Monday, August 29, 2011

Ukitake Taichou

I have been a huge fan of the Bleach manga by Kubo Tite for 4 or 5 years. I find the story, characters, & artwork absolutely fascinating, & even when things stray into typical shounen (fighting) manga territory, Kubo always has a twist in the story that keeps my interest. I also watch the anime, & really enjoy the Japanese voice-acting, but the quality of most of the animation suffers terribly by comparison to the original artwork. However, watching the Bleach anime with Charlie & Brendan has been a lot of fun & a good way to share the story as a family, so I'm still a fan of the anime, although with reservations.

I've found a lot of inspiration for my Nerd Wars 2 projects from the Bleach manga (for team spirit points, my challenges had to be themed to a manga or comic series). Two of my summer projects were inspired by the character Orihime (the Orihime Scarf and the Tanabata Tawashi, which I made & posted from Japan) & two more were inspired by Ukitake Taichou, Captain Ukitake of the 13 Gotei Bantai (13 protection squads) of Soul Society. In June I made a shifuku, a bag to hold a tea cannister, for him. Yesterday I finished a 3-week project to make an amigurumi of Ukitake, which also completed my last 2 Nerd Wars 2 challenges & this month's team unity project. Whew!
 Ukitake Taichou is not a major character in the Bleach series, but Kubo does such a great job of fleshing-out even minor characters that he really comes to life for me. The 13 Gotei Bantai are the protectors of Souls Society, which in the Bleach universe, is where souls go after they die to await rebirth. There are predators that consume souls & interfere with the rebirth process, so the shinigami (literally "death gods", but usually translated as "soul reapers") of Soul Society protect the souls from predators & also help souls that have yet to pass on to Soul Society (& are stuck on earth) to cross over. The Taichou, or captains, lead the 13 squadrons & are the most powerful of all the shinigami. One of the things I find interesting about Kubo's vision of Soul Society is that, although there is a definite hierarchy, there is a lot of individualism among the different squadrons & individual shinigami. They all wear the same uniform, called shihakusho, but nearly all shinigami have individualistic embellishments, hair styles, & other distinguishing factors that make them all easy to tell apart (which is not common in manga, let me tell you! Sometimes you have a lot of trouble telling even main characters apart). All of the Taichou wear white haori coats with the number of their bantai emblazoned on the back over their shihakusho as a symbol of captaincy, but there are variations among the haori & how they're worn, from captain to captain. And you can often tell a lot about their personality by how shinigami wear their uniforms. Some of the things I like best about the character of Ukitake Taichou is that he balances being strong with being flexible. His character has suffered from tuberculosis for at least 1000 years (!) but he is recognised as a strong person & excellent fighter in spite of having this physical weakness. He runs his bantai as much like a family as a military squadron & his squad respects & adores him. He is very wise, but also can be silly sometimes. And above all, he is very kind. Oh, & very cool :D

So, I decided to make an amigurumi of Ukitake Taichou to complete the "Guilty Pleasures" & "Necessity is the Mother..." August challenges for NW2. For me, the pleasure is dreaming something up & then creating it pretty much as I see it in my mind's eye. I also was intrigued by the idea of knitting the traditional kimono & accoutrements. The other challenge involved making a tool relevant to your fandom, so part of making Ukitake involved making his katana (seen in the above picture), called "Sougyo no Kotowari" ("refusal of the twin fish"). But I'll start with the creation of the amigurumi...
I decided to crochet the body from KnitPicks Wool of the Andes sport weight wool yarn, using a size D crochet hook, because I wanted a firm fabric, but I didn't want the ami to be terribly large. I thought sport weight wool for the body would allow me to use fingering weight yarn for his kimono (or lace weight, if I had to really make things finer). I looked around in some of my amigurumi books to get an idea of how to start the head, but from there it was all my own creation. Although the head is oversized (like many anime-inspired dolls) I wanted the rest of the body to be in proportion, so I just kind of eyed things as I went along. I took only very sketchy notes because I didn't want to obsess over reproducibility. I really wanted to just create. I took notes on arms, feet, sandals so that the second one of the pair would match. When it came to his hands, I needed them to be able to hold his swords, so I divided the work in a mitten-like fashion & then sewed the little thumb to the rest of the hand. It ended-up working really well.

