Nerd Life Fun Events and Opportunities

As the winter’s cold winds fade away, the fun season begins with lots of opportunities for those who enjoy the nerd life. Many people love going to entertainment, gaming, sci-fi. or renfest events but they may not know about what’s available. I wanted to share the ones that I knew because those living the fandom lifestyle should support each other and our unique community. The list is unabashedly Chicago centric because that’s the area I live in, but I am willing to list any others that anyone wants to suggest. I’m also listing the ones that have already passed simply so folks can also put them on their calendars for next year.


Brickworld Chicago: AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego) and young fans have a number of conventions around the nation but this is the one local to me. The Chicago event is on June 17-18 and they sold out early last year, so get your tickets ahead of time. Local clubs come in and display their truly amazing builds along ten-foot+ tables and venders sell specialized pieces, old sets, and their own blends of small builds. Anyone young or old who is a fan of the brick toy will love this event. More info here.

Valorcon: I’m listing this Chicago gaming convention because I found the 2016 page and want to go this year. I don’t know much about it. However, I can’t find 2017 info yet since their Facebook and website all say “stay tuned.” For more info, keep checking here.

Gen Con: Celebrating its 50th year, Gen Con reigns as the nation’s best and possibly largest gaming convention. It returns again to Indianapolis on August 17th-20th, featuring board, role-playing, and video gaming along with a concert from Grammy winning artists They Might Be Giants. This event also supports the literary arts by having author signings by many well-known writers in science fiction and fantasy. More info here.

Brickworld Indianapolis: This event is by the same supporters of the above Chicago event. It is March 17-18, 2018 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. More info here.

Science Fiction/Fantasy/Comics

(Already passed.) Capricon: Held in February, Capricon is a long-standing science fiction convention in Chicago. Capricon 38, Expanding Universes, is scheduled for February 15-18 at the Westin Chicago North Shore, in Wheeling, Illinois. In the past, this conference has hosted a great art show, cosplay, and great fan panels. It is also supportive of sci-fi/fantasy writers. More info about the 2018 event on this Facebook page.

(Already passed.) Geek Chic at Adler Planetarium: This year was the fifth event so I have no doubt they will return again. As part of the Adler After Dark programming, it is a fun night of mingling with sci-fi and comic book cosplayers while enjoying the planetarium exhibits, films and lecture by local authors. It occurs mid-March. More info here

(Already passed) Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo: Known also as C2E2, this huge event pulls in hundreds of people and quite a lot of celebrities. Events include, cosplaying, live art, fan tournaments, video gaming, and celebrity interviews. It will be the first weekend in April in 2018. More info here.

(Already passed) ConGlomeration:  Another science fiction convention, this time in Louisville, Kentucky. The website touts it as “Louisville’s Grassroots Interactive, Sci-Fi & Fantasy Convention.” I’ve never been there but it sounds fun. It occurs in April. More info here.

NWI A.C.E. Art & Comic Expo: Sometimes the small events provide an intensive spot of fun between the huge, crowd-pressing national events. This one is definitely in my home area. The expo is on June 11, 2017, at the Patrician Banquet Center in Schererville, Indiana. More info on this Facebook page

Thrillerfest: The first few days of this large and very popular literary event is more for aspiring writers but the last two days are all about thriller fans. I put it here because Thrillerfest also supports literary efforts in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Writers, check out the Master CraftFest, CraftFest, and Pitchfest (agent speed dating). I’ve attended five times and loved every second of it. For fans, it’s a great place to meet your favorite authors and learn more about the thriller genre. The conference is always in the New York City Grand Hyatt and this year from July 11th to 15th. More info here.

Confluence: I just discovered this conference and am curious enough about it that I may attend this year. It is August 4-6 and located in Pittsburgh. It describes itself as “Pittsburgh’s longest-running literary conference with a strong focus on science fiction, fantasy and horror.” So writers, this is a great one for you although it is not a place to mingle with agents. It also features artists, music and a new cosplay contest. More info here.

New York Comic Con: Another huge crowd-pleaser, this comic and entertainment event is October 5th through the 8th at the Javits Center. More info here

TeslaCon: Steampunk is coming into its own as conferences start popping up all over the country. For those in the mid-states, TeslaCon is from November 2-5th, at the Marriott West in Middleton, Wisconsin. This year’s focus is on ghosts and old world beliefs with a focus on Romania. More info here.

Chicago Tardis: No one in fandom can deny that Dr. Who has a tremendous effect on the nerd life. In celebration of that, this conference, runs from November 24-26 at the Westin Lombard Yorktown Center. They advertise “three days of guests, discussions, activities, cosplay, gaming, kid stuff and more!” More info here.

