OTW Guest Post: Cynthia and Tina Mendenhall

Every month the OTW hosts guest posts on our OTW News accounts to provide an outside perspective on the OTW or aspects of fandom. These posts express each individual’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OTW or constitute OTW policy.

Cynthia Mendenhall is an avid crafter, especially interested in cross stitch. She started Taylor and Cromwell a few years ago and loves creating work that people can relate to and be engaged with. In her free time she helps run a cat and small animal rescue. Tina Mendenhall joined Taylor and Cromwell after its creation and does mostly quotes and graphic work. Outside of that she helps run an animal rescue, writes, and is working on becoming a cryptoid. Today, Tina and Cynthia talk about fannish crafting.

How did you first find out about fandom and fanworks?

Tina: I was always really into things like Star Wars and Batman when I was growing up, but for the most part I didn’t really know about fandoms until high school. The things I was into either my friends also liked or I was alone in them. In middle school a friend started getting into the Star Wars fandom, but I was mostly only connected to it through her. In high school a different friend introduced me to Fanfiction.net to show me Full Metal Alchemist fanfiction and a lot of my friends started drawing fan art. I hung out on LiveJournal a lot in different fandoms, but never really said or did anything besides some super poorly drawn fan art. I didn’t get really into creating my own fan art until I was in college and learned to knit to make a Doctor Who scarf.

Cynthia: I never really thought about fandom and fanworks before a couple of years ago, even when I first started making patterns (starting with one of the Hamilton ones). I never really considered it a fandom thing, just a thing I liked and wanted to stitch for Tina. We have a roommate that is in a lot of fandoms and talks about hers pretty often, so I knew the concept I guess at that point, but didn’t consider myself part of any (it seemed like it was something that younger people considered more than people my age).

A couple of years ago it started to click to me that technically I was in the fandoms for things that I really enjoyed. Fanworks were never something I actively thought about — when you enjoy something you like seeing items that remind you of it, and you work it into what you’re doing. You see this come out in all sorts of places, but the first thing that pops to mind is that often writers will write into their characters things that they enjoy (whether it be fandoms/hobbies or just everyday preferences). So if you’re really into something like musicals (or anything else) you’re going to want to collect musical items, or in crafters/artists/fanfic writers’ cases, you’ll want to create musical things. That just has always made sense to me.

When did you first start cross-stitching, and was it always fandom related?

Tina: I started cross stitching when my wife and I moved in together, and it was very much fandom related from the start. She was working on a (what seemed to me) massive project. I was mostly knitting at that point and wasn’t very interested in traditional cross stitch patterns, because all of the ones I wanted to do were way beyond me. But I loved comics, so she got on Etsy and found me weelittlestitches’s The Watchmen pattern.

Cynthia: I learned to cross stitch at 5, following my Mom around and bugging her until she finally sat me down and showed me how to stitch. I think the first thing I remember stitching was a big heart that she told me was going to be too large of a project for me, but I wanted to do it (Tina has a funny story about teaching me to knit with something along those lines — socks). I don’t think I ever finished that one, but it got me started.

I didn’t make anything fan based until about 4-5 years ago when I made a small Hufflepuff crest for our roommate. Since then I’ve stitched a couple of different fandom items, mostly for different people (Hamilton or Harry Potter) and mostly Pokemon or Portal stuff for me.

Are there particular things about creating patterns that bring you pleasure? Do you have a typical process?

Tina: I find the whole process strangely soothing. I like being able to make the kinds of things I want to stitch and I love it when other people enjoy them too. When I’m stuck on something, I like to get in the nerdy cross stitch groups and look for people requesting certain kinds of patterns. Even if I don’t know the source material, I often look them up and make them. I’ve hung out in a lot of dead or under-represented fandoms over the years and been sad I couldn’t find more content in them. So being able to provide stuff makes me feel good and often helps me get unstuck on my original projects.

