Clever crafter embraces ‘abundance of imagination that comes with geekdom’

Some of us are hopeless when it comes to crafting, but if Kirsten Mace can dream it, it seems she can make it, especially when it’s something related to one of her many favorite fandoms.

By a happy twist of fate, Kirsten works as a manager at a Joann Fabric and Craft Store in Utah, where she finds ample inspiration for the dozens of projects she always seems to have going from coworkers and fellow geek crafters.

Kirsten has transformed boring, old Christmas decorations into a festive Star Wars-themed holiday extravaganza for her home, designed whimsical chess sets, created cosplay outfits and costumes, hand-carved stamps to use on uniquely geeky baby items, and whipped up adorable custom bow ties and bows for sale — a project inspired by a desire to combat the gender stereotypes encountered by one of her children.

This wildly creative crafter’s geek origin story can be traced back to “The Phantom Menace” — ain’t no shame in it! — and childhood trips to Disneyland. She’s got a unique perspective on everything from “The Last Jedi” controversy to My Little Pony, and she’s a fierce defender of these and other fandoms. (Just ask her about Bronies. I dare you.)

“Let people just enjoy what they enjoy” is Kirsten’s philosophy. In today’s divisive culture — even in the geek world — that’s good advice.

Kirsten Mace models the shirt she created for her TankSolo cosplay (a mashup of Tank Girl and Han Solo).

You are a geeky crafter and also a manager at a Joann Fabric and Craft Store. That can’t be a coincidence. What do you enjoy about your job? Do you find inspiration for your geeky creations at work? Do you meet a lot of other geek crafters there?

It was definitely fate. I have really loved getting to know the people, not just the customers but also my coworkers. The craft industry, at least in the Joann aspect of it, is very unique in that we spend a lot of time with our customers to help them create this very unique vision for a project.

Sharing that has really pushed my own abilities and ideas. Someone comes in with this amazing project and it makes you wanna create too. It’s seeing other people’s passion and getting excited with them.

We get a lot of geeky projects. Utah is supposed to be the geekiest state and with the introduction of Salt Lake Comic Con five years ago, we have gotten to see so many cosplays and just really awesome projects from people. And it isn’t just the customers, my coworkers are all so talented and geeky.

One of my favorites is a woman who came in to do an amazing Poison Ivy costume a few years ago and is now someone I work with. I think the passion that comes with being a geek just translates easily into being a crafter. We build these worlds around our passions, so I think there is a natural inclination for many of the geek persuasion to make that into practical skills.

Kirsten painted these Kokeshi doll-inspired Star Wars necklaces.

Have you always been a geek? When did those interests first blossom for you?

I wanna say I have always been a geek but it wasn’t till I was an adult that I was comfortable about it. My parents were cool. We grew up on Star Wars and Nintendo and all those great ‘80s cult films, like “Goonies.” We lived in Southern California, so we went to Disneyland a lot and they just did a great job planting those seeds and letting those passions blossom.

I think I really started letting things take off when I really got into books. I have anxiety and I think it was a way to cope, to get lost in books, just let me not have to be where I was all the time. I was into things like Poe and Tolkien and I was spending the summer at my dad’s house and they released “Phantom Menace” that year. It was great. We both loved it and ended up collecting the cards and seeing it a couple times. It was just a great moment for me.

And then they started releasing the Peter Jackson “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and Harry Potter released in the U.S. It was a perfect storm for me to get lost in everything.

Sorry, I think I rambled there but, yeah, Star Wars really kicked off my ability to get lost in other realms.

A “Rogue One” bow, created by Kirsten Mace.

You once had an Etsy shop offering “build-a-bows” with custom options for purchasers. Tell me about that. Where did you get the idea for custom bows?

I have two amazing kids and when my oldest was young, she was uninhibited by the whole gender thing. We didn’t care and if she was into things, we would let her play with it regardless of if it was a pony or a Transformer or makeup and so on.

So I had made bows for a friend as a gift and Moo loved them. She asked if she could have bowties and I was like, “Yeah, sure, you look adorable in anything.” So I made them and she would wear them occasionally, not an everyday thing, they weren’t her statement piece, and one day she came home saying she couldn’t wear them anymore.

She is very nonconfrontational, so I pressed her for why and she told me that some boy told her bowties were only for boys and that she looked ugly. So she didn’t want to wear them anymore ‘cause she didn’t want to hear him say that anymore. I was heartbroken.

So I came up with the build-a-bow after that situation. I didn’t wanna say, “This is a hairbow. This is a bowtie.” I didn’t wanna put that on anyone else ‘cause I really think that you should wear what makes you comfortable.

I would make the bow and let the customer decide which fastener they wanted, which at the time was not being done on Etsy under general sale. I found a lot of sellers would charge extra to change the bow and customize it or whatever. I work in crafts, I know the cost. I just wanted to make something for everyone that everyone could afford.

