#11 Blog Post

Class Reflection

It was fashion hacking week in the Secret Lab. When we arrived we were presented with a pile of used clothing, some from the very bowels of Goodwill, and told to turn a piece into something new. In two hours. The whole experience had a very Project Runway vibe to it, which I greatly enjoyed. I didn’t get into the fashion hacking experience right away because I had a couple of other things to work on first. But seeing my classmates dive into sewing and designing was delightful. I think the show and tell at the end was my favorite part of the class. 

As for my personal agenda, last week I was jumping between projects and spent more time talking to people about what they were doing than actually making myself. Our Arduino project hit a snag during testing the previous Friday due to our failure to consider the weight of the cat food. So Sarah and I got a 3D printer out and designed a piece specifically for our project based on measurements I’d taken. Sarah designed the part and we left it to print in the background while we moved on to other things. It was the most effective use of 3D printers that I’ve encountered so far. I can even see some of the benefit of the machines. Instead of finding a piece to fit our machine, we were able to make one easily and efficiently. Plus, once the printer was going, we could walk away from it and work on other projects, we didn’t have to babysit the machine.

I did an interview for Kayla and Zoey’s zine next. I talked about knitting and about the communities that exist for knitters. Also about how I don’t see makerspaces as being a place where knitters would want to go (which I discussed in an earlier blog post). Until I find a makerspace with comfy chairs and coffee, I’m content to knit elsewhere.

As I walked around the room, asking people what they were making or working on, I kept coming back to this sparkly shirt number that was in the clothing pile. From a distance it appeared to have sequins. Up close I found it just had itchy, sparkly thread. The shirt looked and felt uncomfortable to wear. I started pulling apart the seams, a relaxing task, but never actually got very far into turning it into something new. Which was ok. I am fascinated by fashion hacking and up-cycling clothing but I also wanted to have some interactive lab time. Honestly, the class could be twice as long and I still wouldn’t accomplish all the projects I want to do and things I was to try.

Our discussion time was shorter last week because I don’t think any of us wanted lab time to end. There were, however, a lot of readings and videos from last week and I don’t think we got to all the opinions and reactions we all had about them. I know I for one want to know what people think of the kombucha clothing and some of the other innovations discussed in The Next Black. 

Reading Reflection

Our readings this week were chapters 4 & 5 of Innocent Experiments. Chapter 4 covered the postwar years of the late 40’s to 50’s and then focused more specifically on science fiction writer Robert Heinlein. Chapter 5 was the Exploratorium chapter. I would like to talk about both because, as with this entire book, there was a lot going on in each chapter.

One of the things I greatly enjoyed about chapter 4 was how cool librarians are in this chapter. There was librarians collecting science fiction books for kids because its what their youth populations want to read. Then there’s this quote, “Learned Bulman, a children’s librarian for the Free Public Library of East Orange, New Jersey, wrote to Dalgliesh to inform her that he planned to give the book a negative review in the Library Journal, based on this plot point (“It is certainly one of his best but WHY did he destroy it with his reference to the Court of Divorce for Children?”)” (136), in which a librarian takes a stance against Heinlein’s vilification of mother figures. Heinlein seemed particularly intent on getting librarians on his side in the fight against the watering down of the American education system (which is interesting given his gendered criticism of teachers and how librarians also tend to be overwhelmingly female) and they weren’t about to take up his crusade.

Personally, I think Heinlein was a narcissistic jerk. His idea of “boy’s books” and his extreme gendering of science fiction is absurd. No wonder so many female sci fi writers wrote under a male sounding pseudonyms. The sci fi community has historically not been welcoming to women and is it any wonder when people like Heinlein are claiming to be the spokesman for the genre? I was alarmed that this man’s work was considered, at least in one opinion, as quasi-feminist. Just because he had girls in his books does not mean he considered girls to be a part of science. After all, Heinlein talks about girl readers enjoying his “boys books,” positioning said “boys books” above books he viewed as written for girls. These books are not meant for girls and if a girl happened to read one it was because she enjoyed “boy tastes,” whatever that means.

