On a recent night at The Bodgery, two women guided fabric through whirring sewing machines; another slapped the blade of a paper cutter through pages of card stock; a father demonstrated woodworking and welding equipment to his sons; and silent stitching and measuring pursuits were underway.
It was the weekly Monday night Craft Night at the Far East Side maker space — part of a growing trend of such maker or hacker spaces nationwide — and about 20 people were scattered throughout The Bodgery’s work rooms at 4444 Robertson Road.
Dawn Chute sipped a glass of red wine as she spread her quilting project across a long table, without worrying that cats’ paws might dance across her swatches as they do at home.
“There’s much more space here for me to work,” Chute said. “It’s social. It’s also good, sometimes, to bounce ideas off other people.”
The Bodgery got its start in 2013 as MadCity Makers, a social club. The idea was to create a social environment, “a meet-up for people who made things,” said co-founder John Eich.
Eich, 49, is director of the Wisconsin Office of Rural Health. But sitting behind a desk left him yearning to spend some of his off-hours working with his hands.
Eich grew up in Martinsville, a rural area about 15 miles northwest of Madison, among farmers, “who, I think, are the ultimate makers,” he said. He also spent 10 years working as a carpenter, in part for Operation Fresh Start, a nonprofit that teaches construction skills to disadvantaged youths.
“My whole life I’ve been working with tools and have had the urge to make things,” he said.
A key connection
Through the Madison Public Library, Eich was introduced to Karen Corbeill. Both had contacted the library about providing programs for The Bubbler, a room in the Central Library devoted to making things.
Together, they led workshops at library branches on projects such as building cigar-box guitars and Blinkybugs — electronic components wired together to look like insects, with blinking LED eyes.
Corbeill, 30, a native of Southfield, Michigan, traces her maker interests to high school ceramics classes followed by theater production courses in college. “I learned how to weld and build,” she said.
She became an active member of i3Detroit, which calls itself “Metro Detroit’s largest community-run DIY (do-it-yourself) workshop.”
“I learned everything I could learn from anyone who would teach me,” said Corbeill, who is part of the team for the Ben Heck Show on YouTube and a special projects manager at The Game Crafter.
The workshops went well, said Eich. “We had great attendance,” he said. So well, in fact, that the young group wanted to expand into other creative ventures — the sorts of things that wouldn’t work in a library setting.
“We wanted to solder things, weld things,” Eich said.
Enter Evolution Arts Collective with an offer to use its warehouse at 200 S. Dickinson St. The Bodgery — whose name is based on the British verb, to bodge, or put something together hastily — morphed into a member-based nonprofit.
Within a year, The Bodgery outgrew the artist group’s space and, on July 1, 2015, opened its current 3,400-square-foot, L-shaped warehouse and office space.
The Bodgery now has 50 members, including its four founders, up from 30 a year ago, Eich said. Members pay $50 a month, though guests are encouraged to come and use the facilities for free, Eich said.
“It’s our mission to get more people making in Madison,” he said.
Many kinds of makers
The Bodgery is smaller and younger than Sector67, the Madison maker space at 2100 Winnebago St. Founded in 2010, Sector67 has 100 members and more than 8,500 square feet of industrial and office space. Members pay $100 a month, with lower rates for students.
“It’s certainly competition,” said Sector67 founder Chris Meyer. But in big cities, it’s not uncommon to have work spaces situated close to each other. “It’s no different than having a favorite coffee shop or bar,” he said.
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Meyer said many of Sector67’s members live in the central city, where their homes or apartments offer little room for tinkering.
Eich doesn’t view the two maker spaces as competitors.
“We are similar businesses with similar audiences. (But) I think we target a different demographic of that market,” he said. “I think Sector’s members are engineering-heavy, would-be entrepreneurs. Our core audience tends to be hobbyists.”
At least, that’s how Eich describes himself. “As the dad of two young girls with limited time and resources, I thought, ‘Where is the space for me?’”
The maker movement seems to be growing rapidly. A 2016 report for the National League of Cities says 26 percent of cities, or one in every four, has a community work space and 13 percent have held Maker Faires.
The 28-page report, “How Cities can Grow the Maker Movement,” says as many as 135 million U.S. adults are makers, based on data from Atmel Corp., the leading manufacturer of microcontrollers.
Madison is one of 10 cities profiled in the report, as home to “a well-rounded maker movement” with Sector67 and The Bodgery, as well as the UW-Madison’s fabrication laboratory, Fab Lab.
Where creativity roams
The Bodgery is stocked with a wide variety of equipment for hobbyists of many types. The “clean room” includes a spinning wheel, sewing machines, yarns, fabrics and long tables as well as building toys for children.
A more industrial room houses the heavy equipment, ranging from the metal shop, with an anvil and forge, to the wood shop, with saws and sanders, to the computer room, with an array of 3D printers.
Some of the machines are loaned by members or other maker spaces. The Bodgery also has used crowdfunding to add equipment, such as a Tormach CNC (computer numeric control) milling machine, added in May.
Members need to show they know how to use dangerous tools before they get access, Eich said, and children have to be supervised by an adult to use those tools.
“In general, we provide the tools; you provide the materials,” Corbeill said.
One person works with chain-mail and crafted a tuxedo, Corbeill said. Another sews bats out of felt, including one, known as Nick Furry, designated The Bodgery’s mascot.
Jonathan Walton was shepherding his two sons from one station to another, showing how the varied machines work.
“We’re trying to figure out what we want to do,” he said.
Walton, a Bodgery member, was trying to interest the boys in the welding equipment but Benjamin, 8, seemed more keen on playing video games on the huge console, built by another of the group’s members, while Jameson, 11, said he wanted to make a 3-D-printed case for his own video games.
Organizers of the planned StartingBlock entrepreneurial hub asked The Bodgery and several other groups if they wanted to be part of the project after Sector67 bowed out earlier this year, but The Bodgery declined.
“It didn’t feel like a good fit for us,” Eich said.
The Bodgery will celebrate its two-year anniversary on Sunday. It’s not just a space with tools, Corbeill said.
“More importantly, it provides community,” she said. “People that struggle to find a place to belong — we want to make a place for them at The Bodgery.”
‘It provides community. People that struggle to find a place to belong — we want to make a place for them at The Bodgery.’ Karen Corbeill
co-founder of The Bodgery