Why I AM a Maker and Proud Of It

While considering my blog post for this week, I came across this Atlantic article by Debbie Chachra, in which she declares she is not a maker, going on to describe what she feels are the flaws of the term “maker”--and, by extension, maker culture, which she sees as exclusive, tech-focused, and even elitist. I have to say, I was somewhat surprised by this article, and wanted to share my own take on it.

I don’t think everything Chachra says is inaccurate. The tendency of maker culture to be exclusive is something we at MakerBridge have talked about, too, as we’ve advocated for greater diversity in terms of gender, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and even in terms of the type of activities and skills that are celebrated as part of the movement. As we have in the past, she also touches on the gendered aspects of making, and the way traditionally feminine tasks or roles can be viewed as inferior.

I do feel, however, that Chachra’s definition of making--the one she defies and takes umbrage with in her article--is not everyone’s definition, and in fact is not fully representative of the maker movement. Although making is an act of creation and production that results in artifacts, whether physical or digital, for me it has never been about these artifacts; they are peripheral to the true purpose of making, which I see as very much based in learning, sharing, openness, and collaboration. This is a view I believe we have been discussing at MakerBridge for a while now, and I know we’re not the only ones who feel this way.

I understand where Chachra is coming from--it’s easy to get excited sometimes and become fixated on the stuff involved in making, whether that means the tools or the creations. I have had to make the point before that a 3D printer itself does not transform a place into a makerspace, just as no single tool or even collection of tools can do so. But just because we sometimes need these reminders doesn’t mean maker culture is solely involved with things at the expense of valuing education and human beings. In fact, the entire function of a makerspace--at least in my eyes--is to serve as a place where people have the opportunity to work together, learn from each other, and form a community, something very people-focused, and very much in line with the caregiving that Chachra laments as being overlooked or even downright scorned by maker culture.

I think, ultimately, that Chachra is arguing against a definition of maker that, yes, some may embrace, but that I don’t believe is the dominant one. At the very least, it’s certainly not the only one. However, I do worry that this is the way maker culture is perceived, that non-makers see the movement as privileged and obsessed with tech toys and gadgets. I think making has so much potential for empowerment, for education, for inspiration, for moving away from a consumerist culture obsessed with stuff to a DIY culture in which people not only value their possessions more due to having created them, but also value the skills they’ve learned in the process. This is the maker culture that I see and that I’ve always seen. This is the maker culture that I think schools and libraries are embracing. This is the maker culture that I see spreading rapidly. I only hope we can find better ways to convey this view of making, so Chachra and others like her will one day be able to call themselves makers and be as proud of it as we are.


Silhouette Cutter in Our Makerspace ... and Betabrand's Design Studio

A couple of summers ago, we heard that some maker groups were having success having a Silhouette Cameo in their makerspace and that it was helping to attract more girls into their K-12 maker project. We bought one for Michigan Makers, because we thought it might help us bridge between the physical making to which many of our elementary students were attracted and the digital making that was more closely aligned with our school's mission. At first, we did small projects like learning how to arrange letters in order to "weld" them into a single sticker cut from Con-tact paper. This year, we tried out freezer paper stencils cut on the Cameo. You find freezer paper near the aluminum foil in the grocery store for about $5 a roll (and that roll will last a very long time). One side has a light plastic coating on it. Place it face down on a garment and apply the heat of an iron, and the plastic will melt just enough to adhere to the shirt for a stencil that won't move. We bought lots of $1 thrifted clothing (we have enormous thrift stores here the size of grocery stores that run "5 for $5" on merchandise that has been hanging on the racks for several weeks) -- all kinds of knitwear and, as we saw how popular they were, various jean jackets and blazers, adding a few new choices to the big pile from which kids could choose. We prepared these handouts to help students design their own custom garment:

  • T-shirt design template (we only had one Cameo, so this let some students think in advance with pencil and paper while they waited)
  • Sample shapes to use in the design (these were preloaded on the Cameo after having been pulled from The Noun Project, Microsoft Clip Art, or Cameo's built-in images; as they get more experienced, we can open up more choices to them and also let them draw and import their own art ... it's always important to remember, when we do more controlled work in makerspaces, it's in service to them having more agency and independence -- because they have more practice and skill -- later. The long view matter here.)

