For crafter/gamer, geek culture provides creative outlet, bonding time with sons

One of the most perfect gifts I’ve ever received is a custom-made Star Wars diaper bag that is a rare combination of adorable, totally geeky, and not-too-girly. My daughter is now 4 years old and this amazing bag still hangs in my hall closet, where I often gaze at it wistfully. I don’t think I’ll ever part with it.

As a matter of fact, I’ve been wanting to introduce you to the creator of this best diaper bag of all the best diaper bags ever. Her name is Sarah Vroman and she’s a dazzlingly versatile crafter, artist, photographer, video gamer, burgeoning musician, and mom to three wonderful geek boys (who also happen to be my nephews).

Her geeky wares have included a series of striking bags, influenced by everything from “Sherlock” to Pac-Man, as well as jewelry, pillows and home decor items, cross stitch and, most recently, sweaters inspired by knitting maven and “Jessica Jones” star Krysten Ritter. 

Raised in New York as part of a family that prized a love of science, technology, art, and imagination, Sarah was introduced to the exciting world of geeky entertainment options when she first read Douglas Adams.

The Atari and Legend of Zelda ushered her into the endless possibilities of gaming, a passion that grew after she began playing Borderlands and personal favorite Fallout with her sons. The family also enjoys cosplaying, going to comic cons, and trying out new hobbies.

Below, Sarah chats about how gaming has changed for girls, her favorite Batman, tips for taking kids to cons, why she’s a music geek first, what it’s like to love “dead” fandoms, and why she’s just not into Star Wars.

Pssst … If you’re really nice to her, maybe you can talk her into making you a Star Wars diaper bag, too. 

You’re a geeky crafter and video gamer who is raising three geek boys. When would you say your life as a geeky truly began?

When I was a preteen in the early ’90s, my interests were so very typical: I listened to New Kids on the Block, watched “Saved By the Bell,” and read “The Babysitters Club” books. It took some time but my dad and brother convinced me to try something new — reading “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

Up until that point, I don’t think I had any idea that entertainment could actually be entertaining. This moment changed everything for me. From then on I read everything my brother recommended: “Jane Eyre,” “King Lear,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “I, Robot.” This was also the time frame that Tim Burton’s “Batman” and the original “Jurassic Park” were in the theater, and Pearl Jam and Nirvana were on MTV. What a time to be alive!

You come from a family of techies. Does this have something to do with your geekier tendencies?

I have a love of science and technology. The world is still struggling to convince girls that it’s not only ok but awesome for them to love these things. When I was a kid I was definitely a weirdo to some for embracing tech.

In New York, when you’re on the honors track you get to choose which school you go to and apply to them starting in junior high. It was decided for me that I should be applying to the schools specializing in honors level general ed or the one specializing in art. Nobody within the educational system was happy when I chose the school specializing in technology.

But in my house, technology was always celebrated in a way that made it  obvious how important it was. It was accessible and made the whole world accessible. It was the future — which is why that particular school was aptly named “School of the Future.”

All of science begins with imagination. And science fiction takes science beyond what is currently possible to inspire advancement and make the impossible possible.

You once made me the most perfect, most awesome Star Wars diaper bag as a baby shower gift — I still have it! — and you created and sold geek-themed bags on Etsy. How did you begin doing that?

I started selling bags on Etsy because I had more designs in my head than I had room for in my own closet. For the most part, when I had an idea for what I or a loved one wanted, I would make two or three and sell the superfluous ones on Etsy.

I got this cheesy idea to name my bags after favorite literary characters or places. My first bag was named “The Baker Street Bag,” then I had “The Prefect Tote,” and “The Emma Bag.” But actually designing for geeks was because of that amazing Star Wars bag I made for you! I made two extras to sell and they were both gone in 24 hours. To this day, it’s my most popular pin on Pinterest and I still get requests to make them again.

Tell me about some of the other bags you made.

My favorite bag that I made for myself was a “Sherlock”-inspired bag. It was a small messenger bag. For the flap, I used fabric that was identical to the wallpaper Sherlock drew the happy face on. I remember being terrified putting the happy face on the fabric because after all the work of making the bag I was about to risk destroying it if something went wrong with the fabric paint I was using. But it came out perfect.

Another of my favorites was a large messenger I designed for my son. I found a great Pac Man fabric and appliqued a Pac Man onto the flap.

How did you learn to sew and what sparked your interest in crafting?

