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The archive saving home sewing history from the trash

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The archive saving home sewing history from the trash

Director of Distinctive Collections, Karen Morse gives a tour of the Consumer Pattern Archive housed in Carothers Library at the University of Rhode Island. The largest of it's kind in the world, it contains over 60,000 patterns dating from 1847. Kingston, Rhode Island on April 21st 2022.

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Sewing patterns are meant to be trashed — or not

Lara A. Greene keeps her antique sewing patterns in plastic tubs, stashed in the first-floor workshop of her old Victorian home so she can throw them out the window if her house goes up in flames. Greene has collected at least 10,000 patterns — possibly 20,000 — since the 1990s. And like other collectors, she is paranoid about losing them: to fire, flood, and mice or simply the indifference of people whose first instinct would be to toss them in the trash.

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In 1994, Greene was a 24-year-old stitcher at the New York City Opera when she was brought along to visit Betty Williams, a costume designer and researcher with a large antique pattern collection. Old patterns are used as references by costume designers, especially when working on period pieces, and seeing Williams’ collection was formative for Greene. It began a decades-long hunt as she searched for the oldest possible examples to add to her personal archive.

“It didn’t occur to me that patterns themselves were that old. I didn’t even think about how people in the past made their garments, other than going to a tailor,” Greene says. “Once I knew for a fact that patterns that old existed, I just got lustful for them.”

Director of Distinctive Collections, Karen Morse gives a tour of the Consumer Pattern Archive housed in Carothers Library at the University of Rhode Island. The largest of it's kind in the world, it contains over 60,000 patterns dating from 1847. Kingston, Rhode Island on April 21st 2022.

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The Consumer Pattern Archive housed in Carothers Library at the University of Rhode Island. The largest of it’s kind in the world, it contains over 60,000 patterns dating from 1847. Kingston, Rhode Island on April 21st 2022.

Sewing patterns provide a uniquely detailed look at the lives of working-class people throughout history that clothing collections held at museums or universities seldom offer. These patterns — flimsy packets of paper covered in shapes, numbers, and symbols — guide sewists through the process of making everything from sweatpants to wedding dresses. And through most of the 20th century, before manufacturers moved production to capitalize on cheap labor abroad, sewing at home was a way to have high-quality clothing for less money.

But scholarship around patterns and home sewing is still relatively underappreciated, often dismissed as women’s work or insignificant to fashion and art. The common pattern’s ubiquitousness only adds to its disposability — patterns were cheap to purchase and finicky to preserve and were never meant to last.

For the community of vintage sewing enthusiasts, an unassuming website maintained by the University of Rhode Island is a priceless and irreplaceable treasure. The Commercial Pattern Archive is one of the few projects in the world that safeguards these documents that are fragile, easily forgotten, and born to die. A labor of love and insistence on the part of a small team of historians, costume designers, archivists, and hobbyists, the archive began in the 1990s and includes a physical stash and digital database of English-language patterns unparalleled in its scope and depth. CoPA is home to around 56,000 physical patterns going back to the 1800s, along with books, pamphlets, journals, and other related material.

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“The nightmare for most of us who collect antique patterns is that when generations inherit their mom’s or grandmother’s stuff, the paper, the ephemera, the magazines, the catalogs, the paper patterns — that’s just stuff people throw away,” Greene says.

Home sewing patterns aren’t meant to be saved for decades — they’re made to be disposable. Patterns are packaged in paper envelopes, with sizing, materials, and example garments illustrated on the sleeve. The pattern inside is printed on delicate tissue paper that might tear if a sewist looks at it the wrong way. That pattern paper is then layered atop fabric and cut along the printed lines, making reuse and resizing tedious. Once pieces are cut out of the larger sheet, it’s easy to lose them — a rogue sleeve or a missing front bodice piece — rendering the pattern incomplete.

Verge reporter Mia Sato works on a dress from a vintage pattern at a makeshift sewing station — her dining room table.

“They’re essentially ephemeral objects,” Karen Morse, acting curator of the archive, says of the patterns in the collection. “The fact that they’re even around at all is in a way a modern miracle.”

For most of the 20th century, making your own clothing was cheaper than buying off the rack, says Susan Hannel, associate professor of textiles and design at URI. Patterns were inexpensive and easily accessible, and for thousands of years, sewing was an everyday activity. And yet, most museum collections don’t include clothing from everyday, working-class backgrounds — whether that’s a work uniform or a skirt suit sewn at home using a commercial Dior pattern. For one, home-sewn garments aren’t as flashy as clothes shown on a runway or worn by the wealthy. And home sewing done by women and working-class families is generally undervalued.

