I hadn’t expected to be as moved as I was by the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor. I thought it would be just another announcement when it happened. We’d all debate it furiously for a few days, speculate wildly, and then move on to the next thing.
But all around me I saw legions of women profoundly affected by a simple casting choice. Finally we would get to be the heroes of our own stories, rather than just the Companion along for the ride. We could save the world, be brave and courageous, kind and clever too. In a year where our childhood princesses had become Generals, all those playground games where we’d centred ourselves, all that female-led fan-fiction, was finally validated.
Over the summer there was a glorious flurry of cosplay, from the TARDIS full of bras to people urgently trying to find grey hoodies to replicate that first, precious sight of the 13th Doctor. But the moment that hit me was in early November when the first image of Whittaker’s Doctor in her new costume were released to the press.
I saw that and my knitterly heart skipped a beat. Cosplay and craft has always been one of my favourite ways of engaging with story, and all of a sudden I wanted that sweater and to be wearing it in a way I haven’t felt for a long time. I needed to be putting my own mark on the 13th Doctor, and this was my way of doing it.
I immediately started searching on Ravelry for top down sweater patterns I could adapt. And I found myself near a branch of John Lewis with time to kill the following day. I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be cool to have a sweater finished in time to wear for the Christmas special? I’ve done NaKniSweMo before, so this should be possible, especially as most of it is plain.
Cue 6 and a half weeks of furious knitting. I finally finished this afternoon, just in time for the Christmas special.
The pattern is Take It Easy by Annamaria Otvos, which is a simple seamless top-down sweater with set-in sleeves. I used Rowan Felted Tweed DK. It’s lovely to work with, has a good range of colours and the stripes mostly came out of leftovers from other projects. You can find the details fo the colours I used and in what order on my project page on Ravelry. Suffice to say, it took a degree of angsting over that single, very over-processed picture, and quite a bit of swatching to get colours and a sequence I was happy with.
If it turns out the sleeves are striped as well I’ll scream.
One of the first skeins of yarn I bought from Third Vault Yarns, at Nine Worlds in 2015, was in a colourway called Gallifreyan Sunset. It’s a measure of how fabulous Lola’s dyeing is that she has me falling in love with colours and dyeing styles that I would normally never contemplate. Orange is just one of those colours that doesn’t agree with, much as I love its perky cheerfulness.
But I fell in love with this subtle blend of orange and terracotta, with its flashes of bright yellow and the occasional dusty purple. And not just for being based on Doctor Who. Lola tells me that this is such a difficult colourway she can’t reproduce it. I have one of the few skeins that will ever exist.
I’d been saving it for the right project, and these socks were the perfect project. The pattern is Phyllis, by Rachel Coopey, one of the patterns from her collection Coop Knits Socks Volume 2. I love the textured cabled diamonds, and the definition provided by the twisted stitches. The long chart meant this wasn’t the quickest of knits. And it wasn’t helped by a catastrophic case of yarn barf that meant I had to untangle and completely recake the yarn at least twice, once during the middle of one of the panels at this year’s Nine Worlds.
Hand-knitted socks are perfect for these cold, wintery days. And it brings me a great deal of knitterly and geeky pleasure to know that under my sober work outfits with their sensible winter boots I’m flying the geek flag with bright and cheerful socks.
Another awesome Nine Worlds has finished. As I think I said last year, of all the conventions on the calendar, it is far and away the most welcoming and inclusive, which creates a joyful and creative atmosphere.
I’m on the come-down from a brilliant weekend, and recovering from the heady mix of lots of people, days packed full of content, and late nights socialising. Inevitably, that makes my reflections a little fragmented, but I’ll pull out some thoughts.
This year we were at a new venue, the Novotel London West in Hammersmith. After last year’s hotel debacle, this was a refreshing change and it proved to be a much better location. The food was better, the rooms were better, the space worked really well for the event, it was easier to get to, there were more facilities (shops and restaurants) close to the hotel and the staff were amazing, with prompt and friendly service. I really hope we will be back there next year.
Cosplayhas become a big part of my con-going experience. This year I reprised Missy, but with a twist. At last year’s con Laurie Penny remarked after seeing my costume that she’d only just realised just how much Missy looks like a suffragette. As a proud feminist that really chimed with me. So what better to do at a convention that prides itself on its progressive ethos, than to cosplay Missy as a suffragette, campaigning for more Time Ladies to appear in Doctor Who? I made her a sash, with the slogan “Time For Ladies”, suggested by a fabulous friend of mine. I’ll post about the making process for that sash in due course.
