Crafty Doctor Who: Subversion through Patchwork

One of the great joys I have taken from modern Doctor Who fandom (post 2005) is the crafty goodness that has exploded across the internet. This was still around in the old days, of course – my mother used to take me along to her Doctor Who fan club in the 80′s and I remember a beautiful oil painting one of the women in the group had made based on a still image of The Abominable Snowman, with Jamie and the Doctor (in his fuzzy coat) in the foreground and the TARDIS resting on a Tibetan mountain.

The same fan club used to distribute homemade badges, and my Mum still wears some of the: a silver K9, or a flock of Daleks on the lapel of her tweed jacket. I wonder if she’s still got the TARDIS badge that changes colours like a mood ring…

Then there was the Doctor Who Pattern Book, released in the flush of early Fifth Doctor merch, which included patterns to make your own cybermat (my mum did this!), TARDIS console cushion, Tegan’s boob tube, the Doctor’s celery brooch, and the piece de resistance, Classic Doctor Who costumes to fit a Ken doll collection.

It’s enough to make you want to collect Ken dolls, isn’t it?

These days, however, Doctor Who craft is a booming industry. You can see marvels and wonders displayed across Etsy, Spoonflower and Pinterest. All manner of Doctor Who fans are expressing their creativity by knitting Adipose, screen printing t-shirts, moulding jewellery and of course (one of my favourites) decorating the most extraordinary cakes.

Meanwhile, the BBC and their merchandise don’t seem to be able to keep up. They briefly flirted with the idea early on, but you’ve only recently been able to buy Doctor Who cookie cutters – I’ve been serving gingerbread daleks to my family for years because my honey made me a cutter by reshaping one that used to be a teddy bear, not because I bought the cutter in a shop. But surely they’re missing out on a trick here. Where is our TARDIS yarn, our make-your-own-pyjamas Dalek flannel, and our TARDIS console cake tins?

Look at the number of Doctor Who non-fiction or tie-in books that concentrate on the monsters, the machines, the aliens and, okay, the characters. Look at how many books there are about the show. Now look at how many books have been released which look at, say, the costumes of the show? The crafts you can make that tie into the show?

WHERE IS OUR DOCTOR WHO PATTERN BOOK FOR THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY?

I’m more than happy with the creativity shown by the fans who love the show, and it’s particularly exciting to me because so much of this craft is in areas that are traditionally seen as female or feminine. Knitting, dollmaking, cake decorating, jewellery making and quilting (my own craft of choice) are firmly coded female regardless of who practises them, and much though I’d like to claim otherwise, there is something deeply subversive about combining those underrated “feminine” artistic skills with the kind of hardcore science fiction geekery that many fans still think is (or should be, grrr) largely a male domain.

Quilting has always been a subversive act. Sure, the story is that women of pioneer America and pre-industrial England had to piece together patchwork to save every scrap, but COME ON. Patchwork isn’t remotely efficient, and it tends to create almost as many scraps as it uses. What patchwork and quilting have always provided is an excuse for women to gather together and make art, to appear industrious and frugal because their lives weren’t supposed to be about anything else. The beauty of the quilts found through history are there because women wanted to take time to make something beautiful, and yet the same practical function that allowed them guilt-free time to play with colours and fabrics has meant that their work has not traditionally been considered an ‘art’ akin to the expensive oil paintings and marble statues traditionally made by male artists.

As a quilter, I’m well aware that there are few men who have any interest in that particular craft. All my quilting friends are female, the quilt shows we go to are maybe 90% attended by women, and many guys who will happily listen to me talking about Doctor Who or urban fantasy or pdocasting or even feminism may glaze over with boredom if I start talking about patchwork templates or seam allowances. Including my own partner – whose lack of interest in my sewing activities meant I was able to work on his birthday present completely under his nose. As it turns out, he thinks quilts are AWESOME when they are finished, especially robot quilts.