I grew up in a house where art was encouraged. At first, I thought artistic ability was something that had skipped me because my brothers were so naturally inclined. But I watched my mom doing cross stitch and thought I could do at least that. I now have a belief, using myself as evidence, that artistic ability is something that can be learned.

I learned to draw and paint well enough to be sent on scholarship to the children’s program at Pratt Art Institute. I now have it set in my mind that anything I want to do is something that I can absolutely do! So, over the years I’ve indulged in SO many arts/crafts — yarn, sewing, scrapbooking, watercolor and — most surprising to me — guitar and ukulele.

When I got married, my mom gave me her old sewing machine. At the time I would joke, “But I can’t even sew a straight line.” That machine sat in my closet for probably five years before I discovered “Project Runway.” In the early years of the show they focused more on the artistry and technique than on the drama. I watched as the designers would design patterns by putting red tape on mannequins representing where seams should be. Seeing the deconstructed process suddenly gave me this thought — I can do that.

As a lover of pop culture, I also happen to be a Barbie collector. The season that thought occurred to me happened to be the one that Robert Best was on. He’s a renowned Barbie designer. This gave me the idea that sewing for Barbie was a great place to start. And I started without patterns. I often work backward in art. I just start with no research or education, then gather the information on an as-needed basis. It’s not how I teach my kids to learn because it makes it more difficult, but it seems to work for me.

What other geeky craft items have you created in the past and what do you enjoy about this creative outlet?

For a minute I got into jewelry making. I made TARDIS necklaces and had plans for “Sherlock”-inspired wearable crafts. My favorite recent geek crafts are my Legend of Zelda Wi-Fi passcode cross stitch and pillows made from geek shirts that were either the wrong sizes or thought to be destroyed. I’ve come to the conclusion that as someone who doesn’t wear jewelry, jewelry making is not for me. But making items to add geeky touches to my home are right up my alley.

I understand that, like many crafters, you left Etsy after a policy change that made operating a small shop difficult. How did that experience affect you?

My store was never doing great volume. I’m only one person with only so much time in the day for hobbies. At any given time I would have maybe ten items in my store. But those items sold quickly. I knew it was going to be bad news for small sellers the minute Etsy started trading publicly. It was really fast that they changed their policy to allow large manufacturers to sell on the site designed for homemade wares like an online craft fair.

The impact on my store was instant. The new algorithm favored stores with large inventories. My items were buried under high quantity, lower quality, less expensive, not handmade items. Suddenly, all of my items were just sitting there while I was still paying listing fees. It was disheartening and eventually I made the decision let my store go.

Are you currently doing any geeky crafting?

At this moment I’m busy knitting sweaters. I was inspired by my favorite on-screen badass, Krysten Ritter, to give it a try. I learned to knit about ten years ago but have been avoiding garments because it’s a whole lot of time and work to make something only to discover it doesn’t fit or doesn’t look good. But if Jessica Jones can do it, so can I.

You introduced me to the wonders of the geek-themed fabric aisle at a certain craft store. Could you describe it for those who may not be aware of this wondrous realm?

-When I was first making geek-themed items, that aisle wasn’t so great. I got fabrics from online stores, one in particular that is user generated designs. But now, the licensing for the brick and mortar store is out of this world. My most recent purchase from that aisle was Zelda fabric. When I bought it, the sales woman asked what I was making, to which I answered, “I have no idea, I just need it.”

It ended up becoming a quilt for my 7-year-old that he and I sewed together. I honestly have no idea how they got ahold of the Nintendo license because by all accounts it’s impossible to get. Of course, the Disney licensed fabrics is what takes up most of the aisle — Star Wars, Marvel, Princess … it’s a beautiful thing to behold.

For several years, you worked as a professional photographer. Does this job intersect at all with your geek interests?

It actually has! I really enjoy toy photography. As with sewing, I started with Barbie. She’s an excellent model. One of my favorite series of photographs happened when I took Lego Indiana Jones and Marion to Yosemite and Monterey for my husband’s and my tenth anniversary trip. Indy hiked Vernal Falls with us and saw the Lone Cyprus on the 17 Mile Drive.

What’s it like being mom to three geeky boys? What are some of your shared and individual interests and activities?

Like my parents did for myself and my brothers, I try to encourage any interests that my boys happen to have. My oldest is a (video) gamer and piano player, my middle one is a gregarious skateboarder who has fallen in love with RPGs like Mouse Guard and D&D. And the 7-year-old has a love of board games, Batman, and punk music.

We have a lot of crossover in all areas of pop culture and entertainment but I certainly can’t keep up with all of it. So, they are part of communities online and otherwise that share their interests. For instance, my 13-year-old is currently doing a D&D campaign with his uncle and three cousins via text message.