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“[The pattern archive] is what people dreamed about wearing, and who they were, but also just everyday stuff. You just don’t get those objects in historic costume and textiles collections,” Hannel says. “That’s lost history.”

The oldest pieces in CoPA are from 1847, when patterns in this format were first coming into being, and include baby bonnets, ruffled wraps, and robes. Though the collection is mostly women’s pieces, curators will take patterns for just about any kind of garment, from clergy robes and Halloween costumes to Cabbage Patch Kids doll clothing. The ’40s through ’70s are particularly well-represented with 7,000 to 9,000 patterns per decade, when home sewing was booming in the US.

The largest of its kind in the world, the Consumer Pattern Archive contains over 60,000 patterns dating from 1847.

Though the archive is open for in-person viewing and use, Morse says the online database is the primary way people utilize the patterns. Requests for access range from hobbyists and home sewists to designers, researchers, and curators. But unique requests illustrate the value of the collection beyond the fashion industry: Morse recalls the graphic novelist who wanted to draw characters in period-accurate clothing using the archive as a research tool. She also recently had a request from an applied mathematics professor who wanted to tag garments at key points like neckline and hem to see if there was a formula to explain changes to clothing through the decades.

When patterns are donated to CoPA, they’re first examined and compared to the existing inventory, checking for dates, a pattern number assigned by the publisher, and the type of garment. Older pattern sleeves often did not include the year of publication, and publishers regularly reused pattern numbers, so CoPA staff use supplemental materials like industry magazines, journals, and pamphlets to expertly date each piece. The front and back of patterns are scanned and uploaded to the online database, and the physical copies are placed in a protective plastic sleeve and stored in a filing cabinet in the library, where temperatures are controlled, and exposure to light is limited. Though the pattern sheets themselves are not digitized, some users have enlarged envelope scans showing outlines of garment pieces to create usable patterns.

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Donations from institutions and libraries, collectors, publishers, and individuals make up CoPA’s vast catalog, believed to be the largest collection of its kind in the world. The basis of CoPA comes from Williams, the costume designer in New York, whose collection was acquired following her death. Joy Spanabel Emery, a theater professor at URI who became the leading expert on home sewing patterns, served as the curator of CoPA after retiring from teaching and eventually added her own collection as well.

Greene, the tailor and pattern collector, has used the online database for her work to research how particular garments were constructed while working on stage productions, films, and TV. Without CoPA, she wouldn’t have been able to examine the unusual pattern pieces of an evening gown from the 1930s or the complexity of an 1890s dolman, a type of outerwear resembling a shawl that wraps around the wearer’s arms. In her work for the 2013 film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Greene used antique patterns to outfit Ben Stiller’s character in a 1940s playsuit. Greene, who specializes in corsets, also served as a corsetier for the 2017 film The Greatest Showman and season two of the TV series Boardwalk Empire, among many other productions.

Director of Distinctive Collections, Karen Morse gives a tour of the Consumer Pattern Archive housed in Carothers Library at the University of Rhode Island. The largest of it's kind in the world, it contains over 60,000 patterns dating from 1847. Kingston, Rhode Island on April 21st 2022.

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Director of Distinctive Collections, Karen Morse gives a tour of the Consumer Pattern Archive housed in Carothers Library at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, Rhode Island on April 21st 2022.

CoPA is also a popular tool for members of the Vintage Sewing Pattern Nerds Facebook group. The group’s more than 42,000 members convene to share stashes they find in attics, show off garments created using decades-old patterns, and ask questions, and CoPA is often the first stop for research in dating patterns or to find garment construction techniques that are rarely seen today. Members sort through the tens of thousands of entries, hoping to find a match to the pattern they recently came across or to dig up more information about a pattern they haven’t been able to get their hands on.

For patterns impossible to find for sale and not documented in CoPA, the search continues. One particularly sought-after pattern is Advance 2795, a 1942 women’s coverall designed by the US Department of Agriculture that’s not yet archived in CoPA. Members of the Nerds group have tried to reproduce the piece by sharing what they know about similar garments and experimenting with construction.

“I search for this every single day,” one member wrote about the coverall pattern. “I missed out on it once about 10 years ago. It was in my Etsy cart but sold when I went to check out,” says another. “Been hunting ever since!”

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Though CoPA is not complete, those who use the archive say its existence at all is a marvel — there is nothing else like it in the world. Because home sewing was more accessible than expensive ready-to-wear clothing, the patterns in CoPA represent swarths of people and communities that other university or museum collections do not, says Charity Armstead, a fashion professor at Brenau University in Georgia.

“What’s preserved in museums is often the best of the best. It’s wealthy people’s clothing; it’s their best dress,” Armstead says. In contrast, CoPA’s focus on home sewing provides significant data on what rural and working-class people made, wore, and used. Armstead also notes people of color who sewed out of necessity, like Black shoppers who were denied access to fitting rooms during Jim Crow.

