The Wisconsin-based fiber artist specializes in making amigurumi that are inspired by pop culture fandoms and she’s now shifting strategies as she crochets her way through a pandemic.
Justine Comeau working alongside one of her two cats. All photos courtesy of Justine Comeau
Justine Gerns Comeau was at GalaxyCon Minneapolis last November, operating her booth and trying to keep up with customer demand. She had stocked pop culture-inspired amigurumi she’d made to sell and her Spider-Gwens, based on the popular Marvel Comics character, were selling faster than her hands could crochet more.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Comeau said she was spending about three-fourths of her time as a fiber artist and owner of The Bittiest Baubles restocking her shop storefront on Etsy and making sure she had inventory for conventions. The other quarter of her time went into development, creating items for new projects. Comeau, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin, said that prior to the pandemic she was going to about one show per month through the summer months, and from August until the end of the year she was attending approximately two shows a month. After that cycle, she’d take a break from cons during the winter months before prepping for the next year’s busy summer and fall seasons.
This year has gone differently for Comeau, however, as conventions across the country have been postponed or canceled as a result of the pandemic. For someone who crochets miniature art, amigurumi, and accessories full-time for a living, Comeau has made some adjustments and taken advantage of her newfound free time as she works from home and is supported by her husband, Nick, and their two cats.
“I’m not really sure when we’re going to be having in-person shows again, and/or when it will be safe to do so even if they are open,” Comeau said. “I’ve kind of been taking a vacation essentially — a very long vacation. What it’s given me the opportunity to do though, instead of having to kind of restock 24/7, I really get to take space to be creative, and to take on custom projects for people and spend a lot more time on those than I would have before.”
Amigurumi is the Japanese art of knitting or crocheting small, stuffed-yarn creatures. In Comeau’s case, she crochets her baubles and she has a catalog of creations which she sells that are inspired by popular franchises and fandoms, such as Star Wars, Pokémon, Doctor Who and even comic book and video game characters.
A booth setup for The Bittiest Baubles for shows and conventions.
Now that Comeau has more time to focus on creation, rather than restocking inventory, she’s taken on more commissions and she’s now developing a line of amigurumi inspired by “Hamilton.” She’s not yet sure when she’ll have her newest creations for sale but she’s excited with the recent development.
“I’ve got all the colors ready,” Comeau said of getting started on her new baubles which are inspired by “Hamilton,” the hit Broadway musical. “They’re all laid out on my desk in their perfect little piles. They look so bright and fun, and I’m so excited to get started on them. I tend to pick out the characters that I want to do and then find what colors I want to do them in. I really try to be as precise as I can.”
She said she’s nit-picky, trying to match colors as close as possible to the inspiration’s source material and the medium they’re derived from. For characters that have multiple interpretations in media, she leans into crafting their more iconic looks.
Part of the design process is simplifying a character’s look, Comeau said. With a character from “Hamilton” for example, there’s buttons, ruffles, jackets, boots, and in some cases wigs, so it’s important to distill down to the essential visual elements of what those outfits are.
“I wish I had eight hands,” Comeau said. “Creating anything new takes at least four times as long as just recreating something you’ve already made — minimum. Patience is hard when you’re excited for these characters that you look up to for various reasons, or are excited about for various reasons.”
Comeau's Hulk, inspired by the angry Marvel Comics character.
Comeau said each of her baubles come with complications, saying with the Marvel Comics’ character Hulk, for example, the challenge is in making his hair.
“His body design is really not fairly complicated but his hair takes so long,” she said. “Anything with hair is just like ‘oh my god’ — it takes an unbelievable amount of time. Even as I’m doing it, I’m like ‘dear lord, this is taking forever.’”
She added that though her Spider-Gwen doesn’t include hair there’s other challenges in crocheting the bauble, saying the color work in the body is more complicated than a lot of other amigurumi would be.
Setup to make some Spider-Gwens.
Comeau said she’d been knitting since she was about 6 years old and that she hadn’t tried crochet until her second year of college. She said she’d found a book online that showed how to knit miniature animals, which appealed to her since she was into miniature crafts. But she soon realized knitting tiny items wasn’t as feasible so she shifted to crocheting instead. Soon, she was making characters from shows and movies she loved, and other pop culture characters, as she developed her craft skills for making miniatures.
Even though she mostly crochets she still knits on a daily basis, Comeau said, as she makes items which include socks and sweaters.
One of the key differences Comeau has found between crocheting and knitting is how it affects her hands and arms. She said that she has to grip really tightly since she’s doing crochet in miniature, so stretching of arms and hands regularly is important and can cut down on cramping. Overall, knitting bothers her body less than crochet, she said.
With the uncertainty of knowing when the pandemic may end, and when she’ll be able to safely restart exhibiting at shows, Comeau is embracing the creative process and what she’s able to control.
“I’ve been living a lot more in the moment, and trying not to worry too hard about the future since it’s been so uncertain and the timeline feels like it’s been so uncertain for so long,” Comeau said of how the pandemic is affecting her. “I’m trying to use this time to really go back to why I started doing this work, what I really love about doing this work, and really just going back to finding that creative energy and inspiration.”
She said that long-term she may restock her storefront less and focus more on developing new creations to keep her excitement and creative energy up. Comeau thinks it’ll help keep her from burning out, which she admits can sometimes be a challenge.
To learn more about Justine Comeau and The Bittiest Baubles, visit her Etsy store by clicking here.