When I start a pattern, I start by looking at the source material. If it’s a quote, I like to find a font that is either from whatever I’m making or match one of my existing fonts to carry the right inflections. I really like quote patterns, but I feel like the font carries a lot in them, so I don’t like it to just be standard. For the graphics I end up watching a lot of clips from shows, movies, and games trying to find the right angles and create a good representation of it. Books are a lot harder to make graphics for because so many people see things in their head in different ways. A lot of times I will look at fan art for those to get an idea of the aesthetic a lot of people get from it. Otherwise I will pull inspiration from cover art.

I like to get a rough draft done within a few hours of starting a project so that I can get my ideas down. After that I will show it to Cynthia to see if it makes any sense. Normally I will wait a few more hours or a day to see how I feel about it and make changes. Other times she will tell me that if I fuss over it I’m going to mess it up, and I put it out right away.

Cynthia: I just like the process of seeing it come together, and it’s much faster than stitching! I’ve made some general patterns, and they’re all well and good, but I really enjoy making patterns that are more fandom related. When I’m working on something fandom related, I want to get it as close to the source material as possible, to make it something truly indicative of the source material. Fans are going to notice if you get something wrong, and it’ll bug them even if they like the pattern — I know it would bug me.

For example, I’m making a Pokemon Tarot cross stitch set, and I put a lot of thought into each card, bringing in inspiration from the movies, show, Pokemon cards themselves, and games. I often have 4-6 different pictures and files open while I’m working on a pattern, so that I can double check small details and make sure I’m getting the meaning and feeling across the way I want to.

My process depends on if I’m doing one of my large musical patterns or any of the smaller patterns. The large musical patterns I start off with my saved base size, and the first thing I do is get a list of lyrics, so that I know I have enough to work with, and see if there are any obvious graphics I should try to include. Then I have to figure out what graphics I want included. I look at the Broadway/West End/movie posters (depending on what kind of musical it is) to get coloration and graphic ideas.

If I can’t find anything there, I’ll pull up clips and watch different parts of it to get the feel. Then I have to decide where I want those graphics and how large. Once they’re done and in, I start putting in the lyrics, often moving them around as I add more, to make the fit just right. The graphics take me at least 1-2 days, and often putting the lyrics in takes me another 3-4 days of working on it for a couple of hours at a time. Once everything is in, I color the lyrics how I want them.

For smaller patterns I try to push through and get it done in a day, often working for 4-5 hour stretches and only walking away for short periods of time. For those I have to have a decent idea of what I want before I sit down, so sometimes the “prep” for them is a couple of days before I sit down at the computer to actually work on it. Often I let them sit a day before putting one out, to make sure that I have a clear head for double checking details and spellings.

How did you hear about the OTW and what do you see its role as?

Tina: Honestly I hadn’t heard of the OTW directly until I saw a post about it in a group I’m in and we were contacted. I’ve spent a lot of time on AO3 though, I think I have a couple tabs of it open on my phone right now. I feel like OTW connects and preserves fandoms a lot. I remember when I first got into them everything was scattered all over the internet and some of it buried pretty deep. Now it is a lot more prevalent and easy to connect to and I feel like, from what I’ve read, the OTW had a lot to do with that.

Cynthia: I hadn’t heard of OTW until one of our fans on Facebook got a hold of us and asked if we’d be interested in being interviewed. To me its role seems to be to protect the rights of the fans, and preserve fandoms in general.

What fandom things have inspired you the most?

Tina: I think just seeing what people can create and what they take away from the subject matter. Seeing people put their own twist on things, and especially change things to find representation in them. That always meant a lot to me when I would read or look at fan things and made me want to participate and be part of the community.

Cynthia: I’m inspired a lot by the different views that the fans have, the pairings, the hidden meanings in quotes and symbols that are found/connected. I love the diversity that the fans bring in to their fandoms — even the fandoms of things that aren’t known for their diversity can end up being very diverse fandoms, because the fans make it that way and it works.

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