Maker Faire Bay Area 2011 Recap

The weekend before last (May 21-22) I attended Maker Faire, the “World’s Larges DIY Festival”, in San Mateo California.

I was proud to be a part of the eTextiles / Wearable Computing Lounge and Showcase. eTextiles and Wearable Computing (which I’ll abbreviate eT/WC from here on) incorporate electronics into fabrics or clothing. See my earlier post for more on what it is and how I came to be interested in this field.

The Lounge displayed the works of about 10 or so designers. The Showcase was an eT/WC fashion show, held at 3 pm on Saturday on the ArcAttack stage of the Fiesta Hall. I never imagined myself as a runway model and although it wasn’t exactly like that, I sure couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sachey, chantey!

(Did anyone capture the Showcase on video? My Mom especially wants to know! 😉 )

For the Lounge, I had on display the 3 items mentioned in my May 9 post: the Rainbow Raincoat, Smolder and Flower Power dresses. For the Showcase I decided to wear Flower Power, but I’m also proud that Lynne Bruning, who brought us the eTextiles Lounge + Showcase, chose to wear my Rainbow Raincoat while presenting! (I should have warned her the fabric is very insulating and not so great for stressful situations, though!)

I was happy to meet many interesting and fun fellow designers and see how each of us is taking the technology and creativity in different directions. Very exciting times! Thank you Lynne for making this event happen!

In addition to my eT/WC participation, I was gobsmacked just walking around the Faire taking in all the sights, sounds, tastes and thought-provoking ideas! It kind of felt like the county fairs I used to go to as a kid combined with Mythbusters and Mad Max.

Photos from the Faire (see my Flickr for more):

Most awed by: the Mechanical Swamp Kirin:

Wearable Computing Showcase at Maker Faire

I will be attending Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA this month and am excited to be a part of the eTextile and Wearable Computing Lounge and Showcase organized by the Textile Enchantress Lynne Bruning! I plan to have 3 items at the Lounge and will need to pick one for the Showcase. Each of these items share a common theme:

  • the original garment was purchased at Goodwill
  • it is lit up by individual LEDs
  • telephone wire was used in the circuitry

Fiesta Flower Power
They say “beauty is the best defense against complexity”. Who needs brains when you have elegance and simplicity? Less can indeed be more! A coin cell battery powers 43 tiny 1.8mm white LEDs evenly dispersed on this blue floral print dress. No Arduino or LilyPad.

Rainbow Raincoat
This was my first project in wearable technology, completed in March 2011. Diffused 5mm RGB LEDs adorn each of the 10 buttons on this shiny black coat. Each LED is surrounded by crystal beads for accent and additional diffusing enjoyment. Controlled by an Arduino Duemilanove. A button lets you choose either color drift mode for the subtle approach, or switch to rainbow mode when you want to wow friends and complete strangers alike (and/or try out light painting…).


Inspired by a dream, a Facebook conversation and a look, hot and cold compete for attention on a little black dress. Diffused 5mm RGB LEDs are set simply to glow ember-orange, but with the timing and intensity cleverly crafted to mimic the look and feel (well, maybe just the look) of a campfire’s glowing coals. Controlled by a LilyPad, making gratuitous use of the Arduino language’s random() function. NOTE: I’m still working on this one but hope to have a photo up in a few days! 🙂

For the Showcase I will either exhibit the Rainbow Raincoat or the Smolder dress.

Weird Is Awesome: Super Bowl Halftime LED Show

I’m not much of a football fan, but being that my home state made it to the Super Bowl this year I decided to tune in while I went about my business that day. Maybe I’d see some neat commercials, I thought. At halftime a friend chatted me to ask if I was watching it because there was quite an LED show going on.

If you haven’t seen it:

Here is a summary of what I could dig up on the technology and some of my personal opinions about the visual aspects of the show.

