This September 20 and 21 the World Maker Faire will make its way to New York City for the fifth year running. Exhibitors outside the Hall of Science in Queens' Flushing Meadows Corona Park will show off all kinds of wacky, high-tech creations. Last year's lineup included a robotic sailboat, the ever-popular 3-D printer and offerings from another 600 or so inventors. We suggest you go—and bring the kids. But even if you have no interest in robotics or contraptions, you can still take inspiration from the event’s DIY ethos and spirit of ingenuity; after all, the history of inventions in New York City is filled with illustrious moments, and the modern-day craft movement has taken off in the boroughs in a big way—sometimes pushed to extreme lengths. So go make something. We’re here to provide some starting points; you provide the creativity.
Food and Drink
The City is teeming with wine and beer artisans fermenting their own products, so it's only natural to want to join the crowd. City Winery books a great list of musicians who perform intimate shows, but it also runs a program that might speak to the budding winemaker in you. You’ll be mentored through the entire process, from harvest to barrel-ready dram, and the drink will stay on the premises for you and your guests to come quaff at leisure. If beer's more your style, head to Brooklyn Homebrew. You'll enter a store jammed with all kinds of grains and brewing equipment, so if you know what you're doing or just want to experiment, pick up supplies and get started. For instruction, the place offers classes.
If more instant satisfaction is required, a trip to a Korean or Japanese barbecue restaurant, where you get to cook your own meat over hot coals at the table, will feel empowering—as if you’re manning (or womaning) the grill, but without having to clean up or worry about guests. Try Kang Suh, Kun Jip or Shabu-Tatsu.
The knitting fad may have hit its apex a few years back, but places like Knitty City, Argyle Yarn Shop and Purl are still going strong, providing a workspace, social atmosphere and the materials to fashion afghans, bags, clothing and a whole lot more.
In a similar vein, pottery places proliferate. Put your hands on the wheel to make your own ceramics at La Mano Pottery or just decorate ready-made pieces as you see fit at Color Me Mine and the Painted Pot—though the Carroll Gardens location of the latter does offer private lessons for those who want to work from the lump of clay up. Speaking of classes, the ones available from Back Porch Soap Co., held at the Little Shop of Crafts on the Upper West Side, are one-off paths to smelling sweet and keeping clean.
Of course, no one does handmade like the queens of craftiness at Etsy Labs. Much more than a marketplace to buy and sell items, Etsy holds regular talks, classes and events, like their hands-on craft nights—a recent one focused on making tassels.
It seems like everyone in the City feels they have a novel in them, but better to start small—and with limits—if you want to get something on the page. The Writhing Society (yes, writhing, not writing) at Proteus Gowanus meets on Wednesdays at 7pm and, a bit like the Dogme 95 school does for filmmaking, sets constraints on writing, based on the practices of the Oulipo group. It requires a small donation and an adherence to rules; on the other hand, you’ll collaborate, experiment and produce something—writer’s block, begone!
Once you’ve made some mini masterpieces, consider making an appointment to visit McNally Jackson, which provides self-publishing services via its Espresso Book Machine. You may have to wait a few days (or weeks, depending on how many copies you order) for the finished product, but to see your name in print, well, that's forever… or until you decide your shelves are running out of room. Thus you might prefer your name in lights, or at least imagine what it is like to be a star. If you’ve got what it takes to do an open-mic night at a place like Starving Artist Cafe & Gallery or hallowed halls such as the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and the Bitter End, more power to you. If you want to experience what it’s like to step into a recording studio, check out The Gift of Song, where you can belt out the track of your choice, have it professionally mixed and make quite the holiday gift to give your fans. Or at least your family.
The friendly folks at Brooklyn Bead Box go out of their way to make their shop a welcoming home for beaders and jewelry makers: there's a long, inviting table laden with tools that’s open for use; staff will come by to ask what you're working on and offer ideas and critiques; and some of their works are displayed around the store, good for inspiration. Each month a contest focuses on a different stone; you’re invited to drop off your own invention when you wish.
It’s not quite the same social scene at perfumer Le Labo, though the lab-like setting and hand-mixed ingredients make you part of the process as the technician creates your chosen scent right in front of your eyes—and you can personalize it even further with your own unique label. Also willing to help you out is the Fragrance Shop New York, where you’re welcome to fashion your own blend from the 200 scents on offer.
You Know, For Kids
The New York Hall of Science, while enjoyable for all, is directed toward kids. But it's far from the only place for young ones to get hands-on in the maker world. A workshop at the Children’s Museum of the Arts, or even just a few hours spent noodling around, will send your young one home with a clay sculpture, hand-drawn piece of art or shadow box. Other places to let imagination run wild include ConstructionKids, in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and the Brooklyn Robot Foundry, with locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Those are more birthday party and class oriented, but they do have some mini sessions good for a quick build.
And Last . . .
If you're still stuck for ideas but want to feel that real sense of accomplishment that comes with completing a DIY project, we know of a place where that's practically guaranteed with a purchase (and subsequent following of instructions, likely accompanied by some choice expletives). It’s called Ikea.