A Baymax bow, designed by Kirsten Mace.

Tell me about some of your favorite geeky bow designs.

I like the ones that kinda went against the norm. So there wasn’t really one bow I liked, but I had some great orders. I did 12 BB-8 bows for a little girls birthday party. I had a Baymax bow — I painted his face onto a white blank — that I loved. There was a set of Player 1 & 2 stamps that I carved and made bows with on red and green fabrics for Mario & Luigi.

Could you describe these hand-carved geeky stamps you made? Tell me about the process of creating a stamp and the techniques and equipment you used. 

I cannot draw to save my life, but I found out that I could carve. A friend of mine was in school for art and was doing this thing on block printing. I wanted to make some swaddlers for my sister and found this great carving starter set from Speedball that contained a couple of blocks and the knife with a few different attachments. I ended up making Totoro and loved it so much I made soot sprites, too.

What were some of your favorite stamp designs?

I love my Totoro and working on the soot sprites, but my proudest one was the plush Hobbes I carved.

You mentioned that you created baby swaddlers. What gave you the idea? Tell me a little bit about what went into creating them. Did you sell the swaddlers or give them as gifts?

My stamps were all created for swaddlers. My little sister was expecting and finding geeky baby stuff is ridiculous. It’s either really expensive or nonexistent. I have kids so I knew what I would want from a product standpoint and just tried to execute to that.

I give them as gifts and sell them. I am working on a couple new ones so that I can have new stuff when I reopen (hopefully). So far, my favorite is a Devil’s Trap from “Supernatural,” just cause I like the joke of saying my demon spawn is contained by a Devil’s Trap swaddler.

What kind of geeky crafting are you currently engaged in?

I am working on too many things! I am working on converting all our Christmas stuff to Star Wars theme so I made a Princess Leia tree topper from a 1970s Kenner Leia doll. I wookiee-fied a nutcracker complete with bowcaster. My biggest thing right now is the Millennium Falcon tree skirt that I am working on piecing. I loved the Falcon tree skirt so much that I wanted to paint a circle skirt with the same design.

I made a bunch of shrugs covered in soot sprites and one that was inspired by the new Pennywise. I am hoping to start back on working on a mashup cosplay of Han Solo and Tank Girl I call “Tank Solo” so there is a lot of plotting for that. The shirt I came up with has been really well received, so that was really encouraging. I’m having to design a bunch of pins and patches for a flair jacket for it so it’s a long-haul project.

Honestly, I have a million projects I am working on or trying to plot out.

Do you have any future plans to sell more of your geeky wares?

Oh, yeah, hopefully in the near future.

A custom 11th Doctor Tsum Tsum created by Kirsten for a geeky craft exchange.

As an unabashed nerd, you have devoted yourself to many fandoms. You said that you “tend to easily fall for everything.” Why do you think this is?

When you are able to get lost in one thing and then surround yourself with people who are just as passionate about other things, it is hard not to get caught up in their passion for that, so the birth of social media and my job have really helped me expand my universes.

Like many of the best geeks, you are a Star Wars fan. What’s your personal saga? How and when did you fall for George Lucas’ franchise?

I think I mentioned this earlier, but I really think this is a first love for a lot of geeks because of our parents. My personal saga … ooooh, that is really long … but the short version is when I was 6 my parents divorced and my mom became a janitor at the local university and worked nights so we had a very atypical upbringing as five girls in those circumstances.

I have always loved Star Wars but, and I hate to admit this cause I know how many people hate the prequels, it really became my thing with “Phantom Menace.” Maybe it was the idea that Anakin was no one and became something, I dunno, but I wanted to prove that I could be something other than my upbringing.

Are you a “Last Jedi” hater? What did you think of the movie?

This may be one of my favorite movies in the franchise. It is amazing and added so many elements to Star Wars that I never thought I would see. I loved the addition of humor.

Captain Phasma is my lady crush. I won’t even say it’s a secret ‘cause I got a little twitterpated when she whipped out that sword for that fight. Goodness, I am excited for the director’s cut ‘cause I am hoping they extend that scene.

I liked that none of the speculation left from “Force Awakens” mattered. Rey’s parents were no ones. Snoke’s backstory doesn’t matter. “Let the past die” was the theme and they did it so well.

They answered a lot of the questions that were posed in “Force Awakens.” I just think people don’t like that it really didn’t go the way anyone thought it would. I could go on about this for hours but I will defend this movie against the haters.

Who’s your favorite original trilogy Star Wars character?

I always have loved Han, but as I have gotten older I really enjoy Leia.

Who’s your favorite new trilogy character so far?

I am a sucker for rebellious pilots. And with the growth shown at the end of “Last Jedi,” it just cements Poe as my favorite.

Porgs. Yes or no?