We used Tulip brand puffy fabric paint, though we sponged it on in thin layers instead of squirted it from the bottle, so it was only a little bit dimensional. (Hint: bring paint shirts!) We also brought in a hair dryer to ensure that all the garments would be dry before kids put them on or took them home. You can see our very first creation below. What I love about this is that the maker applied the paint very thinly, giving it an aged or antiqued look.While it takes a long time to get this project started, because you need stations for planning, layout and cutting on the Cameo, ironing the freezer paper to the shirt, stuffing and painting the shirt, then drying it with a hair dryer before peeling off the paper, it's also really satisfying to watch grow, because as our 4th and 5th graders got into the routine, they were able to start teaching each other (except for the iron ... that is one scary tool to them!). And it's a reminder to me that making is really, really, we're not kidding, a process. And that means you have to build in manpower and time and patience as you develop skills in kids. That can be hard to balance with just one or two adults ... but it's worth it in the end, because suddenly you step back and see them doing it without you (again, except for the iron). This was a project they could not do unassisted the first time. But the second time? They're already chomping at the bit for their next turn, and we got some smaller Silhouette Portrait machines for $100 during Black Friday, so we're going to have more stations that allow more kids to work simultaneously. Meanwhile, the Silhouette company posted this video about how Betabrand is using the same tool to prototype new clothing. They use Silhouette's iron-on materials more than stencils, but the idea is the same: customizing a one-of-a-kind stuff. If we really want our makerspaces to reach all kids, we need many modalities and kinds of project. You might think that using a scrapbook cutting machine to make t-shirt stencils is a girly activity ... but boys have been equally engaged with it. (The big difference? Girls tend to like blazers; boys like t-shirts.) Which just goes to show that if you plan for everybody's interests, you'll discover interests you didn't know some of your makers had. Here's the Betabrand/Silhouette video. Maybe it will give you some ideas, too.



Apparel Prototyping: Betabrand and the Silhouette from Silhouette America on Vimeo.

- Kristin Fontichiaro

This post originally appeared on the Active Learning blog


ISTE SIGLib Webinar with Laura Fleming

Our future school and youth librarians at the University of Michigan are big fans of Laura Fleming, the librarian at New Jersey's New Milford High School. From her work with transmedia storytelling to her current work nurturing maker culture, she brings thoughtfulness and depth to her work with her students.

We thought you'd enjoy this archived conversation between ISTE school library special interest group chair Elissa Malespina and Laura Fleming. As many conversations between school librarians go, the conversation covers a range of topics, with the conversation on making beginning about 14 minutes in.

What's your New Year's resolution for making in your community?

A Chat with John Burke, Author of Makerspaces: A Practical Guide for Librarians

This week's post is an inteview with John Burke, Library Director and Principal Librarian at Gardner-Harvey Library at Miami University Middletown. John is the author of Makerspaces: A Practical Guide for Librarians, has conducted a survey on makerspaces in libraries, and has created a number of other resources and presentations on the topic of makerspaces and libraries. Be sure to visit his website to find out more.


MakerBridge: Tell us a little bit about your day job and how it led you to being interested in writing this book.

John Burke:

I am the library director for a small academic library.  In that role, I end up involved in all sorts of different library activities, including a lot of technology support for patrons and staff.  My daily work keeps me interested in tracking and writing about library technologies, and that is how I came across makerspaces (in their various forms).  I talked about it with an editor I had worked with on previous books, and the opportunity to write about makerspaces came together.

You interviewed a wide array of library maker leaders for the book. What common threads did you find in what they shared?

