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.

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.