Interview: Digitally-fabricated steampunk goggles

Interview: Digitally-fabricated steampunk goggles


Artist/maker/consultant Matt Borgatti just finished this set of amazing steampunk goggles, and was kind enough to answer a few interview questions for Make: Online. See what he had to say and check out loads more process photos after the jump.


Tell us about your project.

They’re digitally fabricated steampunk goggles. They took over a year of tinkering, procrastinating, and experimentation to build. I started with the metal pieces, designing them in Solidworks and cutting out waxes on a CNC milling machine over at Tech Shop SF. From there, parts were cast in bronze at a place called JR Casting. I designed all the leather parts in Illustrator, creating cut-out paper models to test the design as it became more refined. Then all the cut patterns were sent off to Ponoko ( to get laser cut in leather. From there it was a couple evenings of dyeing, painting, stitching, and sweating to get everything together.

I really started seriously pursuing digital fabrication when, a couple of years ago, I was operating the laser cutter over at Instructables. A man named Robert Lang came through the door to work out some prototypes in paper. He was doing origami designs, etching the results of computer-based experiments on paper, and then folding them. It all came together for me when he explained how he could have a couple of crucial measurements and relationships drive an origami design that he could infinitely tweak before transferring it to the paper all ready to fold. From there, I began playing with ready-to-assemble designs, flat printed designs, and 3d printing.

My steampunk aesthetic has been inspired by Jake Von Slatt. I love reflecting on the past, studying the lessons of makers and builders, and recognizing previous generations for their spectacular brilliance and achievement. Unfortunately, steampunk has also become a byword for applying a leathery brown veneer to clothing, pop culture items, and lifestyle. Historical design trends educate and entice people into the maker lifestyle, as MythBusters serves as a gateway to hard science, but I feel that if you’re going to reference greats like Tesla, Graham Bell, and Verne, you’ve got to bring the big design guns to bear. I wanted to put my money where my mouth is and make something seriously steam.


What were your inspirations for this project? How does your initial vision compare to the final version?

There’s a fabulous circus/steampunk/western store in San Francisco called Five and Diamond. There was this certain sensibility to it that mixed craftsmanship with a flair for decoration and design that really struck a chord with me. It made me want to do something in leather and metal but was kind of intimidated by the cost and learning curve involved in tooling leather the way I was picturing.

When I started drafting out the metal components, my initial vision was much less ornate. I was planning on fabricating all of the headgear by hand. While working as the assistant designer on Diana Eng’s Fairytale Fashion project, it quickly became apparent that anything I could draw in CAD could be cut in leather. By utilizing a laser cutter, I could draft prototypes in paper and etch details to my hearts content. The new design grew tremendously in complexity and style.


Tell us about the construction process for the goggles. What steps are there to go from design files to finished piece?

When I finished modeling the metal goggle parts I took them into a CNC plotting program to create paths for the cutter to follow. I’ve made an Instructable on how a similar project, the Bioshock Belt Buckle, went together.

As for the leather headgear, a lot of it was trial and error. Every time I made a big change in the design, I’d print everything out on paper, cut it out, and tape it all together. It helped me check if everything was to scale and actually worked in 3D space. I’ve got a little more detail on that whole process over on my Maker’s Market Blog.

After about a dozen different revisions, I felt it was “put up or shut up” time for the design. I hate letting things get to the 80% mark and then not finishing. It’s easy to let a project fester there when it’s still under your control; where the universe hasn’t come in and dashed all your hopes to pieces with the harsh chair leg of reality. I had to get it out, so I crossed my fingers and placed the laser cut order.


I hear your couture is open source. Which files are you releasing online?

I’m releasing just about everything. You can find all my 3D files, my leather patterns, and some stitching instructions on Thingiverse. I’ve also created some files that are ready to cut through Ponoko (for sale). I’ve also prepped all the goggle hardware for 3D printing over on Shapeways.


This question was inevitable: Where can I get a pair?!

I’m willing to listen to mustachioed investors giggling with intrepid glee at the thought of their own goggled masterpieces. The thing is they wouldn’t be anywhere near cheap to reproduce. I would, however, be especially eager to work with people like the Skingraft design team to make this idea into a real production line. Drop me a message if you have ideas, advice, job offers, commissions, or cake.


You must have learned a lot in the process. What advice do you have for young makers?

Design things that get you excited. Ask lots of people for help, advice, and guidance then follow the sentiments that resonate the most with you. Don’t get discouraged by failure. With experience you learn to temper ambition with sense, choosing projects you can reasonably conquer, but without those initial colossal failures there is no learning to be done.

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Becky Stern is a Content Creator at Autodesk/Instructables, and part time faculty at New York’s School of Visual Arts Products of Design grad program. Making and sharing are her two biggest passions, and she's created hundreds of free online DIY tutorials and videos, mostly about technology and its intersection with crafts. Find her @bekathwia on YouTube/Twitter/Instagram.

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