“We don’t know necessarily who these patterns belonged to. But we do know what groups of people historically used sewing patterns the most,” Armstead says.

The database incorporates individual donations but has also absorbed other collections, like those formerly held at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Most pattern companies did not keep consistent records of pattern designs they published or lost what they did save as companies were bought out or shuttered, Morse, the curator, says. Butterick, one of the largest publishers of patterns, was an exception; the company’s archives now live in CoPA.

“If we weren’t doing this, where would all this stuff go?” Morse says. “FIT decided that they didn’t want to maintain their pattern collection anymore. What would have happened if we didn’t take it? Would it have just gone in the dumpster?”

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People who rely on CoPA can’t help but worry about the collection’s future, especially following the 2018 death of Spanabel Emery, the founding curator. Armstead, who knew Spanabel Emery and visited the collection in person, says her death was a significant loss to the field of research.

Funding, too, has caused delays. In 2017, the university shifted the database from being a paid subscription service to being open access, Morse says, which allowed more people to use it but also resulted in a loss of income that was used to pay students who worked on the collection. Money from an endowment set up by Spanabel Emery has yet to kick in, resulting in the current “fallow period.” Morse hopes to hire a dedicated coordinator and curator later this year with funds from the endowment.

Greene, the collector and tailor, is now in the process of selling off some of her thousands of sewing patterns that she no longer uses. Before Spanabel Emery died, the two were discussing how Greene’s vast collection could be integrated into CoPA, whether through donations or filling in information gaps. Mostly, Greene just wants to make sure CoPA lives on and that these irreplaceable patterns are saved and available to anyone who is drawn to them as she was.

“I definitely don’t want to be a dragon sitting on my hoard not sharing it,” she says. “I want it to be documented and useful and out there.”

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The best Apple Watch bands and straps for 2022: The best for all budgets

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The best Apple Watch bands and straps for 2022: The best for all budgets

The Apple Watch Series 7 continues Apple’s streak as the maker of one of the most versatile wearables on the market today, with both the flexibility of features and applications. In a market where aesthetics rule, the ability to swap bands with a diversity of designs and materials brings the Apple Watch firmly into fashion territory. While Apple provides a number of quality bands, the third-party world of Apple Watch bands stretches from budget bands to French fashion houses.

We picked a variety of bands and straps with different styles and prices to add some pizzazz to the Apple Watch on your wrist. Regardless of which generation of Apple Watch you own, these bands will fit your device because Apple made the band-to-watch connection backward-compatible. If you’re looking to upgrade to a new Apple Watch, you may find your old bands still work with the newer model.

For more Apple Watch information, check our curated list of the best Apple Watch screen protectors.

Our favorite official Apple Straps

Let’s start with the multitude of watch bands Apple markets for its own watch. This small sampling reveals the depth and variety of Apple’s watch accessories.

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Apple Braided Solo Loop

The Apple Watch with the Apple Braided Solo Loop band in blue.

Apple always seems to find a way to bring the stylish and the practical together. With the Apple Braided Solo Loop, you’ll be wearing a durable watchband made from stretchable recycled yarn, interwoven with silicone threads. What this translates into is an incredibly comfortable but durable band that fits comfortably without moving around your wrist. The Braided Solo Loop bands are compatible with Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 4 or newer, just make sure you measure your wrist correctly to get the right band. As the Solo bands have no buckle or any other way to reduce in size, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the right fit.

Apple Sport Loop

The Apple Sport Loop band in Tornado/Gray.

We love the look and feel of the Apple Sport Loop band. The nylon material is soft, doesn’t get hot and sweaty, and the various colors are all a lot more dramatic and eye-catching in real life than in pictures. Rather than the pin-and-tuck system on the Sport band, the Sport Loop uses hook-and-eye for an infinitely adjustable fit that suits everyone. Great for the gym, office, and casual wear, it’s the Apple Watch band to choose when you first buy your watch.

Apple Midnight Modern Buckle

The Midnight Modern Buckle strap on an Apple Watch.

This is a very expensive band, but that’s for a very good reason. The Midnight Modern Buckle is made from supple and high-quality Granada leather that’s lightly milled and tumbled to create a material that’s soft on the skin but still durable. Apple has added a weave of Vectran for additional strength (so it should outlast your Apple Watch), the same material used by NASA to make landing airbags for the Mars rover. The buckle isn’t actually a buckle either, it’s a magnetically fastened two-piece design that’s easy to secure. A classic style with a futuristic design — the Midnight Modern Buckle lives up to its name.