Something that the majority of the library makers expressed to me was the importance of getting their community of makers and prospective makers involved in the planning process as early as possible.  They believed that would lead to real expressions of interest in particular making tools or media, rather than trying to fit people into a model created by the library.  As I dug into the motivations of the library makers further, I found emphases on encouraging patron learning, modeling and inspiring collaboration among community members, and a desire to provide people with access to equipment and skill training that they could not get on their own. The makerspaces were all very different in terms of the community served or the exact makeup of equipment or activities, but these goals were found throughout.  

Can you tell us about any particular makerspaces that you see as particularly well-connected to their communities?

I'll mention two makerspaces that stand out and that also have distinct ideas of who they hope to reach.  The Richland Public Library in Columbia, SC, is very focused on serving teens and providing them with digital and physical making opportunities.  They have done a great job of involving groups from beyond the library in providing equipment and mentoring (a technology company and a theatre group) and then also doing extensive outreach in the local schools and networking with teachers.  

The Johnson County Public Library in Overland Park, KS, began its making activities with a focus on serving small businesses and people working from home with the digital technologies they need to communicate their ideas through websites, high quality images, and combined audio, text, and video projects.  Once they started working with those patrons, they realized that other audiences could use these and other technologies.  They opened up their initial media lab to other users, and added 3D printing, electronics, and other forms of making to connect with a wide array of ages and backgrounds.  The main library was their primary setting when they started, and now they are responding to demands to bring mobile making activities out into their branches and reach even further into the community.

Is there anything that seemed to be a common "rookie error" among library makerspaces? If so, what was it, and what did people learn from it?

I think there is a great urge when you start a makerspace to enable many types of making at once, which in theory will lead to lots of interesting collaborations.  This can lead to libraries buying a "set" of making tools and equipment, without first seeing if anyone in their community is really interested in using Tool X.  Libraries need to realize that there is not a required list of making technologies that you have to have in order to be a makerspace.  They need to support the making and discovery activities of their community, and follow community interests.  Some things can be bought to inspire people to attempt a given type of making, but there is not a need to overwhelm the community or the library with a woodshop or a recording studio that are not in demand.

How has this research impacted your day job at Miami?

When I started the book, I was interested in the idea of library makerspaces, but I could not see where this activity fit into my daily work.  In fact, while I was extremely curious to know what libraries were providing for people to make, I was not sure I could see a makerspace fitting into my own library.  I learned a lot from a large number of very kind and sharing makers who took time to talk with me, and that led me to being convinced that making was something I should offer to my campus community.  There has been interest from students, faculty, and staff, and we are growing our making offerings.

President Obama has indicated that making could be a way to revitalize American manufacturing. Do you see this promise unfolding in the libraries you studied? If so, how? If not, what would it take to make it happen?

I think that the maker movement and access to making skills and technology in libraries can really inspire people to learn how to make things with their own hands and how to design items and products.  I am not sure that this will lead to mass manufacturing efforts, or lead today's middle schooler to become tomorrow's robotics operator or engineer.  I can imagine makerspaces creating the opportunity for lots of smaller manufacturing operations, given the decreasing costs of some automated making tools (like 3D printers or laser cutters).  I am also interested to see how people's abilities to design and make their own objects might alter the current mass-produced culture.

Where do you hope the making-in-libraries movement will be in five years?

I hope that library makerspaces will very much be the norm, with making activities seen as an expected service in libraries.  To get there librarians and makers will need to keep sharing their ideas and approaches to guide and inspire new people to get their libraries involved.  More than that, I hope that the opportunity for making continues to bring more and more individuals and groups into the library and let us see the amazing things they create.


Webinar: Makerspaces in Academic Libraries

Sorry, everyone, for the missed post last week! Thankfully, I am finally over being sick, and this week I want to share with you a webinar I recently presented on the top of makerspaces in libraries, with a special focus on academic libraries.


Makerspaces are finding their way into more and more libraries lately, but the majority of these tend to be located in public libraries, and these ones often get the most attention. Academic libraries and makerspaces can be a great fit for each other, though, and there are a lot of ways that a makerspace in a higher ed environment can be beneficial not only for students but for the whole campus community.


