Preview: Anne Sullivan- Confession: I’m a crafter

by Anne Sullivan, co-founder Play Crafts

Anne Sullivan

Anne Sullivan

It wasn’t until I was in my 30s before I admitted to another computer programmer that I was into crafting. And I only admitted it to her because she was a woman. For the previous 10+ years, I’d been too embarrassed about how obviously female it was to be into crafts. Instead I spent my free time with coworkers shooting pool, talking about cars, and playing video games. All of these things were things I enjoyed, but my interests were heavily curated to help me fit in.

In my 30s, I went back to grad school in computer science. I found a program that focused on video games and that’s where I met another crafter. She would become my best friend over our years together in grad school, and a lot of that was due to bonding over crafting. We both learned to quilt and helped start a local chapter of the Modern Quilt Guild.

Over the years, we began attending Grace Hopper as well as becoming more familiar with issues facing women in the tech industry. We became more outspoken about these issues, and we found more pride in our crafting. Instead of hiding it, we began showing off our creations to our colleagues. Yoshi tile mosaics, 1UP mushroom pillows, I even created a nyan cat quilt for one of my advisors.

As we became more ensconced in the crafting communities online and off, we found that there was very little software to help in the design process. Most of the quilters we knew still used graph paper, and calculated measurements by hand. It’s not that these women and men weren’t tech savvy, it’s that very little existed that could help. What was available was poorly designed and/or very expensive.

As our research focused on games, we met with two of our crafting friends who were also gamers, and started discussing crafting games. We brainstormed and thought about games that would somehow generate patterns or other usable crafting artifacts after gameplay.

At some point during our brainstorming process, we realized that crafting is already fun, and being creative is something that really doesn’t need a game to make it any more interesting. Instead, the biggest problem with creating on the computer is that often the program can get in the way. It reduces the enjoyment of being creative, or worse, makes the person using the program feel like they aren’t creative.

From these discussions, the idea of Play Crafts was born. It was an idea we bandied about, a company that creates design tools for crafters. Our design principle is that the tools should be fun to use, and help the user feel creative. Three of us decided to try to make the company a reality, and we started looking for funding.

When we pitched our idea to investors, at first they were unbelieving that there was so little in the field of crafting. Crafting is a growing industry with many younger women and men picking up knitting, crochet, quilting, and embroidery. However, it is an industry that is predominantly women.

We attended a startup hackathon, in which people pitched their ideas and people grouped up to work on them. One of the pitches was for rewriting a software library into a different programming language. While I’m sure this was useful, it really brought my attention to just how under served the crafting community is.

Is it because the crafting community is predominantly women, and computer science is predominantly men? Software problems can only be addressed when you know there’s a problem. So many of the crafters we meet deal with issues that could easily be solved by a computer, but they don’t think to ask for it. Hopefully, that’s where Play Crafts can help them.

In the end, we were able to secure funding, and we’ve had great feedback from the crafting community. I’m excited to be pushing forward in a field that is so vibrant and close to my heart. I love what I’m doing, what I’m enabling, and the people I’m helping. The very thing that I was embarrassed of for so long, has allowed me to have the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had.

Are there other areas that are critically underserved by technology? Do you have a hobby or interest that faces problems that could be improved by software or hardware?

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