Chapter 5 presents a different sort of male voice. Frank Oppenheimer seems to me to have been a mix between Willy Wonka, the Wizard of Oz, and Mr. Magorium. Age was irrelvant to him. He wasn’t concerned with the educational value of the Exploratorium. If someone learned something, that was great, but not the point. I love it how Oppenheimer talks about the Exploratorium not having a set path that visitors had to traverse. Participants could wander through the space, stopping when they want, wandering off when they want, and using the exhibits however they want. And all the adults with all their theories about childhood learning and science couldn’t handle it. That was the magic of this space.

Public Domain Maker Photo of the Week:

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#74 Maker Book Review

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In order to continue my exploration of the maker movement and gain additional perspectives from a variety of makers, I picked up the book Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism edited by Betsy Greer. The book is a collection of short essays and interviews by people who consider themselves craftivists. Greer describes craftivism as “creating something that gets people to ask questions; we invite others to join a conversation about the social and political intent of our creations” (8). Throughout the book the crafters discuss how this craftivism fits into their work and their life. Craftivism, in the collective definition I’ve gleaned from the text, is composed of these parts: a traditional hand craft such as sewing, knitting, quilting, or mosaic, community involvement either as participants or viewers, and a message of either social or politic importance to the artist.

The book finds crafters and artists from all over the world who are crocheting basketball hoops, leaving gifts for strangers, designing subversive cross stitch patterns, and hanging strings of embroidered uterus flags. One of the most touching stories is about the arpilleristas in Chile and the Adithi collective in India. Both are projects where local women are provided with space and materials to create quilts and tapestries using traditional techniques. The projects seek to support traditional arts in these communities and to give women both a voice and a source of income from selling their work. The arpilleristas are provided with an outlet to express the atrocities and losses they experienced under brutal totalitarianism. The Adithi collective is in a region where women are not permitted to hold jobs so the project allows them a way to earn an income independently of their husbands. Author Heather Strycharz has an awesome perspective on these projects and says, “traditionally, non-confrontational materials create a welcoming entry into the world of the maker. Both groups of artisans share a matter-of-fact take on heavy subjects that are usually avoided in conversation. Because of their materials, arresting images, and powerful content, these creations are hard to ignore; they call out to the viewer, demanding our attention” (133). The pieces Strycharz is referring to are brightly colored and either include traditional geometric patterns or images of daily life, infused with subtle but powerful messages. One quilt shows a family gathered around a dining table where one chair is empty and a question mark sits in the place of the family member taken by the government and never seen again.

One of the themes I find most compelling in these essays is the emphasis on inclusion. Many of these crafters did not consider themselves activists because they didn’t attend rallies, wave signs, or start petitions. Craftivism allows these artists to participant and they have, in turn, have created spaces, classes, and support for a wider community, whether in person or online. Some of the projects are really weird and out there like the couple who create knit pieces and attach together (socks that are sewn together at the toe or the bizarre connected sweater thing) but the book doesn’t pass judgement on what counts as craftivism and what doesn’t. Everything from up-cycled clothing to outrageous installations from the Craft Cartel count. I was reminded of the Women’s March and how the pussy hat project allowed people to participate whether or not they were able be physically present. Not only that but the project provided a simple, effective introduction to traditional crafts of knitting and sewing. Two of the most stunning parts of that movement were the handmade signs and the sea of pink hats. If this book was written this year I have no doubt that the creators of that pattern would be included.

There is importance and power in calling these activities “craftivism.” The word craft and particularly hand craft bring to mind activities traditionally done by women. Or even activities traditionally done by men (woodworking, metalsmith, etc.) and the key word is tradition. There is power in these traditions and power in the knowledge of them. Craftivism is a way of harnessing that power and using it for a message, whether it’s one that shouts in sparkly embroidery or whispers through the afghan squares donated by knitters around the world.

One of my favorite projects is the Mighty Ugly project by Kim Werker. Werker invites people to make the ugliest thing they can. The goal is to alleviate this fear of getting it wrong or doing a bad job. The point is to quiet the internal perfectionist voice and engage in craft without judgement. How profound.

The question of the hour is how does this book fit in with or contribute to the maker movement. Only one of the essays specifically mentions the movement. In it the crafter brings a huge piece of fabric to a maker faire and invites people to embroider on it. I’m glad this story was included because it connects the spaces of the craftivists with the makers and shows how these projects can work side by side, emphasizing inclusion over definitions.