What are these benefits, and what are some great things academic library makerspaces are already doing? What are some important things to think about and some first steps you can take towards your own makerspace? Check out the webinar hosted by the SLA Education Division (and you can download my slides as well).

Thoughts? Questions? Leave them in the comments below, or let us know on Twitter!


Guest Blog Post: Buttonmakers as Pop-Up Making

Photo of a badge with a retro image of a woman reading a book. On the book is written, "Accessorize with a banned book."

Today's guest blog post comes from Cathy Evans, Director of Libraries at St. Mary's Episcopal School in Memphis, Tennessee. St. Mary's is a pre-K through 12th grade school where academic excellence and the well-roundedness are both critical goals for its all-female student population. As the school's headmaster writes:

"We know how girls learn best and have a community of caring adults who want each girl to reach her potential.  Girls here are smart in many ways--academically, creatively, athletically--and success at St. Mary's therefore is as individual as each girl.  Our dedicated faculty provide the students with habits of mind and academic tools to thrive in their future: core knowledge, collaboration, creativity, and the desire and ability to keep learning as an adult." 

This fall, on a listserv for school librarians, Cathy shared her idea for how to make making-on-the-fly happen in her library in a way that merged the library's goals with the creative impulses of her students. I was intrigued by Cathy's posts because our Michigan Makers inventory includes an old-school electric buttonmaker, which we pull out at the start of the year as a low-risk, enjoyable way to achieve early making success while also providing us with reusable name tags that help build community.

Cathy's story is a reminder that making doesn't have to start with a custom-designed space full of the latest gadgets. It can begin in simple ways that welcome in makers so that they can engage and become planners in the future activities of the makerspace.  Enjoy Cathy's post!

- Kristin Fontichiaro

* * *

The Idea

In our library, we are always looking for new and creative ways to promote the love of reading and make the library a really fun place to be.  This year as we were brainstorming about how to increase awareness of Banned Books Week, we came up with the idea of making buttons.   A very simple idea to be sure and one that we were a little doubtful about but thought we would go ahead and take the plunge. Over the summer we took the wall out between two computer labs in the library which gave us enough space to create a maker space in the library.  It has concrete floors and columns painted in chalk paint.   We sort of took the approach of build it and they will come.  During in-service and as part of our professional development we have been promoting the idea of making across the curriculum.  Making something as simple as buttons seemed a quick and easy way to promote the idea of making.  


The Supplies

We ordered a z225F Fabric Button maker from American Button Machines.  It came with enough supplies to make 500 buttons.  With shipping the cost came to $405.00.   After receiving the machine we quickly realized that cutting out circles is a real time suck, so we went back to American Button Machines to order a punch that cuts the circle to the exact size needed.   This added another  $160.00 to the overall cost—worth every penny!


Making the Buttons

We made an announcement about making buttons for Banned Books week and set the machine out in the library.   From there it took on a life of its own.  We showed the first few students how to use the maker and then they showed other students, and it continued in that manner.  We also put a very simple step sheet out on the table and tossed out some colored paper, markers and colored pencils and let them go with it.   In addition, we sent an e-mail to all of the students in grades 9-12 encouraging them to participate. Attached to the e-mail was a template that the girls could use to download images and create more sophisticated and professional looking buttons.   This required a much more sophisticated skillset.  The students in the design class asked their teacher if they could make buttons and she told them they could but only if they used the template.  One of the students in the class was very savvy with the process so she ended up teaching the class how to do a graphic design project.  The teacher was very glad for the impromptu learning experience.  

At first the students stuck to making Banned Books Week buttons but then their imaginations took over.   We just let them run with it at that point and they were able to be as creative and they wanted to make whatever kind of button spoke to them.  


Student Response  

The way in which the students responded to making buttons came as a real surprise to us.  They were making them every chance they got.  I overheard one student say, “I would miss my whole lunch period just to stay in here and make buttons.”  We asked the students for feedback; here are some of their responses:

“It was fun to accessorize our backpack, clothes etc.”

“I loved the freedom we were given.“

“ It was really great seeing everyone’s personal creations.”

