June 8, 2006

Tux for open sew-ers

Author: Tina Gasperson

Tux has gone open source in a different way. The Free Penguin Project provides free GPL sewing patterns and advice so that anyone who meets the hardware requirements can create a fluffy stuffed penguin of their own; specifically, would-be Tux tailors need access to a sewing machine and fabric.

Joerg Feuerhake, the head of the project, calls the patterns "free executables." Late in 2000, while Feuerhake was working on a degree in economics, he and his colleagues wondered why patterns for Linux's mascot were not freely available. "Then we had a laugh considering what geek term would match what action in sewing -- you know, compiling, hardware, software, license." He says it was pretty each to come up with parallels. Hardware is the sewing machine (or needle and thread), software is the pattern, compiling is putting the instructions together and sewing the pieces, and the license is, well, the license.

Feuerhake says he reverse-engineered a McDonald's plush toy to get the specs for the first Tux pattern. "Later, I got a quality Tux and could do some precise measurements, which
led to the first incomplete Tux patterns. Then I get refinements from those who actually make the Tux. They have contributed quite a lot to today's patterns."

Feuerhake says he gets a lot of positive feedback from those who have downloaded and compiled the plush Tux code. "It is not a lot of effort anymore and it is great fun to receive mails from time to time with Tuxes, comments, or contributions from all over the world. Feedback comes in about twice a month. Sometimes it is about the patterns. Those who have sewn before sometimes have problems compiling the Tux; newbies get along with the patterns quite well. Maybe that is because I do not follow sewing pattern standards -- I only heard a few months ago that there is a thing called 'seam allowance.'"

Feuerhake doesn't make much money from the site. He's been running Google text ads since February, but he says those have brought in less than $25 -- not enough to pay for the traffic the site receives. "I still like the academia behind it. Can you take concepts that work with software and [apply] them to crafts, or will doing that corrupt [the concepts]? If so, are they corrupt in the software field already and we just do not notice yet?"

The Free Penguin Project Web site hosts the pattern files and details the history of the project, as well as a gallery of completed Tuxes.

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