Apple Milanese Loop

Apple Milanese Loop in gold.

If metal is more your style, Apple has you covered. The company’s stunning Milanese Loop, a modern interpretation of a design developed in Milan at the end of the 19th century, touts a stainless-steel gold, silver, or graphite design, wraps around your wrist, and adjusts with the help of magnets. Apple’s Link Bracelet, meanwhile, features butterfly closure folds within the bracelet, allowing for a clean look. The onboard release button also makes it easy to add or remove links without special tools.

The Apple Watch Studio

Apple Sport Band strap.
Andy Boxall/Digitaltrends.com

The Apple Watch Studio is a buying plan introduced with the Series 5 Apple Watch, and it’s a great way to get the exact band and watch combination you want the first time. Instead of buying an off-the-shelf Apple Watch and strap combination, you choose each aspect yourself, including the case size and material and the strap. If you want a 44mm aluminum Apple Watch in silver with a Space Gray Milanese Loop strap, you can have it. It doesn’t cost any extra money to customize, and it’s easy and fun to create your own watch on Apple’s website.

Apple Watch Studio

Our favorite third-party bands

Despite the many gorgeous and specialty watch straps Apple offers for its watch, the company knows its customers and that their tastes are not confined to the company store. So Apple encouraged third-party vendors to get in on the action. Here are some favorites from independent vendors.

Nomad Modern Strap

There are a few Nomad straps on this list, and for good reason. They’re exceptionally high-quality and stylish. The Modern is a slimmer variant of its Modern Strap. This vegetable-tanned leather strap comes from Horween, a reputable tannery in Chicago, and it develops a gorgeous patina the longer it’s worn. Nomad uses stainless steel on the buckles and the adapter that connects to the Apple Watch. It’s delightfully lightweight and comfortable on the wrist, and the buckle design means it’s dead simple to put on in a jiffy. The catch? It’s only available for the smaller 40mm or 38mm Apple Watch sizes.

Kades Stainless Steel Band

The Kades Stainless Steel Band.

The Kades Apple Watch band offers an affordable way to sport a stainless-steel band. Like most stainless-steel watchbands, it features a double clasp in a butterfly style and is easily adjustable via removable links. It comes in both silver-colored stainless steel and black.

Meridio Suede Band

Tired of the usual old leather bands and silicone straps for your Apple Watch? Take a look at Meridio’s suede watch bands, which are different than other bands out there yet still neatly fit in with casual and smart outfits. Meridio is an Italian brand with more than a decade of experience in fashion and leather goods. The suede band is soft to the touch, supple, and comfortable to wear. There is enough of a nap on the strap for it to catch the light, while the thickness tapers off toward the tip, making it more wearable.

Casetify Cats

Casetify's Cats band for the Apple Watch.

Leather, metal, and braids are great, but what if you want something with a bit more personality? Casetify has a massive range of Apple Watch bands that deliver just that, and our current pick of the bunch is this Cats band. It’s made from vegan “Saffiano” leather, so it feels great on the skin, and is fully biodegradable too, so you don’t have to worry about your cruelty-free lifestyle polluting the planet after you’re gone. The design looks great too, with a bunch of cute cats adorning the band. Best paired with a matching colored Apple Watch casing, this might not be the choice for those who favor austere over audacious, but it’s sure to be someone’s favorite pick here. Not into cats? Check out the to see if they have one for you.

Nomad Sport Band

Nomad Sport Band.

To accompany its Rugged Strap, Nomad offers the Sport Strap, a silicone band with built-in lugs that extend all the way across the watch’s body, a strong stud-and-hole fixing, and a design similar to that of Nike’s Apple Watch straps. Nomad’s offering is made of soft LSR silicone, which comes in a two-tone color scheme — either black and gray or black and green. It is hypoallergenic and sweat-resistant, and it feels cool underneath thanks to a channel for airflow. It’s well-suited for fitness aficionados and is quite a large, statement-making strap. It’s only available for the 42mm/44mm watch sizes.

Burkley Holo Strap

Burkley’s Holo Strap is perfect for weekends in your sports car with the top down, headed toward the coast — or, at the very least, those times when you’re imagining doing that. The strap’s classic styling makes it a beauty, while the soft, padded leather renders it both lightweight and comfortable. We love the little design touches, too, such as the Burkley logo, which is stamped directly on the strap loop. It comes in several color options.

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Southern Straps Nato Strap

A textured nylon strap, the Southern Straps band features stitching running down each section, giving it a unique look. It feels very hard-wearing and has been double-bonded and heat-sealed to make sure it doesn’t fall apart under tough conditions. We love the khaki and red version, which comes with a choice of colors for the Apple Watch connectors in either 38mm/42mm or 42mm/44mm sizes. We were let down slightly by the strap loop, which sometimes pinches wearers who have wrist hair.

