A couple of additional laser + fabric experiments…

Our first fire! ūüôā¬† Here we were cutting very fine letters, and it was a little too much for the fabric to handle.


Here’s FLC’s Feminist Alliance logo on some contrasting fabric.

Feminist Alliance in Fabric

Our next step will be to try the process with fusible appliqué paper.

In Making Social Change today, we talked about Zapatistas and the Chiapas conflict, and the role of symbols and murals and art in political and social movements.¬† Based on social justice issues important to them, students then created stencils using Stencil Creator and cut them out of card stock using the laser cutter.¬† They spent the rest of the class spray painting their stencils on a makeshift gallery structure Diane Carlson (Sociology) and I created out of leftover metal shelves and an old scaffold that’s been out behind the Innovation Center for a decade or more.




F*ck the Gender Binary!


Great students, great class!

This week in Making Social Change we’re looking at the Zapatista movement.¬† One of the themes we’ll have some discussion around is political symbolism, and the use of imagery in social movements, including the various images of Subcomandante Marcos (in his ski mask and sometimes with his pipe) that came to symbolize the EZLN.

Resiste Corazón (Póster)

By Rexistemx (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This morning I prototyped a class activity around using the laser cutter to create stencils.¬† One of the challenges of the course is finding ways to make some of the prerequisite skills of digital fabrication – chiefly vector graphic creating and editing – more accessible to a group of students with varying levels of digital media creation skills.¬† Enter Stencil Creator, a sophisticated web-based stencil maker.¬† Upload an image to Stencil Creator, and the robust toolset enables some of the same sorts of functionality found in Illustrator’s Image Trace function.¬† The system outputs files in *.svg format, and after just a few tweaks in Illustrator – haven’t yet found a way to take it out of the workflow entirely – the stencil can be sent to the laser cutter.¬† Here’s one of the test cuts, featuring bass hero and DIY champion Mike Watt:

Laser Watt

Positive and Negative

Mike Watt Stencil Progress

Watt closes his shows with a call to “Start your own band! Paint your own picture! Write your own book!” so I added “Make your own stencil!”¬† I think D. Boon would be pleased.

Brother Watt Reminds Us

Having recently had students spinning yarn, I decided to make another shuttle for our community loom, as the one we’ve got has a crack in it. I snapped a photo of it, brought it into Illustrator, added a few guides, and was able to pretty quickly create a fairly similar copy.

Making a New Shuttle

I cut the shuttle out of 1/4 birch plywood using our laser cutter. It needs a bit of sanding and filing, but I think it will make a pretty decent replacement.


The files (Illustrator *.ai and PDF) and instructions are up on Thingiverse, or you can just grab the pdf here: simple_shuttle

In week 4 of Making Social Change, we talked about Indian independence, and about the emblematic role of khadi – handspun and hand-woven cloth – in the movement. Building upon the prototype Erica Tyler (Anthropology) developed as part of the Making Across the Curriculum faculty maker academy of summer 2016, and on our preview event from spring 2017, students created drop spindles using dowels, hooks, and laser cut whorls.


Erica made herself available to talk about “women’s work” in the Archeological record, and showed students how to spin roving into yarn.


With any luck, the community loom will soon have a bit more handspun yarn added to it.

About two years from our original idea, and after many hours on the greaseboard, and many prototypes and preview events, Sociology 379: Making Social Change has finally been born!¬† We’re joined by twelve brave, multi-talented, fascinating students, passionate about a wide array of social justice issues.

Making Social Change

The class meets once a week on Mondays from 1pm – 4:05pm, and we’ve met twice. We spent the first session framing the course and getting to know each other, doing some design thinking with the help of the Making Connections card game from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, and building some low res prototypes.


In our second session, we took a critical look at the “maker movement,” spending some time discussing “Making Through the Lens of Culture and Power: Toward Transformative Visions for Educational Equity.” (Harvard Educational Review, 86(2), 206-232.Vossoughi, S., Hooper, P. K., & Escud√©, M. (2016), https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/fa5b/4e88c78f380b4727d445afa33bea5212a21d.pdf), before students had the chance to begin work on their contribution to our tile project, which is a low risk/high reward, very accessible “first project” in digital fabrication.

David Creates his Tile

Really looking forward to continuing to work with these students, and to learning from this “version 1” prototype of the course!

Earlier this week, Diane Carlson (Sociology) and I held a preview event for Making Social Change, our Sociology + Making course, as part of FLC’s Social Justice Spring events. We decided to create some drop spindles and spin some yarn, based on an activity Erica Tyler (Anthropology) developed as part of last summer’s Making Across the Curriculum faculty professional development program.

We cut the whorls using the laser cutter (which has been christened “Danger Scissors”)…


Note the engraved design, inspired by Gandhi’s spinning wheel.¬† Diane cut the dowels using a good old-fashioned chop saw…


…after which she and Erica taught us how to turn wool into yarn.

Drop Spindling

We also walked students through some other digital fabrication techniques, using the same spinning wheel motif source file to create objects using the Carvey, vinyl cutter, and 3D printer.  Looking forward to helping bring this course to life in the fall!

As part of Social Justice Spring, Diane Carlson (Sociology) and I presented a preview of the Making Social Change course we’ve been working on.¬† Here’s a description of the session:

Making Social Change:  Seed Bombs & Scrambled Bratz (FLC Innovation Center)
Join us for an interactive preview of a new course that will explore the intersections of social movements, technology, tools, and the maker movement.  Come create, consider, collaborate, and culture jam!


Seed bombs…

Seed Bombs


and scrambled Bratz…



Presentation slides: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1SJTDnYs5oQglkyKP2CmsIKoqzbnU2IGkklahQrPKVB8/edit?usp=sharing

It is perhaps easier to understand how making applies to the STEM/STEAM disciplines than to disciplines like sociology.¬† In an effort to foster a Making Across the Curriculum ecosystem at the college, it’s important to find ways to empower faculty and students in every discipline with the tools and technologies, and perhaps more importantly the philosophy and ethos of the maker movement.¬† To that end, Diane Carlson (Professor of Sociology) and I have been working on developing a sociology course called “Making Social Change.”¬† Here’s a draft description:

Empowerment through the development of technological skills and access to tools is and will continue to be a significant issue in social justice work and social change.  In this interdisciplinary course, students will explore social change through movements, organizations, and groups and the ways those entities use, create, modify, and improve tools and technologies to support and drive change.  Students will analyze the contexts and tactics of these movements and synthesize their discoveries with hands-on experience using tools and technologies of the maker movement to develop projects designed to address social, environmental, and economic needs.

Below are artifacts of the two most recent brainstorming sessions:

Making Social Change - Round 1

Making Social Change - Round 2

Gandhi was a maker.

Gandhi was a maker
This photo of Gandhi is in the Public Domain.