Cat Food Access Control with ESP8266

This project goes over the process I used to create an automated cat food bowl, for my elderly diabetic cat Chaz. See, he needs to eat breakfast before he can get his insulin, but I often forget to pick up his food dish before I go to bed, which spoils his appetite and throws off his insulin schedule. This dish uses a servo motor to close a lid over the food between the hours of midnight and 7:30am. The NodeMCU ESP8266 microcontroller’s Arduino sketch uses Network Time Protocol (NTP) to control the schedule.

This project may not be suitable for younger, more active cats. Chaz is so old and frail, he isn’t inclined to try to pry the bowl open, but it is possible.


If you’re new to the Arduino or the ESP8266, you may enjoy the following prerequisite guides:


Design derived from Ardy Lai’s bowl holder on Thingiverse:

File on Tinkercad:


Best Gift Ideas for Makers 2019

I’ll admit, I’m proud of my small-but-efficient workshop, and it’s thanks to some key items I can’t live without. Here are my suggestions for what to get the maker in your life this holiday season.

Canary Box Cutter

The Canary box cutter is safer than a utility knife for opening boxes and cutting cardboard, and allows you to cut curves in cardboard more easily than a regular blade. I like the versatility of the Canary and find myself reaching for it more often than any other cutting tool. While it is still possible to cut yourself with its serrated edge, it’s much more difficult.


Emergency USB Power Supply (3D Printed)

This project makes use of a 12V battery, like you would use for a vehicle, for charging USB devices in case of a power outage or camping trip. It’s as simple as affixing a USB car charger to the battery. After Hurricane Sandy, I was without power and used an inverter/battery setup at home, but it was huge and heavy. This project revisits the concept with a smaller battery (meant for motorcycles/ATVs) and DC-only charging.

I’ve also created an optional 3D printed battery topper to cover the battery contacts and hold the USB ports. The design is available on Tinkercad so that you may modify it to fit your specific battery and USB charger.

The compact design makes it easier to transport and store. There are many situations where this device could be useful:

  • power outage
  • camping
  • off-grid living


Find the full tutorial on Instructables

Skeleton Sweater story for Lost Objects Series on Hilobrow

Illustration for PROJECT:OBJECT by Monica Garwood

I wrote a short story about my lost skeleton sweater for the Lost Objects series on Hilobrow:

Hand-knitting an adult-sized sweater is a big achievement for any knitter. Making one that fits properly is the ultimate knitting win. I managed to accomplish this one time only, and with the addition of a complex custom two-color skeleton design, naturally I loved my handmade cardigan. I wrote up the pattern and posted it online with a tutorial — one of the first of hundreds I would create over the course of my career.

Shortly after finishing it, I brought the sweater, along with several other precious handmade projects, to Maker Faire to show them off. My luggage went missing on the way home⁠ — on a direct flight from SFO to PHX⁠ — and was never found. It felt like the previous creative year of my life had just vaporized. The business cards of all the contacts I had made during the event, the gifts I had purchased, and my original artwork that I had brought in the first place — all gone.

I made a claim with the airline for the lost bag, but they only take responsibility for clothes, tools, and toiletries, and you need to submit receipts for everything over a certain value. How could I possibly show the value of my handmade sweater? I phoned the alpha knitter in my life: my mom. She had a recent receipt for some expensive yarn, which I submitted with my claim. The reimbursement was some solace.

The lesson I learned from this experience is to never, ever check anything you’re not willing to lose or able to replace. Ship stuff ahead with an insured carrier, or carry valuables on with you.

Making the skeleton cardigan piqued my interest in digital knitting machines, since it took over 80 painstakingly attentive hours to knit by hand. Surely a machine would be faster, and give a higher-resolution result. I later bought a computerized knitting machine, and became known online for having “hacked” it to knit out custom digital graphics made on modern software. I can draw a straight line between the desire to replace my lost sweater and the notoriety I gained later on regarding the knitting machine. My usual drive is fueled by curiosity and excitement, but this time I could also feel the palpable motivation to fill an empty space left by my missing sweater, since our time together came to a premature end.