Nyloon Napier Watch Band

Nyloon’s nylon watchband feels like it will last a while and withstand some rough treatment, which is just what you need from this popular style. We’ve been wearing the Napier design, which comes in navy blue and red, and we find it comfortable and stylish. The shiny hardware is attractive, and the Apple Watch adapter pieces have spring-loaded bars, so you can swap out the strap for another 20mm or 22m version of your own choice.

Ullu Apple Watch Band

Ullu Apple Watch Strap.

This beautiful leather Apple Watch band is handcrafted from high-quality stingray leather. Available in an assortment of colors, the Ullu stingray watch band pairs perfectly with the larger 42mm Apple Watch case.

The Strap Smith Baseball Glove Strap


The Strap Smith Baseball Glove Strap next to a baseball and red thread.

Handcrafted from vintage baseball gloves, this band is perfect for the sports enthusiast. This band is not only stylish but durable as well. If you’re more of a football fan, the Strap Smith also makes a custom football band. Just be aware you have to pay an extra $25 if you want the necessary hardware fitted to attach the strap to the watch. Bonus: you can choose the color to match your choice of watch case.

Pad & Quill Lowry Leather Cuff

A person wearing the Pad & Quill Lowry Leather Cuff.

Renowned for its high-quality, great-looking leather Apple accessories, Pad & Quill makes three different straps for the Apple Watch, but we’ve singled out the Lowry Leather Cuff. Made from full-grain leather in black, chestnut, or tan, with hand-finished stitching and nickel buckles, the look is rugged yet classy. Suede on the underside of the strap makes it comfortable to wear. The one problem? It’s only for the 42mm/44mm Apple Watch.

Form Function Form Button Stud Band

The Form Function Form Button Stud Band.

If you’re angling for something a bit different, have a look at Form Function Form’s funky Button Stud strap, which does away with any type of buckle or clasp. Instead, it has a stainless steel stud that holds a long leather band in place. You can order the stud and adaptor in a color that suits your Apple Watch, including options like Veg Tan, Ultra-Thin Horse Front, Horween Chromexcel, and Latigo. Just make sure you check the length to ensure the overall fit is correct. The company even provides lifetime free size adjustments if you buy one.

Frequently asked questions

How will I know whether an Apple Watch band will fit my wrist?

Imagine, if you will: you’ve finally found the perfect Apple Watch band, ordered it, and now it’s here. Only — disaster! It’s too small for your wrist. How can you avoid that? Well, if you’re not able to head out to a physical store to take a look at your chosen Apple Watch bands, then the only way to really know for sure is to measure your wrist. Thankfully, we have a comprehensive guide on how to measure your wrist for an Apple Watch, and how to measure your wrist for Solo Loop Apple Watch bands too.

What are the best Apple Watch bands for sensitive skin?

The last thing you want is for your Apple Watch band to trigger any skin sensitivity issues you might have. While sensitivity issues with Apple Watch bands are most often related to sweating, friction, or nickel allergies, there can be such a wide range of other triggers that we can’t cover them all in great detail. However, there are some band material choices you can make which should hopefully reduce the chances of skin sensitivity triggers.

Leather is often a strong choice, because it looks good, feels great, and more often than not, is suitable for those with sensitive skin. Since it’s a natural material, it’s less likely to trigger any issues, and while it may not be vegan friendly, it’s a good choice if you want a good-looking band that’s kind to your skin. Metal bands are another good choice for the same reasons — just make sure to pick a stainless steel or titanium band to avoid any pesky nickel issues.

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Finally, there are synthetic options. Sports bands are a good pick for those who sweat a lot, for obvious reasons. But if you’re not into the sporty look, maybe take a look at other bands made from silicone, as there are some high-quality silicone offerings that don’t look as if they’re designed only for Olympians.

How often should you change out your Apple Watch band?

As often as you like! There’s no hard and fast rule as to how often you should change out your band, the only real limitation is how often you want to go through the process of changing it. We have a guide on how to change your Apple Watch band, and it’s relatively straightforward, so you could feasibly change out your band every day. A more realistic option may be to have a classier strap for classy affairs and an everyday band for everything else, but it’s really up to you.

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7 best smart grill and smokers

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7 best smart grill and smokers

Adding an app to every appliance in the house can get a little exhausting. While smart technologies like Matter will hopefully make things easier in the coming years, for now, all those apps can sometimes feel like unnecessary clutter. Not so with smart grills and smokers. If you don’t already rely on a smart meat probe, these grills benefit greatly from apps that allow you to monitor them from afar, get suggestions for cooking new meats perfectly, and much more.

