By Pat Eby Special for the Post-Dispatch
Magical creatures swarm on the shelves, lounge on the tables, smile, grimace and stare with sparkling eyes. Sea slugs and cephalopods from the deep ocean coexist with ancient frilled, horned, and frilled dinosaurs. Rabbits and wood foxes hang out with pets. These peaceful realms by crochet artist Jennifer Starbird enchanted viewers young and old at a Mackind Market in early June.
Starbird, who has a master’s degree in archeology from the University of Illinois at Chicago, started crocheting after the birth of her son. “I loved archaeology. My area of study was South America, but when I had kids it wasn’t realistic to leave the country every summer to go digging,” she says. “I needed something to keep me busy.”
A Crochet Stitch in Time • She didn’t have a caring grandmother who taught her how to crochet. “My mom did a lot of sewing, but I wanted something more manageable, and without the big machine,” she says.
Given the whimsical nature of her work, we asked if “Starbird” was her first name or her chosen one. “My dad gave me that name,” she says, “and he loves what I do.”
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She didn’t make wire sculptures right out of the box. “I started with scarves, bags – the usual stuff. Three years ago I made a dragon using a Crafty Intentions pattern,” she says. “Megan Lapp, the owner and designer of Crafty Intentions, inspired me to branch out.”
Addicted to amigurumi • The Starbird articulated sculptural style used to make Lapp’s motif, amigurumi, appealed to her. The style originated in Japan a few decades ago and quickly caught on with people who crochet and knit all over the world.
Starbird soon began creating its own designs after completing the dragon for various creatures on land and sea, for animals near home and in the wild. She also creates models of extinct creatures and lesser-known animals, as befits her scientific training.
Not all soft yarn creatures are warm and fuzzy. Her current design being processed and tested, the mosasaurus, has been fun for her and may become a favorite. “It’s an extinct marine reptile,” she says. They last sailed the seas 62 to 88 million years ago, more or less.
Her collection of dinosaurs is also impressive and would make great stuffed animals for any little paleontologist, but she most often sells her pieces as sculptures. “Larger pieces have tightly wrapped florist wire armatures to keep them from sticking and to make them hinged,” she says.
Although many people buy her handmade yarn sculptures, crochet enthusiasts download Starbird’s highly detailed patterns from her site on Ravelry, an online knitting and crochet community where crafters can buy and sell patterns. and find resources.
Color your world • Starbird uses bright colors in her designs, often crocheting multiple colors in one piece. “I always use really good yarn,” she says. “The technique I use to mix colors is called intarsia. Most of my crochet work is done with a 4 millimeter hook while maintaining even tension.
Welcome to the world of crochet • “The crochet world is really a great community,” she says. “I keep in touch via Facebook and Instagram with people who want to see what I’m designing next and what pieces are available,” she says. “When I have a new boss, I will launch a call for testers. I use five or six people who have four weeks to do the piece and suggest changes. I want my models to be accurate.
What began as a moment of “occupation” has turned into a business for Jennifer Starbird, allowing her to freely create her curiosity about the world and its creatures. She also uses her talents close to home when she crochets her custom pet sculptures. “Cats, dogs, geckos, cockatiels, ferrets – I created them all.” Her own pets, Mango the cat and Mira the dog, are much loved members of her family.
Artist • Jennifer Starbird
Family • Starbird and her husband, Josh, have two children, a 13-year-old son and a 9-year-old daughter. They have a big orange cat named Mango. They also live with Mira, a dog the family adopted who was rescued from a hoarding situation. Her name at the rescue group was “Miracle”.
What she does • Three-dimensional wire sculptures of common and uncommon animals, sea creatures, pets, dragons, unicorns and more, made in the Japanese amigurumi style. She also sells detailed downloads of her interesting crochet patterns for her creatures.
Or buy • Starbird’s wire sculptures and patterns are available at her Etsy store, Starbird Creations STL. She also responds to requests on her Facebook page and on her Instagram page. She also sells at local markets and pop-up shows.
How much • Detailed photo patterns with full instructions sell for $5-$6. His amigurumi-style pieces range from $15 to $150. The bigger pieces, like the big cat and the dragon, are in the $200 range