A Digital Fabrication Christmas

Finished star

For the first time ever, I got my own Christmas tree. It was a spur of the moment decision to make my apartment more festive. After picking up the tree on the way home the gym, I had to figure out how I was going to decorate it. I’m a huge fan of not buying ornaments and have truly avoided it over the years because it’s just more fun to make them yourself. With 3D printers at my disposal I realized I could have a lot of fun designing ornaments as well as a star to top my tree!

I first went to work on the star and decided I wanted to be a star but also use my trusty soldering iron to get it to light up. I wanted to make the star as hollow as possible so I could make the LED inside pop as much as possible. I decided to use my favorite color changing LED’s with a battery pack with a simple slide switch. I hot glued the battery pack to the back of the star as well as some of the loose wires. I’m so excited to add it to my tree!

Next was planning the ornaments. In the past year I’ve realized how deeply I’m drawn to geometric shapes. Luckily Tinkercad makes that need of mine quite easy to execute. Since my tree is on the smaller side, I made the ornaments a bit smaller. I chose to use white filament because I love the matte look it provides. But I also went crazy and decided to see how glitter looked on them. They look more crisp without the glitter and it’s fun having a blend of some with and without the glitter.

Empowering Girls in the Makerspace

Feminists Unite!

Next to sustainability, empowering girls in the Makerspace has been my focus for this school year. This initiative came after seeing how girls were using the makerspace during the first year of operation. They were building interesting creations but they generally chose to experiment with more traditional crafting materials. I’m totally for this but I wanted to find a way to create a bridge between crafting and digital fabrication.

First sketches

To get this initiative off the ground, a Feminist Maker club was created. Using the term ‘feminist’ was landed upon because it’s inclusive and I wanted anyone who was interested to join. The first task for this club was to create logos for our identity. They first sketched out the designs and then I showed them how to use Illustrator so the designs could get transferred to various digital fabrication software. Each member designed their own and in the end we organically ended up with two design options. Currently we’re using the vinyl cutter and the embroidery machine to show off the logos. The next step to start thinking about how we want to utilize them i.e. keychains, t-shirts, totes or even jewelry!

Conditional Art Vinyl Experiments

After designing vinyl initial stickers in Illustrator with my 7th and 8th graders, I wanted to continue their connection with using Illustrator, Silhouette Cameo and the process for applying vinyl to surfaces. The inspiration behind this project came again from Erin E. Riley’s The Art of Digital Fabrication.

My makerspace has a pretty big white wall which I’ve been waiting to utilize. After reading the section in Erin’s book on Design With Rules, I decided it would be a great jumping off point for what I wanted to do with my students.

After exposing students to Sol Lewitt and his use of Conditional Design blueprints, I gave each student a slip with a specific design rule on it. Each student then had to utilize this design rule in Illustrator, setting their project size to 12in X 12 in, the size of a vinyl sheet. Once students completed their design rule, they would use the Silhouette Cameo to cut out the design. Each student’s vinyl sheet was to then be transferred onto the wall I spoke of earlier.

Examples of rules were:

  • Fill your page with no more than 15 triangles. Using the “Line Segment Tool” fill the rectangles with lines. Make it so the lines in triangles next to each other are moving in the opposite direction.
  • Fill your page with acute triangles of varying sizes. Make sure an angle on each triangle connects with 1 additional triangle.
  • Fill your page with no more than 15 triangles. Using the “Line Segment Tool” fill the rectangles with lines. Make it so the lines in triangles next to each other are moving in the opposite direction.

One outcome I didn’t expect from this project was how having students add their designs to the wall would give them additional ownership of the space. They proudly share with each other which design is their own. The effect is also quite stunning. I’m looking forward to see how they use Silhouette for personal projects going forward.

TurtleStitch & Embroidery

One my first efforts this school year to increase the desire of my girl students to use technology while in the makerspace was to get a embroidery machine. I’ve been spending time with TurtleStitch to plan how to use it in my classes. It’s such a fun program to experiment with and the possibilities seem to be endless.

As I’ve experimented with TurtleStitch more and more, one warning that kept coming up was “DENSITY WARNING!”. I decided to embroider one design with that warning just to see what would happen. The design version on the right has a running stitch and the design on the left be a satin stitch to better understand the warning. The running stitch was fine but the satin stitch was not a success. It didn’t upset the machine but the back of the design was pinched downwards where the density was pretty intense.