If you’ve been looking for a grill upgrade, you’ll love these app-friendly picks. It’s no surprise we’re starting with a Traeger model, but we’ve included a variety of options for different budgets and summer plans.

Traeger Grills Ironwood 885 Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker with Alexa and WiFIRE Smart Home Technology, Black

Traeger Grills Ironwood 885

Smart grill with built-in meat probe

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Memphis Grills Elite Wood Fire Pellet Smoker Grill with Wi-Fi (VG0002S), Freestanding, 304 Stainless Steel Alloy

Memphis Grills Elite Smoker and Grill

Super hot grill with a spacious cooking area

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Green Mountain Davy Crockett Sense Mate Electric Wi-Fi Control Foldable Portable Wood Pellet Tailgating Grill with Meat Probe, Black

Green Mountain Davy Crockett with Sense-Mate

Great grill for camping or tailgating

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Weber Genesis SX-335

Traeger Pro Series 575 Pellet Grill and Smoker

Masterbuilt MB20071117 Digital Electric Smoker, 30

Masterbuilt Smoker MB20071117

A solid option for those new to smoking meats

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Masterbuilt Smoker MB20074719

A Traeger smart grill.

Traeger Grills Ironwood 885

Smart grill with built-in meat probe

Pros

  • Excellent pellet-based design
  • Great smart controls via app
  • Alexa support

Cons

  • If you’re not familiar with wood pellet cooking, it make take some getting used to

Traeger adds plenty of smart features to its famed wood pellet grill and the results are excellent. Use the tech to handle grilling, smoking, baking, roasting, braising, and basic barbecue. The 885 square inches of grilling surface on this model make it suitable for even large backyard gatherings, too.

The smart platform WiFIRE takes the grill to another level. Using the Traeger app, you can control grill features from a distance, including monitoring the built-in meat probe so you know the exact temperatures of your meats at any time. You can also adjust temperature levels and set timers on the app (there’s a separate controller if you would rather not add an app to your phone). It even comes with Alexa, so you can call out commands to your grill while you are busy elsewhere.

The only real downside is that if you’ve never grilled or smoked with wood pellets before, it will take a little learning to deal with the new fuel, and it may be more expensive in your area than other fuel options.

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Traeger Grills Ironwood 885 Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker with Alexa and WiFIRE Smart Home Technology, Black

Traeger Grills Ironwood 885

Smart grill with built-in meat probe

A Memphis Grills Elite Smoker and Grill.

Memphis Grills Elite Smoker and Grill

Super hot grill with a spacious cooking area

Pros

  • Extra-large cooking surface
  • Convection fans
  • Can reach up to 700 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Suitable for some professional work

If you want the best of the best, this wood pellet model can both grill and smoke, and comes with excellent digital controls and software for full control … if you’re willing to pay the price. It’s also especially large, with 1,252 square inches of cooking surface, making it suitable for anything from large family gatherings to some catering work (the 24-pound pellet hopper also ensures you can supply plenty of fuel). Direct and indirect cooking are both options thanks to the design.

Inside, you’ll find dual metal convection fans for even heat distribution, and the ability to precisely control the temperature from 180 degrees to 700 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep in mind that if you don’t need to max out your grill space, you can downgrade to a smaller version to save some money.

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Memphis Grills Elite Wood Fire Pellet Smoker Grill with Wi-Fi (VG0002S), Freestanding, 304 Stainless Steel Alloy

Memphis Grills Elite Smoker and Grill

Super hot grill with a spacious cooking area

The Green Mountain Davy Crockett grill.

Green Mountain Davy Crockett with Sense-Mate

Great grill for camping or tailgating

Pros

  • Affordable and portable
  • Electric or wood pellet modes
  • App compatibility

Cons

  • Too small for some events

Looking for a more affordable grilling option that’s easier to take with you anywhere? You’ll love this electric/wood pellet grill that only weighs 68 pounds and comes with a foldable design that allows you to quickly store or transport it. Those features make the Davy Crockett a perfect accessory for tailgating, but the smart technology only improves your options.

Connect the grill to a Wi-Fi network and get updates on internal temperatures thanks to the built-in meat probe. That means you’re never caught off-guard. The ability to switch to electric cooking at 12V or 120AC also makes the grill one of the most versatile on our list.

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Green Mountain Davy Crockett Sense Mate Electric Wi-Fi Control Foldable Portable Wood Pellet Tailgating Grill with Meat Probe, Black

Green Mountain Davy Crockett with Sense-Mate

Great grill for camping or tailgating

The Weber Genesis SX-335 grill.