I would like to add a personal side note about yarn bombing. First of all, I hate the name “yarn bombing.” It sounds violent and destructive. One of the crafters calls it “yarnstorming” and I think I’ll borrow that. I was part of a group who did some yarnstorming a few years ago. Some of the pieces were cool like the drinking fountain we transformed into a venus flytrap. But other pieces are attached to trees and that’s where I have a problem with it. Acrylic yarn (used for the activity since it holds up better in the elements) is terrible for trees. Plus the natural beauty of the tree is being covered up by man made materials. I love projects like the yarn covered tank as a statement against the machines of war or the crochet basketball hoops hung in courts where the hoop has long since disappeared. But when yarnstorming is used to cover up nature I feel like the message gets garbled and the projects actually do more harm than good.

#10 Blog Post

Class Reflection

The much anticipated sewing warm-up kicked off our class last week. My favorite moment was when one of my classmates commented that her grandmother would be shocked at how many men were using sewing machines. Our class has proven time and time again that we’re game to try just about anything, whether the project involves making circuits, boardgames, or bean bags. Even if we’ve never sewn before, we’re open to trying and I think that’s what makes the class such a rich environment.

Whenever I’m accused of being good at all crafts, I always push back with the caveat that I’m not good at sewing. There are two pieces to this – 1. I don’t particularly like hand sewing. When I’m knitting I look for patterns with the least number of individual pieces and the least sewing involved. 2. The sewing machine I was taught on was constantly on the verge of breaking. Tinkering with sewing machine parts was not something I wanted to do so, as a result, the family sewing machine was generally out of commission. I’ll talk about this more when I look at The New Black but I would like to get better at clothing repair and repurposing. I am all about making the most of my clothing’s life cycle and not condemning it as waste for simple tears.

Following our warm-up was open studio time. I took this time to find another maker related book to read. I’ve found that there are types of making that we just don’t have the time in class to discuss but that the library owns books about. One of these is craftivisim. I am taken with this concept and am glad I picked up a book on it while looking for an entirely different book last Tuesday. I’ll get into the concept more in my forthcoming book review.

Finally we sat down to discuss the piece by Obama from Wired and the chapters of Innocent Experiments. I’ve been thinking about our discussion going into the readings for this week. More and more I am upset by the nostalgic re-imagining of history. Like Dale Doughtery’s use of the American Maker video, this nostalgic imagery is everywhere. And it is troubling when people use the imagery out of context or without viewing those historical times with a critical eye. That’s what I loved so much about Obama’s “sepia tones of the 1950’s” phrase in which he invokes the nostalgia while simultaneously acknowledging the problems with doing so. Rebecca Onion does the same. She talks about these historical moments, inventions, and people but doesn’t let us forget the problematic nature of their rhetoric. I look forward to talking more about this book and the next instances of American scientific exceptionalism she decamps.

Readings Reflection

Our wide variety of readings this week included Chapters 2 & 3 of Innocent Experiments, the documentary The New Black, Leah Buechley’s FabLearn talk, and the Make: 2016 Media Kit. Innocent Experiments continues to delight me in its ongoing critique of the historical construction of childhood and science. I absolutely love this quote from Chapter 2, “yet, if we turn the twentieth-century boy chemist over and shake him a bit, questions fall out of his pockets, along with the snips and snails and puppy dog tails: Was he ever truly real? Why do we love him so much? And where is his sister?” (42). 

For the purpose of this rather short recap of so much information, however, I’d like to look at each of the videos we were asked to view. First Leah Buechley’s talk. When she first began to speak, I didn’t expect her to go where she ended up. I thought I was watching another lengthy keynote about all the great things that are going on in well funded university makerspaces. The live audience also wasn’t expecting her talk – I could tell by the lively debate of the Q&A. Because Buechley does what we’ve been doing in class – she questions the maker movement and she questions Make:. Only she does it at a maker conference, in front of an audience of influential makers, including people who work at Make. I thought the whole discussion was absolutely necessary and important. We just read a whole book about the Make brand in Free to Make. We pointed out all the places where that book, which is written as a history and manifesto of the movement, was not inclusive or representative. I wish Buechley would have analyzed the Make media kit we looked at. That kit shows, in Make‘s own data collection, that most of the audience they’re marketing is made up of men and boys. Not only that but men and boys with disposable income. The average magazine subscriber has a household income of 107K? And 97% are college educated?? This kit is something Make is using to reach advertisers and it reveals to us the difference between their claim that everyone is a maker and who that everyone really consists of. For the company to say they are reaching everyone and then to show off these types of stats for two of their major outputs, the magazine and the maker faires (which have similar demographics), is so entitled I can’t write about it anymore – I’m too annoyed!