When I stuffed the body with polyfil I added a sodalite gemstone heart to his chest :) something I often do when creating amigurumi. I also decided to crochet his tabi socks right onto his legs, rather than fuss with separate socks, & I'm really glad I did because it gave me time to fuss with the sandals instead :D In the photo above you can see the body plus the hair, wound around an American manga version of Bleach, which turned out to be the exact size I needed to make his hair. I used about 1/3 a skein of KnitPicks Gloss lace weight yarn to make the hair. To make it into a wig, I measured over the top of head to get an idea of how wide it should be (I had already measured the length, adding some extra for styling purposes), then I machine-stitched it all (using a very short stitch) to a piece of paper, off-set because his part is on one side, not in the middle. The paper, perforated by the sewing machine needle, came apart easily & left me with the mass of hair ready to sew to the head with the same yarn as the hair. I styled it & then cut the front hair like Ukitake's. 
Then came the clothes (I felt funny putting the face on before he was clothed :). I decided to use KnitPicks Comfy (cotton/acrylic blend) fingering weight yarn for the kimono & hakama. I swatched it on a size 2 knitting needle & liked the fabric (~6.5 stitches/inch) so that's what I used. I decided to knit the clothes because crochet is bulkier & less drapey than knitted fabric. I also used a mix of traditional Japanese kimono making techniques & knitted shortcuts. In "reality" there are 2 layers of kimono worn, a white under-kimono (& actually, under that would be fundoshi underwear) & then the black over-kimono, but I realised that if I knitted all of the layers he'd look more like Santa Claus than a lean fighting guy :) So I suggested the white under-kimono by crocheting in white along the edges of the neckline & sleeves. I also suggested the kimono lapels with strategically placed decreases, rather than knitting on another piece like a kimono usually has. I made the kimono to fit the crocheted body by measuring, adding ease & using the swatched gauge to calculate it all.
Next came the hakama (trousers). Again, I had really wanted to make them with all the pleats that make them look so cool in real life, but that would have made them impossibly bulky, so I made decreases to the waistline instead.
I did add the traditional ties, with the black ones in front & white ones in back, wrapping around to the front (the white obi belt is a particular characteristic of the shihakusho worn by shinigami & not usually found on Japanese hakama). The decreases are actually openings in the side of the hakama, which is just how they're usually constructed. All of the kimono sleeves are also open at the under-arm which is traditional.
Next I made the waraji sandals, which are woven from plant materials in real life (kind of like a basket). I crocheted them from 10/2 pearl cotton with a size 6 steel hook, using manga depictions as a guide.
Then came the face. I was a bit worried about the face, but I drew a picture of what I was aiming for (an intense look, rather than cute, since he was going to be holding swords, for goodness sake!) & used fingering weight wool to get better detail. I used black & brown (his eyes are a lovely brown in the anime :) & the embroidering went very well. I like how it turned out.

