Spanning Tree is a DC-area feminist hacker/maker space. We welcome people of color, trans women, genderqueer/genderneutral people, and people with disabilities.

Catherine’s soldering workshop recap

From our intrepid soldering instructor Catherine, a recap of our October soldering workshop:

Want to know what a great time we had building our Simon Says games last weekend? So great that I forgot to take photos. But had I taken photos, you would have mostly seen the back of heads as everyone diligently joined components using hot metal. Fun, no?

To kick us off, I read my new favorite children’s book Rosie Revere, Engineer. I bought it for my daughter, based on the cute cover. It only took one read thru and the huge lump in my throat to convince me it was a keeper.  I wouldn’t dare ruin the ending but it serves as a lovely tale of trying and failing, and getting back up to try again.

Yes, I read everyone a book about failing.  I’ve often read about the need to try and fail, and of course learn from those failures, but I’ve seldom put that into practice – at least not in the last 15 years. Once I graduated from college, it was as if a silent veil fell and suddenly I felt I should know all the answers. At the time, I couldn’t clearly identify what had changed, but looking back, it was as if the stakes were suddenly much higher and failure was to be avoided at all costs. And it has taken me a while to shake that notion off. I’ve come around to believing in the cliche, that the fun is in the try, as much as in the success or failure, or at least I hoped I could get everyone to buy into that idea for the next two hours.

After being properly prepped for failure, I did a short soldering demo. And thanks to a huge assist from Karen at Gadget Lab we had plenty of soldering irons to go around. We paired up the eight attendees, each team with their own hot iron, to start practicing. To begin, they connected plain wires to a small ‘perfboard’, which served as our scratch paper while learning. Ours was green, but otherwise looked much like this:

Oh, but first I made them cut their own wires because  a) I am lazy and didn’t do it ahead of time and b) sharp wire cutters are fun. Now there was nothing left to do but to do it. Students sat looking at their soldering setup like, huh, I’m really supposed to touch this?

Yes, you. You in the conference room chair who signed up for this class. You. now. really.

And one by one, they each did. With each joint and each wire, you could feel the confidence building. Then a pause. Time to move away from the perfboard and onto our ‘real’ project. There seemed to be an invisible barrier when it was time to move to our final canvas. I could see the fear about being wrong in their eyes and I knew it had to go.  

Luckily the first “real” joint was a confidence booster, a simple resistor with more than a wide berth for the iron. Flush with the success of the first join, students progressed on their own, joint by joint. Not to say there weren’t a few hiccups, like a melted switch here or a burned out buzzer there, but by the end of the class, after some fine tuning and squeezing of the battery mounts, we had eight working Simon Says games. Some may have been louder than others, but all technically worked.Simon_Action

After we finished, as a bonus we toured the Catylator makerspace that recently opened in the basement of the World Building.  We’re hoping to partner with Catylator in the future, as they build out their membership base and programming, and would love to hear what our members are interested in doing. Another intro class like this one? More hardware? Let us know in the comments!

Tech Your Weekend With “Code: Debugging the Gender Gap” and an LED class with Threadwitch!

As if National Maker Faire wasn’t enough, the weekend of June 20th and 21st is going to be jam-packed with Spanning Tree events.

On the 20th, we’ll be watching the 2:15 pm showing of Code: Debugging the Gender Gap at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, MD. Check out the trailer, then RSVP here:

Then on the 21st, we’ll be meeting at Creative Colony to learn how to create an LED cuff or brooch with Threadwitch (aka Sally Byers), a maker known for her skills combining traditional textiles with Adafruit electronics. RSVP here, as there are only EIGHT spots available in the class. We’ll provide you with all the materials for this beginner’s-level class, but participants will need to know basic hand sewing such as how to thread a needle, tie a knot, and sew a running stitch. Check out this video of Threadwitch’s Volcano Coat and other projects:



We have an Instagram!

Follow us to see more glorious projects from our last Meet + Make!

Meet + Make project of the day: felting kitty hair! #catlady #crafting

A photo posted by Spanning Tree (@spanningtree) on

Meet + Make project: trying to learn #Arduino using #adafruit lessons

A photo posted by Spanning Tree (@spanningtree) on

Volunteers Wanted!


