Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab
Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab

Makerspace: Towards a New Civil Infrastructure

In an article titled, “Makerspace: Towards a New Civic Infrastructure,” researcher Will Holman explains the history of makerspaces and discusses their current status and value in society. The article was published last month and is interspersed with cool pictures of fab labs and makerspaces around the country.

Holman goes into detail about some of the creative spaces that could be seen as the earliest iterations of modern day makerspaces. Mechanics’ Institutes in the mid-1800’s had many of the same intentions as today’s makerspaces—promoting mechanical skills and a spirit of inventiveness.

Small public do-it-yourself spaces sprung up in San Francisco in the 1940’s. However, the modern makerspace movement has been more recent. The first Fab Lab was opened in the early 2000’s at MIT. Soon after, TechShop, the largest for-profit makerspace company, opened its first location. Since then, growth has been relatively rapid—however, there have been some notable failures and closures of makerspaces.

Holman discusses some of the pros and cons of the maker-movement. He notes that makerspaces disproportionately target male, well-educated, affluent individuals.

Holman talks about some cool inventions that have some out of makerspaces. The foldable Oru Kayak was one I found particularly cool.  Holman notes that the company Square has been the only hugely successful company attributed to the maker-movement.

Holman argues that makerspaces have often been evaluated with metrics normally used with startups:  “fast expansion, impressive investment, and the appearance of so-called ‘unicorns’ — ideas that blossom into companies worth billions.” Holman argues that we should use more broad and holistic metrics, but he doesn’t detail what exactly those metrics should look like.

Overall, the article was a good read and it’s worth a quick skim for the pictures alone. One of the biggest things I’m wondering after reading the article is if either the non-profit or for-profit makerspace model will eventually dominate the other.

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Less Talented Than I Thought: Digital Embroidery

This semester in our Makerspace class, I had the exciting opportunity to choose my own design and watch a sewing machine embroider it for me.  Pretty cool and seemingly simple, right?!  It really isn’t too difficult, but I looked past some key steps in the process that pointed me to failure.  Read on to hear my story and learn from my mistakes:

Once I had my design prepared, I was so excited to get started.  I hit the send button and waited for it to magically create my intricate design, but it did quite the opposite.  My canvas immediately popped out from its frame, the thread got tangled, and the design wasn’t looking right.  I figured they were quick fixes, and took care of the problems and kept it running.  The increasingly loud hum of the machine told me that something was going very wrong, so I finally took a look on the backside and not only found that the design was out of sync, but that the machine was actually threading the top thread into the bobbin and had broken the needle without me noticing.  It was a wreck!  

To avoid embarrassment or something, I chose to just destroy all evidence that I created that disaster of a piece and started over.  Once I took apart the machine and gave it a look, I had just missed some of the most basic steps involved in using a sewing machine.  Instead of using an embroidery foot, I used a normal sewing foot.  That caused my piece of canvas to drag along rather than smoothly glide in the ways that it was supposed to.  I also realized that I hadn’t threaded the bobbin correctly, which caused a lot of my design to have white speckles on the top.  It explained so much!  So I tried again and here is what I got: 

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It looks better, right?! Still not perfect, but it’s getting there.  You can still see that there were some issues with the white speckles, and the light green color was threaded incorrectly so the thread wasn’t pulled tight (and was a mess underneath!).  My expectations had dropped astronomically, and although it was imperfect decided to settle on this design. 

I learned from this project that each and every step is vital to complete a project successfully when you are using any machine, from a electronic cutter to a 3D printer and everything in between.  I spent a lot of time perfecting the design and finding the perfect colors, but the design still failed because I didn’t pay attention to the small details that go into into setting up the machine correctly.  This class has taught me how to combine the creativity of a child and the intricacy and detail-orientation of a genuis (well, I would like to think so)! 

Even though I never got to see that perfect final product of my design, I can still appreciate it for what it is.  I learned tons more from my failure in Digital Embroidery than in any area where I succeeded on my first try.  I’m grateful that the Fab Lab provides a space where failure is acknowledged and even encouraged for the sake of truly learning.  

Make on!

