100% Soft Speaker Sweater

In which I once again try to solve all of my problems with knitting. This project changed a lot as it progressed; I learned a whole lot and think I made some big steps forward in researching soft circuits for my own practice. the goal of this piece was to make not a garment with electronics IN it, but a garment that IS the electronic, i.e. the full integration of wearable&electronic. It’s also supposed to be very snuggly and cozy, so I tried to maximize soft&fluffiness, and was very successful in that.

Soft Speaker Sweater ft. Brown Party Liquor (battery pack in front pocket powers speakers, liquor powers model, she wouldn’t come upstairs unless I let her drink)

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Above right, the controller is hidden under the folded turtleneck collar and the buttons to toggle the 2 audio files on and off are easily pressed with the right hand.

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You can see the amplifier under the speaker in the above left pic; components are connected with conductive thread sewn into the knit fabric using duplicate stitch. The chenille texture allows the thread to be pulled tight against the core thread of the yarn. The yarn is very bulky as well, and this combined with the “shag carpet” texture hides thread and wires.

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9V battery slips inside the front pants pocket; I drafted some designs with a little knit pocket for the power source in the sweater itself, but that ruined the fit and line of the garment. What I like about this solution is that the power source can be switched on separately from the audio toggle; so the circuit can be all ready to go and the wearer just needs to press the button at the collar when they feel like surrounding themselves&their cuddle buddy with some ambient fuzz noises.

Materials

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CPX controller
Mono audio amp (1.4W 8ohm)
Conductive thread
26 AWG copper magnet wire
Royal Velvet Yarn by Loops and Threads
Knitting needles
Battery pack with switch (I tested with a 9V pack and a 4 AA pack before I decided on the 9V)
Neodymium magnets (I tested 1/2″ and 1/4″ before deciding to just sew both into each speak for max range)
My roommate (age 28)

Ideation & Planning:

I wanted to make an “intuitive makeout soundtrack sweater.” My early ideation was for a cozy sweater with hidden small speakers sewn into it, that each played an audio track mapped to a pin of the CPX controller. The plan was to break the circuit for each speaker with a contact sensor that would connect when someone placed  a hand (i.e. hugging/cuddling the wearer and placing pressure on the sensor) on the location of that speaker.

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I am left-handed, so I consulted with a few right-handed people to choose the locations of my audio output areas and settled on these areas, from which I chose four for the final piece:

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In researching the audio capabilities of the CPX controller, I came to the conclusion that there were not enough pins or memory in the controller for my original plan to be feasible. The controller can also only send audio to powered speakers, and so wiring a power source for all my tiny store-bought speakers would use up more pins than were available (I still have the little speakers from creatron though, and they are still really fun to add to other stuff).

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This led me to instead begin designing a sweater with speakers integrated into the fabric itself. The locations of the audio outputs, power source, and controller remained the same as in my original proposal. The path of the conductive thread I sewed throughout the knit fabric of the sweater to connect all the circuits stayed the same as well.

Process:

Obviously the first step was to knit a sweater, so here it is with my needles still stuck in it before it was finished (there’s no pattern to cite, I just measure the person and knit from the top down):

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And here it is all grown up with finished, constructed speakers and controller sewn in.

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To create the speakers, I knitted coils (1 for each speaker) from copper wire. These function as the front of a speaker; to hold the magnet to the back, I knitted little pouches out of conductive steel thread. The magnet sticks to this square of fabric, and the outer edges are sewn to the copper swatch with more conductive thread.

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At this point I set up some little test circuits before sewing in the amplifiers and controller; I had made a separate fabric swatch and speaker coil for this.

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Here I found out that 9V was necessary to power all my soft speakers, and that an mp3 in stereo that was above a certain file size could not be played through a mono amplifier, or sent to a single speaker, even if I clipped the stereo audio jack so that left, right, and ground ran through a single wire. I also learned that this is the wrong way to clip it, the clip should go vertically and contact all 3 rings:

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Below: Audio coming from controller connects to speakers via conductive threads in fabric of sweater; amps and power not sewn into the final product yet.

