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Gift Guide: 8 DIY and crafting gifts to help your friends make more stuff and learn new skills

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Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide! Need help with gift ideas? We’re here to help! We’ll be rolling out gift guides from now through the end of December. You can find our other guides right here.

Crafting and DIY tools are wonderful gifts right now. We’re all stuck inside and, for many of us, the days are sort of blurring together. Why not help your friends and family learn to make stuff? And if they already know how to make stuff, why not help them make more stuff?

It’ll help break up the monotony, maybe teach them a new skill, and give them something to point at and say “Hey! I made that!” Plus, making stuff just rules.

We’ve put together a wide variety of things that should be fun for the makers in your life. Some are super-focused kits that’ll help them explore a potential new hobby; others are broadly useful tools they’ll be able to take with them into every DIY project they take on moving forward. Enjoy!

This article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission.

A Dremel kit

Dremel Stylo+ kit

Dremel Stylo+ kit

A Dremel is always practical to have around the home for DIY projects. Plus, there are tons of attachments and carving bits available for a huge range of uses. Lighter and more ergonomic than regular Dremels, the Dremel 2050 15 Stylo+ kit includes accessories to get started with wood carving, glass etching, leather burnishing and several other crafts so your recipient can customize almost anything.

Price: $49 on Amazon

Soap making kits

Bramble Berry soap making kits

Bramble Berry soap making kits

Making cold process soap is fun and rewarding, but as a newbie, it can be taunting to stare at an ingredient list that includes lye, oils, fragrances and pigments. Bramble Berry’s beginners kits are the perfect way to get started and include everything your recipient needs, including safety googles (EXTREMELY important when handling lye) and a digital scale. Beginner kits include lavender and orange or, for soap makers with a bit more experience, marble-like swirls.

Price: $60 to $150 from Brambleberry

Cricut Explore Air 2

Anyone who dabbles in crafting and DIY probably already knows what a Cricut is, but if not: it’s a robot with a friggin’ knife attached to it.

That oversimplifies things a bit, but the Cricut is a device capable of cutting incredibly intricate designs with high precision, fast. It can handle cuts in a few minutes that would take hours to do by hand (and would totally leave your hand cramping.)

Tired of cutting things out? Swap out the blade for a pen, and have it draw or write, instead, or a scoring tool to prep paper projects for any folding they might need. It’ll help you make greeting cards, or gift boxes, or custom t-shirts, or stickers, or a mountain of other things. Cricut loaned me (Greg) a machine to check out a few weeks ago and I don’t think it’s been turned off for a full day since.

The Explore Air 2 is the company’s latest mid-range device, and can handle cutting paper, vinyl, cardstock, poster board, various fabrics, and loads of other thin materials. The free design software that comes with it is way more capable than I expected, and they’ve got an add-on subscription service that can help you source ready-to-use art until you’re ready to bring your own. It’s got built-in Bluetooth for when you want to control it from your iOS or Android device, and can handle materials up to 12″ wide. If you know anyone who already has a Cricut up and running, mats (sticky sheets that hold your material in place while the machine is cutting) and things like vinyl/cardstock are probably welcome stocking stuffers. 

(And for anyone who’s ever thought about getting into laser cutting, the fundamentals are incredibly similar. While I hesitate to recommend anyone randomly buy a laser cutter as a gift because they require training to use safely, a lot of the core knowledge you pick up here — working with vector art, efficiently arranging things on your cutting surface, dealing with different materials, etc — will translate quite easily.)

Price: $180 from Amazon

Electric Eel Wheel Nano

Electric Eel Wheel Nano spinning wheel

Electric Eel Wheel Nano spinning wheel

Do you know someone who loves knitting, crocheting or weaving? Chances are if they love working with yarn, they might want to level up to spinning their own yarn. If you have a friend who is curious about spinning, but not ready to commit to a full-sized spinning wheel yet, considering gifting them the compact Electric Eel Wheel Nano. Of course, they’ll need fiber to spin. The Woolery’s hand spinner bundle includes five different kinds of wool so they can decide which one they like best.

Price: $110 for the Electric Eel Wheel Nano | $70 for the wool bundle

Caran D’Ache Neocolor II

Caran D'Ache Neocolor II water soluble pastels

Caran D’Ache Neocolor II water soluble pastels

Caran D’Ache Neocolor II water-soluble pastels are extremely satisfying to work with. First, you lay down a light or thick layer of pigment. Then you can smush it around, like with oil pastels. And then you can brush water over everything to turn it into a vibrant painting. Depending on how Neocolor II is used, it works on many different materials in addition to paper, including glass and textiles (cover designs with a piece of scrap fabric and then heat set it with an iron).