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Embroidery Gone Wrong

For part of our textiles assignment, we were supposed to embroider a piece of our own clothing. I chose my victim to be a Yahoo shirt, just one of many free shirts that I have no emotional connection with. The final result was supposed to be Google’s colorful new logo, which would let me use multiple colors of thread, and was of a simple design that would minimize the chances of me having to re-embroider multiple times. I had already done some embroidering on canvas, so I wasn’t too concerned about how this would go. Unfortunately, my first attempt looked like this.IMAG0735
I should have known things were not progressing as they should have the moment I saw the white bobbin thread on the same side of the pattern. But I didn’t, and so when I started up the embroidery machine again after putting in a spool of yellow thread, it jammed. All this time the bobbin thread was not set properly, and even if I had seen it, I wouldn’t have been able to tell anything was wrong. After the machine jammed and decided to enact a death grip on my shirt, there was no choice but to separate the two with force. Hence if you look closely at the image above, you may notice a hole in my shirt. Slightly peeved, I went on to successfully embroider the logo on the same shirt.IMAG0736

There is a noticeable lack of visible bobbin thread in the successful attempt, and for the most part it looks quite nice. If I was to embroider on a similar material in the future, I would not stretch out the fabric as much, since the logo looks a little scrunched up. Ideally, I would only be embroidering slightly thicker, stiffer fabrics in the future, as getting this shirt set up properly for embroidery was a pain simply because it was so stretchy. We were warned that shirts were a pain in general to worth with because the rest of the clothing tends to get in the way and it absolutely did since I spent as much time waiting for the machine to embroider as I spend tweaking the placement of the shirt and stabilizing paper. I know that there is no way I can totally prevent accidents like this happening in the future, seeing how many needles have been broken by my classmates even when they seem to have done everything right. Fortunately, with the help of the staff, this proved to be yet another great learning experience. It is safe to say I can now recognize the appearance of the bobbin thread as an omen of impending disaster.

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3D printing project

For one of the 3D printing projects, we were asked to design a dinner wear with a group theme. Our team decided our theme to be a dinner wear that has multiple functions. Instead of using Tinkercad, I decided to use the software Sculptris. Although unlike Tinkercad, Sculptris doesn’t have a clear measurement to keep track of the size of my work, I chose Sculptris because I thought Sculprtris is a software that I can use it to create any shape with smoother lines. However, Sculptris is a challenging software. I spent about an hour to have a rough idea about what function each of the tools has. I started create my work with a sphere. The multiple tools in Sculptris allowed me to pull or press the sphere into different shapes. I ended up making a bowl with two small cup aside for dressing and a little extension on the side to put utensils. 

When I decided to 3D print my dinner wear, I couldn’t print it in its actual size, because I was using the UP 3D printer, which is a small 3D printer and it will cost much time if I print it full size. Therefore I scaled down my model to 30%. With the help of Gabriel, I was able to set up the printer successfully and understood how to change the filament of the printer. Here are some pictures of my 3D printed bowl: 

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However, my 3D printed bowl wasn’t as perfect as it will be. First of all, I didn’t think about the support structure issue when I was setting the position of my model. Therefore, there were many support structures on my object, and I had a hard time of taking them off, even though Jeff introduced me some handy tools. Also there were original two handles underneath the two dressing cups, but I scaled down my model too much I was not able to tell which part was the support structure which part was not. Moreover, there were holes in my bowl and cups. Jeff said it was because sometimes when people designed their objects in Sculptris there will be some minor twists or holes that people couldn’t tell, when people were pulling and twisting the model in the software. To avoid this situation happening again, next time I will scale down my model to 50% and change another placing position to avoid many support structure. 

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The Smiley Face that became Loopy

For one of the assignments we were suppose to embroider a piece of clothing. I chose to go with a simple design of a smiley face since when I first did an embroider patch it ended up being a very long process for the machine to embroider since I chose a very intricate piece. So with my smiley face idea in tow, I let the sewing machine work its magic and begin the embroidery. I thought that this piece wouldn’t take more than a couple hours to complete and since there were only two colors used (yellow and black) then it would be a piece of cake. Turns out that it just wasn’t my day. Halfway through the embroidery, the white spool of bobbin ran out and since I didn’t notice this until a handful of minutes in, the black spool that was embroidering had created a rats nest of a mess. I had to pause the machine and get more of the white bobbin thread so that the embroidery could continue to have a base to hold onto within the threading. Once that was taken care of, I let the machine continue on with the embroidering. What I didn’t notice was that somehow the entire embroidery itself had shifted and was off center from its original location. The problem was that I didn’t notice this until the entire rest of the embroidery had been completed as I was simultaneously working on a 3d printing project that took away half of my attention. This resulted in creating an embroidered shirt with a lopsided loopy looking smiley face that certainly had a distorted figure. 

