Nerd Merit Badges, Swallows and Amazons (Zine-Style), and Twinchies

Randy and I want to make and sell merit badges for nerds. There’ll be a merit badge for knowing regular expressions. A merit badge for open-source committing. Merit badges for knowing COBOL, and maybe for knowing what command-G does on line printers. There will merit badges for reading Tengwar, speaking Klingon, and rolling twenties.

I want these badges to be exactly the same as “real” merit badges — an inch and a half in diameter, 100% covered in embroidery. I want them to be small, so you can fit a bunch of them on your sleeve. They’ll be velcro-backed, so you can stick a square of velcro on the back of your MacBook Pro and show off your Ruby Core and Textmate Bundle Author merit badges at Starbucks!

Here’s a sample patch of the Tikaro Interactive “gearxel” that American Patch and Emblem stitched up for us as a test. We wanted to know how much resolution we can get in an inch (a lot, as it turns out!)


The Scouts call these “spoof” merit badges, and there’s already a lot of them made. Kate’s knitting friend Susan (check out her girl-scout merit-badge sash!) told my about the awesome Mama Merit Badges, too. (My favorites: the “breastfeeding” badge, and the “cross country travel with infant” merit badge.)

However, the undisputed leaders of the merit-badgers out there are Carolee and Jennie Pod, from Pod Post in San Francisco. Pod Post does mail art — they make cool things, put them in envelopes with awesome stamps and stickers all over them. Plus, they make books, and zines, and crafts, and generally it seems to be “Swallows and Amazons” except with paper, staplers, and library paste. For a craft convention in San Francisco, they made a TRULY AWESOME set of “printmaking”, “zinemaking”, and “correspondence” merit badges, then they SEWED THEM TO SASHES:


First of all, those merit badges are great (you can see them all and buy them here.) Second, the execution with the sashes is fantastic. And that LOGO! That London-in-wartime logo, with all the letterbox cues and the fact that UPON FURTHER INSPECTION, IT’S A PEN NIB!? Come on, people, I’m not made of stone.

I sent them a breathless note, since as far as I’m concerned the more I do computers the more I also enjoy doing things the old, hard, analog way, and I think “mail art” is right along the same lines. In return, they sent me an entire freaking MAIL ART CARE PACKAGE, including their zine, and a little hand-stitched notebook made with engineering graph paper and pages from old dictionaries. Kate thought this was really cool, particularly since she’s been cutting, folding, and assembling her own envelopes for Lydia to use. We think the Pod Pod Post folks are super-awesome.

And — did I mention? — I freaking love that logo. Yesterday I stitched up what Janet Perry calls a “Twinchy”, which is a two-inch-square piece of needlepoint. Two inches goes fast, even on eighteen-count canvas: I was able to do the art in Pixen in the morning and finish stitching up the background in the evening. Here it is, before I stick it into the envelope to go to San Francisco:

Pod Pod Twinchy

So, to recap: NERD MERIT BADGES! Small enough to fit on your sleeve or on your laptop. Amaze your friends, irritate your enemies, demonstrate to the world that the years you spent learning COBOL at that one bank job has actually resulted in a little, tiny trophy. And please, let me know your suggestions!

If you have suggestions for badges, leave a comment — or better yet, follow “Nerdmeritbadges” on Twitter, and send an @reply (which will make you eligible for the Twitter merit badge!)

UPDATE, April 2010: noticeably missing from this blog post is a mention of the Onder of the Science Scouts of Exemplary Repute and Above Average Physique, because they are the ones that made us think “hey, we should do something like those, except that actually exist! Their badges are hilarious and authentically science-y, and you should check them out!

4 responses to “Nerd Merit Badges, Swallows and Amazons (Zine-Style), and Twinchies”

  1. Carolee, there’s no time to be BFFs, I’m afraid. You see, there’s a dastardly pirate living in a houseboat on the other side of the lake. We shall have to conduct a cutting-out expedition!
    You had better tip him the black spot, and then we’ll sail before dawn.


  2. Just remember to pack the pemmican. I hate going hungry before fleeing the enemy.
    I’ll bring the swords.
    (the twinchy arrived–with the extra special super gift!–on Saturday, and it’s fantastic! I made something special for you yesterday and will drop it in the mail soon soon!)


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