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I just submitted my application for a Maker Exhibit at the 2013 Maker Faire Bay Area. There’s still time to get yours in!

Tanenbaum Fabrications (the small design studio I run with my husband) has been at three Maker Faires already and each year we try to do something different in terms of the interactive/hands-on component.

Tanenbaum Fabrications at the 2012 Portland Mini-Maker Faire

Tanenbaum Fabrications at the 2012 Portland Mini-Maker Faire

At our first outing, the Mini-Maker Faire in Vancouver 2011, we didn’t really know what to expect. We brought out our steampunk props, our newly-created steampunk super hero Captain Chronomek, and an interactive storytelling system called the Reading Glove. People were interested in all of it, and we had a bunch of great conversations. But it was hard to hear the storytelling system over the din of the fair and we decided that next time we wanted something a bit more hands-on.

Our next fair was the big one: the 2012 Maker Faire Bay Area. There, we banded together with a couple other friends and makers to put together the Steampunk Academy, a group booth showcasing a number of different hands on activities. For our part, we offered steampunk prop making workshops. We had scoured antique stores and thrift shops for old pieces of technology that could be broken down into parts and brought several big bins overflowing with things to re-purpose. We described a bit of the universe of Captain Chronomek and asked workshop attendees to create props for Chronomek’s villains or allies. We were overwhelmed with the enthusiasm people had for the project. Each of the workshop slots filled to capacity and we had to turn people away. Some folks didn’t want to stop working!  In the end, we had a set of awesome props to show for it.

Steampunk Prop-Making Workshop at 2012 Maker Faire Bay Area

Steampunk Prop-Making Workshop at 2012 Maker Faire Bay Area

At the 2012 Portland Mini-Maker Faire, we once again hauled out the props and Chronomek, but this time we also added the component jewelry that I had been making and designing for the last few years out of surplus electronics components.  We wanted to do another hands-on activity, but on a smaller scale, so we decided to do jewelry workshops. We didn’t schedule discrete slots for the workshop-just set out the material and instructions and let people drop in and out as they desired. Again, we were overwhelmed by the interest in the project. Some people stayed for an hour or more, tinkering away, making earrings and pendants and even little sculptures out of the electronic components. By the end of the first day, we were out of the supply of earring wires that we thought would last the whole weekend. We restocked overnight, and by the end of the second day, we were out of almost all our parts.

Jewelry Workshop at the 2012 Portland Mini-Maker Faire

Jewelry Workshop at the 2012 Portland Mini-Maker Faire

For this year at the big fair, we wanted to stay with the hands-on steampunk activity theme from last year’s Steampunk Academy workshop, but simplify things a bit. For one, we lost a lot of money on both of the last two workshops. We had to invest in a lot of material ahead of time and while we were happy to facilitate fun experiences for people, financially we just couldn’t afford to keep giving stuff away.  So we’re going to try instituting a small materials fee to cover our costs.  Second, we don’t want to have to lug quite so much material around, so we’re going to focus on the most iconic of Steampunk props: goggles. Goggles are great because they are straightforward but also infinitely customizable. Our plan is to buy a bunch of plastic shop goggles in bulk and spray paint them steampunk-y colors ahead of time. (Hammered-finish copper, bronze and gold spray paint is a steampunk’s best friend) We’ll also collect lots of little bits and bobs from antique stores and thrift shops: old optics and lenses, vacuum tubes, switches, dials, etc.  Workshop attendees will be able to select what pieces they want to add to their goggles and we’ll help them out with learning how to put it all together (usually a combination of glue, drill, dremel, and more glue).

Steampunk Goggles by Tanenbaum Fabrications

Steampunk Goggles by Tanenbaum Fabrications

We hope to see you there, and to be able to participate in whatever cool hands-on activities you come up with!


The Road to Maker Faire Challenge will award $2,500 to one winner to bring his or her project to World Maker Faire on Sep. 21 & 22, 2013 in New York. Use the funding for materials, transport, or anything else you might need to get to Maker Faire. Applications are due by 11:59pm PT on August 5, 2013.

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Karen Tanenbaum

I am a technology researcher and designer; a Steampunk prop maker and costumer; a writer of both academic papers and blog posts; a voracious reader/watcher of science fiction. I am currently contributing to MAKE by writing about the Maker Faire. You can contact me via [email protected]

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