Since I was waiting for the wool for his haori coat to come in the mail, I decided to make his katana next. This is another one of those parts of this project that I thought hard about before it all coalesced in my brain. In the Bleach story, all shinigami have special katana called zanpakutou, or soul swords. These zanpakutou look like normal Japanese katana, but they have particular powers that resonate with the inherent abilities of the shinigami. They allow the shinigami to become more powerful over time, if they train well & have a good relationship with their zanpakutou. Eventually shinigami learn to "release" their zanpakutou into more powerful forms, their shikai & bankai. The zanpakutou actually change shape with each release. Ukitake is one of the oldest of the shinigami taichou & his bankai has not been seen yet (he's so powerful in shikai he hasn't had to use it yet :). His zanpakutou is the only one in Soul Society to actually split in two when he releases his shikai (by reciting a poem: "Wave become my shield, Thunder become my sword!"). The two swords are connected in the middle by a long strap that has metal tags hanging from it. When in shikai, Ukitake can absorb attacks & then turn them back on his attacker. 
To make the zanpakutou, I used 10/2 pearl cotton & the size 6 steel hook again, plus 2 wooden skewers, some wire & jump rings, & some metal beads which were the closest thing I could find to the zanpakutou's metal tags in the Fire Mountain bead catalogue. I have yet to see a colour picture of Ukitake's zanpakutou in the manga, so I went with the colour scheme from the anime. The handles & strap are maroon, the parts below the jutte (prongy bits) are grey, & the rest of the katana & jutte are black with grey edging along the main katana. I crocheted the handle & grey areas in the round, to fit the skewers, then crocheted the rest of the length of the skewer in black, back & forth in rows, attaching it to the grey as I went, & then wrapped it around the rest of the skewer & crocheted it all together lengthwise with the grey. I did the jutte prongs similarly, but around wire, which I bent at the end & slipped into the crochet around the skewers, sewing them into place. The guards are in gold, crocheted in the round. The strap with its metal tags is attached to jump rings sewn to each katana by little wire fasteners that I made. I had to add the fasteners or he wouldn't ever be able to put the zanpakutou down :) These took all day to make & nearly burnt me out, all that tiny crochet work in the round. Whew. But I did it!
Last of all was the haori coat, symbol of being a captain in the 13 Gotei Bantai (& my team unity project for August). Haori are usually lined, & according to the Bleach character books, Ukitake's lining is a reddish brown colour (which is why I had to order yarn, since I didn't have the right colour on hand). I used KnitPicks Palette fingering weight wool yarn & size 1 needle (gauge ~7 stitches/inch) to make it. I wanted a finer fabric than the kimono because the lining would add bulk to the whole thing. As I was watching the Bleach anime for ideas I noticed that the haori were split in the back, which really gave me pause. Making the thing in one piece with the lining (which is the traditional way to make a haori coat) was going to be tricky enough without a split in the back... Luckily, when rereading the manga I saw that the haori are NOT split... big sigh of relief!!! As with the kimono, I measured the ami, added ease, did my calculations based on the swatched gauge, & cast-on. I used a crocheted provisional cast-on, knitted a few rows, then made purl turning row for the hem. Before I started the decreases for the fronts I added the black decoration that all the captain's haori have, using fair isle technique. I split the knitting at the underarms, knitted sides & back separately, then left everything at shoulders & neck on waste yarn to deal with later. I did the embroidery on the back next, before there were too many things hanging off of it (I like to leave long tails for sewing or grafting, so there were already many hangers-on). 
The back embroidery was much more difficult than the face, for some reason. The diamond shape has the kanji for the number 13 in it, because Ukitake is captain of the 13th squadron. Then I pulled-out the provisional cast-on & started knitting up in hazelnut, decreasing a total of 4 stitches at first to make it slightly smaller inside, & then mirroring the shaping of the outside of the coat. Then I kitchenered shoulders (4 of them!) & picked-up for sleeves (4 of them!) & did my best not to let this last bit of knitting do me in... I kitchenered the lining to the outside at the sleeves & neckline, & then sewed the rest together. The haori took 3 days to make. But it fits him, & it works!
So here he is with all of his accessories :) 
And put-together again. All-told, I spent 3 weeks making this amigurumi. It's one of the largest projects I've made in a long time. I am very pleased with how he turned out & feel very satisfied by the creative process of making him. For fellow ravelers, the project page is here. Thanks for reading all the way through this very intense project!!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Nerd Wars 2 Dissertation Finished, Gallery of Hats :D


 Back in June (before we went to Japan :) I posted about my big summer project, what they call a dissertation for Nerd Wars 2. My proposal was to make 14 hats, one for each week of Nerd Wars 2, to be donated to relief efforts for the survivors of the March, 2011 earthquake & tsunami in the Touhouku region of Japan. The deadline for my original proposal is August 31st & I'm happy to say that I posted the finished project today. Yay!

