Assignment 3: Open Project — Nala Ren

Hello, and welcome to my blog post.

I spent 58 hours on this dress.

Please enjoy this tale of my suffering.

lights-3 lights-2lights-1
lights-4 lights-5

Obligatory final photos first because I love the finished product! I can’t re-size a video to be small enough for WordPress, so you’ll find a video of the different capacitive touch interactions within the Process slides.

Concept

I created a fluffy, sheer babydoll dress embroidered with flowers, where the embroidery lights up through touch. The transparent dress is made in a natural, pastel-and-nude colour palette, evoking feelings of soft skin and springtime. Many of the flowers are backlit with LEDs, which are activated in differing patterns depending on how and where you caress the wearer. Currently, the dress is coded with four different touch zones, each with their own LED pattern – touching the wearer’s right hip activates a line of lights leading up towards the heart, as if the wearer is being emotionally affected by the contact. Touching around the stomach area sets off frantic flickers, as if mimicking a quick heartbeat. The left hip area makes all the LEDs glow gently in a rainbow loop, like a steady sort of passion. Finally, touching the right breast area causes sparks to light up the entire dress, evoking a nervous excitement. Literally and metaphorically, touch sets off fireworks on the skin. Personally, I think of the dress as more of a wear-at-home item, something you can use as lingerie or a nightgown, but I could see an altered, less transparent version of this dress being used in a more public setting. 

Objective

There are a lot of objectives I tried to hit with this dress. Primarily, I wanted to make something in the theme of combating COVID isolation. I know the pandemic has made it a huge struggle for people to interact and engage romantically/sexually (am I allowed to be talking about sexual interaction for a school project?), and people are feeling the loneliness more than ever. This dress promotes touching and social/sexual interaction, making it exciting and fun for both parties to explore the wearer’s body. The different lighting modes are meant to mimic how the wearer might be feeling when touched in a specific area of the body – I coded them to my own personal reactions, but they can be changed to light up in any number of ways depending on individual preference. The focus on skin tones is also important – it makes the dress look like an aesthetic extension of the body instead of a fully separate entity, 

I also wanted to make a dress with a fun, springtime vibe (since we’re just getting into the warmer days now) as well as touching on high fantasy designs with the detailed nature embroidery. I’ve been obsessed with high fantasy since I was little, and I’ve always dreamed of making a beautiful elf dress one day. Honestly, when I went into this project, I just wanted to make something that I thought was genuinely beautiful – I so frequently make things that I think are “useful” or really meaningful in some way, but sometimes I get sick of that. Not that this dress doesn’t have a purpose, but I think some things can exist only to be pretty.

Core Concepts of Wearability

Comfort – This dress is remarkably comfortable. The chiffon is super soft against your skin, and the Neopixels don’t add any bulk (they’re very flat), so they don’t scratch your skin at all. The insulation layer of chiffon between the LEDs and your skin increase the comfort, and all of the fabric, embroidery, lights, and battery pack are extremely lightweight, so you don’t feel like the dress is dragging. 

Durability – This is absolutely not washable, but otherwise it is fairly durable. The battery pack can be removed to charge for extended longevity. The fabric (surprisingly) doesn’t rip easily, and all of the loose ends/frays are burnt off, so they can’t unravel. A lot of the embroidery is sealed with clear nail polish as well, so they won’t likely undo themselves.

Usability – Okay, I had originally intended for this to be a wear-in-public sort of thing, but as I was making it I got more and more obsessed with it being a lingerie-type dress. As a nightgown, it is absolutely usable and functional – as I was working on it in the privacy of my apartment, I would wear it around all the time just because I liked the softness. As an outdoors dress, well, you could wear it in the streets if you had a lot of confidence. It could also be easily altered into an outside-appropriate dress by adding more layers of chiffon to decrease the transparency, but I really like it as is!

Aesthetics – This is up to your personal tastes, but frankly I think it’s pretty gorgeous, if I do say so myself.