Moving on to The New Black. I was absolutely mesmerized by this film. Believe it or not, this is not the first time I’ve heard of Kombucha clothing. I saw a TED talk about it a few years ago and wondered what happened to the idea. I’m glad people are looking into new ways of thinking about fashion and sustainable ways of producing textiles. Of course I’m more on the side of repair and repurposing than the XO company’s notion of clothing as an experience. Personally I’m not sold on the idea that having technology in our clothing is a good thing – technology already has too much of a stronghold on my life for my liking. But I do want to learn how to repair my clothing. I want to care for my wardrobe better and think critically about what pieces I’m adding and why.

Public Domain Maker Photo of the Week:

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#9 Blog Post

Class Reflection

Last week was 3D printer week. We broke out the eight AADL printers and set to work creating bits of plastic. Following that we had a discussion about the readings and the prospective defunding of the EPA, all while the printers hummed in the background.

I’ve had some time since class to reflect on 3D printers and their role in the maker movement. I can see the importance of them and of CNC machines for prototyping and design. These are important tools for those of my classmates who are going into fields where they need to test their ideas in quickly and relatively inexpensively. For the rest of us though, these machines being at the center of the maker movement represents a privileging of a particular kind of making over other kinds.

We ran through a list of all the things you can order and have 3D printed and my question was why? Particularly why things like flower pots or vases? It would be so much cooler to learn how to create a flower pot out of clay or a hand blown vase. Ok so people don’t have access to a kiln or a glass blowing studio but they also didn’t have access to a 3D printer until we started installing them everywhere!

The more I thought about our luggage tag task the more I was ok with not having printed one. If I wanted a personalized luggage tag with a Michigan map on it (the one I designed), I’d rather have it made out of leather or some sort of metal embossing. Because while I had fun in class and got carried away with the novelty of the experience, afterward I couldn’t help feeling that 3D printers only produce more plastic junk. It’s no secret that we as a global society are struggling with an excess of plastic. The statistics on plastic bags, bottles, and diapers in landfills are appalling. So I can’t fully get behind the idea of something that creates more plastic things, no matter how cool and fun it may be to use.

I felt a little outside of the discussion about citizen science and the future of making. Mostly because of personal challenges but also the distraction of the printers in the background made concentration difficult. Plus I always want to question this scientific focus on data. Data collection is important, there’s no doubt about that, but so is having a purpose and use for that data. I also feel the overwhelm of having so many practices, rights, and institutions to be saved and protected. The sad truth of the matter is that I’m not sure how many people can be involved in a citizen science movement when they have to fight for their healthcare, education, and rights as citizens on a daily basis.

Readings Reflection

The readings for this week were as follows – the Introduction and Chapter 1 of Innocent Experiments by Rebecca Onion, a perusal of the World’s Columbian Exposition site, and “Making: More State Fair, Less Science Fair” by Kristin Fontichiaro. The website and Kristin’s article both show a more inclusive idea of exhibitions where not just science and technology are important but all types of making. I do think we need to read the Chicago World’s Fair with a more critical eye than the nostalgia of the virtual tour does – after all these places were not accessible or open to everyone. However, Innocent Experiments has so much going on it in, I can’t help but focus my discussion there.

