Tinker/Maker/Mindset

Over the winter break I found myself spending an awful lot of time in my workshop. I’m fortunate to have a tandem garage space that allows me to have sufficient tinkering space without having to pull the cars out onto the driveway, although I do when the project demands a larger spread. Though my preference is to work with wood, there are so many other projects and ideas that arise as a homeowner that I find myself engaged in a wide variety of problem-solving challenges. By no means am I an expert in all of these fields however, I view all of them as something I can figure out. If another human can do it, then so can I. This is the mindset of a maker and tinkerer. It’s also the mindset of scientists, and doctors, and engineers.


And good teachers.


Several years ago my wife and I decided that the Coleman tent trailer we had was more work to get ready before, and clean out after, a trip and than we liked. We were at a point where getting a small Class C RV made sense. We found a used one and have thoroughly enjoyed it, naming it iRV (pronounced “Irv”) However, the interior decor has suffered and, in the case of the blinds and valances, were literally crumbling due to UV damage. Winter break project. Now, neither my wife nor my daughter have any experience sewing. Meaning it was down to my sewing experience to make this happen.


As a kid I watched my grandmother sew amazing things. She had been a seamstress for the Shakespeare theatre in Stratford, Ontario and was quite talented, to put it mildly. As a teenager I asked her to help me modify some clothing and, as the great teacher she was, she had me sit down at the machine and go to work. Of course, very quickly she had the opportunity to show me how to rip out stitches and start over!


Later in life, during my first years of teaching at Balboa City School, I joined a few moms with our sewing machines to sew Renaissance costumes for our students to wear to the Renaissance Faire. That was a learning experience, to say the least.


Back to the iRV project. The first step in any project like this is to take things apart and see how they go together. The valances were made of wood that had been wrapped with material and stapled together, creating a challenge for reassembly. After removing all of the staples holding the plush blue material in place I decided that I would need an electric or air-powered stapler, and to rejoin the wood pieces I’d need a smaller size staple for my pneumatic staple gun. However, nothing looked too complex and, with the fabric carefully removed, I could use the pieces as patterns. The second step was cutting the new fabric pieces, using the patterns. Followed by stapling the fabric to the wooden pieces using the same order of operations the original fabricator had used. And the final step was to pneumatically staple the three pieces back together. One down, six to go.


Taking things apart to see how they work is at the heart of making and tinkering, it’s real-life, context-based, hands-on learning. Whether I ever re-do another RV’s valances again doesn’t really matter. What I learned was how it all goes together and, more importantly, that I CAN do it! The confidence that comes from overcoming challenges and successfully completing a project like this is critical to developing resiliency and stick-to-itiveness, and a growth mindset.


Next came the sewing of curtains. Again, it begins with disassembly. Using a seam ripper, I took apart one of the curtains to figure out what my material sizes will be and to learn the order for sewing the various seams. Cutting the black-out shade cloth and the fabric pieces, pinning, ironing, and then sewing the seams took about three times longer than I planned - of course. But in the end, it turned out pretty well. Then, I recruited my daughter (see photo) and put her to work learning the ins and outs of the sewing machine and thought back to when I was her age and it was my grandmother looking over my shoulder. Passing on the maker mindset.


I knew she could do it. And now she knows it, too!  These types of learning experiences are the basis of a good education. Learning by doing, not by sitting silently in rows as someone drones on and on.

By the way, the curtains and valances look great. Soon followed by my next project: installing a new stereo in my 4Runner. That’s fodder for another post.










Bret Fitzpatrick
Design39Campus