Process

As usual there are too many images for WordPress, so I’ve made a separate process document. There you’ll find a much more detailed step-by-step as well as commentary on all of the parts used. 

Here are some highlights:

Cutting the fabric for (what I thought was) the hoop skirt. It ended up being more of a gathered hoop bandeau?

pxl_20210321_222928978 Embroidering the first flower.

pxl_20210324_031706268 Positioning CPX and Neopixels!

pxl_20210413_221919308

Everything embroidered, all Neopixels connected! Only thing left to do is the capacitive touch connections.

pxl_20210414_171555467Parts List

  • Chiffon (2-3 yds)
  • Non-conductive Thread
  • Embroidery Thread
  • Conductive Thread (90 ft)
  • Adafruit Neopixels (15)
  • Adafruit Circuit Playground Express
  • Lithium Ion Polymer Rechargeable Battery + Charger
  • Clear Nail Polish

Additional Tools

  • Sewing Needle
  • Embroidery Needle
  • Embroidery Hoop
  • Lighter
  • Sewing Machine (optional)

Reflection

I guess I have a lot to unpack here, so I’ll talk about the important points first and then you can skip my rambling if you so desire.

The dress can actually take 6 capacitive touch areas/LED patterns. The Neopixels use 3 pins (I used A1 for data), which leaves pins A2 through A7 available for capacitive touch connections. Originally, I was going to use all 6 pins and program 6 different LED interactions, but honestly I ran out of time, so I went with 4 instead. The project overall took much longer than I had anticipated, even though all of the steps in themselves were relatively simple. Everything was just too time consuming. 

I’m extremely torn between meticulously planning out every detail of my project, versus just going for it. This project started out with a detailed plan, but quickly devolved into chaos. I generally feel that I work better with no plan and the freedom to simply create, but I definitely ran into issues with my freely high expectations. Going forward, I think the key is to compartmentalize the sections of the project where I can wing it, and the sections that should be written out in full. For example, with the making of the dress base, I was much happier just trying whatever and seeing if I liked it, but I was a mess trying to sew on the LEDs with no plan (don’t worry, I did eventually draw out my diagram). 

I regret that in the end, the code was not as complex as I wanted it to be. I originally experimented with a bunch of different things – I remember you (Olivia!) proposing that the dress could maybe “miss” being touched, and I tested out the concept of the dress making a hopeful little chirrup when it hadn’t been touched for a period of time, but I eventually decided that it may be annoying for a wearer, especially if they’re just wearing it for themselves. I want to further explore more complex code and interactions, but I also have reasonable expectations for myself, being completely new to the world of wearable tech. While the final code is not complex, I think it’s effective, and the testing I went through definitely helped me gain more knowledge into all the functionalities of MakeCode.

Now for the other stuff. I had at least 4 – 5 breakdowns while making this, I think just because of the stress of pandemic plus retail work plus end-of-semester pressure. Even with the extension, I felt like I didn’t have enough time to really execute this dress the way I wanted to. Ideally, I would have spent an entire month just embroidering in bits and pieces, taking my time and enjoying the process. Instead, I did all of the embroidery over 4 days, embroidering for 8 hours a day. I felt like my eyes were going to pop out of my skull. Surely, I thought, surely the embroidery would be the most time consuming part of the process, but when I started sewing on the Neopixels I nearly lost my mind. They are just so incredibly finicky, I had to redo many of them several times in order to get them working consistently. Every night I stayed up until 2 or 3 AM just sewing, and went to bed crying because I felt like it was impossible to get it all done. (I also burned the absolute **** out of myself while cooking around this time, and that meant I lost a few days of work because I literally couldn’t use my hand. That was a fun breakdown.) When I finally sewed the last pixel, I felt so much relief that it was over. 

All of this is in good humor (or at least, that millenial/gen-z sort of depressing humor), and none of this is to say that I would never use Neopixels again, or that any of this affected my opinion of wearable technology. Overall, making this dress (and this course as a whole) only increased my love for fashion and tech. Right after this post, I plan on dismantling the dress so that I can re-use the components in another high fantasy dress, but this time I’m going to take my sweet time, and I think it will result in something I really adore.