I also brought a new costume, a female Avon from Blakes 7. (I tried it at EasterCon earlier this year, but this is the first time I’ve managed to get pictures of it – the 1970s concrete exterior of the hotel also provided the perfect spot for a dystopian photo shoot.) Regular readers will know that I’m a huge fan of the series, so the appeal of cosplaying my all-time favourite character was hard to resist. I still feel slightly uncomfortable about doing it, as if I have no right to attempt something so iconic, but it’s a great character to play. And it’s wonderful to see just how much love there is out there for the series. I had people running across the hotel foyer to give me cosplay tokens, and I had some great conversations about my costume and the series. Come find me as Avon at a future con and I might even let you pet my Orac. I’ve blogged about putting this look together in another post.
The programme was great, as always, with some really thought-provoking sessions. The stand-out one for me were Alex Lamb’s session on modelling complex systems. Alex is the author of Roboteer, but he’s also a part-time stand up and improv, as well as having worked creating agent-based modelling systems for academic research. He is clever, funny and has tremendous energy. He got the whole audience for his session playing variants of Rock, Paper, Scissors, and then showed how the insights from that could be modelled in increasingly complex (and beautiful) ways. Though it led to the depressing insight that we are doomed to society ultimately collapsing once corruption takes hold. Honourable mentions also go to sessions on monsters in art history, how writers get and refine their ideas, a taster session on metal clay work, and a glorious end-of-con session on writing humour.
If I have one small complaint, it’s that there didn’t seem to be as many sessions on books as in previous years, and some of those in the evening slots proved to be a bit … drier … than I might have expected for that time of night. (There seemed to be no equivalent of last year’s gloriously hilarious panel discussion on writing sex.) From talking to one of the organisers, it sounds like there had been some difficulties behind the scenes that may explain it. I think the new model for organising content tracks may not have helped either. I really hope that gets sorted for next year. I love the broad church of fandom that Nine Worlds includes all under one roof, but I’m primarily a lover and reader of books, and if I’m give a choice I will gravitate towards book panels and events.
But as always, the thing that makes Nine Worlds is the people. Friends make the weekend special, and are the source of all the best memories. The late night room parties. Enthusiastic dancing at the Bifrost disco. Heckling panels via text message. Cosplay photo shoots where it’s hard to keep a straight face. But there are also smaller moments of joy too. Catching up with people you haven’t seen for ages. Making new friends and planning future shenanigans. Finding out an author friend has given a character your profession, after a chat you’d had at EasterCon. But mainly just the simple joy that comes from hanging out together and chatting.
I’ve posted before about Third Vault Yarns. Lola is fast becoming one of my favourite indie dyers, both for her amazing eye for colour and her playful geekiness.
Earlier in the year Lola decided to commemorate the discovery of water on the planet Mars with a cheeky Doctor Who inspired colourway called Waters of Mars. She test-dyed some skeins of yarn and put the samples up on Facebook for us to comment on. I’m not normally a fan of greens, but I instantly fell in love with this skein and Lola kindly sold me her sample.
The yarn is Lola’s Echo DK base. It’s a squooshy, bouncy, pure merino that’s a joy to work with.
It’s the mark of a fantastic dyer that not only did I fall in love with a colour scheme I wouldn’t normally go for, but pretty much as soon as it arrived with me I had a pattern picked out, had wound the yarn and cast on. Rarely has it been plainer to me what a skein of yarn wants to be: Don’t Drink The Water.
The pattern for these fingerless mitts is Magnolia, by Susan Pandorf. I love the lace detailing and the picot edging, and the way it shows off the beautiful dyeing. I’m pretty fussy about the thumbs on mitts, and these are perfect. The pattern has separate instructions for both right and left hands, with proper gusseted thumbs.
These will be perfect for the colder weather coming.
Over the last few days I’ve been at Nine Worlds Geekfest. It’s the third year it’s happened, the third time I’ve attended, but the first time I’ve stayed in the main hotel. In previous years I’ve commuted in each day (2 hours each way …), aiming to get there for the second panel of the day and staying as long as I could (usually to tea-time) before going home. Which makes for a very exhausting way of doing a con, without any of the evening fun which would at least give one a reason for feeling tired.
