Zero to Maker: Crafting 101

Zero to Maker: Crafting 101

Over the next month or so, David Lang, something of a reluctant maker, is immersing himself in maker culture and learning as many DIY skills as he can, through a generous arrangement with our pals at TechShop. He’s regularly chronicling his efforts in this column — what he’s learning, who he’s meeting, and what hurdles he’s clearing (um… or not). –Gareth

One thing you learn very quickly about the maker community is that it’s very diverse. Going to my first Maker Faire, in 2009, was a lot like my first day of high school: there was so much going on and so much to take in that it took awhile to make sense of it all. Just like the stereotypical groups that make up a high school cafeteria, Maker Faire’s can be loosely classified by the self-organizing communities that inhabit the fairgrounds. There are the robotics geeks, the steampunks, the DIYbio folks, the Burning Man/installation artists, and many more. Unlike high school, silos are not encouraged – people easily drift between these communities as skill sets and interests overlap and compliment one another. This a world of curious people, and curious people like to learn from other curious people.

So far on my Zero to Maker journey, I’ve spent a lot of time with the technical aspects of making, with a heavy emphasis on learning the necessary skills to help boost my robotics knowledge. However, this has caused me to overlook one of the most important groups of makers: crafters. The craft area of Maker Faire is always a favorite area of mine, one that I never miss. I’m always inspired by the creativity that the different makers possess, and within crafting, it’s a sure-fire way to find an incredibly unique gift. In this column, I wanted to take a closer look at the crafting community and reflect on its relevance to my Zero to Maker process for three main reasons: the low barriers to entry, the pure creativity that it requires, and the incredible infrastructure that supports it.

When I talk about the barriers to entry being low, I mean really low. It’s easy to make excuses for not making things when you don’t have access to expensive machinery or the specialty tools, or an engineering degree, but those excuses start to fall apart when you see what some of the creative crafters at Maker Faire are doing with little more than paper, scissors, and a glue stick. There’s no reason not to get started. To follow up on this declaration, I made arrangements to spend an afternoon over at Teahouse Studio and mold myself from a wanna-be crafter into a full fledged beginner. I met Tiffany Moore, aka Crafty Fanny, around mid-afternoon. She decided that today would be a good day for stamping, and proceeded to teach me everything one could possibly learn about stamps. My first stamp attempts were quite pitiful, but Tiffany gave me some pointers that helped me improve my technique. She taught me that it was much more effective to gently pad the ink on from above instead of just punching the stamp down onto the ink pad (which is how we think of stamping). She showed me how to emboss the ink – applying heat and an additive to raise and gloss the print. By the end of the afternoon, I had filled notebook pages with stamping experiments and had completed two surprisingly beautiful cards, one for my girlfriend and another for a couple whose wedding I was attending that weekend.

Besides reinforced the initial hunch about low barriers to entry, the afternoon also brought about a tremendous amount of unexpected anxiety. The little voice inside my head that steps in to insist that I’m not creative. It’s downright uncomfortable, especially when you’re surrounded by people who can seemingly create such beauty on demand. Lucky for me, I had Tiffany there to continually help me overcome such creative doubts as well as serve up an endless supply of tactics for hopping over any creative hurdles. Even though I only had two completed cards to show for it, I felt like I’d stared down my creative demons, which is a uniquely satisfying experience in and of itself.

With their combined experience, coupled with the innovative experiments they are running at Teahouse Studios, the three women were able to give me a tremendous amount of insight into what I find to be the most fascinating part of the crafting world: the infrastructure. When I talk about the infrastructure, I’m referring to the wildly efficient tools and opportunities that crafters have to turn their work into a little side money or even a full-blown maker business. In my mind, no other maker group has figured out the business-side of DIY as well as crafting creatives. Of course, the crux of this efficiency is centered around Etsy and the incredible community they’ve fostered. Believe it or not, I even have my own Etsy store (admittedly, sales are poor). I first began to notice the remarkable effectiveness of Etsy businesses while I was working for ProFounder, helping small businesses raise money from their communities. I was struck by the natural advantage the handmade artisans had in the ever-changing economy. Crafters pour their heart into their work, expect to be paid for it, and they are! Of course, it’s not as easy as that, but the important part is that it can be – the tools are there and they’re easy to use. I caught up with Kyla Fullenwider and Adam Brown of Etsy, two of the folks working hard to set up for this weekend’s Hello Etsy event. They summed up the event beautifully by describing it as bridging the gap – trying to get more micro-enterprises into the community and having a healthy conversation about the needs of those businesses.

If you’re not able to attend World Maker Faire this weekend, attending a Hello Etsy event at one of the TechShop locations or tuning into the livestream are your next best bets.

And, I’m sure you know that MAKE has an incredible crafter community through its CRAFT website. This is a great place to start your explorations of the craftier side of making (and check out the Crafts area of Make: Projects, too).

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Co-Founder of OpenROV, a community of DIY ocean explorers and makers of low-cost underwater robots. Author of Zero to Maker. And on Twitter!

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