A ‘maker’ is anyone who makes something they need, rather than just being a passive consumer or user. By this definition, even our mothers and grandmothers are makers. They made us dresses – matching ones for us and our dolls – and knitted us sweaters. They made jams and pickled aachar and decorated the living room with pillow covers and detailed crochet doilies. It’s an empowering feeling, the reclamation of the “maker” concept. Add to that the rush you get after you first use a power tool, and you feel pretty much invincible.
In a society that is getting increasingly commercial, with less and less people making things on their own, we wanted to demystify tool use and once again spark a culture of maker women. Women who can use power drills as effortlessly as using needles, women who face a problem and think, ‘ I can fix/make/adjust/create that’ and who is aware that no matter what she’s making, whether it is a pair of mittens or a proximity sensing robot, she is the embodying the maker spirit and it makes her feel strong, capable and empowered. To initiate our maker culture endeavour, we organised a five week #MakerKT workshop which was open to women, regardless of age or education background. Supported by Karkhana and the Ellen Rudnick ‘72 Student Entrepreneur Fund from Vassar College, from late June and late July, thirteen women ranging from 19 to 32 years of age came together to make stuff.
The first two weeks were spent getting the introduced to various tools for ‘making’ from jigsaws and metal welding to basic coding and designing. In the spirit of the above definition, we also included a session on embroidery and a session on making one’s own, washable sanitary pads. After introductions to the tools, they learned the basics of prototyping, design and planning a project. The women then had three weeks to design, plan and implement a project of their choice. Some decided to work independently and others in groups. By the end of the five weeks, we had a book rack, two display racks, a showcase with glass doors, a folding table, a dresser and book case combo, a shoe rack with metal railings, a puja ghar, a self watering vertical planter, a metal and glass side lamp, the beginnings of a reproductive health app and a guitar strap which glowed different colours based on its light sensors!
We were all proud of what we created in the workshop. The girls shared their projects on social media regularly. A search for ‘#MakerKT’ will reveal several photos and posts by them. One Instagram post of Gunjan’s was particularly poignant because she expressed how was overwhelmed she was with disbelief and pride when she fully took in the dresser/book case combo she was working on. So many times she felt she would be unable to do it, but she persevered and there it stood!
Watching these women progress week by week from slightly confused and intimidated women to working on their projects with more confidence and using the tools with increasing ease and control was extremely gratifying. There are several moments from these five weeks which have crystallised in my mind as the embodiment of #MakerKT spirit. When Dipti was unable to cut the bottles to precision, she looked up youtube for a solution and created a structure that would allow her to cut her bottles in a uniform, consistent fashion. Bhintuna needed a display rack for her stationary line and, in the process of making and prototyping, she ended up with two! And she didn’t stop there. In addition to the racks, she also made a full sized book rack for her store. Nhasala, shortly after the workshop ended, looked to youtube for help and did some plumbing to fix a tap in her house. My co-organiser Samana overcame her uncertainties and welded and grinded metal with minimal supervision.
We had a mini-discussion session after the workshop had ended and the girls expressed how they felt less intimidated to use tools. Palistha mentioned how she’d always perceived drilling to be a very difficult thing to do, because it was always her father doing it around the house. Now she realised how simple and easy it is. Lot of us had new found respect for the simple hammer and saw. Sabhyata expressed that the #MakerKT workshop was a positive form of activism; where rather than just preaching, we are actually doing.
Most of the instructors were from within the group; therefore, the workshop was more about swapping skills and learning from each other. Shrijana taught us embroidery, Nhasala taught us basic coding, Bhintuna made us conscious about designs in everyday life while Sudipta, our photographer, shared with us tips on how to have a great day! Sheelasha was one of the few outside instructors and she conducted a session where we learned how to use clay to express our emotions, make molds as well as to prototype our projects. Working on the clay with bare hands, shaping this malleable substance to express ourselves and later on to bring into existence images/concepts in our mind made this session memorable and meaningful. Laura, another instructor, imparted on us the importance of proper planning, breaking down challenges into smaller manageable tasks and documentation. For our final projects, we had various mentors to guide us. Our woodworking mentor, Anant ji, deserves special mention for the patient, intelligent and non-judgmental way he guided us through the projects. Our woodwork projects would not have been as ambitious or turned out half as good without him.
Needless to say, we are extremely proud of what we were able to achieve with the #MakerKT workshop. Sure there were hiccups such as when an instructor did not show up at the last minute or how we were continually limited by equipment and how the workspace was a physical mess post-earthquake. But we overcame it. An impromptu embroidery session happened because of the teacher no-show, we were patient and shared our tools and we took the mess and chaos in stride.
As an organiser, i am so thankful for the group of women who agreed to be part of the workshop. They were wholly supportive of us and our ideas and forgiving of the hiccups. They worked so hard on their projects, working independently or together, and they were always ready to help each other out. They created a very supportive, accepting environment for themselves. We were lucky to have our workshop documented by Sudipta, who was always in the moment, capturing hundreds of images per session, with lovely attention to detail and fleeting moments in natural light. The ever efficient Nirmala handled our finances.
As an interesting side note, i began to notice how i did not feel the need to preen myself before the workshop. Usually when a group of girls get together, there is some pressure upon oneself to look presentable and stand out. And you either resist that pressure or succumb to it. But there was a freedom from that here, because everyone was casual and everyone was real. Everyone accepted each other, whatever shape or form, without even a hint of judgement. It might seem a trivial matter but it was an incredibly liberating feeling.
I was also lucky to have Samana as a co-organiser for this workshop. I have never had such a fluid, uncomplicated collaboration experience. We were both absolutely in agreement on what we wanted out of this workshop and each took on various responsibilities to make them possible without ever having to specify duties. During times when we ran into an issue or disagreement, it would be efficiently worked out and we would be back to our almost-telepathic partnership. We would joke that it was the Vassar mould that made us so similar (i am Vassar alum, while Samana is currently studying at Vassar). Without this great partnership, we would not have been able to pull off creating and conducting a five week workshop with only 2 weeks of prior planning.
When Samana and i began planning for this workshop, it was just a very ambitious idea. We had no idea if women were interested, or if the whole general idea would even work. Boosted by the success of this first ever Nepali maker women workshop, we at Karkhana are now determined to do more of it in the future. There’s work cut out for us, and it will take at least a few months of planning and budget acquiring. We want to have regular #MakerKT sessions and offer a host of additional skills and crafts. Through #MakerKT sessions, we want to continue our endeavour to usher in a new era of maker culture in Nepal.