Loopy Smiley Face
When it comes to figuring out what when wrong, I’d say running out of the white bobbin spool was the start of my smiley face embroidery’s demise. I didn’t realize that it had ran out so the colored thread continue to attempt to thread through the fabric but it wouldn’t catch and so a big mess was made. To fix this problem I will next time make sure that there is enough white bobbin on the spool. Another issue I came to realize after the fact was that the alignment had moved out of its original place. This caused the machine to continue embroidering as if everything was normal, but the placement was way off. I’ll have to be more observant of this next time to make sure it doesn’t occur off center again.  Otherwise, I think the project turned out to be pretty entertaining and the end result did give myself and others a few good laughs. 


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Embroidery Project Failures and Successes

For my embroidery project, I was having a difficult time thinking of what I wanted to create. I ended up choosing a design from the internet of a dreamcatcher. 

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This particular design had lots of colors in it, which would be difficult to embroider. I spent two hours on SewArt, with the help of Duncan, a staff member at the FabLab, trying to get as few colors as possible and fixing the design. I still would have to switch at least eight different pools of thread, specifically light brown, light orange, dark orange, light pink, dark pink, light aqua, dark aqua, and gray. I wasn’t familiar with the machine at all because I was late when Jeff, my professor, was explaining to the class how it worked. I asked for Duncan’s help again and got familiarized with the machine – how to switch to make it into an embroidery machine from a sewing machine, how to put in the thread and the needle, how to transfer the design from the computer to the machine, etc. However, my dreamcatcher still didn’t turn out well because I got confused with the switching of the threads. The color that it was saying on the machine wasn’t matched to the color that it was supposed to embroider. Because of that, I messed up my first try for the dreamcatcher and it ended up looking like this, which was a disaster to me.  

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Jeff encouraged me to still try it anyway, even if it was difficult. I ended up trying two more times, spending at least 2 and a half hours trying to get the perfect embroidery. Both times, the needle broke in half and the thread got stuck and gathered in a bundle in the machine. I had to step away that night because it was getting frustrating to try to make it work. I learned that too many colors is really difficult to work with, especially because there’s extra thread criss-crossing everywhere which you’ll have to cut off.

The next day, I came back thinking I was just going to make something simpler, a husky design for the patch. It would be easier since it only had 3 colors, gray, white and blue. I began embroidering it, without Duncan’s help this time because I was familiar with the machine. It started out great, but i didn’t expect it to take as long as it did. It was so close to finishing, until I ran out of the gray thread and the FabLab didn’t have more of the same exact color. Because of that, I just stopped the embroidery and it ended up looking like this.

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I was actually really proud of it and I was sad I couldn’t finish it. I learned that I should have a bigger spool of thread, because you never know if you’ll have enough. I ended up just making an embroidery for me and my roommates (since our room number is 413). I used one color and embroidered a very simple patch.

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After that, I had bought a shirt from the FabLab and wanted to create an embroidery of the Flash logo for my friend, since he was his favorite superhero. I was worried I was going to mess it up the same way I messed up my first four tries. However, this one turned out pretty well the first time it embroidered. I only had to switch the thread 3 times, from white to black to yellow. I was pretty happy with how it turned out and how I got it just at the first try. My friend liked it too when I gave it to him as a gift.

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The only thing I wish about this one is for the shirt to be red then it would be perfect! 

This was probably the most difficult project I had to do from all the projects we’ve done, simply because I really had to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what was wrong and trying to make it work, as well as learning in the process. I tried a lot of different designs as well as persevered with my first one. However, I’m happy with how my final embroidery projects turned out. 

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