The Rush of Teaching

Maker Faire NC 2013 - Mini-looms

Photo by JackBunny on Flickr posted under a Creative Commons license: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

My yarn  crafts group has had a space at Maker Faire NC since its beginning, and we’ve always had a great time. We’ve shown people the extreme basics of spinning and have sometimes sent people away with very short lengths of yarn they made themselves. We’ve had looms set up and shown people how to weave on them because we feel that it’s much easier to find knitting or crochet lessons than ones for weaving. It also seems easier to teach someone the basics of weaving in a few minutes. But we’ve never really had an organized plan for a complete project that someone could take away with them.

This year the Maker Faire people asked us to come up with a Make & Take project – that is, something that could be learned quickly and taken away by the participant. After some thought, I suggested using popsicle stick rigid heddles to make narrow straps that could be used as bracelets or keyfobs or any number of other things. There wasn’t going to be any way for people to finish a meaningful piece of weaving at the booth (space & time were both issues), but they could learn enough to feel comfortable finishing on their own – or so we hoped.

It really did play out that way. People would start out with wobbly weaving, but as they established a rhythm, they got the hang of it. When asked, they would gladly let us pack up their project so that someone else could get a seat. The littlest kids did well too, so long as an adult was helping raise and lower the rigid heddle (a further advantage there was that the parents could see what was supposed to be happening for future reference). In the two hours I was there, there were very few minutes when I wasn’t teaching.

More details here about how the loom works.

It was an amazing rush. The picture above shows me just starting a session. My student is focusing hard on what I’m explaining: that raising the heddle lifts half the threads above the others, and that lowering it makes the threads switch places. What you can’t see is the expression of surprised joy that spread across her face a moment later when she tried it and comprehended what was happening. That was repeated over and over and over again with student after student.

I won’t say that there weren’t difficulties. It was the biggest crowd at our Mini Maker Faire yet, and so it was hard to get through the aisles. It was also extremely noisy. But the enthusiasm was contagious. It’s also really wonderful to be surrounded by other people who love making things—all kinds of things—who will understand that while I could go to the store and buy socks, I might prefer to make my own. Curious people, who will try things just for the sake of learning.

We already have some ideas about how to improve our project for next year, and I have some thoughts about a more advanced project for repeat visitors that would still use the same equipment. I’m also going to be contacting some folks at a local maker space about using their 3D printer to print little rigid heddles instead of drilling holes in thousands of popsicle sticks and then gluing them together.

All in all, I’m really satisfied by how things went and am looking forward to next year.