 Here's a gallery of the hats I made & some commentary on them:

Hat #1) Yotsuba& Hat. The green Fair Isle hat is themed to the “Yotsuba&” manga. The main character, Yotsuba, is a little girl with green hair who wears it in 4 ponytails, like a 4-leaf-clover (which is also reflected in her name, as Yotsuba means “4 leaves”). The design on the hat could be a 4-leaf clover, & it’s green like her hair. It’s made from Knitpicks Swish DK & my own pattern.
Hat #2) This the “Naruto & His Mom” hat. In chapter 498, “My Mom’s Red Hair”, of the Naruto manga we learn that Naruto’s mom was a redhead & that Naruto’s hair is yellow like his dad’s. This hat, made from KnitPick’s Bare DK superwash merino that I dyed with procion dyes, reflects the colours of their hair, & celebrates their reunion. The pattern is Lion Brand’s crochet earflap hat, & I used an I/9.5.50mm hook.
Hat #3) The Tsubasa Sempai hat, in honour of the character from the manga “Gakuen Alice”. This character is a friend & supporter of the main character, Sakura Mikan, & is most often shown wearing a fun & funky hat. His Alice is the power to manipulate people by using their shadow, & the colours of this hat have a strong light & shadow component as well. In the manga he’s often wearing an earflap hat. This hat was made from Knitpicks Bare superwash DK yarn that I dyed with procion dyes & the above-mentioned earflap hat pattern.
Hat #4) The Kobato hat, named for the title character of the Kobato manga series by CLAMP. Kobato is required to wear a hat at all times & the ones she wears are always very cute, often with flowers, bows, & lace. I designed an earflap hat around a motif from the wonderful book that is an hommage to Kobato’s cute hats. It’s made from Swish DK.
Hat #5) Cardcaptor Sakura Hat, from the manga of the same name, also by CLAMP. Sakura wears lot of hats to co-ordinate with the costumes she wears as she chases down the Clow cards to become the Master of the Clow. This knitted baby hat has a colour scheme that reminds me of Sakura plus a star motif on either side like the hat she’s wearing in the picture. It’s made from Serenity sock weight yarn, & the motif is from onion skin-dyed sock yarn, the pattern is my own design.
Hat #6) I’m calling this one the Ouran Cosplay Hat because it reminds me of the cosplay turbans from the manga Ouran Koko Hosutobu volume 13 (pictured below the hat). It’s the The Antelope Hat (a pattern from Ravelry), which I sized down a bit to make it child-size. It’s made from Woolease for easy care.
Hat #7) Nausicaa Hat. I present the hat inspired by the manga by Hayao Miyazaki himself, Nausicaa. It’s the Aviatrix hat (another Ravelry pattern) made from superwash, sport-weight wool that I dyed myself. Plus I added mittens to match.
Hat #8) Bear Hat. This hat (with little bear ears) is dedicated to the character Bear from the Gakuen Alice Manga. Bear was created by one of the students whose Alice allows him to animate stuffed animals using part of his own soul. Unfortunately, this ability also shortens the life the the user. Bear is first introduced as a recluse living all alone in a cabin in the woods, a violent & non-speaking creature who inspires fear in all of the students. Eventually, the main character of the series (Mikan) makes friends with Bear & learns that he’s violent because he feels terrible about his creator having given up part of his soul to create him. Bear becomes a sympathetic character & eventually makes friends.I made it from Woolease yarn & is my own design.
Hat #9) Shikamaru Hat. This hat was inspired by the character Shikamaru from Naruto. Shikamaru is a classmate of Naruto’s & is acknowledged by all to be a genius. He’s also incredibly lazy, just barely passing his classes instead of aceing them because he’s just too lazy to care. Almost all of the adult ninja in Naruto wear camoflage-type clothing (while the kids tend to wear more colourful clothing), but Shikamaru wears camo from the time you first meet him. This would have been a great baby hat for him :) This was made with Berroco Sox yarn & is also my own pattern.