“I loved the “Fandom” themed buttons.”

“ It was so easy and persona.l”

 “There are so many things we can do with this, who  knows? The button maker has endless possibilities.”

We are already thinking of ways to use it in the curriculum.  One idea we have had it to do a button “book report.”  The name of the book can not be on the button , only and image and a few words that really capture the essence of the book.  The 5th and 6th grade teachers are already on board with this idea.  

* * *

What kinds of activities in your makerspace do you use to welcome new makers and stoke their enthusiasm for future projects?

Photo provided by Cathy Evans


Craftivism - Activism for Makers

The past week has left me feeling dissatisfied with the world, and thinking I ought to do something about it. I’m not much of one for shouting or joining loud, noisy groups, but I am a maker and a crafter. As a result, craftivism appeals to me.

If you haven’t encountered it before, craftivism is defined by its creator, Betsy Greer, as:

Craftivism is a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper & your quest for justice more infinite.

The process of making the craft deeply engages the creator with the message he/she is trying to convey. Then, when the craft is out in the world, it’s an engaging, non-threatening way of getting people to talk about important issues. Sarah Corbett, who founded the Craftivist Collective, also points out,

Often I craft alone or in a small group in public spaces like cafes, train stations and on public transport. And it means people are naturally curious & come up to you and say “what are you doing?” and you can say “I’m stitching this issue about inequality – what do you think?” And you engage people that way. So you are getting out into the world of non activism bubbles but still talking to people about those issues. Because craft is involved, it’s not scary: people naturally come to us and ask us what we are doing, they tweet pictures of us, stick it on instagram, pinterest etc. (from her recent TEDxBedford talk)

Some notable examples:

Mini Protest Banners

mini protest banner

Mini protest banners are small, embroidered cloths highlighting an issue and meant to be hung in a public space. They can be a form of protest, education, or encouragement, and are meant to spark discussion. According to the Craftivist Collective:

[By] hanging your banner in public, you engage others in the fight for a fairer, more beautiful world in a provocative but thoughtful way, without them feeling threatened or preached at.


Counterfeit Crochet

counterfeit crochet items

The Counterfeit Crochet project urges participants to crochet copies of designer products, and then carry/wear their “counterfeit crochet” item. This is a way of starting dialog about consumer culture. From the description of the project:

The media machine pushes onto the public the desire for luxury goods. Celebrities tote high-end purses, and slick glossy ads amp-up the sexiness factor. Fashion is fun fun fun! But at the same time, most of us "ordinary people" can't afford such things, and some even knowingly buy knock-off products to sublimate our desires. If you take the logic one step further, and actually make the item yourself, you are in a sense taking the situation into your own hands without giving a single penny to the company brand. They have excluded you anyway, by keeping their prices astronomically high.


Tank Blankets

tank blanket

Marianne Joergensen’s tank blankets are an iconic example of craftivism. She was protesting Denmark’s involvement in the Iraq War. Of her work, she says,

Unsimilar to a war, knitting signals home, care, closeness and time for reflection. Ever since Denmark became involved in the war in Iraq I have made different variations of pink tanks, and I intend to keep doing that, until the war ends. For me, the tank is a symbol of stepping over other people's borders. When it is covered in pink, it becomes completely unarmed and it loses it's [sic] authority. Pink becomes a contrast in both material and color when combined with the tank.


Of course, you can also come up with your own projects that address the issues that matter to you, using the skills and supplies available to you. I would love to see more schools and libraries encouraging students to engage thoughtfully in social issues, and I think craftivism projects could be one way to do it. Do we have any current craftivists in our audience?


Photo credits:

Craftivist Collective. (2009). "Mini protest banner at Bank tube station, London July 2009 [photo]." Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/craftivist-collective/3954373888.

Paul Ward. (2008). "Counterfeit Crochet [photo]." Retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/53Z2D8.

Madeline Tosh. (2007). "Tank knitting [photo]." Retrieved from http://madelinetosh.typepad.com/my_weblog/2007/01/.