How they did it

  • almost 400 of the backup dancers wore LED-equipped costumes
  • the costumes were made of durable silver tricot foil by a dance/costume company called Just for Kix in Baxter, MN
  • each dancer’s costume was outfitted with 300 LED RGB strip lights supplied by Creative Lighting Solutions, LLC in Cleveland, OH… so, over 100,000 LEDs just in the dancers’ costumes
  • velcro was used to affix the LED strips
  • the LEDs on the dancers were set up to produce 3 colors only: red, green or white
  • power was from a 12 volt battery pack with belt controller
  • the dancers manually controlled their lights
  • the cube-heads and the Black Eyed Peas costumes’ electronics were made by Engineering Solutions, Inc in Lehi, UT, under some direction by Creative Lighting Solutions

My opinions

  • Likes:
    • how the combination of the LED strips and the type of fabric in the costumes made the dancers’ entire bodies glow
    • the surrealistic feel when the dancers formed moving arrows
    • the cube-head dancers looked really funky – I think the combination of costumes, dancing and music were more than the sum of the parts there
  • I suppose one could argue that the lights shouldn’t eclipse the singers, but in general I thought the Black Eyed Peas’ costumes could have had some more imagination as far as the LED enhancement goes – color, patterns, patterns in motion, etc. I think there is great opportunity to use all 4 dimensions and color with this fashion / lights / technology mixture.
  • Choreography of the dancers forming hearts and arrows: why not combine these and have the red hearts only at first, then have one-person wide white arrows pierce the hearts… or, make the hearts appear to beat in time to the music (maybe they were supposed to look like they were beating but it looked more like swaying to me).

All in all I thought it was great to see so much wearable tech in the Super Bowl.

More info

The Path Not Taken

When I was a senior in high school I had plans to be a fashion designer. I earned some college credit in fashion attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago one summer. I designed and made some of the clothes I wore. I applied and was accepted to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.

Then I, well, I think perhaps, sort of chickened-out. Or maybe I just decided to explore some other things I liked first; I’ve always struggled with juggling multiple interests. I ended up studying math at a university in the same state I grew up in and then worked as an actuary for 14 years. Then I quit and the last couple years I’ve been teaching myself various programming languages and tools with the goal of transforming myself into a web developer.

This past weekend I got to experience a little taste of what it would have been like if I had stuck with plan A, mixed it with a bit of plan C, and added some seafood sensation and secret sauce.

I attended a 2-day workshop titled “Where Electronics Meet Textiles”, put on by award winning textile artist Lynne Bruning and Italian eTextile Master Troy Nachtigall. About 17 attendees from various backgrounds learned about the latest innovations, the materials and disciplines involved, and at the end we were left to our own devices, so to speak, making something of our own choosing (actually and thankfully we had a lot of help from Troy and Lynne!).

Lynne lending her expertise for our projects

Lynne lending her expertise for our projects

At the heart of eTextiles, wearable computing, etc. is often a LilyPad, which is a smaller, more elegant-looking version of an Arduino. These devices are a combination of electronics hardware and programmable software that allow you to transform physical inputs into different physical outputs. Think things like light, motion, sound, contact, etc. Combine this with fabrics, conductive thread or other material, and various other electronics hardware and you can create clothes that light up in response to movement or sound, convert sound or proximity of other objects to vibration, monitor body processes like heart rate, sleep, etc.

Our instructors Lynne and Troy complemented each other well in their strengths and interests. We also had a special guest: Nwanua Elumeze, founder of Aniomagic, who is developing some really innovative ways of addressing human-machine interaction. For example: uploading information to your device by holding it up to your computer screen, where patterns of light, sound or movement are used to send the information, rather than messing about with cables and not-so-basic instructions.

As mentioned, the afternoon of the second day was spent on building our own projects. I don’t know whether to feel guilty about this or encouraged that my life choices of late are on the right track, but I didn’t actually make it to the integrating-with-the-fabric part. I was too captivated with programming my LilyPad. But my new friends made a variety of items, most of which involved some sort of blink and bling. You can see some of it here.

The event was sponsored by SparkFun Electronics and PlugandWear and held at SparkFun’s offices in Boulder.

I’m glad my path has come round again and I’ve met up with with these other eTextiles pioneers; perhaps together we can explore the interstitial spaces where we will create magic and the impossible.