Tools that are just so beautiful you don’t even care what you’re making! Bernina 731, around 50 years old and still works perfectly. It opens in lots of clever ways to give you access to the mechanisms inside. Only downside is it’s a bit heavy to transport!




Quick little video of working out the stitch order for a book using the stab bindings app. Just start on any hole, then take any stitch highlighted in green. More on this app here.

I hear and read this question all the time: how do I get my daughters/kids interested in STEM? (for those who haven’t heard this acronym before, it stands for “Science, Engineering, Technology, and Math,” sometimes expanded to STEAM to include Art).

I generally agree with most of the advice given: access to interesting, hands on materials, encouraging curiosity and exploration, exposing them to inspiring examples and role models.

However, as a teacher I sometimes wonder about the effect on kids of labeling some activities more “stemmy,” and therefore more awesome. Looking back, I feel incredibly grateful to my parents that I don’t recall a single thing I did as a kid being labeled one way or another.

I am by some definition a STEM-kid success story. I have several degrees in Computer Science, and another from MIT in a technology research program (Media Lab). I now teach programming and electronics and am thoroughly immersed in making things in the world of computing.

However, as a high schooler and younger I was mostly the kid that would probably make the parents asking the STEM question panic! I wanted to be a princess for most of my young childhood and forced everyone around me to role-play as various members of the royal family. I loved reading novels and making crafts. I enjoyed computers, but mostly used them to write dramatic fantasy stories, look up origami diagrams and pictures of bunnies, and make art (I still think Kid Pix is the best piece of software ever written). In 9th grade, my dad encouraged me to take a programming class. I hated it and dropped it after a semester.

So how did I end up in STEM? In college, after starting out as an industrial design major and dabbling in psychology, I took another programming class and got hooked. Fast forward 10 years: I’m still in love with the field, and keep discovering new intersections with my other interests, from crafts to education.

Sooo…what’s the point? I feel like my parents gave me room to pursue my interests without stressing out about how STEM they were.

When I hated that first programming class (I can tell that story another time!), my computer scientist dad said “sorry you had a bad experience!” and helped me drop the second semester of the class. He never pushed, but continued to invite me to different kinds of tech events, including workshops at his lab.

When I asked for a sewing machine around 10 years old, my mom got me one for my birthday. As an adult I learned that her very traditional homemaker mother had taught her to sew with the idea that she would follow a similar life path to her own. My mom “rebelled” and became an electrical engineer, yet was completely supportive of her daughter’s (my) interest, to the point where it didn’t occur to me to question it. I spent many happy hours making doll clothes, and taking the darn thing apart every 20 stitches or so when it tangled horribly. Now I’m quite comfortable taking apart all kinds of machines, and I have a much better intuition for solving engineering problems that require understanding complicated topologies, and how flat pieces turn into curves.

I feel like I’m falling back into the STEM trap in the way I am describing some of these things, as though these seemingly unrelated activities were justified by turning out to have some connections to engineering. I was trying to make the point that my parents were totally okay with them not going that direction, and this gave my siblings and me a really important kind of freedom. My sisters went into art, animation, music, film, fashion. One brother went into philosophy and education, the youngest two love cooking, art, poetry, writing, sculpture, music, video games.

Just to close, I absolutely disagree with people who say that it’s a true meritocracy, and girls who are interested will just find their way into STEM fields on their own. There are a lot of barriers along the way, including toxic culture, societal expectations, and the sorts of toys marketed to girls vs. boys. That “inspirehermind” ad literally made me cry the first time I saw it (GIVE HER BACK THAT POWER DRILL RIGHT THIS SECOND WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?!!!!!!) (and the Youtube comments are even more painful).

Also, I think I’m understating here how much my parents were role models and examples of gender equality, beyond exposing me to different activities. They didn’t actually show me all that much of what they did at work until I was much older (“they work with computers or something”) but it was their casualness about it all that made a world of difference.

I guess I’m suggesting: definitely do expose your kids to lots of interesting tools, materials, ideas, and people. But then don’t panic too much if your kids have lots of interests, and they don’t seem very STEM to you.

Also, if we’re bringing shop class back to the 21st century, how about home ec, too?