Resources

Cooper, J. (2012). Sewable Neopixels. Retrieved from https://learn.adafruit.com/flora-rgb-smart-pixels/overview

Assignment 2: Expressive Wearable — Nala Ren

Concept

Clutch is a small purse designed to act as a “real-life MSN status” (a term lovingly coined by my boyfriend), displaying three separate colours of LEDs that the user can switch between in order to convey their current mood. By design, green is meant to convey an openness or willingness to talk and socialize, yellow is intended to be “busy” or “talk later”, and red is supposed to mean “leave me alone”, or express when someone is not in the mood for a discussion. Four snap fasteners on the back of the purse set the colour of the LEDs, with the fourth being “neutral” (all lights off). 

I chose green, yellow, and red for the LEDs as they are more or less universally understood, being found in traffic lights, subway stations, and social media statuses. I had originally considered making a smiley face, frowny face, and sad face out of LEDs instead, but after asking my friends’ opinions, they all said that frowny or sad faces would prompt them to ask the wearer what was wrong, rather than the intended “stay away/don’t talk to me” message, so I chose a ring of light to more clearly convey the objective.

(Now I would like to interrupt your regularly scheduled blog post to show you a few photos of the final product, because I AM SO EXCITED)

Ta da!

red-1

green-2yellow-2(Okay, back to your regularly scheduled programming)

Objective

Many people, including myself, struggle with social communication and how to politely express our current mental status. Clutch is designed to be a simple, elegant way to inform those around you whether you’re down to talk (green), busy (yellow), or want to be left alone (red). I know the assignment was to choose one feeling, but I find I switch between these 3 states constantly, so I wanted to create something that could quickly and easily express the fluctuations in my mood. The gentle ring light also leaves the meaning slightly open to interpretation, which I think is a plus when communicating with strangers especially. I would never want to come off as aggressive or hostile, but neither do I want someone talking to me on the TTC or walking too close behind me at night.

Additionally (and this is just a personal vendetta), I absolutely despise most purses and handbags. This is the unfortunate result of my mother carrying a massive purse wherever she went when I was a child, and immediately getting tired of it and forcing me to hold it for her when we went out. To soothe my hatred of gigantic purses, I wanted to make something small and practical. It has a cross-body strap to protect your posture, and the purse itself is extremely lightweight, while still being able to hold my phone, wallet, keys, and the battery pack with room to spare. 

I also made it fluffy, because, y’know, it’s adorable. I also found that this furry fabric was the most effective for diffusing the LEDs, so it wasn’t a difficult choice. I was debating on whether I should name this purse the Puff ‘n’ Fluff, but I thought that was just a bit too much.

Process

Hold on tight friends, this is going to get a bit dense. So dense, in fact, that I had to create a separate Google Slides document for all of the process work (WordPress just can’t handle it). You can find it here.

In the meantime, here are just a few of the highlights!

Summoning a demon:pxl_20210209_000652989

All the circuits on the front of the bag sewn, moving onto construction:pxl_20210209_061912888

Made a small, removable drawer to protect the USB cord and allow it to be removed when necessary:pxl_20210209_191300632

Nearly done all internal construction:pxl_20210209_192615225

Covered in fur and ready to go:pxl_20210209_235328330

Please refer to the Google Slides for a much more in-depth explanation! There are also videos of the purse in action in the Google Slides.