Your family has attended the Los Angeles ComicCon (which recently changed its name to Beyond Fest Expo LA). What are some of your favorite memories from that event?

I love the shopping. But the great moments were in who we saw and who we met. I love making friends while waiting for the doors to open. I follow some of them on Instagram and get to see their cosplays year round.

But the two moments that stand out: In 2016, I was able to see Gerard Way do an interview concerning the new Young Animal comic book series he had just released. It could get long winded if I talked about every reason being in the same room with him meant so much to me.

The other great moment was meeting Dameon Clarke, the voice of Handsome Jack in the Borderlands series. Because of how much we bond over this game, the boys and I were over the moon to get to have a conversation with him. He’s just as sarcastic in real life, which made the meet ‘n’ greet even more perfect.

Did you cosplay when you went this year? Tell me about that. 

I kinda did. My oldest went as Dirk Gently from the BBC series and I made for myself a Mexican Funeral T-shirt as a nod to Tod from the same series. The year before we did something similar when he went as a Fallout 4 vault dweller and I gave my nod to the series as a Nuka Cola girl with accessories that I made. Also, I have to mention my adorable 7-year-old and his bestie who have gone together as Link and Zelda, and then as Dipper and Mable Pines. They were a huge hit.

What do you enjoy about conventioning as a family? Do you have any tips for people who might be wary of attending with children?

We don’t just go as a family, we go with our long time family friends. We coordinate and work on costumes together for months. We bond over our fandoms, learn more about our kid’s fandoms and, most fun of all, it gives us an excuse to get together to craft, fabricate, drink tea and talk. Then the day comes and we love seeing all the kids together excited and happy. It’s just pure unadulterated fun.

L.A. Comic Con is really family friendly and takes place the last weekend of October, which means costumes are a must. I would say that with littles at any convention, going on Saturday is tough. I had high anxiety the whole time that we’d get separated. But at this one in particular, on Sunday they have a kids costume contest and trick-or-treating, which makes Sunday the perfect day to go. Also, make sure everyone is clear on a meeting place if you get separated.

How long have you been a gamer? Is this something you do with your boys?

My family got the Atari when I was 2, so video games have always been part of my life. But the progression from passive to obsessed started with The Legend of Zelda. My brother entered a contest and won a Nintendo from the exchange on the base we lived at. It came with four games, one of which was Zelda. It was so good!

The next game that struck me as a total game changer was Tomb Raider. Twice in my life, I have rushed out and bought a whole new console just to play a Tomb Raider game. The idea of girls in video games was finally on track to being normalized.

The boys and I game together when we can. Our favorite game to play together is Borderlands 2. It’s split screen co-op for up to four people so I’m able to play with both of my teens at once. We laugh, we first bump … it’s just a fantastic time spent together, and occasionally one of the boys’ friends will join us via online multiplayer.

Right now, we’re passively playing Stardew Valley together, but I get the feeling they’re just humoring their mom and would rather be playing games that include gunfire. Even when we aren’t campaigning together, we will share tips, and more than a few times I’ve had to have my oldest help me when I get stuck in a game.

You’re very enthusiastic about the Fallout franchise. How did you discover it and what do you love about it?

The year Fallout 4 came out, I dutifully purchased the game for my oldest as his only requested Christmas gift. I had no idea what it was. I was first struck by the fact that I could play as a female. I don’t mind playing games as a male, I love many games that don’t give this option, but since these are RPG video games it’s nice to actually see myself in the character.

But then the storyline unfolded. It’s brilliant. I think for me, first and foremost for all of the pop culture entertainment that I respond to, it has to have a great storyline.  And the Fallout games take it a step farther by peppering in Easter eggs throughout the whole world of individual stories. The lore and connections are so detailed; it’s masterful. Then, much like table top RPGs, there are a lot of decisions to be made that have consequences in the game and shape or show off your character. You truly become part of the game.

What are your expectations for Fallout 76?

It’s not going to be a main Fallout game; it’s not Fallout 5. So, my expectations are mitigated. They have promised that storyline and Easter eggs will be there, but being online multiplayer makes for a whole new dynamic where maybe storyline isn’t the most important thing. My teenagers and I are already trying to plan out how we could play together as a team but this conversation is difficult at the moment as the question still looms as to whether it will be cross-platform or not.

What’s your experience been like as a woman who games?