[Side note about my dad: he grew up in a time and place where it was taken for granted that women worked in tech too, and so he has this wonderful bemused attitude at the idea that they wouldn’t. Around him, it really just doesn’t occur to you that you’re doing anything unusual. He also basically lives and breathes a deep respect and valuing of different disciplines.]

[Side note about my mom: she had this one corner of the kitchen table she used both to iron clothes and solder circuits (not at the same time – that’s more my generation!) She fixed my bicycles and calculators, and sewed us halloween costumes from scratch. As a single mom, she was the handywoman of the house, kept it squeaky-clean, and cooked us three meals a day from scratch. Now, as an older woman in tech who loves being an engineer and has never been interested in management, she faces a lot of really frustrating moments. She’s got a pretty wonderful sense of humor about it though (“son, what are you trying to explain to me here, I’ve been working with I2C since you were in diapers”)]

I made a tiny coptic bound book to use as a photo album only to discover that it puffed up in a not very nice way once I glued all the photos in it. After examining some photo albums and investigating techniques online, I realized that they include an extra layer in the binding to accommodate the thickness of the photos. Here are some photos and notes on the technique that ended up working for me.

Bonus: I just got an adorable Polaroid Zip, a little printer that prints on a sort of color thermal photo paper (no ink) via Bluetooth from your smartphone, so I made the album the right size for its sticker photo paper. I’m not sponsored by them or anything ;), only mention it in case this sparks a fun idea for someone who has one too. I’ll add that they are not perfect, the photos have to be fairly high quality to come out well. Grainy photos (eg. taken somewhere poorly lit) don’t print well at all, worse than they would with a regular ink and paper process.

Bonus 2: a nice embossing technique I learned from the aforementioned CCSF bookbinding class.

final open close up

Fold cardstock in half with the grain:

fold in half

Score a line about 1/8″ from the folded edge, fold that edge over and glue it flat:

score fold over

Cut into folios the size of your book then collect into signatures. Each signature contains two folios. The outer one has the extra paper at the fold. The inner one is simply folded over.

contents of signatures

all the signatures

To make an embossed cover, I used a craft cutter to cut out adhesive backed magnet sheet and adhered the letters to the bookboard cover. Pencils lines help get it straight! Then I covered it all with decorative paper and used a bone folder to smooth the paper gently around and inside the letters.

cutting magnet sheets on silhouette zoomed out name on magnet sheet

name on cardboard

glue cover paper

cover paper inside cover

I forgot to take a picture of the cover before I put it all together so this photo skips ahead a bit but it shows the embossing. Your design or lettering could stand out a bit more on with a solid color for the paper, but I was going for subtle and textural (or at least I say that now :).

final from top blurry 2

Poke holes in each signature with an awl, using a folded template to keep them all the same.

punching holes stack of signatures with holes

Use a paired-needle coptic stitch to attach signatures and covers. I’m going to recommend this tutorial because it is super gorgeous.

adding the first signature

final spine

Here’s the finished book again, just awaiting being filled with photos:

final open close up

Here’s a little printable how-to booklet on using a multimeter! It’s not exhaustive of course, but is hopefully a useful and not-overwhelming start for troubleshooting circuits. Illustrations focus on paper circuits.

1432950678889Multimeter pictured below is the Etekcity UT120C and I like it so far, it’s nice and small and has its own case which this booklet fits into.

1432950762081My process at the moment is to draw things in ink, scan them, and then wrestle with a few different programs for layout. For this one I used Pages, Preview, and Pixelmator.


The cursive font is called “The Only Exception” and is from Kimberly Geswein Fonts.

I’m working on a new digital fabrication app called Paper Doll Designer, now with a tool for programming designs (beyond changing parameters as in the Spiro app). It uses Blockly for the programming blocks and Paper.js for the graphics.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 1.33.40 PM

You can print the outfits out, and I’m working on adding registration marks to the exported images so you can also cut them out using a Silhouette cutter.

From the process side, I’m really really excited about moving to web apps, because needing to install the Spiro app seemed to be a bit of a barrier for folks, and there were a lot of requests for a version that works on tablets (this one does, to my surprise without me having to do anything extra!) I’m still learning HTML/CSS/Javascript and it’s amazing how everything I know about how to write cleanly structured code goes right out the window when I’m working in a new environment and language, but it will get better!