Price: Starts at $14.99 for a box of 10 colors on Amazon

Apple Pencil

This one really only works if they’ve already got a relatively recent iPad (or you’re looking to buy them one of those, too). But if they do, an Apple Pencil can really help them take things to the next level. From sketching out ideas in Procreate (also a great gift, if they don’t have it!), to jotting down measurements in the Notes app, to creating vector art for cutting/etching/t-shirt making, a really good stylus is leagues ahead of just poking at the screen with your finger. It can be a little tricky to determine which Pencil is compatible with which iPad, so you might have to do some sleuthing there.

Price: $99 to $129 from Apple, depending on which one you want.

Macrame kit

Modern Macrame's plant hanger kit

Modern Macrame’s plant hanger kit

Macrame plant hangers are in style and practical. It’s also really easy to learn. Modern Macrame’s beginner kit comes with everything your recipient needs, including rope, beads and a pattern. If they’re not into indoor flora or live with aggressive plant-loving cats, try a wall-hanging kit instead.

Price: Kits start at $36

Robotime puzzles and miniature houses

Robotime miniature house kit

Robotime miniature house kit

Know someone who loves jigsaw puzzles but is looking for a new challenge? Get them a kit from Robotime. The company is known for its elaborate wooden puzzle kits made out of lightweight plywood, and extremely detailed miniature house kits.

Price: Wooden puzzles start at $10.99 | Miniature house kits at $31.99

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Apple’s new editorial franchise, Apple Podcasts Spotlight, to highlight interesting creators

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Apple today announced a new editorial franchise called Apple Podcasts Spotlight, which aims to highlight rising podcast creators in the U.S. The editorial team at Apple will select new podcast creators to feature every month and then give them prominent screen real estate in the Apple Podcasts app and promote them across social media and elsewhere. This will allow creators to reach a wider audience, similar to how the App Store showcases a selection of recommended apps and games with large banners at the top of its screen.

The first Spotlight creator is Chelsea Devantez, who hosts the podcast Celebrity Book Club. On Fridays, Chelsea and special guests including Emily V. Gordon, Gabourey Sidibe, Ashley Nicole Black and Lydia Popovich will meet to discuss the memoirs of “badass celebrity womxn,” as an announcement describes it.

The idea for the show began a year ago when Devantez was reading Jessica Simpson’s memoir and started recapping it on Instagram. The reaction from her followers prompted her to expand the concept into a podcast.

Upcoming episodes will feature Oscar-nominated writer and producer Emily V. Gordon talking Drew Barrymore’s “Little Girl Lost;” actress Stephanie Beatriz discussing Celine Dion’s memoir “My Story My Dream;” Leighton Meester on Carly Simon’s “Boys in the Trees;” and a special Valentine’s Day episode where Chelsea and TikTok star Rob Anderson read Burt Reynolds’ and Loni Anderson’s competing divorce memoirs.

“Apple Podcasts Spotlight helps listeners find some of the world’s best shows by shining a light on creators with singular voices,” said Ben Cave, Global Head of Business for Apple Podcasts, in a statement about the launch. “Chelsea Devantez has created a fun, vibrant space with Celebrity Book Club for listeners to gain new perspectives on the celebrities we thought we knew. We are delighted to recognize Chelsea and Celebrity Book Club as our first Spotlight selection and look forward to introducing creators like Chelsea to listeners each month,” he added.

Apple says future Spotlight creators will be announced monthly from across a range of podcast genres, formats and locations, and will often focus on independent and underrepresented voices. The content is previewed ahead of selection to ensure quality, but there are no specific requirements about the podcast size and reach.

In general, the new Spotlight creators will debut toward the front of the week, but the specific days are fluid to adapt to holidays, major cultural events, and others. The next Spotlight selection, for example, will launch in mid-February.

The Spotlight creators will be featured at the top of the Browse tab of Apple Podcasts and will be promoted through the Apple Podcasts social media accounts. Some form of in-app featuring will continue throughout the entire month the creators are in the “spotlight.”

