Jenny Duffin, a creative producer and recent recipient of a New Art West Midlands Micro Bursary, visited Manchester on a research trip in November. Here, she reports back from the two conferences attended, Make:Shift and Maker Assembly.


Richard Hutten’s Playing with Tradition


I went to Manchester in November 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 the first ‘official’ step I took towards the planning of a new ‘festival of making’ 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 Grants for the Arts bid to research and develop the concept, with the hope to plan the first festival for Autumn 2018.

Thursday 10 November
Day 1 Make:Shift

I arrived on Thursday morning at Manchester Piccadilly 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 …



The opening speeches were in the ‘speaker space’. There was a welcome by Rosy Greenlees, and keynote speeches by Annie Warburton, Creative Director of Crafts Council, and Mark Miodownik.

Mark spoke about the TV series he co-presented ‘Chef vs Science: The Ultimate Kitchen Challenge’ and showed a clip from the series. He said that the chef he worked with, Marcus Wareing said cooking was all about ‘love, care and understanding’ and Mark challenged the concept that science wasn’t those things. Mark 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.

Mark spoke about living materials vs non-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 that 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 (see a video about the project here). 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 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 and 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 on design and disability.

Hannah Perner-Wilson works a lot with tools and wanted to look into how 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 you never apart from your tools. Her ideas developed into a rucksack which unrolled into a wall-hung tool pouch.

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 on a prosthetic arm, and how this combines the two approaches in an adaptable skin. Using liquid crystal ink, which changes colour with heat, and puff print in which the printed areas puff up so they’re raised. She spoke about the uncanny valley too, questioning at what point does something start looking too close to human.

Front’s Blow Away vase

Break – Handling Session

There was a room set aside with items from the Crafts Council collection during the break. 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 which reminded me of similar work by Faig Ahmed
Michael Eden’s GSOH 3D printed ceramics
Front’s Blow Away vase which reminded me of Livia Marin
Tom Mallinson’s Digits2Widgets 3D printed textiles

Session 3: Sustainability
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 Siegle started with the big picture – we are all consumers whether we like it or not. Apparently the biggest polluter, behind oil, is fashion as the production of textiles is very polluting. She recommended a film called The True Cost.

Maurizio Montalti works with fungi to create solid materials. He creates incredible things called bio bricks which are made from grown organisms, as well as mushroom leather.

Nat Hunter talked about Machines Room and about ‘design for recycling’ – thinking about the end life of a product before it begins. She spoke about learned helplessness, how we have been trained to think we need to rely on others to manufacture. She has big ideas about Fab Cities and talked about localising manufacture. Production used to be in the hands of those who had the tools but this is changing. At Machines Room they developed an injection moulder that can use recycled plastic bottles. She talked about bringing manufacture back to the local, for example Open Desk where designs can be downloaded and then 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 also looked at how to reduce waste wood from this process – using the pieces of wood left behind from cutting the shapes out.

Kathryn Fleming gave one of my favourite talks; she’s so 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 warmer 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?

Kathryn used some powerful phrases such as ‘Future Craft: Born from culture, built for purpose, daringly simple.’ The word Anthropocene was also a word mentioned almost as much as ‘makerspaces’ over the 3 days. She also spoke about how Adidas have launched a line of shoes made from ocean plastic.

Friday 11 November
Day 2 Make: Shift


Session 1 Maker Breakfast – Introduced by Jonathan Rowley

Richard Arm spoke about ‘As real as it gets’. He A research fellow at Nottingham Trent University and developed a silicon body, with removable organs, for use practicing surgery.

Les Bicknell is a self-declared book artist. He questions everything – ‘is this a book?’ This was a fascinating way of analysing definitions and structures.

Aniela Hoitink started with the comment ‘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? She looked into natural materials and those that are quickly biodegradable. Mycelium is made from fungi and she worked with Maurizio who spoke prior. Aniela looked at using technology with fashion and at externalising internal systems such as a heartbeat.

Ann Marie Shillito has developed really user friendly software for people to design their own 3D printed jewellery and has worked in collaboration with software developers.

Caroline Yan Zheng talked about extimacy – externalising emotions. She looked at how this might help mental health and has created cool jewellery-like devices.

Hideki Yoshimoto owns Tangent which brings design and technology together. Inako (rice fields) is the title of glowing poles that sway as you move past them. Tangent develops fine art but is making it available on a household level. Kiko (bubble) are bubbling coffee tables and individual candles.

Session 2: Keynote

Caroline Till of FranklinTill mentioned a lot of really interesting stuff such as Viewpoint magazine and secret sensory suppers. She spoke about how if we look differently at both production and materials, that’s how we can have a maker revolution. A brilliant example of looking at byproducts and so-called waste is Merdacotta, new material made from cow poop! Museo della merda. There’s even a museum. Caroline talked about ‘Unmaking’ – looking at how we unmake all the things we make and can’t dispose of responsibly. She also mentioned Madame Jeanette, a print on demand magazine. She looked at different ways of manufacture and production to reduce waste. Ikea’s space 10 project looks at sustainable design.

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 explored 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 spoke about weaving in 3D and about how the method can be transferred to industry.

Session 4: Making Meanings: The Cultural Roles of Makerspaces
Daniel Charny and Hannah Fox

There were 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:

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 3pm so I headed across town to visit the Manchester Centre for Craft and Design. It was a fascinating space and 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 were 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 12 November
Maker Assembly

I 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 Manchester Centre for Craft and Design.

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 Birmingham art and 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, where 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.

 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 that developed into a place supporting those unemployed people into employment through the power of making. He matched up employment skills with making skills such as trust and soldering.

Session 2: Making and Humanitarian Relief

Laura James spoke about Humanitarian Makers, who use small-scale, local production to solve humanitarian problems. An example she spoke of was the sterile clips that midwives use to cut umbilical cords. Midwives provided with a certain amount of the clips 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 the organisation 3D printed these clips. The approach of Humanitarian Makers 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.

The idea of re-localising manufacture was spoken about a lot during the 3 days, which is interesting as it almost seems to backwards in terms of a wider idea 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 one to one 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 Claxton spoke about Workshop Birmingham, 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 McEwan talked about the internet of things. Powering devices with data, for example a twitterbot that can detect when a certain phrase is used and blow bubbles.

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

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.’

Observations and Learnings Overall

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 and something I’m a big fan of. There was a lot of talk about collaboration between mindsets/skillsets and how, actually, engineers, scientists, crafters and makers are quite similar in the way they approach things. They just have different skills, 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 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 these 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.

Final Thought

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?


Creative Producer Jenny Duffin reports back from Make:Shift and Maker Assembly in Manchester. Her research was funded by a Micro Bursary.