The Relaxed Runner

(A helpful post for left-handed knitters)

Image result for runner city

Running, as a form of exercise can help reduce anxiety and stress, but running in urban areas can often be a source of stress as well. Loud honking cars, pollution, careless pedestrians, and unexpected weather conditions can weigh a runner down. The Relaxed Runner is a set of wearable devices aimed at helping runners address some of the stressful situations they encounter on the go. A controller, worn on the runner’s fingers is connected to a scarf around the runner’s neck and triggers specific features. The scarf contains a speaker, to help cut noise when needed, LED lights to help runners signal pedestrians and traffic (especially when running in the dark), and the occasional mist spray for some hydration. For this workshop, the focus was on building a prototype for the controller.

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Components:

The Relaxed Runners controller is worn as a single device with two controlling functions within it.

Controller 1: Knitted finger socks
Controller 2: Woven band

Both controllers function as push buttons, that activate upon circuit completion, i.e. a combination of the power and ground lines. In the case of the finger socks, the mechanism is activated when the user joins both his fingers together. For the woven band, a user has to pinch two ends of the band together, with their other hand to activate the circuit. Both mechanisms work easily and are focused at users who are on the move with minimum interference.

A thin scarf work on the neck is aimed at giving the runner a sense of security and not obstructing their movement. The functionality on the scarf works with the LED Lights and the mist spray. These are the most critical triggers for the controllers. The speaker can be activated before the run depending on the wearer’s decision to wear headphones or not.

Ideation:

The idea for this controller was the outcome of an in-class exercise. We were asked to individually write on word cards, names of different types of clothing, verbs, and adverbs. After that, we had to combine these cards in groups of four and pick up random combinations in ballots. Then we had to sketch eight ideas each based on these combinations, and pick our favourite. Some of the combinations I got were softly-reading-necklace and exciting-gymanstics-headband. I chose a DESTRESSING – JOGGING – SCARF, and that formed the base of my idea.

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Intent:

Given that building a high fidelity prototype for a scarf is unachievable in a short period is unrealistic, I opted to build the controller instead. The fact that this concept is targeted towards runners, any wearable device has to be light, easy to wear and extremely comfortable. It cannot interfere with the runner’s movement. With this in mind, I moved into execution.

Building the Prototype:

Supplies:

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  1. DIY E-Textile tester  See how to make
  2. Basic sewing kit (Needle, Thread, Scissors)
  3. For Knitting the finger socks:
  • A roll of yarn, any colour will do
  • Conductive Thread
  • Knitting needles (Size 10 preferably or smaller)
  1. For Weaving the band:
  • Cardboard 6 inches X 10 inches approx. (reusing this is fine, it’s only a frame. I rescued a flap from an Amazon delivery box)
  • A roll of yarn
  • A plastic fork / any fork without sharp edges
  • Weaving needle (If you don’t have one use a thin stick instead)

Knitting Process:

Knitting for lefties can be very challenging, as everything is inverse. After a substantial amount of trial and error, I found that Bill Souza’s Youtube channel is a great place to learn.

The knitting process is divided into three parts for beginners:
Cast on: Learn here
Knit Stitch: Learn here
Bind off: Learn here

As a first timer, I began the knitting process with a few sample patches. This experiment helped me get comfortable with the technique, the size of needles and the nature of knitting I wanted to execute. Usually, beginners are recommended thick needles because it makes the process easier to learn, but due to the tight timeline and nature of my prototype (it had to look good and fit on a finger), I consciously opted for thin needles. This decision worked in my favour because it gave me the right size of knit stitch, and the correct tension I needed for it to fit perfectly on any finger size.

NOTE: Knitting requires a stitch count. I used a twelve-stitch count to fit the height of the more extended finger (middle finger) and an eight-stitch count for the thumb.

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I began the knitting process just with yarn and added the conductive thread halfway through. I wanted only a particular patch of the finger sock to be conductive, so the runner doesn’t accidentally trigger anything while moving. I just knotted the conductive thread onto the yarn and kept knitting. Once the thread is added, it might feel rougher and make the knitting process slightly harder, but continue as planned.

CAUTION; The conductive thread can tangle easily, and knots cannot be undone. Avoid cutting it off the roll you are working from and also avoid taking too much out at once.

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Once the conductive patch is complete, add another knot, cut off the edge and continue working with the yarn. Once completed, proceed with a bind off and trim off all extra thread.

Once the patch is ready, hold the two edges together to form a cylinder, and insert a sponge in the middle to help maintain the shape of the sock. Use a regular needle and thread (preferably in a similar colour) to sew the two edges of the patch together to form the sock. Trim off all extra thread. Complete both fingers.

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Weaving Process:

Once both the finger socks are ready, proceed to weave the band that joins the two together and also works as a controller. Start by making six same size incisions along the vertical edges of the cardboard patch. After that tie a knot at the beginning of your yarn and align it vertically along the incisions. The front should have them laid down vertically, and the back should have them laid out horizontally (pictures show how). Conclude this part with another knot at the end of the yarn and trim off any extras.

Learn how to DIY weave with Christina Reeves

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Next, cut a long piece of yarn and tie it to your needle. Begin moving perpendicularly to the vertical threads in an alternate pattern across threads and rows (pictures show how). Leave approx 1 inch on each end before you start the horizontal weave. Once a row ends move back in the opposite direction, and continue to do so till the end of the patch. Use the fork to tighten each row while weaving. Linearly make multiple knots along the ends and trim off any extras.

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Once the weave is complete proceed to sew on the conductive thread onto it. Sew two same size patches closer to the ends of the patch, that can make contact with ease. You can choose any pattern you like for this.

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Assembly:

Once the three components are ready, sow the edges of the patch to the bottom end of the finger socks ensuring that the conductive areas on the socks align on the inside of the hand, and the patch outside (See picture).

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Testing:

To test the finger socks, connect the edges of conductive areas to the edges of your e-textile tester with alligator clips. Joining both fingers should trigger the LED.

To test the band, connect the edges of the conductive patches to the edges of your e-textile tester with alligator clips. Joining both patches should trigger the LED.

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NOTE: Ensure that your battery is in the right poles prior to testing. This often causes the test to fail.

Reflection:

Before this workshop, I had never knitted or woven in my life. This was a fascinating new world to venture into, and I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to learn both techniques. While felting also seemed like a good skill to acquire, because weaving and knitting both were more complex an technically demanding I wanted to use this opportunity to learn both. While the weaving process is agnostic to the hand of its user, knitting was an extremely challenging start for me as a left-hander. With limited resources available online it took me a few days to grasp the technique accurately, and that was the most challenging aspect of this project for me. Designing the controllers was not so much of an issue as much as mastering the technique with high-quality output. I almost gave up after day two, but I knew that this was the only opportunity I would have to pick up the skill, so I pushed myself, and I am pleased with the outcome.
Next steps :

I would improve the quality of the sewing on the weave and perhaps make the band longer, so there’s more space to play. I would also like to try creating a more complex controller with all five fingers, using each finger to trigger a different kind of reaction.

I would create a wrist band for my Arduino and attach it to the finger controllers, to improve the functionality of the prototype.

 

Citations

Bill Souza – Yarn Crafts 4 Lefties

https://www.youtube.com/user/YarnCrafts4lefties

Christina Reeves – DIR Carboard Loom

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcnXF1R-7BayiKVHkeRgeFA