What’s Your Maker Heritage?

I come from a rich maker heritage. Making is in my DNA.

My great-grandfather, Monte, was an Indianapolis carpenter during the Great Depression. I never met him, but I own some of his beautiful furniture creations that were designed with found scraps of city wood. I imagine that he exchanged some of his creations to feed his wife Esther and daughter Virginia. He made because he wanted to repurpose all the wood that he found or that was left behind on a construction site.

My grandmother, Virginia, was a florist. Her creations, often with a feathered, artificial bird hiding somewhere within the bouquet or planter, brightened up kitchens, hospital rooms, and funeral parlors across urban and suburban Indianapolis. She had a maker flair that her father never had, and her brightly colored, fresh and artificial arrangements brought warmth to the rooms to which they were delivered. I remember one Indianapolis judge ordered a grave blanket for his wife before every American holiday for more than a decade, and my grandmother spent extra care making for the woman’s burial site. When the judge was buried next to his wife, my grandmother continued to create beautiful grave arrangements for their resting place. My grandmother made, not for money, but because she was inspired and touched by their love.

My great-grandmother, Thelma, worked in a hosiery factory near Tarboro, North Carolina. After spending her days hand-stitching thousands of toe seams into panty hose, she would drive home, make supper, and then create beautiful cross-stitch products: some on pillows, others that could be framed and displayed on a prominent wall in a home. Never did I see a pattern; she designed the complex, colorful images in her mind. Her hands made the images come to life, even after arthritis changed their appearance. Her work was well-known in the region. Before she owned a phone, people would drive for miles to sit at her table (collard greens and sweet tea, anyone?) to request that she create an image, phrase, and/or verse in a cross-stitch pattern for them. She designed and created fonts before Microsoft Word articulated them for us. After she retired, she was able to live a comfortable life in her small, Southern town with her earnings from her cross-stitch creations. She made because stitching at the factory just didn’t allow her to express her stitching creativity. And, I think she enjoyed having strangers sit at her table and leave feeling more like family. Making… extended her community.

I am not special. We all belong to a rich, maker heritage. Even if our immediate family members weren’t makers, we all have making in our DNA. Let’s talk to our children about the making in our families, including our ancestors in the distant past. I’m still in awe that, inspired by their surroundings, our ancestors made their homes and clothing to survive the harsh elements the experienced. Some of them made for survival. Others made, because they were inspired by the beauty in the natural world. Still others made because they saw problems in their communities, and their creations enabled them to extend care beyond their family circle.

When we hear the media mention makers in the “maker movement,” they don’t typically mean a furniture designer, a florist, a cross-stitcher, or a cave-woman-turned-home-builder. According to Clapp and others (in press), “…the media coverage of the maker movement emphasizes a certain type of maker: hackers with expertise in robotics… electronics… working with innovative tools and technologies…and computer numerically controlled tools.” And while those things are wonderful for young people to explore and tinker with, I try to resist this narrowed thinking about making. Making is so much more! In fact, Maria Montessori would certainly have her own perspective on what could and should be made by our children: Follow the child[ren]. They will show you what they need to do, what they need to develop in themselves and what area(s) they need to be challenged in.

Why do you and your children make? What are your maker passions? Does your child need to make a new headboard for her/his bed? Or a robot that can work on a 3D version of the Statue of Liberty? Or perhaps something we adults can’t even define but needs to be made?

As school librarians who are advocates for makerspaces, let’s first embrace our own maker heritage. Then, let’s help young people embrace their maker heritages, in order to build their confidence *making* whatever it is they want and need to create.


Clapp, E.P., Ross, J., Ryan, J.O., Tishman (in press). Maker-centered learning: empowering young people to shape their worlds.

Author: Julie Marie Frye

Categories: Blog Topics, Makerspaces/Learning Commons, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

2 replies

  1. I have a draft post with the same Maria Montessori quote!
    Great essay!

  2. Sara,

    Thanks for your feedback! I’m working in a Montessori school this year, and I’m surrounded by Maria’s words of wisdom in writing and conversations.

    Can’t wait to read your post! Anything Maria is inspirational!


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