How can you hate porgs? They are so cute and nonintrusive to the story, well, unless you are Chewie. If you hate porgs, you are just looking for something to hate in this movie.

Are you one with the Force and the Force is with you?

OH MY, YES! Why people don’t accept this movie as part of the Star Wars universe just boggles my mind. I am watching this while filling this out right now.

You’re also a Harry Potter-phile. When did you first discover J.K. Rowling’s series? What do you love about it?

Ha, so Harry Potter came out and I had an acquaintance who read it and was kinda being this know-it-all about it, so I read it so I could out-trivia her and, would you believe, I fell for it by accident. I think a lot of it is the relationship Harry has with the Weasleys. He made his own family, and the support and love and everything, I have a lot of friends like that.

What’s your Hogwarts house?

I am a Slytherin but lied with my Pottermore house so that I could be in Gryffindor.

Are you looking forward to Fantastic Beasts 2?

Yup, yup, yup. My kids are both Hufflepuffs, so it is easy to get excited when they are excited.

Kirsten is working on a Studio Ghibli-themed chess set with figures including Mei and Satsuki.

I’m excited to hear you’re a fan of the animated films of Studio Ghibli. Do you remember your first Ghibli film and how you got hooked? What’s your favorite Ghibli movie?

My dad was in the Air Force and spent some time in Korea and Japan. He sent my sister back the “Totoro” VHS and we watched it till we wore it out. The animation is so beautiful and the stories are so well told that it is hard not to get lost in (Hayao Miyazaki’s) worlds. It is really hard to just choose one. I will always have a soft spot for Totoro, but I really love “The Wind Rises.”

I believe this is a first for our interview series, but you’re also an aficionado of My Little Pony. Are you into the vintage ’80s ponies, or the new ones, or both?

I was the third kid, so never got into the ‘80s ‘cause I rarely had control of the remote. I really like the new ones.

What does your Pony fandom look like exactly? What’s the attraction here?

Other than the millions of ponies that litter our house at times … I think an easy way to sum it up, and I know this will be lost on some people, is we Pinkie Pie promise.

We first started watching the show ‘cause my daughter liked it and everyone knows the toddler is the one who controls what’s on the TV most of the time. So we sat down to watch it with her and the characters and stories are simple enough that it was just easy to like it.

As weird as it is, you can relate to all the feelings they are working through and they have really great mythological references. If I am not watching Star Wars while I am crafting, you can bet I have MLP on.

I confess I’m pretty weirded out by the whole Bronies phenomenon. What are your thoughts on that?

I don’t know why people are weirded out by the Bronies. I think people have this idea in their head that they are all furries and that freaks a lot of people out. That is a question that I have fielded when I say I enjoy the show and, no, I don’t dress up but what does it matter if someone does? How is that any different from someone who dresses as any character?

You’re also into Firefly. What was so great about that series?

I like the idea of standing up for what’s right even if it seems the whole galaxy is against you and pursuing the truth.

Who’s your favorite character and why?

Daughter No. 2 is named Zoe only because Hoban is a terrible name (sorry to anyone who may be named Hoban). Wash is easily my favorite. He is fun, but still gets the job done.

Kirsten’s dog models one of her bow ties.

Disney is another passion of yours. Do you visit the theme parks often?

Sadly, it has been too long since we went to the parks. With both of us working and the distance, it is hard to get things coordinated.

What are some of your favorite Disney movies, franchises, attractions, properties, etc.?

Other than Star Wars?! The first movie I remember seeing in theaters was “Aladdin” and I can’t think of any one movie of theirs that I would say I outright hated.

Do you do any Disney-related crafting?

Of course! We enjoy all the movies and introducing the girls to the cartoons I enjoyed as a kid just cements all the reasons I loved those shows. Disney is also a genius when it comes to product design and marketing, so it is hard not to wanna make custom Tsum Tsums and ears and use the characters in things.

I have done a couple of nightlight styled canvases for the girls using scenes from “Tangled” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” At this point, Disney has so many properties that it would be hard not to find inspiration from one of them.

Kirsten Mace introduced her daughters to “Homestar Runner” and they requested she make them their own Teen Girl Squad shirts.

You have two young daughters who you describe as “also nerdy.” Tell me a little about the family dynamic. What are some of your shared and individual interests and activities?

I don’t think the family dynamic is very different from others’ families. I think we are maybe a bit more relaxed as parents, but I don’t think that’s cause of the geek thing. They are young enough that, for now, a lot of their interests are our interests.

A few Christmases ago, they got Jedi ensembles complete with lightsabers and like to have lightsaber fights and plan ways to attack us. They have been working their way through a lot of the Lego video games and are currently working on the complete Star Wars set and then wanna try the Harry Potter games.

Would you say that “geek culture” has had a positive impact on your girls?