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Reflections & Next Steps:

Part of the charm of the ambient-noise-cuddle-sweater is that the audio was crappy; but for next time, larger, stronger magnets will be a must. The area of the speaker coil that vibrates depends on the range of the magnet, which depends on its strength. The next size up from the largest magnet I used is almost 20x more expensive, so I may research other aspects of speaker construction that I could alter in my design to increase volume.

Another option could be to add volume controllers or a different type of amplifier into the garment, but this would affect the softness of the circuit, which is my priority in all my pieces for this class.

Although the final piece ended up just having audio turned on/off from the CPX, I kept the speaker placements from my original sensor-triggered circuit so I can develop this idea further. The major obstacle to my original vision was that there just aren’t enough pins! In the future, I would redesign the sweater to omit the CPX completely; since the controller can only play audio through powered speakers, my thinking is that once I have to build soft speakers AND their power source, I might as well make that the focus of the wearable. Doing this also cuts down on some wires/connectors, which leaves room to bring back the pressure sensors I originally wanted.

If I did this project again, I would basically take the ipod test circuit from my process above and sew that into the sweater, but increase the voltage of the power source and get stronger magnets as well as amplifiers.

This project ended up being more of a prototype, but I really enjoyed learning about and researching the construction of fabric speakers (of all types), as well as of speakers in general. I plan to continue working on pieces similar to this moving forward.

Sources:

Wirtz, P. Spiluttini, C. betaKnit Research–V2 Lab for the Unstable Media. V2. Retrieved 04/11/2021 from https://v2.nl/lab/projects/betaknit-research

Woodford, Chris. (2006/2020) Loudspeakers. Retrieved from https://www.explainthatstuff.com/loudspeakers.html. Accessed 2021/04/09

Adafruit. (2021/04/15). CircuitPython Audio Out. Adafruit Learning System. https://learn.adafruit.com/adafruit-circuit-playground-express/circuitpython-audio-out

Kobakant DIY Wearable Technology Documentation. (2013). Fabric Speaker Swatch Example. HOW TO GET WHAT YOU WANT. https://www.kobakant.at/DIY/?p=5935

Kobakant DIY Wearable Technology Documentation. (2013). Knit Speakers. HOW TO GET WHAT YOU WANT. https://www.kobakant.at/DIY/?p=4465

Group 6 Skillshare: Knit Your Own Conductive Fabric

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Concept
Everyone in our group had all already researched methods for making e-textiles and soft electronic components in our personal practice for this class. We wanted to show that the type of e-textile included in the course kit is not the only option. You can create e-textiles specifically for your wearable, rather than tailor your project to the constraints of what is commercially available.

Tutorial
Our video teaches you a very basic knitting technique so that you can make a small piece of conductive fabric. It gives you an idea of how e-textiles are made, and demonstrates the versatility of conductive knits. We want to show people with no previous fibre experience the possibilities open to you if you choose to research these techniques further.

Materials
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Conductive thread (included in kit from Creatron)
Yarn – Michaels, Dollarama, and Walmart all have inexpensive yarn. For this tutorial, you want a medium yarn-it’ll have a number 4 on the wrapper-and a light colour so you can see your conductive thread.
Knitting needles – size 4mm or 5mm (US6 or US8) – available in the same stores as yarn
Scissors

Note: You can use whatever yarn and needles you find lying around as long as it feels comfortable to you.

Our Tutorial Video on Youtube

We have included some links to further knitting tutorials(videos and pictures) at the end of the post if you decide to pursue these techniques further.

Instructions

To make the fabric, we will be holding the conductive thread and yarn together. Just put them together and pretend it’s a single piece of yarn! When you follow the tutorial, hold the 2 strands together the whole time.
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First, tie a slip knot where the part of the loop that you pull on to tighten/loosen it (the “slip” part) leads back to the ball of yarn. Place the loop on the needle with the short end in the back.
Note: Don’t pull it too tight once it’s on the needle! It should be snug enough to stay on the needle, but not tightly tied like a knot.
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Next we will cast on (put stitches on the needle) – our fabric is 10 stitches wide, so we are going to put 10 stitches onto the needle.
Hold the needle with the slip knot in your left hand. Stick the right needle into the front of the loop, so that it is underneath the left needle and pointing forwards.[pic]
With your right hand, take the long part of the yarn that leads back to the ball (this is called your “working yarn”) and wrap it around the right needle as shown.[pic]
With the right needle, pull the wrap towards you, through the middle of the first loop. Now you’ll have a second loop sticking out of it – place this back on the left needle with the working yarn in back, and pull it snug.[pic]
Repeat this 8 more times, and you will have 10 stitches on the left needle.[pic]
**In the video, Joyce uses a “long tail cast on.” The written instructions and pictures show a knit cast on, and you can see a video of it here: https://tutorials.knitpicks.com/knitted-cast-on/ feel free to follow Joyce’s method in the video if you want to**