Parts List

(This list only includes the parts used in the final purse, not products used during testing)

  • Circuit Playground Express
  • LEDs (Green, Yellow, Red)
  • Micro USB to USB Cord
  • Conductive Thread
  • Non-conductive Thread
  • Cardboard
  • Plastic Sheet
  • White Glue
  • Hot Glue
  • Snap Fasteners
  • Felt
  • Furry Fabric
  • Buttons
  • Metal Wire
  • Shoulder Strap
  • Rechargeable Battery Pack

(More) Final Product Images

green-1 red-2

And last but not least, my favorite photo of all time: me staring longingly at BBQ duck.
yellow-1

Reflections & Next Steps

Overall, I’m extremely satisfied with the way this project panned out. This is the first piece of wearable tech I’ve ever made and I’m really proud of it – so much so that I put on makeup and a wig and forced myself and my boyfriend out into the freezing Canadian night in order to get good photos. I fully intend to use this as a real bag (it’s definitely durable enough), and I’m sure my knowledge and skills will only keep increasing from here on out! In terms of things I would have done differently, of course I would have liked to use more permanent materials, but I couldn’t really source faux leather or anything like that during COVID. Maybe once this is all over, I’ll re-make this same bag but more suitable for washing and dropping off of cliffs. During the process, I noticed that the yellow LEDs are consistently dimmer than the other two colours – they do show a lower voltage on the bag, so that’s probably the reason, but I hope to acquire yellow LEDs that are at least on par with the others. I also know that my code is very simple (it is literally ‘forever “digital write [relevant pin] to HIGH”’), and in the future I want to make things that incorporate much more complex and interesting code. I know there is so much I could do, so many settings to play with, and so many new things to experiment on, but I hope for now my extremely time-consuming circuit makes up for how basic the code is! Lastly, I was considering how much easier this project would be with a ring of LEDs where each LED changes colour, but I also think I gained something valuable from sewing that circuit (and isn’t it cute that the little dots move around when you change colours?)

Resources

The only resource I used to make this purse was the lectures. All of them. Several times each.

Prior, O. & Yoyo (2021). Basic Circuits & Circuit Demonstration [Online Lecture]. Retrieved from https://canvascloud.ocadu.ca/courses/1271/pages/basic-circuits-and-circuit-demonstration-~30-min?module_item_id=108562

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

Prior, O. & Yoyo (2021). Inputs & Outputs [Online Lecture]. Retrieved from https://canvascloud.ocadu.ca/courses/1271/pages/inputs-and-outputs-40-minutes?module_item_id=109472

Prior, O. & Yoyo (2021). Digital Switches & Buttons Overview [Online Lecture]. Retrieved from https://canvascloud.ocadu.ca/courses/1271/pages/digital-switches-and-buttons-overview-20-minutes?module_item_id=113950

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

Prior, O. & Yoyo (2021). Light Feedback & Diffusing LEDs [Online Lecture]. Retrieved from https://canvascloud.ocadu.ca/courses/1271/pages/light-feedback-and-diffusing-leds-25-min?module_item_id=113953

 

Assignment 1: Speculative Wearable — Nala Ren

Objective

As a creator, have you ever been so absorbed in a “flow state” that you forget to eat? Or maybe you’re a gamer who sits in front of the screen for hours on end, too focused to take a break for water. FLO is the solution – a small, unnoticeable device worn on the back of the neck which monitors caloric intake and other biometrics, and prompts the user when they are becoming hungry or dehydrated, encouraging them to eat or have a drink. The goal of FLO is to help users build healthy and sustainable eating habits.

Concept

FLO is a device, worn on the back of the neck, which monitors caloric intake, hydration, and other biometrics by analyzing factors such as blood composition and endocrine system changes. The goal of FLO is to alert users when there is a change in the body that signifies hunger and/or thirst, and to then encourage the user to eat or drink something to maintain a healthy level of homeostasis.

The device would allow users to choose how they would prefer to be alerted. For building healthy habits, a user might choose a quiet “ding” sound, or a single light vibration to let them know they need to obtain sustenance. For users who would be tempted to ignore these prompts, they might instead choose a loud, annoying alarm, or a vibration that continues nonstop until the device senses that food or drink has been consumed.

FLO would also connect to an app that lets users adjust these settings, as well as provide a more detailed report on their health – for example, the device could sense when the body is low on a specific vitamin, and suggest foods that are beneficial to increasing levels of that vitamin.

