The holiday season is about sharing with others, and for Cm crafts Owner Carolyn Matthews, she is using the technology at Area 59 as her workshop to make gifts for the community.

Matthews is creating ladder-cut ornaments from birch wood that will complement the wood earrings she already makes and sells. The ornaments will be part of what she’ll offer at the New Life Wesleyan Ladies Craft Show Dec. 6-7 at Cam-plex.

Area 59, the Gillette College advanced technology maker space, allows crafters and artists like Matthews to take their work to another level. Laser-guided cutting tools and 3D printers mean the only limit to creating gifts, ornaments and other things is one’s imagination.

Why ornaments?

There isn’t much difference between a holiday ornament and an earring — just what they hang off of.

“I wanted to just have something different than earrings because some people don’t wear earrings,” Matthews said. “I (also) didn’t want to do anything too big, too ambitious this year being my first year. Ornaments were similar enough in size to the earrings that it kind of lent itself to my design.”

A look at the process

Creativity is the name of the game and Area 59 offers residents like Matthews plenty of opportunities to challenge their talents throughout the year, especially during the holiday season.

The innovation and fabrication center sits off Highway 59 a few blocks from the Gillette College campus. It is the largest maker space of its kind in Wyoming and includes a wood shop with computer numerical control (CNC) milling machines, a metalworking area with a modern machine shop and plasma cutter, two robotic arms, six large 3D printers, a 3D scanner, three laser cutters/etchers, 20 laptop workstations with AutoCAD and Adobe Creative Suite software and classroom space.

Matthews is using Adobe Illustrator and a laser cutter to create her ornaments and earrings. The full-time piano instructor started working on ornaments a couple of weeks ago.

“I kind of do this as a part-time side business,” she said.

She puts in a few hours a day and makes “little adjustments on what I think it is going to look like and how the wood takes it.

“It laser cuts them out super fast, depending on how intricate the design. It’s like 2 minutes or less. Then I will take them out, look at them then do a little more things on the computer and cut out a new design. I use Illustrator and design everything myself.

“I have this snowflake that was an earring last year, but only smaller. I just blew it up and made it into an ornament shape.”

Once she finishes, Matthews has to sand the wood, apply glitter, tie ribbons, package them and prepare for the craft show.

“There’s still some work to do at home after I’m done here,” she said.

People see the final product, “but there’s so many hours behind-the-scenes,” she added.

“You’re also supporting your family most times,” she said. “Doing a small business like this helps pay for my kids’ activities and things like that for our family. That’s why it’s important.”

A perfect place to start

Residents thinking about using Area 59 to make their own products and/or gifts should not feel intimidated, Matthews said.

“You come in here and see all these big machines and you don’t know where to start, but the people who work here are really helpful,” she said. “They teach you how to do certain things with the programs and on the computer. They teach you how to use the machines out there.”

It gives people an outlet to experiment with any ideas they may have and “a lot of times you don’t have that outlet,” Matthews said.

“It’s the perfect place to start,” she said. “It’s somewhat inexpensive if you want to come in for the day or the month or whatever.”

‘A nice little creative community’

Matthews has been making handmade products for three years. At first she made presents for family and friends, “and it just kind of grew from there.”

Before switching to birch, the Hillsboro, Oregon, native made leather earrings at home, but Area 59 has “opened up a whole new product line for me,” Matthews said.

“(Area 59) gives a good sense of community,” she said. “There are a lot of other small business owners that come in here and fiddle around with things. So, we kind of talk to each other about our projects. It’s just a nice little creative community.”

Keeping it local

Another way Area 59 helps the community is that it keeps money in town and “those creatives going,” Matthews said.

“I probably wouldn’t do this anymore if local people weren’t buying it,” she said. “Because I’m a local seller, I try to shop at local places as well.

“Gillette is like other smaller communities where we are more economically and locally minded because there’s less people here. People come together because so many jobs here are related to the coal industry and I think that brings people together as well.

“It’s people who have that mindset of just supporting each other and that stems out into our local ventures as well.”

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