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Jewelry and the Maker Movement

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The Maker Movement, a grassroots community of people with a tech-based approach to do-it-yourself projects, has grown by leaps and bounds over the past ten years. These "makers," as they refer to themselves, are primarily hobbyists who love to tinker, experiment, investigate, and design. MAKE Magazine, a publication launched in 2005, has brought these like-minded individuals together with their magazine, workshops, exhibitions, and fairs. 

Maker Faires are events that take place internationally, and are defined by their sponsoring body, Maker Media, as "part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new, Maker Faire is an all-ages gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors. All of these “makers” come to Maker Faire to show what they have made and to share what they have learned."

I attended the Maker Faire in Milwaukee last month, and followed up with a visit to the local Maker Space, to explore what new opportunities are available to me as a jewelry designer. 

A volunteer from the Milwaukee Makerspace was explaining the origins of wools and fibers, and demonstrating how to card and spin the fiber.

At the Milwaukee Faire, exhibiting both indoor and outdoor at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds, there were booths, demonstrations, and vendors showing everything from robot building to laser wood etching to traditional blacksmithing. There were dozens of hands-on activities for children, a racetrack where Makers raced souped-up Power Wheel racers, and a large area where, with the help of volunteers, you could use fabric and clothing donated by local Goodwill stores and repurpose that material into useful items like placemats, purses, and costumes. 

But what about jewelry?

3D printers lined the aisles of the exhibit hall, showing how one could design and print everything from the tiniest earring to an artificial limb. Vendors sold woodcut products created with laser cutters as pendants, magnets, and more. For those who work in fibers, there were several different exhibits showing how, with a little love and labor, you could actually spin your own cord to perfectly set off the pendant that you so painstakingly created. 

A sampling of the wildly creative projects created by Michael Dale Bernard
Michael Dale Bernard, an instructor in the Jewelry and Metals department at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, was demonstrating soldering techniques with steel and other metals. 

I left the show filled with inspiration and a newfound respect for what technology -- both old and new -- can accomplish when it is applied in creative ways. I plan to head back to my local Makerspace to see how far my imagination can take me, using 3D printers, laser cutters, and more. 

How can you explore Maker opportunities in your community? 

The Maker Faire website has information about all the cities and countries that feature events, from Istanbul to Albuquerque. Once you've attended a Faire, you'll meet people who can connect you with other opportunities near you -- meetings, gathering spaces, tool collectives, and groups of other like-minded individuals who also want to make beautiful things.

Interested in hosting your own? Maker Media can help you with that, as well.  

Be sure to check with your local library or community center and see what else is available to you in your town. Many libraries are setting up spaces for teenagers and adults alike to come and explore new technologies, especially 3D printers. 

Shop the vendors!

Another great way to participate and show your support for the Maker Movement is to shop the Maker vendors -- there were a quite few in Milwaukee selling fun finished jewelry with a technological bent! You may not be able to attend a show near you but lots of Makers sell online, and they are frequently working with upcycled materials and found items. 


Circuit Breaker Labs uses the guts of old electronics -- mostly circuit boards -- as the foundation for their product line. I liked that they offered jewelry suitable for men as well as for women, with cuff links, keychains, and other great gift ideas for the tech nerd on your holiday shopping list. 


Lumen Electronic Jewelry also uses circuitry, but not just disused components! Their solar-powered pieces actually light up, using "really awesome blinky bits." They sell kits so you can combine your love of electronics and your love of jewelry in a brand-new fashion-forward way. 



The Vintage Robot uses all repurposed and found materials to create robot-themed toys, jewelry, pins, magnets, and more from old computer components, phones, watches, etc. Their pendants made from old space-themed postage stamps were especially cute. 

If you get a chance to attend a Maker Faire in your community, I highly recommend it! And if there's not one near you, use the links posted above to explore other opportunities and find like-minded individuals. But most importantly, get out there and MAKE!

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