FLO is positioned on the back of the neck for two reasons. First, it allows the device to be unnoticeable by the user, as well as easy to conceal if desired. No one can see the back of their own neck, and you usually don’t sit or lean on your neck (as opposed to the backs of your legs or the area around your spine), so the device wouldn’t cause any disruptions to your normal routine. FLO can also be easily hidden by long hair or a collared shirt, if a user doesn’t want others to see it (though personally I love the cyberpunk aesthetic, so I’d gladly show mine off). Second, the blood vessels in the neck are closer to the surface of the skin, making them accessible to the device and (presumably) making monitoring easier and more accurate. (Depending on how far in the future this is, the device could either penetrate the skin or be completely non-invasive. The version I’m imagining is an adhered patch, with a larger detachable section containing the battery and electronics. However, the entire device could be much smaller and embedded into the skin depending on available technology – though I suppose it would then cease to be a “wearable” and turn into an implant instead).

FLO would be light and comfortable, with the goal of being completely unnoticed except when explicitly alerting the user. The design I have in mind is composed of two parts. The first is a patch that adheres to the skin on the back of the neck (with durable, waterproof, skin-safe glue). It would likely be made of silicone (conductive and non-toxic on all skin types), though its exact composition would depend on the technology available. This part would never be removed, and would solely contain the biometric sensors themselves. A user could comfortably go to sleep with the patch on as it would be flexible and remain entirely flat against the skin. The second part is a hard casing (skin safe, probably gold or silver with a polymer alloy) which contains the battery and all of the electronics required to make the device function (such as the computer which analyzes the biometrics). This part of the device would be detached once the user wishes to sleep, and placed in a charging cradle, similar to charging your phone before bed every night. This would both refill the battery, and allow the user to sleep more comfortably without the slightly bulkier electronics. In the morning, it would snap easily into place with the permanent part of the device.

Concept Art

spectulative-wearable-illustration

Material Mood Board

speculative-wearable-compressed

This mood board reflects how I picture the wearable in my head, because I personally love the Echo from Overwatch/EVE from WALL-E look, and thus I want the device to feel as futuristic as possible; this design features a sleek, stainless-steel and white polymer aesthetic. However, in reality FLO would have multiple versions with different colors to accommodate people who want a darker or low-profile look. The patch would also come in several colors and skintones for a more natural look.

Paper Prototype

hull

 (FLO Hull)

patch

(FLO Patch)

Similar Works

Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). Birth Control Patch. Planned Parenthood. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/birth-control-patch

The “adhesive patch” design of FLO is influenced by the design of birth control patches. Though their functions are different, I first got this idea when considering how birth control patches slowly release hormones through the skin. If hormones can be released from a patch, then the process could reasonably work the other way – the patch could contain sensors to detect changes in different body functions. Birth control patches are designed to stay on for an entire week without falling off, and allow bathing, swimming, and any other activities without being cumbersome.

Apple Inc. (n.d.). Use the Activity app on your Apple Watch. Apple Support. https://support.apple.com/en-ca/HT204517

The Apple Watch has an activity app with a “Stand” feature – it will show you in which hours of the day you’ve stood up and moved around for at least 1 minute. This is similar to my device in that it senses an unhealthy behavior and attempts to condition a more healthy behavior through a small notification.

P.S. This idea originated from using the scraps of paper ideation exercise. The pieces of paper I pulled were “dress”, “depressed”, and “eat”. From this, I imagined a device that would monitor increased or extreme caloric intake (ex. stress eating) and prevent the user from consuming any more food which could be unhealthy for them. In the end, this idea didn’t really resonate with me; I take too much comfort in my comfort food.

However, it did make me realize that another bad eating habit I engage in is constantly forgetting to eat when I’m extremely focused on something else. I figured that this would be an issue that is not only common, but something that people would be more open to addressing.

P.P.S. FLO stands for “Fit Life Observer” because I can’t think of a better acronym.