My Fidget

My Fidget

Catherine Reyto | MDes | Digital Futures

My Fidget(™ !) is a wearable accessory consisting of three components, that helps with habits commonly associated with acts of “fidgeting”, hair twirling in particular.  I devised an original, non-obtrusive system that could help in soothing the impulse to reach for my hair.  I targeted a demographic of young girls, around the age of 5 – 7 years old.  The intended application is less directed at habit-breaking rather than anxiety soothing, I envisioned a young girl feeling connected to this colourful, friendly, subtle yet sensitively communicative device in a way that makes her feel like it is a part of who she is. 

My Fidget is worn on both arms and as a pendent.  It consists of two capacitive sensors that utilize resistance (conductive fabric and Velostat sandwiched between Neoprene).  Both sensors are designed to be light-weight and stealth enough to forget their presence unless activated, protected in place while nested loosely inside thin fabric pockets.  The first pocket is located on the inside of a lycra sleeve that extends from forearm to upper arm (with the sensor sitting on the lower bicep), and the other pocket sits atop a sports band that hugs the wrist of either the same or the opposite arm of the wearer, chosen at her own discretion. 

When the user reaches for her hair, her arm will bend at the elbow, compressing the muscles of the inner arm together.  This muscle compression is distinguished other arm-bending movements, ie. scratching, adjusting clothing, or covering her mouth to cough.  The flexing permits a distinct threshold (950) for mapping the sensor data, which sets off a response mechanism of an animated neopixel sequence on the Circuit Playground Express.  The Circuit is in turn tucked into a soft, white pouch (with a bunny on it) that hangs from a decorative ribbon from the user’s neck.  When the neopixel animation goes off, they serve as a gentle, playful alert to move her hand away from her hair and over to rest on the second sensor on her wrist.  Once placed there, the Circuit animates a new sequence, this one more soothing and rhythmic, not stopping until she has placed her hair-reaching hand over the wrist and kept it there for a certain amount of time.   

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In brainstorming ideas this project, I had a few goals in mind.  First, I wanted it to be something I could see myself using in a way that is meaningful and personal to me.  Second, I wanted to use the project as a chance to gain competency with code, so that I’m able to exercise a little more autonomy in working with it creatively.  Lastly, I wanted it to be able to take the prototype as far as I could for the class demo, without it necessarily being a marketable product, but rather something I could invent based on my own story and experience.  Making something that I can personally identify with reinforces my drive and replenishes my patience when it has worn out from frustration and exhaustion.  In the case of working on a solo project with electronics, code and fabric in a functional way, finding a personal incentive was essential. 

I focused on my own fidgeting habit – hair twirling.  I chose to designate my intended user as a young child because at that age, the habit could still have a good chance of being broken, whereas by early adolescence such an impulse becomes hardwired (pun intended).  I was also thinking of the importance young girls give to their accessories and how when they are fond of a toy, item of clothing or jewelry, or even a pencil case, they tend to have it with them at all times.  I designed My Fidget with this in mind: for its wearer to feel a sense of trust and comfort in wearing it, as well as a sense of pride.

While my only ‘fidgeting’ habit is that of hair-twirling, it’s an unconscious and involuntarily act that I’ve been known for all my life.  My grandmother was keenly aware of anything she deemed a deviation from what she considered “social graces”, and the hair-twirling habit of her then only granddaughter was a major faux-pas.  She opted for the old-fashioned way of eradicating it: whenever she caught me absent-mindedly reaching for my hair, I would receive a shocking smack upside the head.  She would also threaten to cut all my hair off.  I think she meant well and was undoubtedly attempting some sort of negative-association psychological tactic, but it not only resulted in further perpetuating the habit, it also led to feelings of embarrassment, shame and increased anxiety. 