Backing of the Density Warning

Going forward I will definitely take that warning to heart. It’s so nice to visualize what a warning on a application turns into. Sadly it seems like most of my TurtleStitch designs have that warning and I’ll just have to spread out the designs more to overcome the issue.

The Brother PE800 Embroidery Machine is a dream. Seeing student’s eyes light up when I have it running is amazing. Since my school is an Apple school, bringing TurtleStitch designs into software to add elements to the designs hasn’t been as easy as I hoped. I turned to Embrilliance Stitch Artist and it’s worked nicely but it won’t be possible to get it onto student computers which is a bummer since it requires a license. I’m still searching for alternatives and will keep you posted!

Sustainability in the Makerspace

As this school year began, I had two goals to focus on. One was to be better at practicing sustainability in my work with students. The second was to empower girls to take more risks with their projects. More to come on this second goal later.

With the sustainability focus, I had to take a close look at the materials my students were using and how they were being used. Experimentation is always my goal for them but I saw that certain materials were being used but not in a way that was allowing for deeper critical thinking or making new connections to classroom content. Sadly these were the more decorative materials like pom poms and plastic gems. I decided to not order these items this year which came with fun surprises. Now yarn and pipe cleaners are being used in a more interesting manner. Also they’re using vinyl scraps to add extra design details.

The strongest aspect of my sustainability mission has been reaching out to the community to donate interesting packaging materials, toilet and paper towel innards, egg cartons, plastic containers and boxes. I’ve truly seen my students imaginations come to life with the addition of these materials in the space. It’s helping them truly engineer in new and interesting ways.

Another dilemma I faced was using straws. They are so wonderful as an engineering tool and I knew it was something I couldn’t take away from the space. Luckily Amazon sells biodegradable straws that are strong enough to put to the test in the space. The students could barely see the different between the two different kinds.

Sparkle Crown!

This year for Halloween I made a goal that I would work on a electronics project to complete my look. I have this stellar skeleton dress that I was looking to reuse and I decided a crown that lights up would be a great pairing.

Initially I thought I could use a Micro:bit to program the crown but they’re just a bit too big to stay hidden in my hair. Of course Adafruit had the solution. Their project used a Gemma Arduino board which is just a bit bigger than the size of a quarter. My favorite part of this project was soldering together the Flora Neopixels. I’m still a novice when it comes to coding Arduino and it was fun experimenting with the code Adafruit provided to get the right colors and flash sequence. I wanted to use white lights but it made the crown a bit too much like a strobe light.

Completed sparkle crown!

In addition to Halloween, I see myself using this crown in the classroom as a way to show students that accessories we make ourselves can truly empower us. I’m already thinking of ways I can make this into a project for my students but focusing on makes elements like soldering around a 3D printed component. I’ also eager to use the Flora Neopixels in new and different ways to create accessories. A light up necklace could also be beautiful,

Stay tuned for more!

Vinyl Name Logos in Illustrator

This school year I’ve opened up my 7th and 8th grade classes with learning the basics of Illustrator to increase the skill level of my students. Last year we primarily used Tinkercad with the laser cutter because I didn’t have the time to focus on how to teach to students. Over the summer I made sure I strengthened by connection to Illustrator so it could be tool students could rely on.

I’m continually inspired by Erin E. Riley’s new book, The Art of Digital Fabrication, and decided students first Illustrator experiment will be designing their initials using as few shapes as possible to be cut out of vinyl on the Silhouette Cameo. I showed my students first how to manipulate shapes using shapes and the Direct Selection Tool. I also modeled how to add anchor points so they could truly sculpt shapes easily. The Pen Tool was also introduced to see how they can create different shapes depending on they movie their cursor. In the lesson, I used my own initials, as seen below to provide them a foundation.

Last year my students used the Silhouette Cameo a good amount, but they mainly used the trace tool to recreate royalty-free images they found on the internet. This year they are only allowed to use it on original designs since they all know Illustrator. It will be interesting to see if this new distinction will increase their creativity. Also now that the project is complete, the 7th and 8th graders all have their new initial stickers decorating the front of their MacBooks Airs, making for great PR! I decided to my design on my coffee mug because if it gets lost, I will be quite upset.