. But when you look at the characters, your main character is trying to help people. That’s his goal and he’s not always perfect at it, but it’s such a great goal. The supporting characters are looking for adventure and get to see things that so few people will ever get to see (I, for one, have never been to pre-revolutionary France on a spaceship, but Mickey has!), which is just such a human quality. That search for a unique experience that you get to share with people you love. Plus, the Daleks are freaking adorable.
Who is your Doctor?
11, with 10 running a very close second. But I love the Ponds, so I think they really helped tip the scales.
Are you looking forward to the upcoming Season 11?
Yes! I can’t wait to see what Jodie Whitaker does with that role!
You like Disney, too. Do you go to the theme park a lot?
I don’t get to Disney as often (though I was just there for tea!), but I do try to go when I can. Yes, it’s crowded. Yes, it’s expensive. But it’s freaking Disney! I grew up on those stories and they have Dole floats.
You told me you have a passion for tea and British history. Why do you think so many geeks are also anglophiles?
I blame the fact that so many of our geeky icons are British — Capt. Picard, Harry Potter, The Doctor, Sherlock, Elizabeth Bennet. The history that you find in other parts of the word is just so rich and deep. Obviously people are fascinated by the monarchy. How can you not become obsessed with The Tudors though (the family and the show)?
You’ve said that you “tend to start new collections without realizing it.” What are some of the things you collect?
I started gathering different editions of Harry Potter books awhile back. And then I found two teapots that I really needed — that’s grown to four and I’m stopping there (probably)! I had no idea there were so many amazing pin designers, so I’ve definitely started collecting Harry Potter and Disney pins by accident. When Whimsic Alley closed, I’m pretty sure I bought half the store. It’s not a cohesive collection by any means, but I was so heartbroken that it wouldn’t be there anymore. And all things Weasley. All. Things. Weasley.
As a woman, is there anything you would change about the world of fandoms and geek culture?
We need more Molly Weasleys and Amy Ponds. In stories and in the world. Seriously — the geeky women I know are those two fictional characters combined. They are there when you need support, encouragement, chocolate. They are the biggest advertisers for new geeky businesses. These woman have your back, no matter what. I would love to see that as a story lead (and if I’m blanking on someone, please, oh please, tell me! I by no means claim to have read every story — I just started “A Discovery of Witches,” for crying out loud) and I would love to see it more every day.
What is the next big release (movies, TV, books, etc.) you are looking forward to?
I am impatiently waiting for the next “Fantastic Beasts.” For real, J.K., how can I help? Call me.
Your Tulsa Toys business operates largely by word of mouth. If we wanted to buy all the cute things, how could we go about that?
Instagram! Find me there @dawnmbranch and peruse all the things. You’ll see me, my friends, my family, my creations — basically my life. And if I ever decide to open the etsy shop back up again, look for TulsaToys.etsy.com.
About the Geek Goddess Interviews:
No Man’s Land chats weekly with a “Geek Goddess” whose devotion to her fandoms manifests itself in unique and inspiring ways. We’re always looking for interview subjects, so if you know someone who might be ideal, please respond via the comments, private message, or email, firstname.lastname@example.org.