As a teenager I lived with the social judgement my grandmother had probably seen coming.   Someone informed me that hair twirling was a sign of a mental disorder, and many others would mimic me talking while their fingers wove the air next to their chin, distracting from whatever it was they were saying.  Then of course, there was the cultural associations that came with hair-twirling, ie. being a ‘ditz’, a popular term for girls known for being bubbly and clueless.
Emily Swope, a student from Penn State, conducted an experiment about her own hair-twirling habit.  She documented her thoughts whenever she caught herself in the act, and results were conclusive in that anxiety was the correlating factor.  “The behaviour can continue into adolescence and adulthood, especially for people who have anxiety.  Twirling my hair seems to be a way for me to calm myself down, or at least I have begun to associate it with doing that.  I twirl my hair as a way to comfort myself.”

Swope makes the connection with stimming (Self-stimulatory behaviour), defined as “Behavour consisting of repetitive actions or moments of a type that may be displayed by people with developmental disorders”.  The dictionary uses this example: “stimming was part of her coping mechanism” (Oxford Dictionary of English, 2010).  While typically associated with autism, stimming can also be found in ‘neurotypicals’, that is, people like me who are able to control the stim to a certain extent, and typically have a stim that is more accepted by the public than those done by individuals with autism. 

In this sense, hair-twirling is commonly associated with fidgeting, a term that connotes both a mild sense of annoyance (from those around the fidgeter)  as well as a sense of sympathetic endearment for the fidgeter.  It seems to be commonly understood that those who fidget can’t help themselves, whether as children or as adults who have upheld the habits.  Through a blog post entitled “The Art of Fidgeting” by Charlie O’Sheilds, the creator of an online art organization called Doodlewash,  I found out about the Fidget Cube.  Initially launched as a Kickstarter campaign by Ansty Labs, the Fidget Cube is a palm-sized, rounded-edge, soft-surface cube, decked on all six size with fidget-happy switches, buttons, inset grooves and clickers.  The vinyl toy is marketed as a ‘desk’ aid to help with focus, with a tag line: “Got a Fidget Fever™? The only cure is Fidget Cube™.”
While I don’t directly associate my hair twirling with fidgeting, I have noticed that when I consciously stop doing it, my hand will almost immediately look for some other means of staying occupied: picking at my teeth, touching my face, playing with a shirt sleeve, etc.  It’s not so much about the act of fidgeting as it is about a search for a distraction away from the sensation of touching my hair.  In this sense, I have to agree that it points to anxiety, and if that’s the case, then I don’t necessarily think the best solution is to just accept it as a coping mechanism.  I would prefer to address the anxiety itself. 
I see the sensors serving as a training in cognitive therapy, where the impulse to twirl hair is not eradicated, but rather addressed in a mindful way.  With the perpetrating hand resting consciously on the wrist, while the eyes focus on the animated light show of the neopixels, the physical sense of connecting with oneself directs the mind towards a sense of calm.  In this way, it makes it possible to be aware of whatever the thoughts were at that moment that triggered the anxiety.  The correction is not a punitive one, like a hidden buzzer or a grandmother’s scolding smack.  It is rather a fun, playful way of addressing the matter, while providing some reassurance that it’s perfectly okay. 

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  • conductive fabric
  • velostat
  • neoprene
  • thin fabric
  • button
  • thread (hand-stitched pockets)
  • aligator clips
  • lycra tubing
  • sports band
  • Circuit Playground Express

video link:



Antsy Labs. (2020) Product Design Studio and Game Publisher.  Retrieved from

O’shields, Charlie. “The Art of Fidgeting.” DoodleWash, January 29, 2019,

Swope, Emily. “Why Do I Twirl My Hair?”.  Science in Our World: Certainty and Cont.  Penn State, December 5, 2014.

Stimming: What Austistic People Do to Feel Calmer.” Ouch Blog.  BBC News, June 5, 2013,

Oxford Dictionary of English (3 ed.) (2010). Lexico, powered by Oxford. Published online, Oxford University Press.

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