I would like to start my readings discussion with the introduction to Innocent Experiments. I find this book fascinating already, especially as it discusses and dismantles the problematic representations in popular science. This book is particularly interesting to read at a time when some of these inflammatory remarks Onion quotes about the place of women and non-white people in science aren’t historical, it is rhetoric we are hearing in our news and from our government. What I thought of as I was reading the section on representation of girls as observers to their brother’s science experiments was how female scientists are shown in popular media. In particular I was thinking of the film from the 90s, Love Potion No. 9 with Sandra Bullock and Tate Donovan. They are both nerdy scientists but for some reason Sandra needs to also not brush her hair, be meek and shy, and wear huge glasses. Popular culture has endless examples of how women can’t be scientists unless they look and act the stereotypical part. Anyone who doesn’t want to play the part shouldn’t be in science. (Of course this intelligent woman as unattractive is also a problematic theme in Sandra Bullock films in general but I’ll save that media analysis for another day). I think the new Ghostbusters is the best thing that could happen to women in science and I hope to see more representations like it.

In Chapter 1, Onion’s ongoing critique of the rhetoric surrounding the Brooklyn Children’s Museum was fantastic. She mentions every artifact from the early 1900’s with a sense of irony and an emphasis on just what kind of ideology the material is promoting. After all, the reason the children were reportedly so well behaved when visiting the museum probably had less to do with their behavior being tempered by the prospect of the visit and more to do with which children made up these visiting groups. It wouldn’t surprise me if such a field trip were a reward for good behavior, leaving those who misbehaved out of the picture and out of the imagery. The other thing that struck me towards the end of the chapter was how many of the museum curators and instructors were women. The women wrote about what happened in the museum and even they didn’t include girls in the discussion. The sexist ideology of science in this time and place is so complete that women themselves exclude female children from the conversation and privilege the boys club. Ouch.

Public Domain Maker Photo of the Week:

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Toy Takeapart or Celia & Lindsay Make a Piano Shirt

Welcome to the journey of the Piano Shirt.

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We are its inventors – Lindsay (right) and Celia (left), seen here in full science gear.
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The journey began with a child’s toy piano. The piano was part of a class activity in which we took apart toys to see what’s inside. Innocent beginnings, no? 
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We thought so too, until we opened up the piano. Here is our first glimpse of the inner workings, most of them still hidden beneath the circuit board.
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A million screws later and the musical innards came into view. We realized the piano could be rewired to work without its hard plastic cover, using only the circuit board, switch, speaker, and battery. By reattaching the components we were able to get the piano to play! Our minds ran wild with ideas. 

*Due to our exuberance at being able to rewire the piano to play again, we failed to get photos of the rest of the takeapart process. Such is the life of the inventor.

At this point we should also include the initial vision for the piano shirt. It was going to be glorious – a shirt with a piano designed on it that actually made music when the wearer played the keys. We would sew pouches into the shirt to hold all the components, then create a piano design on the outside.

Skipping ahead a few weeks finds Lindsay and I thrifting for materials. Again our enthusiasm took over and we failed to get any photos of our hunt. Our haul included a shirt, some gray fabric, and white and black buttons. Lindsay was also able to acquire a new battery pack since the original one was tragically stuck to the plastic case of the piano.

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Sewing day. Aka, the day disaster struck. The construction of the pouch went seamlessly enough. Once the components were being incorporated though, wires started popping off all over the place. Not having a soldering iron at hand, we tried to save our project with electrical and conductive tape but to no avail. The piano was silent. 

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All was not lost! Soldering day in the Secret Lab proved to be exactly what our piano shirt needed. We got our hands on some real wire strippers and all the soldering equipment we could want. Next thing we knew we were connecting wires all over the place. Following some tense moments, lots of failed trials, and the realization that our battery pack was off, we once more heard the tinny tune of the piano roaring to life!

From there it was a matter of attaching the piano into the shirt, while Lindsay was wearing it. 20170207_103911.jpg

We got it after a few tries and the piano shirt was born! Of course, it wasn’t nearly the vision we’d imagined but for a prototype, it worked. And now, for your viewing/listening pleasure, the piano shirt:

 

Now you may be asking yourself, who in their right mind would want a piano shirt? Well, we’re here to tell you that this piano shirt is as useful as it is genius. For the musician who needs to compose on the go, the child who wants to annoy their siblings, or the trendsetter who wants something no one else has, this piano shirt is for you. It is perfect for youth librarians and kindergarten teachers looking for musical accompaniment during story time sing alongs. This easy access piano provides beautiful music where ever you are, all contained in a stylish, artsy, comfortably wearable garment. The real question is, who doesn’t want a piano shirt?