Weber Genesis SX-335

Best grill to up your grilling game

Pros

  • Excellent gas grill design
  • App makes recommends on cooking stages
  • Large prep area

Cons

  • The plentiful smart features may be too many for some grillers

Are you more comfortable with a gas grill? This three-burner Weber model doesn’t just run on gas, it’s also one of the smartest we’ve seen, using an app to give you alerts when food reaches a certain temperature and reminders to make important temperature or placement changes (including when to flip your burgers or serve your meats). It includes both a large searing surface and a large prep surface so you can do plenty of ingredient work right there at the grill.

Weber’s design also allows for a wide variety of accessories, if you’re willing to purchase them. You can fit in grillware that allows you to bake, steam, stir-fry, and more — essentially turning it into your own outdoor kitchen.

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Weber Genesis SX-335

Weber Genesis SX-335

Best grill to up your grilling game

The Traeger Grills Pro Series grill.

Traeger Grills Pro Series 575

Good for smaller spaces

Pros

  • A more affordable Traeger model
  • App and Alexa support
  • Still has 575 square inches of grill space

Cons

  • May not be large enough for every user

If you’re a big fan of Traegers but want to save some money, this smaller and much more affordable version still provides many of the same benefits. Smart features include app connectivity to monitor the grill and control temperatures, as well as Alexa integration for giving your grill voice commands.

As the name indicates, you have 575 square inches of grill space. That’s not as big as many of our picks, but it’s still plenty of space for managing meats for a party or a family gathering. The grill can reach up to 500 degrees max temperature, and a built-in probe is also included here.

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Traeger Pro Series 575 Pellet Grill and Smoker

Traeger Grills Pro Series 575

Good for smaller spaces

The Masterbuilt Smoker.

Masterbuilt Smoker MB20071117

A solid option for those new to smoking meats

Pros

  • Affordable smoker
  • Large enough for two turkeys
  • Wood chip side loader

Cons

  • A good beginner model, but lacking in smart features

Primarily interested in smoking meats? This affordable smoker is an excellent place to get started. At 30 inches, it’s not the largest model but there’s still plenty of room to hold up to two turkeys, or four racks of ribs, etc. The electric features mean that temperature control can be very accurate, and the insulation keeps the heat in so you don’t have to worry about making spaces too hot (the smoker also has optional covers and leg extensions depending on your setup). There is also a side-loading system for adding wood chips without dissipating heat.

Masterbuilt MB20071117 Digital Electric Smoker, 30

Masterbuilt Smoker MB20071117

A solid option for those new to smoking meats

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A smart Masterbuilt Smoker.

Masterbuilt Smoker MB20074719

High-end smart smoker

Pros

  • Bluetooth and app support
  • Meat thermometer
  • 40-inch design

Cons

  • May be too expensive for beginners

If you’re more serious about your smoker, this model is a significant upgrade. It’s a 40-inch smoker that offers four chrome-coated racks to hold all kinds of meats. It also comes equipped with more smart features, including a meat probe thermometer and a Bluetooth connection that works with an app on your phone to help you monitor smoking conditions more accurately. Like our other Masterbuilt, it also has a side loader for wood chips.

Masterbuilt Smoker MB20074719

Masterbuilt Smoker MB20074719

High-end smart smoker

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a smart grill?

A smart grill is typically a grill that comes with more advanced digital features for monitoring and control, especially app compatibility or voice assistant compatibility.

How much is a smart grill?

You can find a smart for both well below and well above $1,000. A full-featured, large smart grill will probably be around $1,500.

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What do Wi-Fi grills do?

The grill connects to a Wi-Fi network, which allows it to interact with apps on your mobile devices. You can use the apps to monitor temperatures and control the grill from a distance, as well as get alerts or timers. Some grills use Bluetooth connections instead of Wi-Fi, but the result is largely the same.

Which home grill is best?

The best grill for you really depends on your situation. We suggest you should start thinking about size (surface cooking area, how many people you cook for, etc.), and then what fuels you would prefer. Smart features can come later. Our reviews, like that of the Weber Genesis, can help you make decisions, too.

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Would you like to learn more about the best grills? Check out our guide to outdoor grills, too.

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NASA James Webb Space Telescope Crosses Halfway Point in Final Testing

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NASA James Webb Space Telescope Crosses Halfway Point in Final Testing

What’s happening

The JWST team has completed 10 of 17 “modes,” or checkpoints, on the road to booting up the telescope.

Why it matters

Successful testing means we’re still on the path to receiving the first JWST images this summer.

It’s almost time. 

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NASA is revving up to release its very first interstellar discoveries, courtesy of the groundbreaking James Webb Space Telescope. Come July 12, we may begin seeing the universe through a vastly clearer lens. 