Quilts don’t have to be about floral patterns and applique bows – not that there’s anything wrong with that, if it’s your cup of tea. But I’ve never been the kind of quilter who, well, follows rules. I’m far more excited with taking the boundaries of the craft in question, and then seeing how far I can push them. I’m pretty excited that I can get hold of, say, TARDIS fabric now, thanks to the creativity of fandom. Or, using the print-your-own-fabric technology, I can even design my own… and that’s what I’m planning to do!

I’ve been collecting a bunch of sparkly silver roundel fabric for a while now, because it reminded me of Daleks, and as it turns out I have a lot of 60′s ish black and white and grey fabric, which works out well, because THIS WEEKEND I am totally piecing together a Black and White 1960′s Doctor Who Hexagon Quilt.

The theme of this year’s Australian National Science Fiction Convention is ‘Craftonomicon’ so where better to piece my silvers and blacks and mod stripes with photographic fabric depicting Daleks, Ben and Polly, the First and Second Doctors, Jamie and Zoe, Victoria Waterfield, Cybermen, Sara Kingdom, Katarina, Steven, Dodo and of course Barbara, Ian and Susan. And Quarks. I’ve tacked down nearly a hundred pieces and I plan to start sewing the quilt together at the convention, and to see how much I get done over the course of the weekend, while having some fabulous conversations.

Wish me luck!

12 comments

  1. Docinboots says:

    Great post – I’ve been knitting from a wide variety of Doctor Who inspired patterns. It was fantastic to see how much attention a new pattern like Bigger On The Inside (http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEss12/PATTbigger.php) received thanks to the fandom. Craft is definitely a way for the female fandom to flex its muscle – though we mustn’t forget the male crafters and makers. And, after all, the craft/fan nexus is logical… how many mothers, aunts, grandmothers were knitting scarves for fans of the fourth doctor a few decades back?

    • I love the story (not sure how mythical now) that the original Fourth Doctor scarf came about because they gave a bunch of yarn to “someone’s grandmother” and she just kept knitting…

      So far most of my Doctor Who craftdom has revolved around making costumes & birthday cakes for my daughters so I’m excited to have a project to get my teeth into.

  2. Kmasca says:

    I think I need that Pattern Book. I really do collect 1/6th dolls.

    • I think it can still be found occasionally on eBay. I sold my copy to a friend at a garage sale when I was eleven – luckily she’s still a friend but sadly it’s been in moving boxes for several years. Someday it will be ours again, and our children will find themselves wearing Adric’s badge for mathematical excellence!

  3. Nightsky says:

    Not only do I freaking love your hexagon TARDIS quilt, I definitely approve of the rise of geeky crafts as a legitimate form of fanac.

  4. [...] Tansy Rayner Roberts mentioned a few months ago that the Doctor Who Pattern Book included guidelines for doll costumes, I decided to snap up a copy [...]

  5. [...] Tansy Rayner Roberts mentioned a few months ago that the Doctor Who Pattern Book included guidelines for doll costumes, I decided to snap up a copy [...]

  6. where did you get those awesome Dr Who Fabrics?

    • Nightsky says:

      I can’t speak for the actual quilter, but I do know that there is much that is awesome over at Spoonflower, including custom prints for cosplayers.

      Also, my favorite purveyor of embroidery designs, Urban Threads, now has a “Police Box” design.

      • I do have a lot of Spoonflower fabrics stashed away, it’s true, but for this particular quilt I managed to randomly find a lot of cool black and white or silver fabrics (I thought Daleks as soon as I saw the one with silver spots).

        I also printed out a bunch of black and white stills from the show onto printer quilt fabric – there are a few different brands, but the basic premise is you can print any pic from your computer directly on to quilter’s cotton or silk using your inkjet printer.

        I’ve had mixed results with this process as it can be tiresome and some printers are more temperamental than others, but if you want small amounts of a really specific image on fabric, it’s the best way to go – especially good for crazy quilting where you only need the occasional image. They used to print glamour shots of celebrities and other cool images on the silk squares in 1920′s cigarette packets for exactly this purpose…

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