Of all the cons I’ve been to, Nine Worlds feels the freshest, most energetic and most welcoming. It prides itself on its inclusive atmosphere and has programme tracks dealing with feminism, LGBTQIA issues, race and culture as well as tracks on books, films, comics and tv shows. Panels contain a mixture of famous names and new voices. People from various minorities are not just confined to their own programme tracks, and there is a huge amount of cross-over, with programme items crossing over more than one track. But this approach to diversity and tolerance goes beyond programming. Panel members are briefed not to refer to audience members by their gender during Q&A sessions, and prounoun badges are available so that the transgendered and gender-fluid can indicate in a more subtle way how they wish to be referred to.
All of that is in marked contrast to other cons I’ve been to. LonCon3 (WorldCon) last year felt like East London had been colonised by the USA for five days. Marvellous as it was to see and meet so many big names from the States, it would have been even better if they’d made some concessions to not being in their own country. (I recall Jeff VanderMeer giving me the side-eye when I spoke about the cognitive dissonance I was feeling from all this US cultural imperialism. Of all the people there, I thought he would get it.) EasterCon (the BSFA’s annual event) feels like the redoubt of a certain generation of fans: a cliquey gathering that it’s very difficult to break into, full of in-jokes and making little or no effort to welcome new people, beyond exhorting them to volunteer to help run the con.
So, I was very excited about going this year, and particularly that I’d managed to persuade some of my geeky friends to come along to. As I’d learned last year, staying over at a con is only fun for me if I know you have a core of people to hang out with. Evenings are no fun if everyone else is enjoying themselves and you have no-one else to talk to.
Cosplay was a big part of my Nine Worlds experience. Having had so much fun dressing up at LonCon3 last year, I wanted to repeat the experience, and Nine Worlds has a much higher density of cosplay than any other con I’ve been to. So, on the Friday I dressed up as Missy. (Regular readers will haveseen the series of posts documenting the process of making my costume). I was expecting to be only one of several Missys – every set of con photos I’ve seen recently seems to have included a mandatory group of Missys. But it turned out I was the only one there.
One of the items on the programme that day was a panel on Gender Fluid Time Lords, and I bumped into the moderator and another of the panel members, both of whom insisted I come along. When I walked in the room for the start of the panel they gave me a big cheer. (The photos in this post were taken at the end of that panel). I was quite struck by something Laurie Penny said in that panel about Missy looking a bit like a suffragette. So I think the next step will be to add a suffragette sash and rosette to my Missy costume. Instead of “Give Women Votes” I think it will have to read something like “More Women Time Lords”.
On Saturday I reprised my Nyssa costume, from last year. Which led to the writer Simon Guerrier (the one I’d fangirled at about his Blakes 7 audio dramas at a Doctor Who event at Conway Hall a few days before) confessing that Nyssa had been his first childhood crush, a fact an old friend of his had once accidentally confided to Sarah Sutton (without knowing who she was) at a party.
There were some amazing costumes there, ranging from the clever and witty, to the laboriously screen accurate. The sheer level of creativity on display was astonishing. I have very few photos, I’m afraid (having too much fun …) but some of my favourites were knitted Wonder Woman, a woman who came as the bowl of petunias from Hitchhiker, an amazing Imperator Furiosa, a clutch of Peggy Carters and a woman who came as Sherlock’s wallpaper (dress with a black and white damask print on it, with a yellow smiley face embroidered on it).
There were many, many amazing programme items, ranging from the deeply silly to the very serious. The hotel’s lack of chairs (yes, really) meant that it sometimes proved difficult to get into some of them unless one was very early indeed. But there were plenty of alternatives on offer.
Some particular highlights:
The Gender Fluid Time Lords panel I mentioned above. It provided a fascinating insight into how Missy had been received by people from the transgender community. It was interesting to hear their anxieties (boob jokes, a fear that the gender swap would be presented as a consequence of the Master/Missy being crazy and unstable etc).
A fantastic gin-tasting from Jensen’s gin. Their Master Distiller and one of their Brand Ambassadors took us through the history of gin and their distillery. While plying us with gin. £5 well spent.
A talk by Dr Lewis Dartnell, author of The Knowledge, a book about how to reboot civilisation after an apocalypse. He’s a very engaging speaker and brought along lots of toys to play with. And who knew that you could prove the heliocentric model of the solar system using just Miley Cyrus (with her wrecking ball) and a watch.
Death in Genre. A discussion of death and violence in fiction, including its anthropomorphic personifications. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Joe Abercrombie suggesting Death could be a squirrel, hoarding acorns, each of which is the soul of the departed.