And in preparation for the highly anticipated day, JWST researchers have been meticulously perfecting each of the scope’s trailblazing pieces of equipment — on that note, we have an update. 

NASA scientists announced this week that they’ve successfully calibrated the eye of a JWST-mounted device called NIRSpec. This is a pretty big milestone because of the streamlined way NASA organized the road to regular Webb use. The agency basically has to get through 17 instrument “modes,” which you can think of as testing checkpoints, through analysis and observation before fully booting up JWST. 

Thus, now counting NIRSpec achievements, the agency has officially passed the halfway point on the mode ledger — bringing the grand total to 10 out of 17 complete. 

“The recent confirmation of NIRSpec target acquisition … primes the NIRSpec team for our last activities of commissioning,” the team said. “We cannot wait to see the first NIRSpec science observations coming this summer!” 

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In fact, “the team has started to take some of the first science data,” per the agency’s release.

A quick recap of the James Webb specs

There are four key components to JWST, each of which contributes to those 17 modes outlined by the agency. Of note, almost all these facets rely on some type of infrared light detection, which means they can study a part of the electromagnetic spectrum invisible to human eyes. 

“Study of the intensity or brightness of light across the wavelengths can provide key diagnostic information about the nature of various objects across the universe,” the JWST team said. “From extrasolar planets around distant stars, to faint galaxies at the edge of the universe, and objects in our own solar system.”

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A comparison of Hubble’s visible and infrared views of the Monkey Head Nebula. Though Hubble has some infrared capabilities, it’s nothing compared with Webb.


NASA and ESA

You can read about the science of infrared in more detail here — but returning to JWST’s technology army, here’s the breakdown. 

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Its alpha instrument is probably the Near-Infrared Camera, or NIRCam. NIRCam will essentially lead the charge in detecting and imaging the cosmos as it was when time began. “If NIRCam doesn’t work, the telescope doesn’t work,” Alison Nordt, space science and instrumentation director at aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, who’s been a part of the JWST since the beginning, simply puts it.

130430-alison-nircam-is-assembled-9858

Lockheed Martin engineer Alison Nordt working on Webb’s NIRCam.


Lockheed Martin

Then, there’s the Mid-Infrared Instrument, or MIRI, which has both a camera and spectrograph aimed at dissecting items illuminated by light in the mid-infrared electromagnetic region, and the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph, or NIRISS, which is basically an exoplanet hunting machine. 

Also aboard JWST, you’ll find a navigation system, aka the fine guidance sensor, which helps the scope, well, not get lost. And finally, the star of NASA’s latest update is the Near-Infrared Spectrograph, or NIRSpec.

webb-img-sharpness-1200x635.png

You can see an image from all of Webb’s major instruments in this collage.

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NASA/STScI

What is NIRSpec?

“The Near-Infrared Spectrograph is the instrument on the Webb telescope that observes spectra of astrophysical and planetary objects at near infrared wavelengths,” the JWST team said. 

An image of stars taken by JWST's NIRSpec device.

A simulation of the NIRSpec MSA-based target acquisition process, demonstrated on the NIRSpec sharpness check image. NIRSpec uses “reference Stars” that you can see here, observed through fixed slits in the device. 


NASA, ESA and the NIRSpec Team

In other words, it works to examine space-borne phenomena that emanate light in the near infrared region, but rather than merely image those objects, it can study their chemical composition. That’s the intrigue of spectrography. You get more than a picture of a planet, you get details of what it would be like to stand on it.

figure2-513x1024

An optimized high-resolution simulation of a star seen through a NIRSpec micro-shutter. For proper intensity estimation of NIRSpec science spectra, we need to accurately know the positioning of the targets to within one tenth of the shutter width.


NASA, ESA and the NIRSpec Team

And in terms of target acquisition, the JWST team says NIRSpec has an important mirror, which can place cosmic targets in their proper locations as the telescope explores. This is crucial because such information helps NIRSpec’s spectrograph know where to look. 

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There are two ways the mirror does this — the Wide Aperture Target Acquisition (WATA) and Micro-Shutter Assembly-based Target Acquisition (MSATA). During testing, the team said, WATA performed “excellently” and MSATA made solid progress, and lucky for us, both successes give us awesome cosmic pictures, like the one featured up top.

Further, with regard to MSATA, the JWST team says this method is quite difficult to nail down. It calls for a proper estimation of iNIRSpec science spectral intensity within one-tenth of the device’s shutter width. That’s incredibly precise. For context, it’s “the approximate size of a bumblebee, 1.5 centimeters, viewed from 150 kilometers away,” the team said.

Now that NASA has these successes down, just seven more modes to go before we hit July 12 — the day we’ve all been waiting for. 

To the stars, JWST. 

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