To make the fabric, we will be using the knit stitch. This is a lot like how you cast on. Stick the right needle through the front of the stitch.
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Wrap it with the working yarn; then pull the new loop through the front.
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But this time, slip the old loop off the tip of the left needle.
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You have just made one stitch!

Repeat this across the rest of the stitches, and that’s how you knit your first row. Knitting goes from right to left, so at the end of the first row, turn your work over so the working yarn is on the right side again.
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Then just repeat what you did for the first row.
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Our example is 15 rows long, so you would go from right to left 15 times. You can do as many rows as you want, but we found that this size was the smallest piece of fabric you could make that still demonstrates all the applications of conductive knits.

When your piece is as long as you want it, it is time to take it off the needle. Knit 2 stitches as if it is a regular row, so that you have 2 loops on the right needle, and the rest are still on the left needle.
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Now, stick the tip of the left needle into the rightmost loop on the right needle. Lift it over the loop to its left and off the tip of the right needle. You will now have 1 loop on the right needle.
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Knit 1 more stitch, then lift the previous stitch over it&off the right needle as before. Repeat this across the row until only the last stitch is left on the needle.
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Cut the working yarn, take the needle out of the last stitch, and thread the cut end of the yarn through the loop. Pull it tight like a knot, and your knitted conductive fabric is finished!

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We used light coloured yarn so you could see the conductive thread:
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But with the right colours, you can make the thread almost invisible:
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You can also learn different knitting stitches to make really pretty fabric:
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Why Even Do This?
We shared this tutorial as a helpful solution for making your wearables softer. By learning to craft your own fabric, you can produce custom e-textiles for your work. Knitted conductive fabrics are also extremely versatile and have many advantages over woven or commercial e-textiles. You should be able to see most of these firsthand with the sample swatch from the tutorial.

Firstly, connectors can be attached to this fabric anywhere, and even attached temporarily as you decide where to place components on your wearable.
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Another example: https://www.kobakant.at/DIY/?p=1618. You can essentially use the actual fabric of your wearable as a breadboard.

The yarn hanging from the end of the fabric can be tied to a pin on your controller.
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Because this fabric is stretchy, it is also resistive. The technique taught in our workshop is a good jumping-off point for further experimentation with conductive yarns, different levels of resistance in conductive fibres, and the construction of completely soft sensors. Sources:
Crochet/Knit Pressure Sensors. (2016/12). Retrived from

Crochet/Knit Pressure Sensors


Knit Stretch Sensors. (2016/03/11). Retrieved from

Knit Stretch Sensors

It is also possible to knit actuators, whether entirely out of wire as seen here: https://www.kobakant.at/DIY/?p=4465, or with the combination of conductive thread/wire we show in the video.
Connectors or wires are very easily hidden in knit fabric, which makes it possible to knit a seamless, nearly invisible actuator like the speakers above.

References (includes further info on knitting):

Kobakant DIY Wearable Tehcnology Documentation. (1999). How To Get What You Want. Retrieved from https://www.kobakant.at/DIY/

Knitted Cast On. (2009/11/30). Retrieved from https://tutorials.knitpicks.com/knitted-cast-on/

Purl Stitch. (2017/02/28). https://www.purlsoho.com/create/purl-stitch/
You will need this if you want to make the “pretty” fabric pictured earlier in the post.

 

Expressive Wearable: Happy Hat

Concept: For my assignment, I wanted to capture the feeling of walking down the street on a good day while listening to my favourite song, maybe on the way to get trashed with my friends, or on the way home from the mall after buying some sweet shoes. So I conceived the “Having A Good Day Hat,” or “Happy Helmet” as I would call it if that didn’t infringe on the copyright for Ren&Stimpy (probably, I didn’t check).