The F-word in Fantasy. This was a late night panel on sex in fiction, which had me laughing myself silly. But one of the best parts of it was seeing Laurell K Hamilton (who was playing it as if it were a serious panel) being gently teased and deconstructed with a very British sense of humour.
Dancing with Imperator Furiosa while Peggy Carter was singing Bon Jovi.
Coping with the awesome
Cons are exhausting places to be. There is no denying it. The sheer quantity of people, and the amount of content in the programme can be overwhelming at times. I think I’m still struggling to find the right balance so I can have the maximum amount of fun while staying sane and not collapsing with exhaustion.
As one of life’s outgoing, confident introverts, rooms full of people are fun, but incredibly draining. Add to that a lot of programme content that one needs to pay active attention to, and it’s an exhausting mix. Much as I love that mix of people and content, I need a lot of downtime to re-energise. Half an hour of fighting my way through the crowds to get to the next panel is not going to cut it.
Some of the best parts of the weekend were the times I got to spend quietly with just a few friends: a quiet dinner with a friend and her baby, or sitting outside the hotel in the sunshine with a few other friends. I need to find ways to build those times into my weekend in the future, and not be afraid to skip a panel to grab a nap or get some quiet time so I can enjoy the evening entertainment.
Ironically, while cons are the best places to meet fellow geeks and hang out with them, the sheer overwhelmingness of the con environment means you will never find me at my best or most engaging. I’ll probably be struggling to some degree or other with the scale of the event, punchdrunk and trying to wrestle my introvert self (with addded Imposter Syndrome) into some semblance of sociability. Last year I bumped into one friend, and I was so spaced out all I could do was hug her and squee incoherently. Conversation was entirely beyond me.
Finding a route through all that is definitely still a work in progress.
With the jacket and skirt done, there are a few finishing touches needed for Missy.
I ran out of time to make a blouse. I’m not too upset about that because I’m still not happy that I’ve found the right pattern. It needs a dropped yoke cut on the bias with the body of the blouse gathered into it, quite full sleeves and a Peter Pan collar. So I’ll put the fabric that I bought by until I can find the right pattern. I’m sure Missy will come out to play again, so it can wait.
In the meantime, I found this shirt on eBay, which I thought was close enough for now.
It’s by a company called Cotton Lane, who made the original blouses for ‘Nightingale’ nurses and have a good line of vintage inspired clothes in natural fibres. It’s plain white, but sufficiently Edwardian looking to fit with the look. The main problem with it is the ruffle on the collar. But that was very easy to trim off with a pair of small scissors.
Missy’s blouse is worn with a small black cameo brooch at the throat. Again, eBay came to the rescue here. I found a pretty good match to the original for 99p!
(and in this picture you can see the changes to the collar as well).
I knew that I really wanted to finish the look off with a version of Missy’s hat. I had real difficulty tracking down a black straw hat base that I could adapt to make it. I bought a black sinamay tilt hat base from Petersham‘s, but it turned out to be far too small and wasn’t giving me the look I wanted.
Cue some frantic searching on the Internet. Most of the black straw hats I found were very wide brimmed sunhats, usually with a very deep crown, rather than the shallow one I was after. I have a big head (I take a men’s XL in hats, believe it or not), so I really didn’t want something that would perch badly on the top of my head because it was too small. I needed a hat that was deliberately designed to sit at an angle over one eye, and, that like the original, wouldn’t project beyond the sides of my head.
After much searching, I eventually turned up this 1940s straw tilt hat on Etsy. It has a slightly elasticated band designed to hold it on the back of the head, which makes it easy to get it in the right place and can be secured with a couple of kirby grips. Which was great, because I was nervous about how I was going to keep it on.
I modified it to look as much like Missy’s hat as possible by adding some plastic fruit and flowers (again, from Petersham’s). There are two stems of black/red berries, one of fabric daisies and one of fabric lavender. I trimmed the stems of these down and used millinery wire (but floristry wire would also do) to secure them in place on the brim of the hat, using the photo earlier in this post as a guide. I found my jewellery pliers were incredibly helpful in pulling the wire through the straw of the hat.
Missy wears Edwardian style button boots under her skirt. Much as I would love the excuse to buy new shoes, I went for the ‘model’s own’ option. I’ve had these boots for quite a few years now, so they’re definitely old favourites. They’re by Irregular Choice. The heel shape and profile of the lower part of the boot works really well, and the massive sparkly bows aren’t visible under the long skirts.