Have you ever noticed how “one size fits all” often means “one size poorly fits all”? This became especially clear to me when I started using a compression sleeve on my arm. Like any hacker, this seemed like something I could fix, so I gave it a shot. Boy, did I learn a lot in the process.
A little over a year ago, I started dropping things. If I was holding something in my left hand, chances were good that it would suddenly be on the ground. This phenomenon was soon accompanied by pain and numbness, particularly after banging on a keyboard all day.
At best, my pinky and ring fingers were tired all the time and felt half dead. At worst, pain radiated from my armpit all the way to my fingertips. It felt like my arm had been electrocuted. Long story short, I saw a neurologist or two, and several co-pays later I had a diagnosis: cubital tunnel syndrome.
The practice of developing wearable electronics offers a lot of opportunity for new connector designs and techniques for embedding electronics. Questions like these will eventually come up: How will this PCB attach to that conductive fabric circuit reliably? What’s the best way to transition from wire to this woven conductive trim? What’s the best way to integrate this light element into this garment while still maintaining flexibility?
Mika Satomi and Hannah-Perner Wilson of Kobakant are innovators in this arena and inspire many with their prolific documentation while they ask themselves questions similar to these. Their work is always geared towards accessibility and the ability to recreate what they have designed. Their most recent documented connector is one they call the Bumblebee Breakout. It connects an SMD addressable RGB LED, such as Adafruit’s Neopixel, to a piece of side glow fiber optic 1.5mm in diameter. On a short piece of tubing, the four pads of the SMD LED are broken out into four copper rings giving it the look of a striped bumblebee. To keep from shorts occurring while wrapping the copper tape contacts around the tube, they use Kapton tape to isolate each layer as they go.
It is February of 2018. Do you remember what you were doing in December of 2012? If you’re [juppiter], you were starting your CNC Embroidery Machine which would not be completed for more than half of a decade. Results speak for themselves, but this may be the last time we see a first-generation Raspberry Pi without calling it retro.
The heart of the build is a vintage Borletti sewing machine, and if you like machinery porn, you’re going to enjoy the video after the break. The brains of the machine are an Arduino UNO filled with GRBL goodness and the Pi which is running CherryPy. For muscles, there are three Postep25 stepper drivers and corresponding NEMA 17 stepper motors.
The first two axes are for an X-Y table responsible for moving the fabric through the machine. The third axis is the flywheel. The rigidity of the fabric frame comes from its brass construction which may have been soldered at the kitchen table and supervised by a big orange cat. A rigid frame is the first ingredient in reliable results, but belt tension can’t be understated. His belt tensioning trick may not be new to you, but it was new to some of us. Italian translation may be necessary.
The skills brought together for this build were vast. There was structural soldering, part machining, a microcontroller, and motion control. The first time we heard from [juppiter] was December 2012, and it was the result of a Portable CNC Mill which likely had some influence on this creation. Between then, he also shared his quarter-gobbling arcade cabinet with us.
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.
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.
In our hackspace, we’ve opened a textile room in the last month. We have high hopes for it as a focal point for cosplayers and LARPers as well as the makers of wearable electronics and more traditional textile users. Putting it in has involved several months of hard work bringing a semi-derelict and previously flooded room that was once the walk-in safe for our local school authority to a point at which it is a light and welcoming space, but a surprising amount of work has also had to go into winning the hearts and minds of our community for the project.
Putting it quite simply, textiles aren’t seen as very cool, in hackspace terms. You know, Women’s stuff. Your mother does it, or even maybe if you are a little younger, your grandmother. It’s just not up there with laser cutting or 3D printing, and as a result those of us for whom it’s a big part of making stuff have had to fight its corner when it comes to resources within the space.
Yet not so long ago when I brought a pair of worn-out jeans into the space on a social night and hauled out our Lervia sewing machine to fix them, I had a constant stream of fellow members passing by amazed at what I was doing. “You can repair jeans?” they asked, incredulously. For some reason this prospect had not occurred to them, I was opening up a new vista in clothing reincarnation, to the extent that before too long in our new facility I may be giving a workshop on the subject as the beloved former trousers of Oxford Hackspace denizens gain a chance of new life.
After sketching the design on paper, the design process moves into the digital domain, where an accurate 3D model of the wearer is required. [Nancy] created hers with Make Human, a free software that creates to-size avatars of humans from tape-measured parameters. Using the professional garment modeling software MarvelousDesigner (which offers a 30 day trial version), she then created the actual layout. The software allows her to design the cutting patterns, and then also drapes the fabric around the human model in a 3D garment simulation to check the fit. The result are the cutting patterns and a 3D model of the garment.
Waking up to spoilers in the last episode after falling asleep during the first episode of a Netflix binge-watching session ranks right up there on the list of first-world problems. Luckily there’s a solution in the form of a pair of Netflix enabled socks, which looks like a pretty neat wearable IoT project.
To be sure, calling these socks Netflix enabled is a bit of a stretch. Aside from the sock designs, which are based on popular Netflix original series, there’s nothing about the electronics that’s specific to the popular streaming service. These socks, with their Arduino Pro Trinket and accelerometer, detect when you stop moving and send an IR signal to do your bidding – pause the movie, kill the TV, or whatever. The electronic side of the build is pretty approachable – it’s just a couple of modules soldered together. The fiber arts side of the project might be a little outside the wheelhouse of the typical hardware hacker, but you can either team up with someone who knits – an experienced knitter, as socks are not a beginner’s pattern – or just slip the felt-clad hardware into your favorite comfy socks. We’d be a bit concerned about ESD protection for the hardware in the wooly environment, though.
“Netflix and chill” is the current version of last century’s “Watching the submarine races,” and as such the need for special socks or a custom Netflix switch for the occasion is a bit puzzling. Still, the underlying wearables idea is pretty good, with plenty of possibilities for expansion and repurposing.