I think about what happened to my suitcase — since it was green (not black), it wasn’t likely in the luggage warehouse, but more likely stolen off the carousel in Phoenix, where I was living at the time. It’s true the pickup curbs are right outside the luggage carousels at PHX, making bag-snatching a cinch. What did the thieves make of the bag contents? Six new blue blank notebooks, my embroidery samples, my hand-knit sweater, tools and camera accessories, and my recently-purchased Thingamagoop synth toy robot… did any of my things come to be significant to those who came across them next?

read the story on Hilobrow

I created the skeleton cardigan in 2008.


Motorcycle Gear Gift Guide

As many of you who know me know: I am all about the gear. Using the right equipment for the job is one of my favorite things to do, whether it’s knitting, electronics, or motorcycles. Here’s a list of the best gifts for the motorcycle rider on your list. Got a suggestion to add? Leave it in the comments! Read on for the full list.

Sena Motorcycle Bluetooth Headset/Helmet Intercom

In my opinion, motorcycling is a lot more fun when you can listen to your GPS directions, or your riding partner, from inside your helmet. I have been very happy with both the Sena headsets I’ve owned (I have one in each of two helmets): the Sena 20S EVO headset and SMH10R headset.

Especially for: new riders, long distance riders
Might not appeal to: loners, technophobes


KitSplit and ShareGrid Review and Comparison From An Equipment Owner

I got into gear rental as a way to earn a little extra money from the film equipment I already own. I co-run this small venture in NYC with my partner, who’s a cinematographer. Over the last two years, it’s been a great experience to be an equipment owner on KitSplit and ShareGrid. What follows is a review and comparison of the two sites, including how much money we have made so far. I’ve tried to keep the review mostly about site features, but there is inevitably some user behavior that comes into play. I’d love to hear about your experience with either site (or both or another entirely) in the comments!

If you decide to join either site or both, please use my referral link, which gets us each $20 in free rental credit:

Listing Visibility

ShareGrid is transparent about how their search algorithm boosts new listings to the top. I watched their informative webinar that let me know new listings are prioritized in search results, so I used that info to create new bundles and re-create my oldest listings. The result is that my rental requests increased, and so did my ShareGrid revenue.

While KitSplit offers blog posts about optimizing your performance, they haven’t described how their search works (that I could find). I did create any bundles on KitSplit too (to keep inventory parity between the two sites), but did not re-create old listings.


Skeleton Sweatsuit (Free Pattern)

This year I stitched up some skeleton costumes using black sweatsuits and white stretch fabric. I stuffed up the bones to get a 3D effect.

For this project, you will need:

Download the free pattern or source files, and also check out the full tutorial on Instructables.

My Top 10 DIY Halloween Costumes

As a kid, Mom made me a handmade costume every year until I asked her to stop (so I could make my own). Here are ten of my favorite DIY Halloween costumes I’ve made and worn over the last decade or so. From simple put-together outfits to full on electronics projects, I hope you’ll find some inspiration here!

10. Anthropologie Vampire

I put together this wearable look for a day at the office. I was told this look is also reminiscent of Tilda Swinton in “Only Lovers Left Alive”.

9. Dana Scully

For a special Halloween episode of our web show Make: Live, Matt Richardson and I dressed up like Agent Scully and Agent Mulder from X-Files. Matt really sold the costume better than me, since when he parts his hair in the middle, he looks like David Duchovny.

8. EL Wire Animal Masks

While not my original idea (credit: Tom Newsom), I was really pleased with how these turned out. The bike helmet base makes the whole thing very wearable, though it’s important to note that the inverter attached to the helmet does bring its high-pitched squealing noise pretty close to your ear. It’s not an issue if you’re actually riding a bike or at a loud event.

7. Ellie Jackson from La Roux

I found out about Elly Jackson because people in the YouTube comments kept saying I look like her. I stitched up a lookalike jacket. The year was 2010 and I was still on crutches from a recent knee surgery. See how I’m not quite standing on my left leg in the above photo?

I laser cut a faux cameo necklace. I got my first (and so far only) C&D for those files I put on Thingiverse.

I commissioned a pair of custom leggings on Etsy to complete the look.


How To Hand Sew a Plush Toy

This guide will walk though making a plush toy that’s simple to sew by hand.

This tutorial is based on my friend Moxie’s Free Range Monsters project in CRAFT Magazine volume 6. I’ve used this project for years to teach introductory sewing to my students at SVA. It’s fun, creative, and doesn’t require much in the way of specialized tools.

To make this project, you will need: