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Local seamstress talks creative process, history and Star Wars


By Ryan Powers

Mendenhall's Amigurumi Yoda, from http://guh-nome.blogspot.com/

Mendenhall’s Amigurumi Yoda, from http://guh-nome.blogspot.com/

The Habitat for Humanity offices were empty except for one woman and some of her personally handcrafted Star Wars Amigurumi. The woman’s name is Amber Mendenhall, and her warm, laughing smile was welcoming on a cold Monday. Along with her cordiality, Mendenhall offered numerous lessons during her forty-minute conversation with Beta Fish Magazine.

Amigurumi is a Japanese style of crochet that utilizes only one type of stitch so the finished product is stitched tight, as opposed to the normal “holey” style of crochet, according to Mendhenhall. The tight stitching allows her to stuff them or, in some cases, insert a skeleton.

Mendenhall was one of the first people both to create Amigurumi figures larger than a few inches (her Star Wars Amigurumi figures range from 1.5 to 3 feet tall) and to combine Amigurumi with Star Wars.

LucasArts noticed her talents, and her General Grievous figure was featured in The Star Wars Craft Book, produced by Bonnie Burton.

As Mendenhall detailed the beginning of her Amigurumi path, the value of creativity and friendship became apparent.

“I had made an Imperial scarf,” she said, “and my friend saw it, and he said, ‘you should make me something Admiral Ackbar. My birthday’s in May’… I ended up making him a one-and-a-half-foot sized Admiral Ackbar. It was kind of just me seeing what I could do because the idea of crochet is normally everything is flat… but I just went on a whim and made it.”

Mendenhall’s commitment to friendship resulted not only in her friend’s happiness, but also in a new outlet for her passion for Star Wars.

Star Wars is not her only passion, nor is Amigurumi her only creative outlet. In fact, Mendhell said she “dabble(s) in just about anything creative.”

“I like to paint; I like to sew; I like to sing. I’m also a pianist. I give piano lessons, and I play the fiddle and the harp and the penny whistle,” she said. “I have too many interests for my own good, I think.”

In addition to Star Wars, Mendenhall also draws on her passion for history for her creative projects. Specifically, she is a seamstress and does historic costuming. Her diligence and attention to detail is always strong, but it is most prevalent during historic costuming, which shows the level of commitment needed to follow one’s passions.

“I’ve even made a 1700s (or eighteenth-century) gown on a sewing machine once, and I was all proud of it until I realized it would have been all hand sewn at that point because the sewing machine wasn’t invented until the 1830s,” Mendenhall said. “I then was unsatisfied with what I had made, and I wouldn’t wear it out anymore because I hadn’t made every stitch by hand.”

This level of commitment revealed another value held by Mendenhall: the value of truth and accuracy.

Truth and its accurate portrayal is a tenet held dear by many, including philosophers, scientists, journalists and yes, historic costumers.

Mendenhall’s commitment to this tenet comes not only from practical reasons, such as not creating historic misconceptions, but the pride she feels when she is as accurate as possible. She carries this commitment to her Amigurumi as well.

“I like knowing that mine are, if you take a photo of the original and put it next to it, they look as identical as you can possibly get with a stuffed animal,” Mendenhall said. “The proportions are pretty accurate and everything, and because I’m a perfectionist like that, that’s what I like to do.”

Finally, an important lesson to learn from Mendenhall is to not be intimidated by creative projects. Simply pursue creative ideas.

Mendenhall said if she wanted to sell her Amigurumi, it would probably cost $150 or more to pay for the hours of labor and material they require, and she doubted people would pay that.

When asked if she would pay that much for Amigurumi, she answered, “My problem is that I look at things, and I think, ‘oh, I could make that.’”

Her “problem,” though, may be her creative strength. Instead of looking at the works of others and thinking it impossible to ever create something as good, perhaps people should stop to think of the hours upon hours of work that had to go into creating it. Mendenhall said herself that creating her projects is difficult and challenging. They require constant work; they were not simply the result of a sudden stroke of genius. Therefore, people should not treat finished creative works as such when considering creating their own: if one has a passion, then one should take up the challenge associated with that passion and create something to be proud of.

Committing oneself to one’s passions; the beauty and importance of truth and accuracy; friendship and creation for the sake of it: Beta Fish Magazine thanks Amber Mendenhall for her time and these lessons.

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