Comic Book Makers Part I


Spoiler alert: I am a HUGE nerd. I really like to read comics, especially superhero comics. Before, I never really thought of adding the identity of “makers” to comic book characters. But in truth, they’re all over! In today’s post, I thought I would highlight examples of  makers in comics. 


Tony Stark

If you take ‘makers’ and ‘comics’, most people will think of the same person: the (in)famous Tony Stark.

Picture of Tony Stark from Iron Man: Extremis

Tony Stark’s claim to maker fame is that he is the inventor and builder of the “Iron Man” suit and co-founder of the Avengers (in the main Marvel Comics storyline). If you haven’t watched the movies yet, get on that! If you want to jump into the comics, try starting with the Iron Man: Extremis graphic novel.


Lila Rhodes

Lila Rhodes is, by far, my favorite character on this list. If you don’t know who she is, don’t worry, she’s a pretty recent addition to the Marvel world.

Picture of Lila Rhodes

Lila first premiered in the first issue of the new run of Iron Patriot starring Tony Stark’s best friend James “Rhodey” Rhodes. Lila is a maker because she enjoys opening up her Uncle’s Iron Patriot suit just to see how it works.


+100 to Marvel for showing that young African-American women can be makers too! Also, according to the Marvel Wiki, she (not Tony Stark!) is the one to make modifications to the Iron Patriot suit whenever her Uncle needs them. There’s only one volume of Iron Patriotwhich sadly got cancelled, but I loved it, so go check it out!


Howard Stark

Howard Stark is the father of Tony Stark, and was the driving force behind Tony’s interest in engineering, despite their troubled relationship.  

Picture of Howard Stark

Howard founded Stark Industries, of which Tony later became CEO. I honestly don’t know a whole lot about Howard Stark beyond what was depicted in Captain America: The First Avenger and the Iron Man movies, but read the Marvel Wiki to find out more!



I’ve only recently met Forge in the new run of Storm comics so I don’t know him very well. 

Forge - Marvel comic book character,

In this new Storm series, we meet him after he’s invented and built a machine that will bring rain to a drought stricken village in Africa. Forge is a fascinating example of makers in comics since, as a mutant, being a maker is literally in his genes! To find out more about Forge, check out his page on the Marvel Wiki.


Peter Parker - Spiderman

Another well loved Maker/Superhero is Spiderman/Peter Parker!

Another well loved Maker/Superhero is Spiderman/Peter Parker!
Thanks to the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield Spider-man/TASM movies, we should all know Spider-man’s origin story at this point. Not only is Peter Parker a scientific genius, he also invents and builds most of his own gear used in his career as Spider-man. Other than the Spider-man costume, the very first thing that Peter Parker makes for crime-fighting alter-ego are his famous webshooters!
There’s a huge Marvel comic event about Spider-Man and all the other Marvel “Spiders” going on right now, so I would definitely jump in if you haven’t already. Otherwise, check out the Marvel Wiki to learn more about Spider-man!


Watch out for other posts featuring makers in comics in the future! Are there any you thought I should have covered here? Feedback or questions? Let us know in the comments below or find us on twitter @MakerBridge!



Making for the Holidays

As I write this post, it's snowing outside and I've actually had to turn on my heat for the first time since last winter. You know what that means: the holidays are coming up fast.

One of the things I like most about the maker movement is its rejection of constant consumerism and mass production in favor of more custom, handmade things. The holidays are a great time to really embrace this spirit by skipping the Black Friday stampedes and focusing instead on using your maker skills to give your friends and family thoughtful, personalized gifts they'll really enjoy. Check out the suggestions below; now is a great time to get started so your gifts will be ready in time!

Is this really what you want to be doing? Or would you rather be at your local makerspace? Image Credit


101 Crafty Gifts - Instructables

Some of my personal favorites include this Hot Shoulder Dragon and a homade Salt & Sugar Scrub

Best way to keep your shoulders warm

Small Gifts to Make - Pinterest

I'm really intrigued by these Dip Mix or Hot Cocoa Mix Ornaments

Seriously, how awesome do these look?