Hat #10) This is the R2-D2 Hat. I designed it myself, & knitted it from Swish DK, using size 2 & 5 needles. It matches the R2-D2 Mittens (see below) that I made for a Nerd Wars 2 challenge. There is, indeed, a Star Wars comic :)
Hat #11) The Pikachu Hat! It’s crocheted from a book of Japanese Pokemon-themed patterns. Pikachu is a popular Pokemon & is featured in manga, anime, & video games. It’s made from Caron Sheep(ish) yarn.
Hat #12) The Pokeball Hat, from Ravelry. Another Pokemon-themed hat made from Caron Sheep(ish).
Hat #13) The Pu-reen Hat. This is the Pokemon called “Jigglypuff” in English (“pu-reen” means “pudding” :). Made from the Sheep(ish) from the Japanese Pokemon pattern book.
Hat #14) The Rang Hat. Rang is a mouse character from the Korean manwha “One Fine Day”. Rang is one of the cutest mousies ever created. I love this series! It’s made from Woolease yarn & is my own design.
Here are some nerdy statistics from my dissertation: 
* I used 7 different kinds of yarn to made these hats, in 3 different weights: worsted, DK, & fingering.
  • I used 11 different patterns, 7 of them from books or other sources, & 5 patterns were my own design. Half of the hats were from my own designs.
  • I used 25 different colours of yarn to make these hats :D
 And here are a few more projects that are going (or have gone) to the kids in Touhouku:

 The Twin Spica hat & mitts are already there, sent in June for one of the Nerd Wars 2 Round 1 challenges,

the Bunny mittens, made for another NW2R1 challenge,

The R2-D2 mittens, made for a NW2R2 challenge,

and the Frog Hat, made for a NW2R1 challenge.

I've also decided to make a pair of mittens for each hat, & so far 9 of the hats have mittens:
Which leaves me 6 more pairs of mittens (if you add the Frog Hat ones :).

And here's what I wrote when I posted the finished project, describing the process of making these hats:

I’m really glad that I was able to use lots of different techniques & yarns to make these hats because I never burnt out on hat-making & kept coming up with ideas for more. It was a lot of fun to theme them to different manga characters, especially since I don’t personally know the children who will receive these hats & so I could put happy thoughts of the characters into the hats as I made them :) Also, because I don’t know the children, I tried to keep in mind what kinds of things people in Japan enjoy or would like in the hats. One thing that’s really popular there (particularly with women & children) is anything that’s cute, so I made a lot of hats that are cute & that don’t require much explanation (for example, the R2-D2 hat, because Star Wars is pretty popular there &, of course, the Pokemon hats). Two of the hats were made while I was in Japan this summer & one of them even sparked a conversation with a lady on the train to Kamakura, which was fun. As of right now, I have made 9 pairs of mittens to match the hats. I will make 5 more pairs to add to the package before I send it, since I don’t feel right sending hats without mittens.
While we were visiting Japan we stayed with a friend who has spent the summer counselling earthquake survivors, many of whom who are suffering from PTSD & other anxiety disorders. She said that things there are still pretty bad because, even though they are working very hard to create new housing for all of the people in shelters, it’s not so easy to recreate livelihoods & fill the gaps left by missing family members. The earthquake & tsunami aftermath are also very much in the daily consciousness of the Japanese & we saw quite a few shows on tv while we were there that showed survivors as they struggle to put their lives back together. In Tokyo, every taxi we saw had a bumper sticker that said “Ganbarou Nihon” (“Do Your Best, Japan!”) & I found stickers at a temple that were being sold to fund relief efforts (& bought a few).
These little hats are not going to put make a huge difference, I know. But I hope that their cheerfulness & warmth will brighten the lives of the children who receive them & also the lives of the people who see the kids wearing the hats.