The 2008 Maker Faire Review

ToyCyte sent me to The Maker Faire to scoop out stories on toys and come back with a Maker Faire Review. Between all the robots, hand-made plush dolls and motorized cupcakes, I had enough material to write a 5-part series.

  1. Maker Faire Pt 1: Some Characters
  2. Maker Faire Pt 2: Blindbox Toys: Introducing Chickenpants
  3. Maker Faire Pt 3: Shiny Objects with Moving Parts
  4. Maker Faire Pt 4: Have Cupcake, Will Travel
  5. Maker Faire Pt 5: Nifer Fahrion Makes Practical Plushes

Maker Faire Pt 1: Some Characters

No, I’m actually not talking about guys with goggles, girls with wings or the faux-fur werewolf who were all temporary citizens of this weekend’s Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA. I’m referring to some of the indie designers who were showing their character(s) in the Craft Zone (next to the “Diet Coke and Mentos fountain“).

First up, I’ll mention Fat Rabbit Farm. Fat Rabbit Farm consists of designers Jason Ponggasam and Patty Variboa. Two years ago, they merged their love of design, silk-screen printing and a fat, fluffy bunny named Babee into a whimsical line of t-shirts. I fear that this photograph does not do them justice, as they were really quite personable. Please support indie local (local if you’re from the L.A. area…) designers, Fat Rabbit Farm. There were lots of t-shirts at The Maker Faire, and these guys really stood out.

The other character which caught my eye was Tofu Robot, a character designed by Kazuko Shinoka. Tofu Robots were emblazoned on shirts, socks and totes at their booth at The Maker Faire. I had another moment of hesitation on this. Are there already too many tofu-oriented characters, what with Tokidoki and DevilRobots? You be the judge. The Tofu Robot in the picture is sold out at MPH, but they’ve got the bot and shirts for sale at Spicy Brown here.

Maker Faire Pt 2: Blindbox Toys: Introducing Chickenpants

Everybody loves blindboxes. Actually, that’s only partially true. Blindboxes are thrilling when hand-selecting your first couple out of the case at Kidrobot, using a combination of telepathy and x-ray vision to hone in on the Chase figures. But when you start to triple-up on a toy with a 50/100 ratio, blindboxes lose some of their appeal. But I digress. As far as I can tell, there was only one blindbox toy at this weekend’s Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA: Chickenpants.

Absolutely Small is the design name of an artist who softies. The standout creation is the handmade Chickenpants plushes. Each Chickenpants has its own persona, and many of the signature dolls are quite well-traveled (See the Chickenpants gallery on Flickr). Nice people with zany minds who make videos like the one below should be rewarded with your disposable income. Chick it out at the Chickenpants Etsy Shop.

Maker Faire Pt 3: Shiny Objects with Moving Parts

3D Batman LEGO Zoetrope

As I come to the conclusion of my first can of Hello Boss French Roast Coffee (containing “coffeine!”) from the local Asian grocery store, I break from plushies and softies to bring you some coverage of all things hard, shiny, flashy and kinetic.

I’m starting with an exhibit that could draw any fanboy with vision from the blackest corner of The Maker Faire’s Dark Room: Gary Aden’s 3D Lego Zoetrope. The gadget delighted Superhero fans who could watch Batman, The Riddler and Mr. Freeze engage in a neverending battle. Simultaneously, the zoetrope–a device from the Victorian era–got street cred with the Steampunks. And then you have all the LEGO fans (at least ones who are not prone to seizures). I couldn’t stop watching this.

Monkeylectric Bicycle Lighting

Another flashy feature from within the Dark Room was Monkeylectric’s bicycle lights. The Monkeylectric m132 is a consumer bike light system that creates graphical color patterns when your wheel spins between 10-30 MPH. It uses a synthesizer to generate a continuous stream of changes, which are customizable using its integrated waterproof buttons. These psychedelic circuits were available all weekend exclusively to Maker Faire attendees for $59.95. If your yellow Lance Armstrong bracelet is getting a little tired, sales to attention-seeking bicyclists everywhere else begin May 5th here.

Interestingly, Monkeylectric’s founder, Dan Goldwater, was also once a founder of our next stop in the Maker Made Stage: Instructables had the clever idea to offer several versions of their business cards, each with a different project (like how to make a taxidermy mouse into a travel-size computer mouse). Their website is for people to “share what they do and how they do it, and learn from and collaborate with others.” Log on to learn how to make a solar powered light-graffiti projector or if you just want to know how to kiss.

If there’s an instructable on how to make found objects into kinetic art, Nemo Gould should be teaching it. The Oakland-based artist blends post-consumer waste with pop culture imagery to create surreal sculptures with moving parts. This guy is definitely one to watch (if you aren’t already). He’s getting tons of press (including a feature in the April issue of Stretching Canvas with Kathie Olivas & Brandt Peters on the cover). Check out Nemo’s portfolio at


Toward the outer reaches of The Maker Stage, near to the more tie-dye than technology Trashique Boutique, I found one of my favorite creations: a steel, fur and electric magical urban creature known as Chipper. Chipper’s handler, Aharon Bourland, is a motion graphic designer, a culture critique and a critter-maker. Follow The Rabbit, a work-in-progress, here.

Maker Faire Pt 4: Have Cupcake, Will Travel

Crowds can be daunting. Enter a giant electric cupcake with Prozac sprinkles. Follow it up with a Hostess cupcake, a Union Jack cupcake, a blueberry cupcake, a cupcake dotted with ‘S&Ms’ and a whole gang of roving baked goods containing a local collective known as the Westcoast Cupcakes. I really can’t explain the unadulterated joy of this spectacle. So while I get to writing my recap of Maker Faire, please spend a few moments viewing this awesome video from here.

Don’t fancy cupcakes? How about an artcar made of 6,000 pens?

Maker Faire Pt 5: Nifer Fahrion Makes Practical Plushes

The term “craft” can call to mind a lot of things–from beaded baubles to macaroni noodles glued on paper plates–none of them practical. It’s nice when art objects are also useful, and conversely (and more rarely) when useful objects are artistically rendered. At this weekend’s Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA, I found my way to the Craft Zone and stopped to check out the NifNaks table. Referring to the creative output of San Francisco’s Nifer Fahrion, one could quote The Beastie Boys and say, “She’s Crafty!” (But I’m not implying she gets around…)

Nifer is the proprietor of the website, NifNaks and its associated blog. About herself, she says:

I have always taken great delight in hand-made items, and the special joy and interconnectedness one gets from experiencing something truly unique. I have always loved experimenting in new mediums, which is how I discovered felting wool in 2006. I instantaneously fell in love with the soft, sensual wool, and the infinite possibilities it has to offer. I have been hooked ever since. Working primarily with felting wool, I have been creating a menagerie of charming critters, decorative accessories and other assorted curiosities, each one a unique piece of wearable art.

Her wearable warez include such items as scarves, bracelets, pins and pendants. But I suspect she’s got the market on wool dreadlocks.

Hair aside, what really caught my attention at her table were her Data Wormz–critters that carry your electronic files. Alas, practicality among crafts! Functional felting! Each Data Worm and Data Squid houses a 4GB USB 2.0 Drive. The drives are finished with a pliable stiffener and–perhaps as a nod to toy collectors–available either with your choice of a card backer or display case. A 4GB drive should hold upwards of 1000 mp3s and double as many 4MP photos. At $66, the pricing compares favorably to 4GB Mimobots which I presume are the nearest competiton.

If you need file portability or a slightly more anthropomorphic way to back up your files, check out her craftiness here.

And that’s the conclusion of this Maker Faire review…!