Five gadgets to help you get crafty
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A beautiful slab of tempered glass, the Xencelabs Pen Display 24 mirrors (or extends) your computer screen and lets you draw directly into the software of your choice. Xencelabs has made efforts to address typical annoyances thrown up by these kind of devices, providing a cool-to-touch, non-glossy, etched-glass screen that mimics the feel of paper. There's a case, two pen types, nibs that offer more "grip" on the surface and a stand – which, for some mad reason, tends not to come as standard with pen displays. Rows of control buttons have been broken out to a wireless remote that can be clipped on wherever you like. Minutely adjustable and customisable, it's a digital artist's dream. Xencelabs Pen Display 24, £1,850
A sizeable laser-cutting machine that wouldn't look out of place in my dad's woodwork shop, the P20 Plus took 40 relatively painless minutes to assemble using three Allen keys. Its four 6W diode lasers cut neatly through wood, acrylic and sheet metal, and can engrave in very fine detail onto the same. It's WiFi-enabled and (just about) usable via an app, but the real business happens when you connect to a computer via USB and fire up laser-cutter software (eg, LightBurn) to import your designs. This is a journey of trial and error, with belts to be adjusted and settings to be finessed, but once you have it sussed, it becomes a powerful companion on your next creative quest. Atezr P20 Plus Laser Engraving Machine, $849.99
A model printer
I’ve always considered 3D printers to be more trouble than they’re worth, but the AnkerMake M5 blasts that preconception out of the water. Beautifully devised as an entry-level machine and complete with everything you need to get going, it monitors the process throughout (using an AI-powered camera) to check nothing is going awry and alerts you via the accompanying app if it does. Assembly takes about half an hour, whereupon I headed straight to thingiverse.com to download and print out small items for my partner's model boxes (she's a theatre-set designer by trade). The detail (or layer height) can be brought down as low as 0.1mm, and we marvelled at the speed, detail and precision. AnkerMake M5, £749
Custom T-shirt heaven
Getting custom images onto fabric requires heat, whether it's transferring them from vinyl or paper, dye-sublimation or curing screen prints. Domestic irons are one option that most of us have to hand, but they don't give the consistent temperature and pressure you need to ensure that your designs stay put. The HappyPress may have a cutesy name and a Day-Glo exterior, but it's made by Stahls’ (industry heavyweights of custom apparel) and it gives you precise control over heat, pressure and timing across an A3-sized bed – perfect for T-shirts, tote bags and any flat pieces of fabric. That bed pulls out for ease of access, and the press can be set to automatically open when the timer pings "done". HappyPress 4 A3, £435
A machine with the needle works
For the past couple of years my partner has been making garments on a trusty Husqvarna sewing machine passed down from her mother, and forging links with many brilliantly creative sewists (as they like to be called) on Instagram. That community would find the new Brother XP3 to be the ultimate assistant: a sewing, embroidery and quilting machine rolled into one. It does everything absurdly well.
It's a sewing, embroidery and quilting machine rolled into one. It does everything absurdly well
Anything arriving on a pallet feels inherently frightening, but while it's big (65sq in of workspace) and has a built-in touchscreen (roughly iPad-sized), anyone familiar with sewing machines won't be too daunted by the set-up. Its power and beauty lies in its built-in projector and scanner, coupled with its WiFi connectivity, which means you can send designs – whether created by yourself, photographed or grabbed from the internet – directly to the machine where they can be tweaked and digitised into embroidery patterns. Once you’re ready to roll, the projector beams the design onto the fabric to show where it will end up.
This projection trick can also be used for its huge array of conventional stitches. In my partner's words: "On my own machine I’ll often bring the needle down and hope I’m in the right place, but this completely removes the risk." The scanning facility, meanwhile, is basically projection in reverse, bringing a scan of the fabric lying on your workspace onto the tablet, and letting you arrange where you want the stitches to go. Different procedure, same impeccable result.
Owing to a longstanding link between Brother and Disney, the machine comes in a branded box and has a selection of Disney images ready to use. That, and the floral stylings on the casing, propose a very particular target market. But like any kind of craft, sewing provides a rich opportunity for anyone, regardless of age or gender, to subvert and have fun. Needless to say, the XP3 facilitates that with aplomb. Brother Luminaire Innov-is XP3, £12,999, sewingcraft.brother.eu
@rhodriLaser vision A model printer Custom T-shirt heaven A machine with the needle works