- 100 Homemade Gift Ideas - about: home

Crocheted greeting card bowl, felt fortune cookies, and more

Excellent use for greeting cards



And don't forget the animals!

25 DIY Gifts for Pet Lovers

DIY Gift Ideas: Pet Toys and Treats to Make for Dogs and Cats


Do you have any creative gifts planned for this holiday season? Let us know in the comments below or tweet at us to show off your work!




Photo of a mentor's project experimenting with a stencil cut with a Silhouette Cameo and printed onto a t-shirt, originally found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/michiganmakers/13571463644/

The kids in our elementary after-school makerspace have a huge affinity for physical making. Give them the choice between having a glider competition in the hallway or a screen-based creation activity and they'll pick the glider 9 times out of 10. Many times we simply go along with what they choose -- choice in materials and making is a key tenet of our work. But because our makerspace is an extension of our information school, we sometimes feel we need to shift them into technology from time to time. So we're always on the lookout for digital projects (iSchool goal) that result in physical objects (student preference).

This coming week in that vein, we're going to try this by pairing the Silhouette Cameo, which was designed to cut out shapes for scrapbooking and crafts, with t-shirts. We're going to have students play with graphic design by combining words with images in the Silhouette Cameo to create a t-shirt image, cut it out onto freezer paper or Contact paper (final trials are still to come!), and use fabric paint to apply the stencil. 

Our students are used to having used clothing as source material for various projects: a few weeks ago, we challenged them to create Halloween costumes out of old pants, shirts, skirts, and dresses. (Those "teacher jumpers" made of denim or corduroy? Cut off the bodice and unbutton the skirt that remains, flip it upside-down, and you've got an instant superhero cape ...)

"Upcycling," a few of them call it. Last year, we cut fleece scarves out of old pajama pants and pullovers (cut off the bottom band; make a horizontal cut under the armpits; divide the remaining space in half; cut open each loop & stitch together). We take this path for both budgetary ($1/project!) and environmental reasons (to show kids that we can make from what already exists instead of buying new). 

So as I was shopping for secondhand-but-looks-new t-shirts, I started to realize that I was throwing other things into the cart as well: a couple of button-down shirts, a few blazers, long sleeves and short, ruffled collars and gathered hems. As I encountered these new materials, my imagination went to work: where would place a design here -- on the pocket? On the back? On the sleeve? Design elements in the various garment types called out new possibilities to me, and into the cart they went.

I realized that I was planning for provocations, what Bing Preschool at Stanford, TinkerLab, or the Reggio Emilia project would refer to as materials that spark the imagination and jumpstart creative thinking. When your makerspace has a few "weird" materials in it -- a length of refrigerator hose in your junk box, metallic yarn for the knitting group, a sample Squishy Circuits playdough circuit that greets makers as they enter the space, a piece of music waiting to be mashed up in your digital creation studio, a scrapbook of ideas for cutting up a t-shirt,  or an intriguing photo (what if a bubble wand were shaped like a cube instead of two-dimensional? how would that change the shape of your bubbles?) -- you prime the pump for creativity, providing just enough spark to generate ideas that might not surface otherwise. Provocations are part of what help inspire novice makers to transform materials to create something that has never been made before. Provocations help create those OOAK (Etsy-speak for "one of a kind") creations that shift your space away from an everybody-makes-the-same-craft club and into a thriving makerspace.

Of course, the trick is to set out intriguing materials and restrain yourself from jumping in and telling them what to do with them. (Remember the jumper-to-cape idea? Yeah, I used my out-loud voice on that one. After I watched a kid execute it -- albeit in a different way than I imagined it -- and said, "Wow - that turned out great," I realized my mistake when he said back, "Yeah, it was your idea." In a makerspace, it should be his idea. Oops.) 

What provocations do you set out for your makers?

- Kristin Fontichiaro


Image: a mentor's experiment with the Cameo and printing on fabric from Spring 2014