Custom-Designed, 3D Printed Tools For Sewing and Quilting
Using the power of 3D printing, our October Hacker of the Month creates custom-designed tools to make sewing and quilting easier for everyone.
Our October 2019 Hacker of the Month is a northern California resident who has taken her desire to create cookie cutters and turned it into a full-time product design and 3D printing manufacturing business for custom sewing and quilting accessories.
Heather Snow, of purplehobbies.com, first caught the 3D printing bug back in 2014, “I first learned about 3D printing from Make magazine. I read their 3D printer review articles that encouraged me to purchase my first 3D printer.”
But Heather’s initial urge to pursue 3D printing came from the need to create custom cookie cutters. “You’re going to laugh—I wanted to make cookie cutters and pasta extruder discs. I was using free 3D software online to make what I thought were simple daisy-shaped flower cookie cutters. The software kept crashing and it was driving me crazy. A friend at work recommended SolidWorks, so I bought a copy (I was working at a high tech company at the time and this was my way of relaxing—at least that’s how I justified the purchase at the time.) Several years of trying to learn SolidWorks on my own left me frustrated but still determined.”
“But a few years ago I was fortunate enough to be able to quit my day job and enrolled full time in SolidWorks classes at DeAnza Community College. The professor started the class saying “We build things that don’t fall out of the sky”, referring to designs for airplanes and helicopters. I sat there thinking, “I just want to make cookie cutters!" I took several SolidWorks classes at De Anza Community College and this made a tremendous difference in the quality of my designs and my understanding of 3D modeling. I still have lots to learn of course, but De Anza Community College continues to be an excellent source of the latest in industry news for 3D printing and classes for all of the most popular CAD software.”
With all her design experience and education, Heather creates her prints with an overriding principle that we can all get behind: No Supports. “I spend a tremendous amount of time designing my objects so there are no supports needed. I do have to do a little bit of sanding rough edges on some of the parts, but my goal is to be as close to zero post-processing as possible! The most extensive post-processing I do is with the Dinosaur TacoBuddy—I bake them to anneal them which also makes them dishwasher safe!”
Heather currently has a small print-farm consisting of several Ultimaker 3s, a Raise3D Pro2, a Dremel 3D40 (her favorite for printing TPU) and a Dremel Digilab 3D45. She sticks with the native slicers for each of the printers; Cura for the Ultimakers, Dremel’s Cloud software, and IdeaMaker for the Raise3D. She still uses SolidWorks to create all her designs, even though it was not easy to learn, she says the time she invested into SolidWorks was well worth it.
Heather and her family are always ready for something to break in the house and use 3D printing to come up with a quick, cost-effective solution, as well as going through the iterative process to create the perfect print. “We use 3D printing for EVERYTHING at my house. If something is broken, we create a replacement part. If we need a tool, we create and print one. 3D printing is awesome, but the real magic comes when you combine it with the ability to create your own designs. Now, whatever we can imagine we can hold in our hands in a matter of hours (OK, sometimes days) and that’s still totally amazing to me. I love solving problems, and the more I learned about 3D modeling, the more things I saw that I could “fix” with 3D printing. From dinosaur-shaped taco holders to custom-designed quilt tools I’ve been having a blast with 3D printing.”
“My son’s cat loves to drink water from anywhere but his water bowl. Whenever I set down a glass of water the cat would immediately appear and stick his head in the glass to start drinking. YUK! I created lids with straw holes for mason jars to keep the cat out. The first ones I made were out of PLA and they would leak if I tilted the jar so I started to print them using TPU and they work great! They are also dishwasher safe which is an added benefit.”
“I’m also a fan of giant coffee mugs and mine was leaving rings on our new wood table. There aren’t coasters on the market large enough for my coffee mug so I designed my own and now it’s a place for us to decorate for the holidays: flowers in the spring, snowflakes in the winter, etc.”
