If you're not familiar with the idea of a Tech Shop, they are basically like a gym for people who like to make things. You buy a membership for a month, or six months, or a year or more, and the membership allows you access to their facility. The facility is equipped with all manner of industrial equipment, the like of which you probably can't afford to have in your basement workshop–welding stations, CDC routers, shop bots, plasma cutters, screenprinting equipment, laser cutters, industrial sewing machines, rapid prototype machines, and a computer lab full of all kinds of design software. In order to use a piece of equipment, you have to take a training class first; once you are on record as having taken the training, you may book time on the equipment and use it for whatever project you need it for.
I initially became interested in getting involved with our local Tech Shop because I knew they had a computerized embroidery machine, something we do not have access to at work, but something I can imagine we might need–not often, not often enough to invest in one of our own, but worth having access to. Then, I learned a bit more about some of their other equipment which I could envision being similarly useful. We can screen print on a small scale for a small run on site in my dye facility, but knowing I could head over there and use their dedicated screenprinting rig for a job that required dozens of multiples, that's pretty excellent. And, they have a vacuum forming machine, and we'v got armor class coming up in the spring. I could envision millinery projects in which the laser cutter/etcher could be used to create ornaments, and the shop bot to create hat blocks.
Over the past three weeks I have taken several of their training classes, in the course of which, I've met dozens of creative people in my community whose interests and artisanship pursuits mesh well with my own. The brainstorming alone of crossover project potential has been so inspiring, that I will be buying a membership in August and chronicling some of the projects that result in here as well.
From its beginnings in Menlo Park, California, in 2006, Tech Shop is turning into a franchise. There are locations springing up all over the country–three in California, the one here in Raleigh, Detroit, Portland, Brooklyn. All either operational or opening soon. Pretty exciting! You can see some pictures of the equipment at the Menlo Park location on this blog post, though it seems they have a few more things and much more space than the one here in Raleigh.
Before I can begin working on any of my Tech Shop project concepts though, I'll be spending a month in Scotland, Edinburgh to be exact. I'll be doing quite a bit of academic work and research, but that which is topical to this blog, I'll hopefully have time to post about. I'll be visiting some costume collections, some Scottish milliners and costume makers and university programs similar to ours at UNC-Chapel Hill. I will be taking lots of pictures, you can count on that!