My objective was, as always, to make exciting fashion items that are still practical for daily wear right now, today, in the present.

Process Time!

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I knitted a hat and bought a pompom; I made it attachable/detachable using a button that fit through a buttonhole at the top of the hat, but ended up taking that out and just sewing the elastic loop on the pompom directly (AND invisibly) to the hat.

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Parts:
Hat (Yellow and Pink wool yarn from Feisty Fibres)
Pompom
Conductive Thread
Yellow LEDs
Circuit Playground Express controller

Circuit:

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I connected the LEDs in a sort of cage around the core of the pompom; I then pulled the fibres out from under them so they are hidden.

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I attached all my LEDs, then got ready to test the little circuit and realized half of it was exposed wiring:

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Finished Wearable:

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Reflections:

This project confirmed that I am better with the “wearable” part of the course than the “electronics” part. I’m glad the controller comes with an on/off switch built in.

I didn’t realize until I began assembling my design that I had exposed wiring (the LED pins) up against fibre; nothing happened with my wearable, but I think that’s definitely a dangerous thing to have and if this were to be a retail item it wouldn’t be appropriate. Maybe I could wrap the pins in conductive fabric next time. I’m not sure what the best protector would be.

If I did this again, I would make a pompom myself with a fine-gauge, floppy yarn so the LEDs would be easier to hide; they would be incorporated from the start instead of me having to pick apart the fibres of the pre-made pompom to get them down to the bottom of the strands. It was also really hard to link them all together around the core of the pompom like one of those jade puzzle balls.

I originally planned to “cap” the LEDs with some sheer, gauze-like fabric, but I found that so much extra material jammed into the fibres of the pompom really detracted from the overall softness of the item. I hope for my wearables to be completely soft, just like regular clothing, and the crunchy/chunkiness of a bunch of covered LEDs in a not-very-large pompom made it seem too much like a silly craft project instead of fun&casual (yet futuristic) club wear. (below: see-through ribbon that looks cool but wasn’t practical).

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Resources:

Prior, O. (2021). MakeCode Introduction. Retrieved from https://canvascloud.ocadu.ca/courses/1271/pages/makecode-introduction-45-minutes?module_item_id=109475

Prior, O. (2021). Adding LEDs. Retrieved from https://canvascloud.ocadu.ca/courses/1271/pages/adding-leds-35-minutes?module_item_id=114426

Feisty Fibres hand dyed Yarn–https://www.feistyfibres.com/

Speculative Wearable-Victoria Bissell-“Rave Helmet Face Mask”

I designed a custom-molded, full-face mask covered in different coloured LEDs that blink faster or slower depending on the heart rate of the wearer. The front of the piece, the face mask, is thermoplastic, and the back&collar are one piece of highly elastic knit fabric; the mask can just be pulled over the head like a hat.

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Unfortunately I couldn’t think of a good way to represent fabric in a paper prototype.

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quarterpaper

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This piece is a fashion item designed for a speculated future in which present-day novelty/statement items have become daily wear. Rather than design a consumer electronic that happens to be worn on the body, I wanted my wearable to be the garment itself.

My objective was to create a completely new article of clothing, which could only exist in a future where wearable electronics are normalized. I also wanted to make something that’s just fun; my goal with all my projects is to entertain people. Finally, this piece is an excuse to use the radiation face mask from my cancer treatment; ever since they gave it to me at the end, I wanted to make it into some kind of wearable.

The interaction is between the speed and intensity of the “light show,” and the heart rate of the wearer. The mask has an on/off button, and the heart rate is divided into 3 ranges which each have their own output. So, the appearance of the wearable matches the pace of the wearer’s activity; for example, if you’re just riding the bus, the lights change colour slowly; if you’re dancing or at a party, they change colour and blink very fast.

Materials mood board:

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Sketches and documentation:

sketchmask1 sketchmask2

armatureside armaturefront

two exisiting items that resemble my piece are those light-up sneakers kids wore in the 90s, and a fencing mask.

Fencing. (2021, January 24). Retrieved January 26, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fencing#Equipment

Light Up LED Shoes | Official Brand Bright LED Shoes. (2020) https://brightledshoes.com/