My Journey as a Makerspace Learner

There is a local makerspace in Vancouver called MakerLabs. They found that it tends to be a more male-dominated space so they have a special program called Tools for Women that I applied to and I was accepted to their two month residency program that started in June! The program includes a two month membership to MakerLabs and training on some of the tools they have available – the laser cutter, the metal shop, the wood shop, and the CNC router. As a teacher, we are often the experts in the room, so I wanted to experience what it feels like to be a learner in a completely new environment.

I am here with Candice and Shayla to celebrate our two month residency in the Tools for Women program.

To start the program, I met with the May cohort of women to share their experiences from the first month and to get paired up with a mentor from that group to further guide each of us in our journey. I got paired with a spoon-maker named Devon who shares a love of music, travel and all things punny. The best piece of advice she gave me is to find small successes. The first session we had  was our 3 hour training on the laser cutter where we learned about line tracing of vectors, cutting speeds and rastering of images. Tip of the workshop: rastering takes forever, so whenever possible it is best to use vectors! Each of us made our name tag for our Tools for Women cubby on the material of our choice. I used 3mm baltic birch and added a cat and tried to use raster for my name. It is interesting to see the difference in the lines and to consider that in future pieces. Some people even use a line trace for the outside of a raster to give more definition, but I have yet to ever try that.

It has now been 7 weeks since I started the program and we had our celebratory meet up on Tuesday night to share our work and learnings from the program. I must admit, as I was working my way through my project ideas it made me reflect on the need for documentation of the process. A finished piece does not nearly show all the time, effort, and learning that it took to get to that product. The main photo shows me with the two other women who completed the program with me and all our creations in front of us.

I want to share how these finished products do not show nearly the amount of time and prototyping required for their creation. One example is my mountain earrings. I have seen earrings like these in stores and on Etsy, but now that I had access to a laser cutter and the skills to use it, I decided to try to make my own.

First, I had to design the earring file in Inkscape. I decided to slightly round the edges of the triangle for the mountain. I then had to decide how I wanted to the snow-line to look. I printed my first set and they were okay, but I felt the snow-line was too high. So I had to re-design them again and move the snow-line down and printed that, which turned out great. Then had to find paint and paint them! Well… I learned painting is not my strong point. I needed a new approach. I decided to edit my file to make line cuts on the part I needed to paint brown so that the laser is doing the “painting” for me and the bare birch would be lighter to represent the snow instead of me needing to paint it white. Voila! I think they turned out great!

Second problem. The stud backings I had were too big, so I had to go and find smaller ones so they would be hidden by the design. I had never made earrings before, so making studs and dangly earrings is something I had never done until this residency, that alone is a huge success!

I experimented more with painting and staining earrings, different designs (many that failed), ways of using the parts I cut out of other earrings to make different earring pieces so there was less waste, etc. So as you can tell, the fact that I only have a few finished earrings does not show all the different iterations I made of each piece and the small adjustments and learning within this process of creation. I also stuck to birch as when I tried to create in acrylic it changed everything in terms of what designs look good etc, that it was almost like starting over again, and I love the look of the wood (and the smell of burnt wood!)

To be honest, I spent some time trying to work more on the CNC and a bit of time in the WoodLab, but I will need to go back to these projects as I would say it is better to just focus on one tool at a time and experiment with that, as there is such a learning tool and so much experimentation to be done with just one machine. I see why schools have laser cutters now because it really sparked (pun intended) my desire to learn and create and experiment. It is a perfect machine for the design cycle in action.


A selection of the items I made: coasters, notebooks, boxes, earrings, pendants, a name puzzle, and a massironi shelf.

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