Manchester November 2016

This trip was the first 'official' step I took towards the planning of a new festival of 'making'/ 'craft' in Birmingham. The ideas I've had for this have been evolving for 2-3 years and I'm finally saying it out loud to more people. I plan to put in a mini-G4A bid before Christmas with the hope to R&D-ing the concept, with the hope to the first fest happening Autumn 2018.Eek.

Last month I went to Manchester. I went specifically to attend two events, Make:Shift, a two-day conference run by the Crafts Council, and Maker Assembly, held at MadLab – Manchester’s Fablab/Makerspace. This trip was made possible by the support of New Art West Midlands (formerly Turning Point WM) by means of a micro-bursary covering the chunky costs of conference tickets, trains, and accommodation, so THANK YOU! 

This is half write up / half notes, so to anyone reading this apologies for the inconsistency in detail.

NAWM Logo 1.jpg

Thursday 10th November

I arrived on the Thursday morning at Manchester Picadilly and headed over to the Museum of Science and Industry where the Make:Shift conference was held. It was well signed and there were volunteers waiting in the main entrance to direct us to the top floor where the event was held. There was an open plan room with the registration table, tea, coffee and lots of people chatting. I was handed a bright yellow tote bag with all the conference info and away I went to find a cuppa. I've travelled alone a fair bit, and gone to many ‘networking’ type events alone, but doing both was somehow different! I managed to find someone else who had come alone as well and by the time we'd done introductions and shared which sessions we were thinking of attending, it was time to go in to the opening talks...


Soon enough it was time for opening speeches, which were in the ‘speaker room’. There was a welcome by Rosy Greenless, and keynote speeches by Annie Warburton – Creative Director of Crafts Council, and Mark Miodownik.

Mark spoke about the tv series he co-presented in ‘Chef vs science’

·         He said that the chef he worked with Marcus Warering said cooking was all about ‘love, care and understanding’ and Mark challenged the concept that science wasn't those things.

·         He spoke about how mankind had always had a skill for finding new methods in making, for instance blacksmiths always knew that they had to beat metal, however only fairly recently did we have the knowledge and understanding for how that works and why that is.

·         He spoke about living materials vs not-living materials and how perhaps we could manipulate non-living for the future to become more 'living', using the example of self-healing concrete. He questioned whether having structural materials like this that didn’t need human intervention to repair, meant whether the ‘love care and understanding’ would be lost. But he said he thought we would become more like ‘gardeners’ for roads, guiding the self-healing.

Session 1
Parallel Practices: Learning Through Making.

Chaired by Lucy Sollitt, with John Grayson, Shelley James, Riccardo Sapienza (Matthew Howard was absent)

This was an interesting conversational talk about a project at Wheatstone Lab, Kings College London.
Video about it below.

The Lab residency-type-project was all about bringing together people from different practices and creating a space for students to explore materials and techniques through collaborative practice.

Students made an automata incorporating their new found combined knowledge of glass, mechanics, and electronics.

Session 2
Augmented Bodies and Prosthetic Devices

Chaired by Andrew Sleigh, with Hannah Perner-Wilson, Graham Pullin and Mika Satomi.

Graham talked about ‘Hands of X’ and customising/personalising prosthetics.

He talked about ‘Materials for imitation’ vs ‘materials for wearing’ and said Hands of X took inspiration from personalised manufacture like Cubitts eyewear.

He also wrote this book:


Hannah Perner-Wilson. Hannah works a lot with tools and wanted to look into how the tools become an extension of the body. She had prototyped a few different ways of wearing her tools on a semi-permanent basis, such as an apron-style dress, which you could wear out in public as well as in the studio, so never apart from your tools. Her ideas developed into a rucksack which unrolled into a wall-hung tool pouch. You can see her work here:



Koba Kant, Mika Satomi – Spoke about the difference between prosthetics being very subtle and undetectable to the untrained eye, and them being used as a method of expression. She talked about exploring the idea of having chameleon-like skin to a prosthetic arm, and how this combines the two approaches, an adaptable skin.

Using liquid crystal ink, which changes colour with heat, and puff print – the printed areas puff up so they’re raised. Spoke about uncanny valley, at what point does something start looking close to human.

Break – handling session.

There was a room set aside with items from the Crafts Council collection. I MAY have gone back 3 times…

It was really reassuring as I already knew of a few of the makers and had noted them as avenues to explore further.


My faves:
Richard Hutten’s ‘Playing with Tradition’ – reminded me of similar work by Faig Ahmed
Michael Eden’s GSOH 3D Printed Ceramics
Front’s Blow away vase. Reminded me of Livia Marin
Tom Mallinson/Digits2Wigits 3D printed textiles - see video below. 