Inspired and informed by:

Idea born of observing students feeling like they had failed when they saw an error message, and having difficulty persuading them that breaking things is often so much better for learning than getting it right the first time. With this, getting an error is a win! As it should be.

Download below, design and execution by my colleague Becca Rose, who gave me permission to post. She said it turned out great with her students! Share and enjoy (click on image for PDF version).



Maker Stickers! I’m so excited about this. :)

It started with being dissatisfied with the difference between the beautifully designed craft supply storage that we drool over on craft blogs, and how electronics components are stored. All those little drawers may be brilliantly categorized, alongside handmade gadgets to measure resistors or light up drawers to find components, but goodness, the stacks of drawers are so ugly! For years I’ve been drawing my own little labels for both craft supplies and electronics in an attempt to make it all look more inviting, but I decided it would be awesome to do it properly. I daydreamed about having a set of labels people could download and use in all sorts of ways, and about selling colorful packages of labels for all kinds of crafty tools, and decided to hire a proper illustrator to draw them.

Chamisa Kellogg, the illustrator I chose, has been totally amazing to work with. She took all my photographs of miscellaneous little objects and turned them into nice and clean (and super adorable, in my opinion) line drawings. I’m now turning these into label sets. A preview below, and if you’d like to be notified when these are available to buy, sign up here! We’ll also eventually be releasing these under a Creative Commons license if you’d like to print your own or use them for things like tutorials.



These are also super inspired by the High Low Tech making space I was lucky enough to get to work in sometimes when I was going to school at the Media Lab. There were bins and drawers full of lovely supplies, and what I liked best is that all the tools were laid out as equals to each other. There was no sense that “this is the electronics stuff, this is the craft stuff,” and so on. Rather, the sewable materials  were by the sewing machine, the things that needed water by the sink, all the types of tape were in the tape rolls…the lines between things were fuzzy, and it made you feel that making had no hierarchy to it, “engineering” and “art” and “craft” could all be done at the same time.

I’m working on a notebook about tides and tidepools with a Spark Core inside to retrieve data about the latest tide levels. It works, hooray! (I say working on because I’m still adding to the notebook, which documents me learning both about tides and about the technical details of getting the wifi and electronics parts working :). There was this rather fun moment when it was finally receiving live tide data when it felt like the book suddenly came alive and became connected to the world – not in the social media, always-connected kind of way, but as though there was a thread tying it to a real thing far away.

Photos below by Jennifer Dick of Nexmap and the 21st Century Notebooking project. More documentation here, with more complete photos.

Here’s what I liked about the Spark Core:

  • Really nice and small, fits quite well into a notebook.
  • It’s quite fast to get up and running.
  • Unlike the Electric Imp, it works with Arduino (in a web IDE), so I could build on what I know, and prototype the electronics part without the Spark Core itself.

Here’s my wish list:

  • Right now Spark Core programs won’t run unless it can connect to the network, which means I can’t program in a default behavior for the notebook that runs before it can connect. This made me realize just how automatically I build in a backup behavior into things I make – a lesson learned from having so many demos fail! So it’s a bit frustrating not being able to build this in – but it sounds like they are working on it.
  • Some networks just don’t work. I do realize that for something like the notebook that I want to be able to move from place to place, a Bluetooth-tethered-to-phone solution would be better.
  • I wish they didn’t pre-solder header pins on! Much easier for paper electronics things, and other types of flexibility.
  • After poring over a lot of documentation, it seems like you can use a web call to run functions on the Spark Core, and you can subscribe to events like sensor readings, but you can’t actually have it retrieve data from the web on its own. To update the Tide Book with the latest tide readings, I created a cron job that runs on my server and runs a function on the Spark Core that changes the tide reading, which then controls the number of LEDs that fade in and out like waves. It makes much more sense to me that the microcontroller would be able to make its own requests and pull data rather than push it like this, so I’m not super happy with this solution. I very well may be missing something about the way this device works – especially because I’m not hugely experienced with web programming, and this project involved a lot of cobbling the bits I know together. Update! a helpful engineer at the Spark Core booth at Maker Faire pointed me to TCPClient, which I think is exactly what I needed. Some documentation here. More updates once I try this.