Liz Hoshiko always meant to attend one of those Paint Nites you hear a lot about these days. What kept her from connecting with her inner Monet and a glass of merlot? “Them,” she said, pointing at her boys, Sam, 7, and Isaac, 5. “Childcare,” she said, without needing to explain further.
But on a recent Wednesday evening, Hoshiko, a speech and language therapist from San Jose, was at Taplands, a neighborhood brewery in downtown Santa Clara, sipping drafts with her husband Brandon at one of the outdoor picnic tables. Classic rock played overhead as her boys diligently built a fidget spinner from a DIY kit.
“This is definitely more child friendly,” Hoshiko said. She nodded to her boys, “They’re more of the engineering type than artistic.”
Welcome to Maker Night, Silicon Valley’s techy spin on the popular paint-sip-and-socialize trend. The evening workshops, which supply literal screwdrivers rather than just the kind you drink, are the creation of SteamyTech, a Santa Clara-based shop founded by the husband-and-wife team Lora and Greg Price. Married 15 years, they started SteamyTech in 2013, born from the fun they had at TechShop, a maker space in downtown San Jose, and their mutual love for the steampunk aesthetic. What started as DIY kits that sold at festivals and online for anywhere from $15 to $50, are now guided workshops that go for $40 each and include a free beer for the adults, or soda for the underage. They’ve been holding weekly Maker Nights–part workshop and part family-friendly happy hour–at bars and restaurants across Silicon Valley since early this year.
Past workshop participants have built geared coasters and steampunk-inspired goggles made out of wood and leather. Wednesday’s sold-out event focused on fidget spinners made from laser-cut birch and steel bearings.
At the event that night were Maike Wittern, a science and math teacher from Hamburg, Germany, and her 13-year-old son Justus. They found out about SteamyTech at last month’s Maker Faire in San Mateo. When asked about the fidget spinner craze, Justus shrugged, not quite understanding it himself. “Everyone has one,” he said, “so everyone else wants one.”
Stephanie Warner, a 24-year-old biomedical engineer who works nearby and counts herself an after-work regular at Taplands, said she saw the sign about the event and decided to show up even though she already has a few spinners at home. “You never know when you’re going to lose one,” she reasoned.
Her co-worker, Sarah Torhan, a 25-year-old chemical engineer based in Phoenix who’s in town this month for work, had only recently heard about fidget spinners and said, “Why go buy one when I can make one of my own?”
Throughout the course of the night, Greg and Lora went from one table to another, instructing folks on gluing one doohickey to another and dispensing encouragement.
There were a few minor mishaps. One young tinkerer glued his fingertips together and another youngster gave up on her project, despite her mother’s tsk and gentle nudge. “Are you going to throw it all away just because it’s not perfectly the way you want it?” Mom coached, “You have to learn how to fix it and make it work.”
As the evening grew darker, their bedtime hour approaching and their fidget spinners nearly done, 7-year-old Sam Hoshiko declared with dimple-cheeked glee, “This is a great place to be–especially because most kids my age are creative.”
Taplands owner, Matt Hartenstein, who has two kids of his own, opened the brewery over a year ago. “We wanted it to be kid-friendly and community-oriented,” he said, “a place where neighbors could come out and gather.” And, at least this night, make things together.