Image sources:

Session 3

Speakers: Lucy Siegle, Maurizio Montalti, Nat Hunter, Kathryn Fleming

I seemed to take really minimal notes from this, but I left with a refreshed feeling that I must find a way of helping the planet, and have been far more thoroughly recycling since…

Lucy started by the big picture – we are all consumers whether we like it or not. Apparently the biggest polluter, behind oil, is fashion. The production of textiles is very polluting. Recommended ‘The True Cost’ film.

Maurizio works with fungi to create solid materials. Bio bricks. Mushroom leather.

Nat Hunter- Machines Room. Design for recycling. ‘learned helplessness’. Fab cities. Localising manufacture. Open desk. Knitting machine. Supply chains.
Production used to be in the hands of those who had the tools – this is changing.
Using recycled plastic bottles >> injection moulder. 

Talked about bringing manufacture back to the local - eg like Open Desk where the designs can be downloaded and then the pieces can be cut in a workshop near to where you are ordering the furniture from. Rather than buying furniture that then has to be shipped a long distance. She was also looking at how to reduce waste wood from this process - using the pieces of wood left behind from cutting the shapes out. 

Kathryn Fleming – One of my favourite talks. Inspired by nature. There's a type of antelope in high mountains that has the most efficient fur coat, really fine but really insulating. Birds of paradise don’t have pigment in their bright feathers, it’s all in the structure.

Grolar bears exist, due to polar bears moving due to temperatures. There are equivalent genes in all animals for making eyes, or for making 'body'.

Can we help animals evolve sustainably? To adapt with the environment that humans are creating? So they adapt and don’t go extinct. 

Future Craft. Born from culture, built for purpose, daringly simple.

Anthropocene.- (a word mentioned almost as much as makerspaces over the 3 days.)

Adidas have launched a line of shoes which are made from ocean plastic

Images below from 

Friday 11th November


Session 1 Maker Breakfast

Introduced by Jonathan Rowley.

Richard Arm – ‘As real as it gets’. Developed a silicon body, with removable organs, for use practicising surgery, general training.

Les Bicknell – Book artist. Questioning everything ‘is this a book?’ brilliant. A fascinating way of analysing definitions and structures.

Aniela Hoitink – Started ‘this is what I do, but I don’t know who I am’ which I quite liked. Why do we design clothes that last at least 40 years when we only wear them for a year or a season? Looked into natural materials/quickly biodegreadable. Mycelium is made from fungi – worked with Maurizio who spoke prior.

Looked at using technology with fashion, externalising internal systems such as heartbeat

Ann Marie Shillito – Developed really user friendly software for people to design their own 3D printed jewellery. Worked in collaboration with software developers.

Caroline Yan Zheng – extimacy, externalising emotions. Looking at how this might help mental health. Created cool jewellery-like devices.

Hideki Yoshimoto – Owns Tangent. Design and tech together. ‘Inako’ means rice fields – created glowing poles that sway as you move past. Developing ‘fine art’ but making it available on a household level. Kiko – means bubble. Created bubbling coffee tables/individual candles.


Session 2: Keynote

Caroline Till – FranklinTill. Mentioned a lot of really interesting stuff:

·         Viewpoint magazine. Secret sensory suppers.
·         Production & Materials together >> revolution
·         Merdacotta, new material made from cow poop! Museo della merda

·         ‘Unmaking’ – looking at how we unmake all the things we make and can’t dispose of responsibly.
·         Madame Jeanette – print on demand magazine. Looking at different ways of manufacture and production, reducing waste.

·         Ikea’s space 10 project looking at sustainable design.
·         Connecting product to place – Haeckels of margate. Marwood.
·         Fixperts.

Session 3: Two and Three Dimensional Fabrics

Mark Beecroft – Looked into 3D printed knitting and how different stitch designs react differently when made in 3D printed materials.

Jane Scott – Exploring fibres and how they react to moisture. Pine cones close up when wet and open out when dry. They do this once off the tree so it must be on a structural level – Jane looked into this and applied to fibre structure to her own woven fabrics.

Oluwaseyi Sosanya – Weaving in ‘3D’ and looking at how the method can be transferred to industry.


Session 4: Making Meanings: The Cultural Roles of Makerspaces

Daniel Charny and Hannah Fox.

Interesting discussions about community impact from Makerspaces.

Hannah Fox from Derby Silk Mill is creating a ‘museum of making’ where the community builds what the space will become. Sounds ace.



A few closing thoughts notes:

·         Making new tech human

·         Amateur vs professional

·         Value and values

·         Collaborating with the old and new


The End
I left the conference with a head full of ideas. It finished at 3 so I headed across town to visit the Manchester Centre for Craft and Design. It was a fascinating space – used to be a Victorian fish and poultry market building. On the ground floor was a small café with an amazing cake range and a gallery space showing ‘heated exchanges’ a collection of contemporary glassware. There was a number of shops doubling up as studio spaces throughout the ground and first floor, some were shared between a few artists and others were solely owned.


