Bella’s Tchotchkis: Sparkly Accessories for Sparkly People
Technology has taken the fashion world, the entertainment world, and the burlesque world by storm, and there is no shortage of cutting edge technique in the costumes on the burly stage. Upon further investigation, we caught up with one of the most innovative pastie makers in the country, Bella La Blanc of Bella’s Tchotchkis, to learn more about her adventures in making the perfect 3-d printed pasties, including engineering her own 3-D printers for the job! The following interview excerpt is an up-close and personal account of Bella’s process and her thoughts about how artists can work together in a competitive field.
RLR: So, how long have you been doing 3D printing?
BLB: Well we started toying with the idea about five years ago. My husband is a software architect and does computer engineering and stuff like that on the side as a hobby. Yeah, he’s a nerd by trade, and a nerd for fun, so, in other words, he’s really HOT.
BLB: With that being said, we started seeing these big Maker Fairs and Tech Fairs, and we’d go to these, and we saw a 3D printer. And he was like, “I really want to get one, I really want to do something with it”. And I was like, WTF are we going to do with a 3D printer?
So we bought a Duplicator I-3 and it was a build your own kind of kit (a lot of this was his hard work too!) because if you bought them pre-built it was $5-6000. If you bought your own kit and built it yourself when they first came out, it was only $2000.
We started fucking around with it and making all kinds of cool shit. And we realized that the plastic was hard, that you could print it really thin, you could print it really thick, and then it was literally him and me on the couch one night just talking and I was working on merch, and I looked at him and he looked at me and I held up a pastie and he already knew.
And he said: “we can try…”
So, he literally built all the patterns from scratch. We’re talking we probably went through at least 2-3 rolls of filament
RLR: Yes, because you’re trying different densities and shapes, right?
BLB: Exactly- A lot of my earlier models were a little thinner, my next models a year or two later were a little on the thicker side, but they were also heavier; it took us years of tweaking. We had to consider what KIND of plastic are we going to use? Because there are tons of other kinds of plastics out there now like PLA, PET,a bunch of others, and I have rolls of all of them!
Then we had to figure out high melt temp, low melt temp, warping, cracking, proper temp to print at- things that especially even now, people who are buying 3D printers don’t think about. And, you know it has become kind of weird in the 3D printing pastie community because a lot of people are doing it now…
I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but it’s one of those “hey, you’re getting started, awesome, can you reach out to someone who’s been doing it for a hot minute, just to make sure you’re doing it right? I don’t want to admit the amount of money that we spent to figure out exactly the right consistency, the right plastics. I mean, we’ve gone through a couple of printers too, because, if you’re going to buy a printer and work it like a work horse…
RLR: How long does it take to print the pasties?
BLB: It takes about two hours to print one pair, but it’s not a big deal if you just keep them printing morning, noon and night. You do have to go down and scrape the printer, so I set up a print before going to bed and when I get up in the morning and scrape the printer and get the next print started. The truth is, the machine does all the work.
RLR: Oh yeah, after the two years of engineering where you figured out what you wanted to do and how to do it right!
RLR: So, do you have a different printer now that you prefer, or are you still using the same brand but an updated model?
BLB: So, now we use printers that my husband has built from scratch because we know what we want and how we like things done.
BLB: Even the parts for the printer are 3D printed!
RLR: That’s amazing!
BLB: It’s become a science of exactly what we want and how we want it. So, you can’t buy the printer, because he made it!
RLR: That’s what you want, a product that no one else can get!
BLB: I do suggest for someone who wants to get into 3D printing- don’t buy a MakerBot, they are really outdated. If you have one, great, just make sure you have the updated stuff for it. But I’ve seen a lot of positive things come out of the Prusa brand. That’s my suggestion. Don’t spend thousands of dollars perfecting it like we did! Let me help you; I fucked up so you don’t have to!
RLR: How can someone buy your pasties, and what is your site and social media info?
BLB: You can go to Bella’s Tchotchkis website which is www.bellastchotchkis.com, powered by Square (easy for payments) or to my Facebook page. Usually the easiest way to contact me is through the Facebook page or the contact button on the website. Sizes are: Small- 2”, Medium- 2.5”, Large 3”, with smaller and larger sizes made by request. Usually average turnaround from making it and getting it to your home is less than a week (in the U.S.). If you don’t see what you want on the website, I can always make it! (View more of Bella’s creations on Instagram @bella.lablanc)
(There’s much more to learn from this interview! For full text, click HERE)