Apple says it will also collaborate with the featured creators on their own channels. And, over time, you’ll see promotion via additional Apple-operated channels including outdoor advertising in major U.S. metros.

The news of the new editorial program comes shortly after a report from The Information suggested Apple is working to expand its podcasts platform with the introduction of a podcast subscription service, threatening rivals like Spotify, SiriusXM and Amazon.

Though Apple Podcasts still leads the market, Spotify has been catching up by spending over $800 million on podcast companies, like Anchor, the Ringer, Gimlet Media, and more recently, podcast ad company Megaphone.

SiriusXM, meanwhile, bought podcast management and analytics platform Simplecast, ad tech platform AdsWizz, and podcast app Stitcher. Not to be left out, Amazon just a few weeks ago announced it was acquiring the podcast network Wondery.

Beyond helping the creators grow their audience, Apple says the larger goal with the program is to welcome new audiences to podcasts, in general.

Though podcasts are growing in popularity, the monthly podcast listener base is just 37% in the U.S., according to Edison Research. That means it’s nowhere near being an activity that’s popular among a majority of the U.S. population at this time. Before Apple can effectively monetize podcasts as a subscription service, it needs to help get more people listening to podcasts on a regular basis.

Apple declined to say if the program would expand outside the U.S. at a later date.

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We’ll discuss the future of the gig economy and contract works at TC Sessions: Justice on March 3

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Like so many other subjects, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought concerns about the gig economy and contract workers into sharp focus over the past year which is why we’ll be diving into this topic at TC Sessions: Justice on March 3.

From food delivery services like Seamless to warehouse and fulfillment jobs at places like Amazon, these often low-paid jobs have kept people supplied with essentials during one of the most difficult moments in modern American history.

But why is it that jobs our society has labeled “essential” often carry the least number of protections for those who fulfill them? Is there a way to ensure a safety net for the people who need it the most?

As the pandemic continued to rage, California passed Proposition 22. The law was regarded as a big win for companies like Uber and Lyft (who pumped a collective $200 million into promotions) and a tremendous step back for workers looking for basic employment rights. But the battle between the Prop 22 proponents and the gig workers who oppose it continues. A group of rideshare drivers in California and the Service Employees International Union have filed a lawsuit alleging Proposition 22 violates California’s constitution.

To discuss the gig worker economy and its future in a post-Prop 22 world, we will be joined by Jessica E. Martinez, the co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, an organization devoted to promoting health and safety conditions for workplaces; Vanessa Bain, a gig worker activist who co-founded the Gig Workers Collective; and Christian Smalls, a former Amazon worker turned activist.

TC Sessions: Justice will be held online on March 3. Get your tickets today!


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Wendy Xiao Schadeck becomes Northzone’s first New York partner

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Northzone‘s new partner Wendy Xiao Schadeck isn’t new to the firm — she actually joined back in 2015.

Before entering the venture world, Schadeck co-founded co-working and childcare startup CoHatchery. And as a Northzone principal, she’s already been involved in the firm’s investments in Spring Health (mental health), 3box (cloud infrastructure), Livepeer (blockchain-based video transcoding) and Magic.link (user authentication).

More broadly, Northzone says Schadeck helped to develop the firm’s investment theses around crypto, consumer technology, health, developer/web 3.0 infrastructure.

“Wendy has already proven herself through very insightful sector-driven thought leadership and has solidified our position in the New York ecosystem,” said General Partner Pär-Jörgen Pärson in a statement. “She has defined and redefined an honest, authentic and inspiring dialogue between herself as an investor and the entrepreneurs she supports.”

Schadeck told me that her interests have “crystallized” around three key areas — “open data, open finance and open community.” And she said that with her promotion to partner, she will be able to work even more closely with founders, a topic she’s become “obsessed” with.

“We’ve all seen this VC meme, ‘How can I be helpful?’ and I’ve sometimes accidentally literally said it,” Schadeck said. “But we mean it: Other than providing capital, first and foremost, on good terms, what other dimensions are there that are becoming more and more important? … How can I customize my approach to provide what the founder needs from me?”

While Schadeck is Northzone’s first New York-based partner (its other partners are in London and Stockholm), she said she will make investments outside the region, albeit with an NYC focus.

“We’ve tried to do this matrix approach, where we both have sectors that we’re pretty excited about and build expertise and experience in, as well as relationships” she said. “And those relationships are better with local entrepreneurs.”

 

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