The Textile Bench

What’s on your bench? Mine’s mostly filled with electronic test equipment, soldering kit, and computers. I’m an electronic engineer by trade when I’m not writing for Hackaday, so that’s hardly surprising. Perhaps yours is like mine, or maybe you’ve added a 3D printer to the mix, a bunch of woodworking tools, or maybe power tools.

So that’s my bench. But is it my only bench? On the other side of the room from the electronics bench is a sturdy folding dining table that houses the tools and supplies of my other bench. I’m probably not alone in having more than one bench for different activities, indeed like many of you I also have a messy bench elsewhere for dismantling parts of 1960s cars, or making clay ovens.

My textile bench, with a selection of the equipment used on it.
My textile bench, with a selection of the equipment used on it.

The other bench in question though is not for messy work, in fact the diametric opposite. This is my textile bench, and it houses the various sewing machines and other equipment that allow me to tackle all sorts of projects involving fabric. On it I’ve made, modified, and repaired all sorts of clothing, I’ve made not-very-successful kites, passable sandals, and adventurous tent designs among countless other projects.

Some of you might wonder why my textile bench is Hackaday fodder, after all it’s probably safe to assume that few readers have ever considered fabricating their own taffeta ball gown. But to concentrate only on one aspect of textile work misses the point, because the potential is there for so much cross-over between these different threads of the maker world. So I’m going to take you through my textile bench and introduce you to its main tools. With luck this will demystify some of them, and maybe encourage you to have a go.

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A Hackers Guide to Arts, Crafts, Food, and Music in Shenzhen

When you mention Shenzhen, many people think about electronic gadgets, cheap components, manufacturing, and technology. I’m there quite often and find that all of the technology and manufacturing related stress can be overwhelming at times. Sometimes I feel the need to escape it all so I go to markets and places that aren’t traditionally associated with technology so I can clear my head as well as expose myself to something different. It provides me with a constant source of new design ideas and also allows me to escape the persistent tech treadmill that Shenzhen runs on. There are a lot of places in Shenzhen that I consider hidden gems that don’t get a lot of press since mainstream media associates Shenzhen with either factories or technology. Here are my favorite places to window shop and de-stress in Shenzhen.

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Is That Google In Your Pants?

Google’s Project Jacquard is tackling the age old gap between controlling your electronic device and touching yourself. They are doing this by weaving conductive thread into clothing in the form of a touch pad. In partnership with Levi Strauss & Co., Google has been designing and producing touch interfaces that are meant to be used by developers however they see fit.

touch-sensitive-jeans-thumbThe approach that Project Jacquard has taken from a hardware standpoint is on point. Rather than having an end user product in mind and design completely towards that goal, the project is focused on the interface as its product. This has the added benefit of endless varieties of textile interface possibilities. As stated in the video embedded after the break, the conductive touch interface can be designed as a visibly noticeable difference in material or seamlessly woven into a garment.

As awesome as this new interface may seem there are some things to consider:

  • Can an unintentional brush with another person “sleeve dial” your boss or mother-in-law?
  • What are the implications of Google putting sensors in your jeans?
  • At what point is haptic feedback inappropriate? and do we have to pay extra for that?

We’ve covered e-textiles before from a conductive thread and thru hole components approach to electro-mechanical implementations.

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Floreo: E-textililes And Moving Clothing

pedul [Alica] and [Jerika] are seniors in the Digital Culture program at Arizona State University and for their capstone, the wanted to take something that is traditionally male dominated and make it more female friendly. They chose e-textiles, which are most commonly extremely avant garde and nearly unapproachable with a lot of LEDs and zany mechanisms. Their initial designs reflected this, with multiple LED strips and huge shoulder pads. Then they discovered Flexinol shape memory actuator wire, and found this could be a much ‘softer’ integration of technology with haute couture.

[Jerika] and [Alica] chose to create an electronic flower, able to bloom with the help of a shape memory alloy. When a current is applied to the Flexinol wire, it contracts. Sewing these wires into laser cut fabric petals, the girls created a fabric flower that booms with the help of an LiliPad Arduino.

While they weren’t able to complete their dress due to electronic weirdness and burning out the wire too soon, they did succeed in creating a flower pin that demonstrated the intended effect.

Videos below.

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Key-covered textiles

[Karolina] has been hard at work adding a little flair to her bag. Well, a lot of flair actually. She rolled several keyboards worth of keys into one of the panels for this bag. She had seen the idea in a magazine and decided to give it a try. The secret is to use staples.

The first issues is gather enough keys, so if you give this a try make sure to let your friends know you’re looking for old keyboards. Next she wanted each of the keys to lay flat on the fabric panel, which meant cutting away the plastic pegs that extend past the edges of the key. From there [Karolina] laid out her design with each key face down. Notice how careful she was to make sure there were no gaps between them. Now it was time to link them all together. She used heavy-duty staples as connecting brackets. They were bent to provide a large gluing surface on the underside of the face of each key. With the staples in place, each can be sewn to the fabric with a loop of thread. Although she started the project in the fall she’s just now showing off the finished bag.