Renaissance Festivals

Scarborough Renaissance Festival: This Texas-based faire was my first initiation into the Faire life over twenty years go. Over that time, the organizers have perfected the events. It runs from April 8 to May 29th while the air is still relatively cool in Texas. It is located in Waxahachie, Texas, near enough to the Dallas-Fort Worth region to make hotels and travel easier. More info here. 

Bristol Renaissance Faire: This Chicago favorite was voted the number one best Renfest in the nation for five years running. I love it and try to go every year, particularly on Steampunk weekend. Like most festivals, it spreads over a large, green acreage, with a marketplace, theme weekends, pub crawls and lots of wonderful acts. The band, Tartanic (one of my favorites) often shows up for at least some of the festival weekends as well as Adam Crack (whip expert and comedian), Moonie the Magni’cent (comic high wire act) and the bawdy Tortuga Twins. It runs July 8th through September 4th on the weekends, just across the Illinois border in Bristol, Wisconsin. More info here.

Feast of the Hunter’s Moon: Although not really a Renfest, this weekend event celebrates the 1700s America when the traders came down the Wabash River for the last time before river sets in. Lafayette charities such as the Boy Scouts and local churches provide quality, settler style food while visitors walk around trader booths, blacksmith shops, and costume sellers. Other choices include watching French and Indian War Reenactment, hearing speeches by famous Americans such as Ben Franklin, or listening to wonderful period music. A great weekend with the kids. It is held Sept 30 to Oct 1 at Fort Ouiatenon Park near West Lafayette, Indiana. More info here.

Texas Renaissance Festival: Texas is big enough to support two renfests that thankfully do not compete with each other time-wise. Located in Todd Mission, Texas, near Houston, this faire through October and November, when the summer heat is gone but people are still wanting to party. Like Scarborough, it has been around for ages and even has packages for weddings and school days. Lots of fun before the winter blues set in and a great place for Christmas shopping. More info here.

I know there are many, many other conventions, renfests, and conferences so please let me know your favorites and I’ll list them in future posts.

Chainmail Without the Attitude

“Save the pop-top tabs, please. I have a friend who is making chainmail out of them.”

The mundane woman across from me rolled her eyes before grudgingly agreeing. The reaction irritated me. This same acquaintance has no problem happily donating old t-shirts to my granny-style rag rug projects. She might even use a wood pallet for herb gardening in her backyard. So what made the pop tabs so different that the project merited her distain? The fandom “nerd” factor, of course.

Renaissance cosplay on a budget

“Knitting” chainmail, whether you use O rings or pop tabs, is a time-consuming effort lasting months while you collect the raw materials and put the nearly endless metal bits together. However, cosplayers and the Faire-oriented are rewarded with something that looks pretty cool and often fits them better than off-the-rack armor. The effort takes a year of construction but is preferable to the $100+ price tag of buying one.

Recycle and Upcycle

In addition, I really like the idea of upscaling the pop tops into clothes. Something about it strikes me as an idea that a true Renaissance man would be proud of. After all, they didn’t have that much in terms of materials back then (as compared to now), so they didn’t waste things. Use and reuse was simply part of the lifestyle back then.Either way, recycling and upcycling most of our possessions is what the world needs today, no matter what the project or the nerd factor.

Don’t get me wrong. If you can afford to do so, buy the chainmail shirts, jewelry pieces, leather corsets, or silky shirts, whatever you want to accent your costume, from the professionals. The community needs to support all the artisans and craftsmen who help us celebrate our fun and crazy world, particularly since their market is usually limited to fandom folks. Their beautiful things often look better, making them well worth the price tag.

So dear mundane folk, climb off of your modern day high horse and grab some pliers. It’s time to knit some clothes.

If you are interested in any of the upcycling projects mentioned above, here are some how-to websites to get you started.

Chainmail Projects
“Genuine chainmaille from pop tabs” from the instructables website:

“How to Create Chainmail from Pop Taps” from the wikiHow website:

Rag Rug Projects
There are many options. These are just two that I found offering different methods. A third method is to get a large crochet hook and simply crochet the rug using the pulled t-shirt strips. You can also search the Internet for making the same type of rugs out of old bedsheets. However, if the sheet is a solid color that is not barfy, consider making a Renfest style shirt out of the light cotton, particularly if the fabric is queen or king size.

“Make a braided t-shirt rug” from instructables

“Make Rag Rug from Old T-shirts” from A Piece of Rainbow

Pallet Gardens
“Creating a Pallet Garden” by Growing a Greener World: