Chronicle of a Lab Coat Foretold

I’ve really enjoyed other Hiver76s’ stories of how they became makers, but I’m a little shy to share like that. Instead, I’m starting a new meme: How I use my lab coat.


Using polishing compound to shine up a piece of titanium that I'd machined on a watchmaker's lathe. Note the fetching eyewear. Damn right I rock the safety gear...usually.


Several of us Hive76 fashionistas have special relationships with our lab coats, from dignified appreciation to reckless abandon. I’m one of those people who shows my lab coat undying affection by using the crap out of it. Every grease stain, every paint smear, every nicked buttonhole is an homage to a project that wouldn’t have been the same without proper mad-scientific attire.

By all rights, my lab coat should have a Cult of the Dead Cow logo on it. It was 2006 and I was at HOPE Six, my first Hackers On Planet Earth conference. My friends and I thought it would be real funny, see, if we poked fun of Sen. Ted Stevens by silk screening fallopian tubes on tee shirts with the caption “The Internet: A Series of Tubes”. On the back they said, “Senator Stevens, Don’t Tie Our Tubes!” Ah, remember when that made people lol?

Attendees silk screening tubes at Hope Six

So we were setting up in the vending area and some of the CDC geeks were a couple tables over showing people how to stencil their logo onto lab coats. They ran out of black silk screen ink and came over all neighborly-like to borrow a proverbial cup of sugar. In return they gave me a blank lab coat. I fully intended to stencil it but the weekend got away from me as I helped staff our explosively successful table. Hundreds of geeky dudes and quite a few badass ladies came by to screen shirts, jackets, bags, sweatshirts, anything we could lay flat. It was an educational triple-whammy because we got to demystify silk screening, talk about net neutrality, and sneak in some women’s health with tips like, “Ok, now line up the cervix under the shirt’s tag…” We spent the next 2 months managing a surprise tee shirt business and donated the proceeds to the Prometheus Radio Project to support their work freeing the airwaves.

I came home with my new lab coat lightly speckled with glittery pink silk screen ink. Here’s to auspicious beginnings!

Since then I’ve used it for lots of messy maker jobs from bike repair to rescuing salvaged building materials. My lab coat was with me after a breakup when I went totally bachelorette and left bike parts strewn all over my kitchen for weeks. In a spat of crafty catharsis, I overhauled my road bike and then built a fixie/SS flip-flop up from a vintage lugged steel frame, including lacing the wheels myself with candy apple red hubs. I built “Bettie” three cross in the back, one cross up front just for fun, 48×15 and yeah, yeah, I run a little aggressive but when she’s up to speed, she flies.

My ex would have been appalled at the mess. I was giddy with bike grease delight.


Bettie, the best rebound ever.

Most recently, I used my lab coat to play around in vats of hydrochloric acid, removing old grout from vintage floor tile for a new bathroom. As a treehugger, I’m conflicted about this. Muriatic acid (the construction term for 30-odd% hydrochloric acid, since it’s used to clean brick and etch concrete walls, also used for etching DIY circuit boards) is kind of no joke. But reusing old building supplies, especially something as classy as vintage hex tiles, is a win. I tried alternatives like white vinegar (dilute acetic acid) and rust removers, but they just didn’t do the job.


Safety third!

So that’s me with goggles, respirator, gloves, and my beloved lab coat standing sentry between my made-of-meat self and a bubbling bucket of flesh-eating, grout-chomping acid solution.

Here’s my lab coat today, tattooed with the marks of five years of fun and making awesome stuff. Next, I might spatter it with custom blended water-soluble aniline dye wood stains which they say is the best thing to use under tung oil, raised grain notwithstanding…

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