October 20, 2019
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‘Makerspaces’ provide room to cook, sew and create in cramped Portland

PORTLAND, Maine — We are living in DIY times.

People roast their own coffee beans, knit their own sweaters and brew their own beer.

But doing it yourself can be problematic without the right space and tools. In cities like Portland, where square footage is a luxury, it’s hard to dream big when you are living small.

Meet the makerspace.

Communal places where everything from pottery wheels to industrial sewing machines to the kitchen sink, are shared for an hourly or monthly fee, are on the rise across the country.

Similar to hackerspaces, where techies gather to swap knowledge and software tips and tricks, makerspaces celebrate the spirit of collaboration in a more tangible way. Three such spaces within two blocks of each other in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood are about to open, turning a swath of the former industrial zone that’s become a hive of activity in the past year, into a mini maker’s row.

“It’s a more sustainable way to grow community and make things that are unique,” said Eli Cayer, who is renting out a bank of commercial sinks and a workspace to food startups this fall in a sprawling bay next to his Urban Farm Fermentory winery.

For $15 an hour, the community kitchen at 200 Anderson St. is expected to help fledgling food entrepreneurs like Nolan Stewart thrive. What Stewart expects to save in rent, by not having his own commercial kitchen, he will use to promote his new line of bitters called Coastal Root, which he expects to launch in the near future.

“It’s a big leg up,” said Stewart, who sees the shared kitchen as a stepping stone for future growth. “It’s pretty much integral to get off the ground. I don’t have to go through the commercial rigmarole of getting licensing to do it at home.”

Similarly, a textile lab on the next block is helping the next crop of fashion startups.

A Gathering of Stitches is slated to open in mid-August to give fiber fanatics a place to knit, sew, quilt and dye yarn using methods that would be hard to recreate at home.

Besides a bank of industrial sewing machines and studios, an area will be setup for screen printing and workshops.

The semi-private and communal space will be reserved for all fiber and textile pursuits “whether its craft, business or art,” said Samantha Hoyt Lindgren, who raised $14,905 on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo to help build her dream 4,379 square-foot space.

Nine studios are rented monthly and sewing machines can be reserved for projects by the hour. Workshops also will be held throughout the year.

To Lindgren of Alfred, the idea is simple.

“You can learn, you can do, you can make and you can connect,” she said. “We are bringing people together over the use of needle and thread.”

Like the East Bayside area itself, A Gathering of Stitches is attracting an eclectic lot. One member makes bicycle clothing, another is launching a dog collar business, and a third is a freelance fabric designer for Lands’ End.

“Knitting used to be for old ladies, but in the past decade it’s become this total hipster DIY thing,” said Lindgren.

Portland’s seminal makerspace Running With Scissors is the grandaddy of the movement.

Earlier this summer, the 10 year-old art community moved its studios from Cove Street a short ways down into a generous 16,000-square foot space on Anderson Street. Their new home, which opens in two weeks, has room for 45 resident artists including jewelers, painters, printmakers, sculptors, woodworkers, photographers and designers. Artists will have 24-hour access to equipment such an electric kiln room, a light controlled room for silk screening and woodshop tools.

“This whole community is a makerspace,” said Kate Anker, executive director of Running with Scissors.

In the clay area there will be a mix of resident artists, who have dedicated spaces, and associate artists who will have access to common wheels, glaze area and slab rollers.

“We are a dedicated workspace, our primary artist is someone who has proficiency in the equipment,” said Anker.

There will also be a 900-square-foot exhibition hall where members can show their work.

“We are a little beehive of creatives,” said Anker, who added that she would “love to have a true hackerspace included here some day.”

She sees Running with Scissors’ new iteration as “a space to commune with artists, cross pollinate and bounce ideas off each other.”

The group was started by three women who were recent art school graduates. They missed the community and access and decided to band together, said Anker.

It hasn’t strayed far from its premise.

“It’s always been a collective and cooperative. It’s a community. We are all working toward the same goal. It’s a very supportive environment,” she said.

For many that goal is the key to their future.

Kate Law of Portland is settling into a small space at A Gathering of Stitches for her first business, Downeast Dog. If she hadn’t found the makerspace she would be knitting dog collars and leashes out of old sails around her coffee table. Instead she found “the perfect spot to create and be inspired by other artists,” said Law, 29.

And that reflects a culture shift.

“It’s the analog reaction to this ridiculous digital age that we live in where everything is virtual online,” said Lindgren.

“There’s a huge overlap between the slow food movement and slow fashion. People are interested in knowing where their clothes are made.”

A Gathering of Stitches, 54 Cove St., opens Aug. 15; Running with Scissors, 250 Anderson, St. opens Aug. 22; and the first markers market at Bay One, 200 Anderson St. is Aug. 21.

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