It’s one of those whispered things that most women still aren’t comfortable admitting to in their real lives. Last year, on the first day of the Bible study that I attend, I was asked to be the first to introduce myself. Going off the cuff, not remembering what info I was supposed to actually give (social awkwardness at its best), I included that I love going to concerts and playing video games.

Then this amazing thing happened where at least two other women got excited and seemed thrilled to admit that they too were gamer moms! There’s still this stereotype that comes in different arguments from men and women — some moms think it’s selfish and a waste of time that you could use being busy at literally anything else. And then there are the men within the community who believe women can’t bring the same level of aggression and strategy that men can.

You’re a Douglas Adams fan. What’s your absolute favorite “Hitchhiker’s Guide” quote and/or moment?

The discussion of an S.E.P. As a classic overthinker, it really spoke to me that one could just declare something to be an S.E.P. (Somebody Else’s Problem). “Any object around which an S.E.P. is applied will cease to be noticed, because any problems one may have understanding it (and therefore accepting its existence) become Somebody Else’s Problem.”

You mentioned the “Maze Runner” series. How did you discover the books and why do you like them?

This is another instance of my boys telling me about something and me having no clue what they were talking about. When I finally agreed to rent the first movie on iTunes, I was hooked. One of the things I like about dystopian stories is that it always seems to bring up thoughts and conversations as to how one would respond to the same situation. The world has gone haywire — how would you propose to fix it? It tends to flip values and morality on its head to make you think about what might really be important.

How would you say the movies compare to the novels?

The first movie follows the book pretty well but by the second movie it moves away from the books quite a bit. I’ve come to not mind film adaptations making this decision. First of all, it’s necessary. You can’t take 10 to 20 hours of a book and shrink it to fit a two-hour timeframe without massive tweaking. But I’ve also come to see that the changes make it easier to get excited about both the book and the movie in their own right.

A great example of this is “Ready Player One,” where the author helped make all new experiences and puzzles to solve for the movie. The storyline stayed the same but the details changes enough to engage the viewer in trying to solve the new riddles the same way we did in the book. Being two different experiences makes the movie and book individually fantastic.

You also describe yourself as a “huge Batman fan.” What’s the appeal of this character for you?

I think I have a taste for the darker side of the superhero genre. I love the mystery, the crazy villains and, of course, “all those wonderful toys.”

Like many people, you didn’t appreciate “the abomination that is Batfleck.” Who’s your favorite movie Dark Knight then?

I fell in love with Batman when Michael Keaton was in the role. His Batman will always be the top of my list. He did a great job of portraying the Batman as just a man concerned with doing right at all cost, who also happens to have ninja level skills and a massive amount of money to subsidize his vigilantism. I’m also really enjoying watching David Mazouz grow into the character of the Dark Knight on “Gotham.” That show has been a ridiculously fun and wild ride.

Any thoughts on what DC should do to get the Bat movies back on track?

I think they may be stuck with the track they’re on. My oldest son and I discuss often the mistakes that were made and the biggest one to me is that, following the example of the MCU, they tried to make it family friendly. Batman as a kids cartoon works. Batman with an R rating works. But when they tried to combine the two, what they ended up with is really just a kid’s movie that they tried to sell to adults.

Another reason it stands out as particularly bad is that there are other movies to compare it to. Ironman, Captain America, and Thor didn’t have that problem. When we already had Michael Keaton and Christian Bale give such stellar performances in this role, it was always going to be a tough act to follow.

Now, I have to admit to “Suicide Squad” being one of my guilty pleasures. I love the Joker more than I probably should admit. After seeing the movie in the theater, I wasn’t a fan BUT in the small screen cut there’s even more Joker. I’m almost optimistic about a Joker movie with Jared Leto, though I probably shouldn’t mention it on social media and risk getting roasted.

You’re not really into Star Wars though. I don’t know if some people realize that a) not all geeks are into Star Wars and (b that’s totally okay. What are your thoughts about this? 

At times it feels like I’m missing out on the community features like being able to engage in conversations with loved ones concerning the thing they love the most. And I have experienced someone taking it as a personal offence that I wouldn’t love that most beloved and treasured series. But I’m just not into it.

Star Wars has been such a constant in my personal universe for my whole life to the point that for a while I actually thought I must like it. It was about a year after I was married that my husband sat down to watch one of the movies and I finally said what I’d been pondering on for a while, “I don’t like this.” I have respect for the franchise and its fandom, which includes my husband and two of my boys.

When it comes to TV fandoms, you’re into “Wholock,” although you’ve labeled “Sherlock” and “Doctor Who” “dead fandoms.” Is it tough being a fan of these shows when new episodes are scarce?