Spanning Tree is on the hunt for volunteers! Have you ever wanted to…

  • Teach a class?
  • Interview DC makers of all shapes and sizes?
  • Help with fundraising?
  • Run a table at a makerfaire or craft event?
  • Organize a Meet + Make?

…then come to our next “open house” Meet + Make on May 24th and learn what it takes to get a feminist makerspace up and running! Can’t make it? Email Erica, our event coordinator, at stratton.erica@gmail.com, and let us know how you want to help!

Photo: Surface Mount Soldering by Paul Downey



Spanning Tree at Robot Fest 2015

Katie staffing the Spanning Tree table at Robot Fest 2015
Katie staffing the Spanning Tree table at Robot Fest 2015

On Saturday, April 25, 2015, Spanning Tree made its inaugural appearance at the Robot Fest celebration of the creative use of technology.

This annual event features dozens of exhibitors showing off not only robotics from R2D2 to unmanned aerial vehicles and everything in between, but also 3D printers, soft circuit fashion, microcontroller workshops, vintage electronics, amateur radio equipment, electronic musical instruments, and more. It’s held at the National Electronics Museum in Linthicum, Maryland, which  houses decades worth of creative engineering and showcases technical advances in science and engineering.

Along with information about our organization, Spanning Tree representative Katie brought a karakuri automaton she built from a kit. Originally made in Japan from the 17th century to 19th century, these pre-electronic robots used clockwork mechanisms to perform actions, sometimes even interacting with their environment, as in the case of the tea-serving robot she brought. Using only gears, cams, springs, and levers, it moves in a straight line for a set distance, moving its feet as if walking, and then bows its head. This signals that the tea is served, and the doll stops when the cup is removed. When it is replaced, the robot raises its head, turns around, and returns to where it came from. Robot Fest attendees were very interested in this demonstration of “old school” robots, prompting discussion of craftsmanship, ingenuity, and the meaning of the word “robot” itself.

Here’s a short video of the tea-serving robot in action:

Stand back: we’re doing SCIENCE!

At yesterday’s Make Afternoon, we assembled our cloud chamber out of a glass container, an old projector, and some very flamboyant duct tape.

Photo by @betsythemuffin

We then gathered in the glow to look for particle trails. As Katie said, looking for the “tails” left by cosmic particles was more like looking at the night sky for shooting stars–you’re barely able to register that you saw one before it’s gone–but we managed to glimpse several before the dry ice melted.

1623710_1559456517639098_3755096832178987073_n 10429219_1559455907639159_2361496595062567403_n1962770_1559453217639428_8844177030177069597_n

As an added bonus, Threadwitch Sally Byers also showed up to work on her LED fashion. In this photo, she models her hat with the chemical symbols for chocolate picked out in beads and blinking LEDs. (Watch it in action here!)



Photos by Erica Stratton


Our next Make Afternoon will be happening in May. In the meantime, come see us at our table at Robotfest  on April 25th.

Help Us Make A Cloud Chamber

This March, as a special project for our Make Afternoon social, we’ll be making a cloud chamber.  Invented in 1911, it’s a tool that makes cosmic particle visible to the naked eye as they travel through a cloud of alcohol vapors. We’ll be able to identify protons, electrons, and many other particles by the trails they leave as they travel through the mist:

We should have all the materials we need to create this chamber, but check out the directions if you’d like to help us put it together. And, as always, be sure to RSVP! 

Would you like to sign up for a monthly donation? 

Donations help us rent spaces to make more cool stuff in (and keep us in tea!)

buttonbutton (1)button (2)

Our First-Ever Make Afternoon Is This Saturday!


Join Spanning Tree for our first ever Make Afternoon on Saturday, January 17th.  We will be meeting at 1:00 pm in room A-9 of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library for an afternoon of making, crafting, and getting to know each other.

This is the perfect place to finally finish those knitted mittens, put the finishing touches on your personal website, or learn how to solder. Bring a project to work on or just yourself. We’ll have tables, snacks, plenty of outlets, and — if our plans work out — wi-fi.

Additional equipment available for use: a sewing machine, extra knitting needles, a button-making device, a soldering iron and glitter glue. (If you’d like to bring artwork for buttons, try to fit it within a 0.875″ diameter circle — but leave plenty of margin around that, it will be set up to make one-inch-diameter pin-back buttons. )

Picture by Tony Hall on Flickr