Saturday 12th November

Maker Assembly event.

Started the day with fancy breakfast at Ezra and Gil.

The event was at Madlab which is nestled in the Northern Quarter, really near to the Craft and Design Centre.

When I arrived I met a few people by chance from DoES Liverpool, another Makerspace. When I mentioned I was from Birmingham they immediately mentioned the names of 2 people I already knew well through BOM and generally the Brum art & tech network. Small world!


Session 1: Learning from International Making Cultures

Liz Corbin chaired a panel with Justyna Swat (POC21 Paris), David Li (Shenzen) and Craig Dunlop (Cape Town).


Justyna spoke about POC21 – when her and a team built a ‘village’ on castle grounds in a rural area near to Paris. They created a space where they built a community from the ground up and developed a series of ideas surrounding climate change and innovation in making towards this cause.

David Li – spoke about the Shenzhen community and what life is like there.

Craig Dunlop – created an amazing space in Capetown, kind of by accident. He created an open workshop then developed into a place supporting those in unemployment into employment, through the power of making. He matched up employment skills with making skills eg trust & soldering.





Session 2: Making and Humanitarium Relief

Laura James – spoke about Humanitarium Makers, who use small-scale, local production to solve humanitarium problems. An example she spoke of was the sterile clips that midwives use to cut umbilical cords. They had been provided with a certain amount of them after an earthquake in the region they were working in. The next best option was to use the finger of a sterile glove – which were also in short supply. This is less than ideal, so they 3D printed these clips. The approach of HM is to identify local problems and solve them with simple production – training up locals with the equipment and then leaving it behind when they leave the area.

This idea of re-localising manufacture was spoken about a lot during the 3 days, which is interesting as it almost goes backwards in terms of progress.

Session 3: Making and Manufacture

James Tooze chairs panel discussion with Ruth Claxton (woop woop the Brum gang) Adrian McEwan, Paul Sohi, and Alon Meron.

Alon Meron – spoke about 1:1 solutions and multiplying that approach. He works to put together the ‘public’ – people with design needs, and designers/makers. An example he used was working with a stroke sufferer, who needed a device to help them put on their trousers.

Ruth – spoke about Workshop Bham, Make Works and Production Space and how the linked-up-ness of artists/makers and those with the tools and skills, was an interesting journey.

Adrian – talked about his internet of things. Powering devices with data – eg a twitterbot detects when a certain phrase is used and blows bubbles.

Paul Sohi – I didn’t write anything down sorry Paul you must have been too charismatic. Or I had a caffeine lul.


Session 4: The Role of Making in a Wider Civic Infrastructure

Laura Billing'The Open Works was an experimental project aimed at creating new ways that Lambeth Council can work with residents to develop a sustainable future for West Norwood: socially, economically and environmentally. It ran for 12 months between February 2014-February 2015.’


·         Making really is considered to be wide within this context. Though I was a little surprised at the lack of mention of 'traditional' ceramics, glass, textiles, metalwork. But that’s good. That’s one of the things I want to explore, the depth and breadth of making.

·         Collaboration is key. Something I'm a big fan of. There was a lot of talk about collaboration between mindsets/skillsets and how, actually, engineers, scientists, crafters, makers, are quite similar in the way they approach things. They just have different skills in terms of the methods, and different areas of knowledge.

·         Localisation as supposed to globalisation. Something mentioned frequently was how we look at manufacture and production, and how perhaps how Western society should rethink how we look at manufacture. Concepts such as OpenDesk seemed very popular- where furniture designs are kept online and then downloaded locally, with pieces being cut for the furniture in 'local' workshops.

·         Reverting to 'the olden days' but with new technologies and awareness. As above, reverting to some old ways of living seemed to be a common thread. Taking elements of the past, small community production and trading, but combining it with the powers of technology.

·         Design for different purposes and functionalities. This seems pretty obvious, but it was highlighted quite a lot during the 3 days. Design for problem solving, design for disguise, design for imitation, design for empathy... so many purposes and ways of approaching questions, problems or themes. 

One final thought-rant about makers/making. Making is great. That was very clear from the 3 days and it was so great to feel like a part of the 'making' community, surrounded by so many people who loved making as much as I do. It made me think about people I know, and humanity in general. Is everyone a maker? What makes a maker? If you're not a maker, what are you? 

Thank you to anyone who reached the end of this blog. It's mainly for my own records and to help me digest everything I saw and heard during my time in Manchester, but it's nice if other people can get something out of my trip too!