Monday, March 20, 2017

10. Blog post: class and reading reflections


Let's talk about sewing! I haven't sewn anything in years. When I got holes in my jeans, I either got a tailor to patch them or just threw them out. It was a grim experience that sent me in search of the world's most durable jeans (for the price, you can't beat the Levi's Commuter line). But now I actually might have the werewithal to fix my own pants!

The activity of the week was exciting. I stitched a little beanbag out of some neon shamrock fabric and rice. I only messed it up once when I forgot the cardinal rule: I will always lower my presser foot. It was a thrilling experience. I see clothing and stitches up close every single day, and the feeling of agency gained from understanding a little more about how they're made is hard to describe.

Even better was talking with my classmates about sewing. I helped Lindsay with some setup for her microcontroller, and she gave me a huge amount of help with sewing patterns for the dancewear I'm going to try to make. By now I've ordered my fabric from Spoonflower and was able to gain much more confidence in the project thanks to my classmates' help.

Our classroom discussion was also interesting (though I was really itching to sew more). The piece by President Obama from Wired certainly provoked discussion. I was particularly intrigued by the commentary on his tone. The word "naiveté" came up on more than one occasion, which I don't think is incorrect but is also a necessary part of the role. Obama in particular often took the role of being the big brother - he was active at science fairs, read to kids, and generally tried to be an encouraging presence that made science fun. George W. Bush did the same (he drove my robot in the East Wing), but in part thanks to photographer Pete Souza's work it was highlighted more frequently. I think the same approach shows in his introduction, where he works to get the reader excited above all else.

Similarly important in the discussion was science mentorship. I spent a lot of time talking about robots and the uncanny valley, but science mentorship is frankly more interesting. Silicon Valley does a lot of handwringing about diversity with little measurable impact, but accessible science mentorship is one definite way to improve outcomes. I'm curious if mentorship by white cis-male mentors is as effective as mentorship from within a marginalized community (since they're the ones dominating the field, they are the most available mentors), and if not how can that be overcome? I hope to revisit this as it relates more broadly to making with the rest of the group in the classes remaining.


There's so much to unpack in this week's readings. Major themes that jumped out at me include:
  • Representation
  • Gendered marketing
  • Environmental intersections
  • Handmade aesthetics
  • Historical groundwork
I don't think I can effectively cover everything, so I'm going to focus myself on gender and representation, particularly in the two films, with a bit of Innocent Experiments (I confess I read it a bit late in the process, but I did read it!). The Next Black grabbed my attention most of all, partly due to its polish but also  due to the excitement factor. The film made me excited to get back to sewing and fashion hacking this week, and the creative work showcased there resonated with me at a deep level.

The gender elements of The Next Black are particularly interesting. It's primarily concerned with fashion, which is heavily gendered (a woman just became the first ever head at Givenchi last week), and unsurprisingly most of the interviewees are women except for the the men from Adidas (sports) and iFixit (electronics). But at the same time, each interviewee was blending traditionally male-gendered interests (like brewing or hacking) with the more "feminine" aspects of fashion. At the same time, the women are showcased in control of their businesses, which is all too rare in haute couture, and there were a number of men in the background helping out. I can't help but interpret some deliberate direction and editing here to showcase women innovating.

A brief aside on iFixit: I was so happy to see them included. I am really interested in the right to repair (see my broken sewing machine) and see a strong need for repair skills in the near future. I loved that repair was cast in terms of fashion in particular, since there's hardly anything more practical or universally applicable.

Dr. Leah Buechley's talk was equally engaging. I was so impressed with how she took on Make: even though they were right there in the room, and I think she made extremely valid points. While some of the commentators in the room also shed helpful light on some of the differences between the magazine and the educational initiative, Buechley made a very valid point. I think much of our classroom discussion this semester has been arguing along a similar tack. For Make: to take hold of the term "making" and to set lofty goals also brings along responsibilities that haven't yet been fulfilled (and can only be fulfilled through hard work). As with Silicon Valley's diversity efforts, progress has been made but that's no reason not to keep pushing harder.

Innocent Experiments was particularly relevant as historical context around gender and race in both play and making. The note (sorry, no page numbers due to Kindle) about science materials reinforcing race relations in the US was particularly striking to me. It underscored the intersectional issues of representation in making, and like most of our readings so far is especially interesting with the current president. I'll be interested to hear what the class makes of it.


The Next Black

"Fashion passes. Style remains." ~Coco Chanel
Antique Singer
Film about the people behind the scenes
"Making science fiction science fact." ~Nancy Tillbury, Studio XO
Active clothing: "a garment with a factory inside"
Close-ups on circuits as we move into wearables and "smart clothes"
Are sports clothes too boutique? How profitable is it?
How secure are smart clothes?
Organic style - brewing!
An eco theme in bio fashion
Fashion is very concerned with the now
Massive increase in consumption
Climate change (Patagonia)
Dry dye
Sustainable use
Patagonia makes repair kits!
This handmade or hand-customized aesthetic really appeals to me
Shoutouts to remix culture, Tumblr

Leah Buechley

Helping other people make artifacts, too
Lilypad! They're very interested in the educational uses
Intrigued by consumer electronics, looked for control over them
Students creating buildable consumer electronics -
Coding garments (DressCode lol puns)
Love for Make: but with caveats - they have a responsibility to do better
Lots of robots, very electronics-focused
Lack of POC, example of Afro-Caribbean art
Legit critiques of the lack of intersectionality
Make:'s desired scope is problematic for their actual representation
Make: isn't the sole arbiter of making
Big pushback from Make: in the room, and it's a legit division from Maker Ed


  1. "I'm curious if mentorship by white cis-male mentors is as effective as mentorship from within a marginalized community (since they're the ones dominating the field, they are the most available mentors), and if not how can that be overcome?" This a great question, and I would guess it would not be as effective if those being mentored aren't sure that their mentor understands them on that deeper level or can really relate to them. If some lower-class kids were being mentored by an upper-class person (man), they might not get it when he says "You can buy these parts for only $200 per set and make your own robot!" And that's just one example of how things can go wrong. I think to have a more diverse set of mentors in Makerspaces would mean a more diverse set of people feel that they are a part of it. If they are only seeing people of a certain demographic as leaders, that has to be kind of harmful.

  2. I think you touched on a great point with the idea of naivete being necessary part of Obama's role. I think we need a level of naivete in most things in order to make progress, because the other option is to be cynical, which in my experience tends to be less productive than naivete.