I started watching “Doctor Who” in the ‘80s with my dad when Tom Baker was the Doctor. It’s safe to say that I’ll always be a fan. During David Tennant and Matt Smith’s reigns as the Doctor, the fandom was super active. I remember convincing my bestie to watch it “because the crafting alone is worth it.” It was exciting to be part of the community. With the lag time in the last few series of the show it’s been hard for anyone to keep up the enthusiasm.

“Sherlock” is another story all together. I kind of wish there were a fandom that encompassed every iteration of the Sherlock archetype – “Psych,” “Rizzoli and Isles,” “Monk.” There’s always a Sherlock to be excited about it, though admittedly, there’s only one Benedict Cumberbatch.

What’s your gut instinct about the new Doctor, Jodie Whittaker?

I’m remaining optimistic about her. I loved her in “Broadchurch.” The thing that gives me pause is that the concept of a female Doctor seems forced. They just finished an arch where the Master became female and the character of Missy was indeed masterful. It was done in such a way that it wasn’t some big political statement, which is what this feels like. Doctor Who has a history of taking on social issues in respectful ways without becoming too preachy. I really hope the new writers are able to strike the same chord.

You’re also a fan of “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” and “The 100.” I confess I haven’t tried either of those shows. Pitch them to me!

“Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” began as a script for “Doctor Who,” written by Douglas Adams. When it wasn’t made, he turned it into a whole new novel. The book is the epitome of Adams’ work with that quick British wit and the highly detailed twists and turns of Adams’ imagination. The show captures this perfectly. It’s brilliantly confusing and hilarious.

Dirk is a hapless detective who gathers cases, friends, and enemies according to whichever the universe sends him at the time. It’s something worth experiencing.

“The 100” is a show my 13-year-old and I discovered and binge-watched the first several seasons on Netflix. It’s a rare treat to find TV shows that he and I can watch together. This one is a sci-fi dystopian soap opera. It’s a bloody good time.

You describe yourself as a “music geek first.” That’s not something we’ve discussed much on the blog. How would you say music fandom compares to other fandoms, like movies or comic books? How does this interest manifest itself in your life?

It doesn’t matter what art a person responds to, it’s equally important and equally exciting to the person in love with it. But music in particular transects all other art forms. When I’m editing photos or painting, it’s with my headphones on. Look what James Gunn did with “Guardians of the Galaxy,” it wouldn’t be the same movie without that amazing soundtrack.

Bethesda and Apple are both major companies who put high premiums on music; the first in their video games and the latter began the smart phone revolution with a personal MP3 player. Music is definitely something worth geeking out over.

I immerse myself in an artist’s work. Like a true geek, I want to know every song, the members of the band, the instruments used. I want to know every lyric and theorize on the intent and meaning.

I’m not the most emotional person and often don’t understand my own emotions. Music says the things that I’m feeling in a way that I can’t.

One of my favorite cinematic moments is at the beginning of “Almost Famous” when Zooey Deschanel’s character puts on an album and informs her mom that while she can’t explain her life decisions, the song playing can. There are huge communities of fans out there who experience music in similar and very personal ways. The fans are engaged very much the same as any other. They’re on Twitter, instagram, and Pinterest (and, of course, the places teenagers hang out like Tumbler and Snapchat).

What geeky collectibles have you amassed so far?

My house is littered with Funko Pops from just about every fandom my boys and I take part in. Some of my favorites are my Pop Rocks of Kurt Cobain and Gerard Way. But my newest and top-of-my-list favorite is my Deadpool as Bob Ross. He sits with my art supplies. I also have some art from vendors at comic con. My favorite is a watercolor Batman by Levi Craig.

What’s left on your geek bucket list?

In books: finishing “Differently Mophous” by Yahtzee Croshaw, which I’m listening to with the boys on audible. Btw, I highly recommend his other book, “Will Save the Galaxy for Food.” It’s a riot.

In movies: I still haven’t seen “Infinity War” (I know, gasp). My husband and boys went but I couldn’t make it.

In music: two years ago we missed the “Blurry Face” tour. My littlest and myself were so sad that we made a pact to have it be his first concert when Twenty One Pilots tours again … but then they disappeared! I, along with everyone else in the fandom are getting pretty impatient for their return.

In games: I’m really hyped about Fallout 76 and waiting impatiently for Borderlands 3 to be announced. I’m also pretty excited to make it to year two in Stardew Valley, but that goal shouldn’t take too long.

 

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