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A maker throughout her entire undergraduate career, Palmtag is using her extensive knowledge of makerspace tools to enrich the creative experience for Tar Heels to come.

Maria Palmtag sits at a table in the BeAM makerspace surrounded by stuffed animals.
Maria Palmtag ‘23 has designed and laser-cut patterns to help new sewers learn how to use the machines. The vinyl decal on the wall is also her original creation. (photo by Jess Abel)

As Maria Palmtag reaches to unlock the door to the Murray Hall BeAM location, she stops to apologize. The makerspace is a bit of a mess right now, she says, as they’re reorganizing for the fall semester.

To anyone who isn’t Palmtag — the rising senior at Carolina has been a maker at BeAM since she was a first-year student in 2019 — it looks like a meticulously organized creative oasis. To the left of the door as you walk in sits an alcove of 3D printers. In the main part of the makerspace, three laser cutters invite users to make prototypes and finished products among a half dozen or so workstations. Farther down the hall lies a professional embroidery machine, a metal shop and a woodshop, among many other creative spaces.

Three years into being a Carolina maker, Palmtag is now a student staff specialist — an advanced student employee role –– and is at home in every part of the makerspace. She decorated her room in Ehringhaus residence hall with 3D printed dragons. She created a fan-favorite design for a custom laser-cut LED lamp made from scrap wood and acrylic. She frequents the space for projects related to her major, biomedical engineering, which is a joint program with NC State University.

This summer, however, she’s spent most of her time in the textiles room, where she’s working to enhance BeAM’s introductory sewing offerings before the fall semester begins.

Stuffed animals and a custom-made lamp with a BeAM textiles logo sit on a table.
Palmtag’s custom-made lamp features an ode to the BeAM textiles community. (photo by Jess Abel)

In the textiles room, a newly redesigned portion of the makerspace, sewing machines are set up at individual stations. A custom-made vinyl “BeAM Textiles” logo, designed by Palmtag, adorns the wall. And on a large hexagonal table in the middle of the room there’s an unexpected surprise: frogs.

Stuffed frogs to be precise, about 19 of them, alongside a mouse, a dinosaur and other critters made with colorful scrap fabric, googly eyes, buttons and ribbon. These stuffed animals aren’t just adorable –– they’re part of an effort to get more makers comfortable with sewing, an integral part of the textiles offering.

Each animal is made using pattern templates designed by Palmtag, which she crafted with the beginner sewer in mind. In fall 2022, students, faculty and staff who have received introductory training on the sewing machines will be able to walk into the textiles room, peruse bins for their stuffed animal sewing pattern of choice (Palmtag’s favorite is the frog pattern, of course), and, within about 30 minutes, have a critter of their own.

Although she’s quite adept at design thinking, Palmtag didn’t come into the makerspace with any prior sewing experience, so she understands that a first-ever project can be daunting. She hopes the patterns provide a fun introductory experience to sewing as well as an end result that will make fellow makers proud.

“It’s really cool to see people light up and realize that they could do something that they didn’t think was possible to do by themselves,” she said.

The patterns also affirm BeAM’s commitment to sustainability. Palmtag laser-cut each pattern piece out of cardboard so they’re reusable, unlike traditional one-use paper sewing patterns. Each finished stuffed animal is also small enough to be created using leftover fabric scraps, a practice Palmtag hopes to encourage.

“It forces people to be more conscious about what material they’re actually using,” she said.

In addition to training new student makers, Palmtag is also excited to welcome the next cohort of BeAM employees into the space.

“We hired about 20 staff members this semester,” Palmtag said. “They’re all brand new. Some of them are working over the summer, but in the fall we’re going to start a training program to really get them off the ground.”

The new training program consists of four six-week training blocks: laser-cutting, 3D printing, woodshop and textiles. The in-depth introduction to the space will help new employees gain well-rounded skills to become mentors to fellow Tar Heel makers, an aspect of the BeAM community that Palmtag adores.

“I love when people keep coming back in to tell me everything they’ve learned and everything they’ve done since they last talked to me,” she said. “It’s one of the coolest parts of the job.”

By Jess Abel, College of Arts & Sciences




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