Last year my daughter came home from school and she wanted to talk about suffragettes and the following week she wanted to talk about vegetarianism. With how the current representation of women is in all of geekdom, I am so glad my girls are into it.

They wanna kick ass as Jedis and Wonder Woman and Squirrel Girl. They get to see Rose release the fathiers and show compassion for all life in “Last Jedi.” The stories that are being told now help with what I want my kids to be when they are adults, so it isn’t just me telling them that they can do whatever they want but a host of characters they admire that really helps with that.

Is it my imagination or did I see a Facebook pic of one of your daughters dressed in the most amazing little Harley Quinn costume?

I have been blessed with amazing kids who never really wanted to be the princess but that means we have made a lot of their costumes through the years. Moo fell in love with Harley Quinn a few years ago so we have had a couple costumes for her.

Do you have any advice for parents who want to raise their kids up in the geek lifestyle?

If your kid shows an interest in it, get into it with them. I am hoping that as my kids get older and the terrible teen years are there, I am at least going to be able to connect with some of their interests.

As a mother, is there anything you’d like to see change in the world of fandoms and geek culture by the time your daughters are grown?

There is still so much of the good, ol’ fanboy mentality that I will be glad when that is gone. Let people just enjoy what they enjoy.

You’re a reader of comic books and graphic novels. Is this a pastime you enjoyed in childhood or later in life? What are some of your favorite titles? Do you have any recommendations for us to check out?

I got into it later in life. I saw the Skottie Young “Wizard of Oz” novels somewhere and I loved them. The illustration and fluidity that he conveyed with the story that L. Frank Baum created just, uh, I loved them. I love so many of his works that I highly recommend “The Chasing Tale” storyline for Rocket Raccoon and his “I Hate Fairyland” to everyone just getting into comic books.

I didn’t really start getting into comics till we started using them as an incentive for Matt to get excited about reading. We had a great local comic shop and the owner was amazing. He was the most welcoming person and would just talk to you about everything and then recommend an issue or a novel and, as crazy as it seemed, you would love it. He got me into the “Chew” novels and it has been crazy catching up on all those.

My recommendation is, look for a locally owned shop and go in and chat them up, tell them the kind of stuff you like and what you are into and let them make recommendations for you. The people that are crazy enough to open a comic store are the ones you are gonna find are so passionate about them. My personal favorites and recommendations to just ease into it are the Mighty Thor, anything by Skottie Young, Rocket Raccoon, Squirrel Girl is amazing, and Moon Girl.

What do you like about comics?

It takes that book experience to the next level. There are some parts of a book that you just glance over or get lost on and with the added visualization that comics have, you can really see what the writer is trying to convey. It helps progress the idea of that universe in such a great way that I am surprised more people don’t read them.

One of Kirsten’s daughters wanted to learn how to play chess, so Kirsten made her a superheroes vs. cats chess set.

You prefer the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the DC Extended Universe. Explain. 

Marvel has been able to convert the fluidity and feel of their comics so much better than DC has, which is kind of a shame, considering the properties that DC has.

Do you tend to amass geek memorabilia or collectibles?

Our house is one giant den of geeky collectibles and art. We have been working on a wall of Pop! figurines in our family room. Our favorite place in any con is the “artist alley.” There are so many talented artists out there that it is hard to resist buying all the art. So our walls are plastered with everything we have amassed.

What’s the next major release (books, movies, TV, etc.) you’re looking forward to?

I have enjoyed the illustrated rerelease of the Harry Potter books and the House editions, so I am always waiting for those. I am really excited for the next few Marvel movies, “Black Panther” and “Infinity War” look amazing. I am also timidly optimistic about the new Han Solo movie.

What’s left on your geek bucket list?

There are a lot of people I would like to meet. Artists, actors, directors, writers … a lot of them are figures in the geek community that have made an impact on me.

On a final note, why do you think so many geeks also happen to be crafters or creators? 

I think the beginning of it for many is the necessity of the items. Finding some memorabilia is hard and that first thought of, “I can do this. I can make this myself,” is where a lot of it starts.

I first really got into it because I wanted to make a baby mobile for my sister that was soot sprites ‘cause so many on the market were also handmade and out of my price range. And then it turned into, “Well, I can make a Totoro to go with it.” Then I made some Rocket Raccoon plushies ‘cause the Totoro was so easy … it just snowballed into, “I can make exactly what I want so why not?”

Everyone loves their fandom in their own unique way and crafting allows me to show exactly what I love about that fandom. There is also an abundance of imagination that comes with geekdom.

3 thoughts on “Clever crafter embraces ‘abundance of imagination that comes with geekdom’

  1. Great interview! Your kids and dog are so cute, and all your crafty creations too of course. (I need to order some of those bows for my daughter!) I like what you said about books being helpful if you have anxiety – books have always been an escape for me too, for the same reason.

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