Kitty Yeung On Tech-Fashion Designs and the Wearables Industry

If there is a field which has promise verging on a true breakout, it is that of wearable electronics. We regularly see 3D printing, retrocomputing, robotics, lasers, and electric vehicle projects whose advances are immediately obvious. These are all exciting fields in which the Hackaday community continually push the boundaries, and from which come the astounding pieces of work you read on these pages daily. Of course the projects that merge textiles and electronics are pushing boundaries in the same way, except for that it’s often not obvious at first glance. Why is that?

Wearables are a field in which hard work and ingenuity abound, but pulling off the projects that stand out and go beyond mere ordinary garments adorned with a few twinkly LEDs or EL wire is hard. Wearables have a sense of either still seeking its killer application or its technological enabler, and it was this topic that physicist, textilist, and artist Kitty Yeung touched upon in her talk at the recent Hackaday Superconference.

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MIT Makes Washable LED Fabric

Let’s face it, one of the challenges of wearable electronics is that people are filthy. Anything you wear is going to get dirty. If it touches you, it is going to get sweat and oil and who knows what else? And on the other side it’s going to get spills and dirt and all sorts of things we don’t want to think about on it. For regular clothes, that’s not a problem, you just pop them in the washer, but you can’t say the same for wearable electronics. Now researchers at MIT have embedded diodes like LEDs and photodetectors, into a soft fabric that is washable.

Traditionally, fibers start as a larger preform that is drawn into the fiber while heated. The researchers added tiny diodes and very tiny copper wires to the preform. As the preform is drawn, the fiber’s polymer keeps the solid materials connected and in the center. The polymer protects the electronics from water and the team was able to successfully launder fabric made with these fibers ten times.

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We Couldn’t Resist this CNC Batik Bot

Batik is an ancient form of dyeing textiles in which hot wax is applied to a piece of cloth in some design. When the cloth is submerged in a dye bath, the parts covered with wax resist the pigment. After dyeing, the wax is either boiled or scraped away to reveal the design.

[Eugenia Morpurgo] has created a portable, open-source batik bot that rolls along the floor and draws with wax, CNC-style, on a potentially infinite expanse of cloth. The hardware should be familiar: an Arduino Mega and a RAMPS 1.4 board driving NEMA 17 steppers up and down extruded aluminium.

Traditionally, batik wax is applied with a canting, a pen-like object that holds a small amount of hot wax and distributes it through a small opening. The batik bot’s pen combines parts from an electric canting tool with the thermistor, heater block, and heater cartridge from an E3D V6 hot end. [Eugenia] built the Z-axis from scrap and re-used the mechanical endstops from an old plotter. Check out the GitHub for step-by-step instructions with a ton of clear pictures and the project’s site for even more pictures and information. Oh, and don’t resist the chance to see it in action after the break.

We love a good art bot around here, even if the work disappears with the tide.

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Be the Electronic Chameleon

If you want to work with wearables, you have to pay a little more attention to color. It is one thing to have a 3D printer board colored green or purple with lots of different color components onboard. But if it is something people will wear, they are going to be more choosy. [Sdekon] shows us his technique of using Leuco dye to create items that change color electrically. Well, technically, the dye is heat-sensitive, but it is easy to convert electricity to heat. You can see the final result in the video, below.

The electronics here isn’t a big deal — just some nichrome wire. But the textile art processes are well worth a read. Using a piece of pantyhose as a silk screen, he uses ModPodge to mask the screen. Then he weaves nichrome wire with regular yarn to create a heatable fabric. Don’t have a loom for weaving? No problem. Just make one out of cardboard. There’s even a technique called couching, so there’s lots of variety in the textile arts used to create the project.

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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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