Heather has taken all of her education, experience, and design-savvy to create a business producing tools for another industry; sewing and quilting. “I have created lots of quilting tools that have helped keep people safer and more efficient. I was taking a quilt class one day and the woman next to me kept stabbing herself with pins every time she tried to pick one up. I thought that there had to be a better way to hold the pins so she wouldn’t keep getting hurt and the Magnetic Pin Cup was born. It’s a cup that holds the pins sharp side down with magnets, but it also has a telescoping carrying case and lid that twist shut to securely transport the pins. There are several other quilting tools I created to make things either safer or easier. My BladeSaver Thread Cutter allows people to reuse a 45mm rotary blade that they would have otherwise thrown away. The design safely holds the blade and allows threads to be cut but doesn’t allow fingers anywhere near the blade. There are several other tools that help quilters when a third hand would come in handy.”
Heather primarily uses PLA in her 3D prints, “ I’m concerned about the particles emitted from printing with other filaments. I use a lot of Matterhackers MHBuild and PRO Series filament because it’s so consistent (no, I wasn’t told to say this!). I also use TPU for mason jar lids and a few other gadgets I’m currently designing.”
Heather is also a fan of how 3D printing allows her to be flexible in her business model when the need arises, “3D printing allows me to offer many colors and scale production to create whatever is in demand at the moment. A friend blogged about my products and I had a run on a special color that she mentioned. It was great to be able to immediately ramp up production of that color for a few days and then return to the regular set of colors afterward.”
“I was also lucky enough to get a distributor interested in selling my products. This meant more volume was needed quickly. It was great to be able to order a few more Ultimakers from MatterHackers and have them busy producing products just two days later, and at a fraction of the cost of injection mold tooling!”
Most of Heather’s passion for creating these products comes from her love of baking, sewing, and quilting - another level of Making that pairs extremely well with 3D printing and vacuum forming. “Quilting and cooking are my two favorite hobbies. Every time I struggle and wish there was a simpler way to do something I think about how I could solve the problem with 3D printing.
“My grandmother used to cut a hole in the top of her Morton salt containers so she could stick a measuring spoon inside. I took that idea one step further and created a swiveling lid for the salt container. I love to make cookies but I’m terrible at decorating them so I create combination cookie cutters and stamps. The cutters obviously cut out the shapes and the stamps provide the lines for the designs. Easy!"
“Chocolates are one of our favorite things to make. I use a combination of 3D printing and the Mayku vacuum forming machine to make custom chocolate designs. We created special 80th birthday chocolate discs for my father’s birthday.”
“Someone stole one of the round tow covers from the bumper of my car. This left an ugly hole in the bumper so my son designed and 3D printed a set of flowers to fill the hole (and replaced the remaining tow cover so it’s symmetrical). Yes, 3D printing is contagious. Both of my sons create and 3D print things regularly.”
Heather hopes to see many of the things that the community is looking for in the future for 3D printing; accessibility, and sustainability. “I want to see 3D printers in every home so people can purchase and download designs to print in whatever color and material they want. I would love to see 3D modeling offered to all students as a basic skill. It took me a while to rewire my brain to think about how to design things in 3D, but now that I can create whatever I can dream up I’m having a blast! I would also like to see recycling for filaments and printed parts. PLA is labeled as biodegradable, but if we could get it recycled that would be awesome for users and for the earth.”
Finally, pulling from personal experience, Heather knows that education surrounding digital fabrication methods like 3D printing is paramount. “I’m a huge believer in hands-on learning. I would love to see more programs like DeAnza Community College has where they teach 3D modeling as well as how to use 3D printers, how to choose the correct 3D printing process, etc. The challenge is that programs like this focus on professional 3D printing—I would like to see more training for home use. I enjoy the YouTube videos that MatterHackers publishes as well as those published by many 3D printing enthusiasts, but nothing beats real, hands-on experience. It would be great if there were multi-day boot camps to teach people how to use 3D printers and how to maintain and troubleshoot them. We also need 3D printing superstores where you can go in and get help from a 3D printing expert with either troubleshooting a printing problem or help with creating a design for 3D printing.”
We can’t wait to see how Purple Hobbies continues to be successful with Heather’s creative drive and spirit! If you would like to learn more about Heather and Purple Hobbies, you can visit her website here:
Are you a 3D printing Hacker or know someone that is? We would love to share their stories with the 3D printing community! Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with information, and you or your friend could be our featured Hacker of the Month.