Made in North Carolina: A weekly series

Made in NC: Maker Faire NC aims to 'increase the awesome'

sbarr@newsobserver.comJune 9, 2013 

  • Want to go?

    What : Maker Faire NC.

    When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 15.

    Where: N.C. State Fairgrounds, Kerr Scott Building, Raleigh.

    Cost: $10 adults, $5 youths, free for kids 6 and younger.

    For information, makerfairenc.com.

— For weeks, Dean Segovis has been building Photon, a 6-foot-tall robot with a silver, cylindrical body that will roam the floor this weekend at Maker Faire North Carolina, a daylong celebration of all things made.

Segovis has drawn up plans, borrowed bits and pieces of other machines to make a platform where he has mounted motors and wheels, and programmed the robot with code so that it can navigate the crowd. He’s also given Photon a set of four eyes – two camcorders that will record video and two smart phones that will live-stream what it encounters.

Plus, he has invited anyone with an Internet connection to follow along as he builds. In a series of online videos, Segovis shows each step that goes into making Photon, complete with detailed instructions and tips for aspiring robot-makers.

It’s all in the spirit of Maker Faire NC, which showcases “makers” of all stripes who are bringing their ideas to life at kitchen tables and in garage workshops. Along the way, the makers hope to demonstrate to people that do-it-yourself is a motto they can adopt, too.

“You can expect to be inspired,” said Segovis, an automotive technician who lives in Pinehurst and runs a project called Hack A Week ( www.hackaweek.com). On his website, Segovis posts a weekly video of a DIY project, such as an automatic ball launcher for dogs, a scrap-lumber garden fence and an audio amplifier.

Segovis is one of more than 70 makers who will have an exhibit at the faire at the State Fairgrounds this Saturday. They are scientists and tinkerers but also jewelry makers, woodworkers and clothing designers.

Jonathan Danforth, a software developer who lives in Durham in a house filled with gadgets and art he made himself, launched Maker Faire NC in 2010. It’s what’s known as a “mini maker-faire,” the community-organized versions of the national Maker Faires that Make Magazine started in 2006. The magazine bills its faires as “the greatest show and tell on earth.”

The magazine is dedicated to DIY technology projects, and the faires have a strong technology component to them. Sometimes the term “maker” refers exclusively to those in the technology sphere, but a broader definition has room for innovative artists, crafters and others.

Maker community

Danforth said his goal is to find people who are doing interesting, creative projects and shine a spotlight on them.

“When you do something really fringe, really niche, it’s hard to find people in your community who get what you’re trying to do,” he said. “But mostly, I think that’s for a lack of venue. And so we provide that venue.”

Danforth said that when he and the other volunteers who put on the faire consider an application, they’re looking for something new and exciting no matter the discipline.

Send in a proposal saying you want to bring a 3-D printer to the faire and stand by while it spits out plastic cubes, and the team will pass. Send in a proposal saying you’ve rigged your 3-D printer so that it makes custom chocolates, and they’ll say come on down.

Their internal motto: “Increase the awesome.”

The faire will feature products like the Firefly, a laser light patented by an Apex start-up, as well as contraptions like the Whomping Willow, a pumpkin-launching trebuchet built by a team of high school students from Chapel Hill.

The more traditional handmade goods at the faire usually come with a twist.

Rebekah Desloge, a yarn and textile crafter from Durham, will demonstrate how old T-shirts can be turned into yarn. In 10 minutes, with some careful folding and cutting, she can produce a skein of yarn as long as 90 yards.

This year will be the third maker faire for Desloge, who calls her collection of goods yourmomdesigns. She’s impressed every year by what her fellow makers come up with, how they take a spark of an idea and make it into something tangible.

“They’re all united on this front of pushing the boundaries and redefining what it is to make things,” she said.

Some of the makers, like the company that produces the Firefly, are working to push what they make into the marketplace. For others, it’s a side project or a hobby that they do purely for fun. The youngest exhibitors at the faire, representatives of the Maker Club at Efland-Cheeks Elementary School in Orange County, said they love making things because it’s a chance to get creative.

“Being a maker is expressing your own imagination,” said Paul Desmonie, a fourth-grader in the club.

Sharing ideas

For many of the makers, the chance to share their ideas with others at the faire is a major draw.

Kevin Little of Little Wood Designs in Holly Springs said he likes to explain to people how he takes a sharp-edged piece of wood and turns it into something rounded, whether it’s a pen or a bottle stopper. That’s a hard concept to grasp, but Little can make it real if he has the chance to interact with someone.

“You’re sharing your passion and your craftsmanship,” he said

Melissa McLawhorn, a newcomer to the faire who has a line of recycled jewelry called Salvaged Jewelry, said that at most craft fairs she rarely gets to show people how she makes her work. The Roxboro-based crafter wants to talk with them, though, about the ideas behind her work and how they could make their own.

For Segovis of Hack A Week, that last part is key. He wants people to feel empowered to build when they can and to tinker with the things they’ve bought when they’re not working properly, rather than always buying something new.

“If they give it a try, they’re usually quite surprised that they can do it,” he said.

Barr: 919-836-4952

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