Sunday, August 14, 2016


As a woman who has math and science anxiety, I still bristle when given a task involving these subjects.   What I realize now is that, under the right circumstances, I can get really excited when I learn something new and discover how things work. 

I am in the process of learning the Arduino coding system for Lilypad circuitry as well as creating beautiful cuffs and other wearable items that light up with LED lights, batteries and conductivethread. 

The design part is what I first love to tackle and peeks my interest the most.  I could spend hours on my drawings, choosing color combinations, carding the embroidery thread and mapping out the design.  I’ve taught myself several embroidery stitches (no fear there) in preparation for my most recent project.  I chose three LED colors to include in my cuff and diagramed the layout of lights, thread, snaps and battery.  I loved working on this hands-on project and seeing the pattern take shape and come into fruition. 

When the last thread was stitched, I couldn’t wait to snap the cuff together and see the lights light up.  Oops.  What happened?  The two red lights I had chosen were shining bright but the pink light flickered faintly and sometimes wouldn’t light up at all.  I checked my stitching circuitry and all was correct.   I then remembered that the pink lights don’t work well with warm colors.  Back to the drawing board.  I replaced the pink light and connected the LEDs with new thread.  Now none of the lights worked.  What had I don’t wrong?  I looked online for answers and couldn’t find any reason as to why my lights wouldn’t work.  I really took a good look at my stitching and circuitry and a light went off (figuratively speaking!)  I noticed that one of my short tails had wandered under another stitch which interfered with the circuit.  There it was – the problem.  As soon as I pulled the stitch out and clipped it shorter so as not to have this happen again, all the lights sparkled brightly!  Success at last.  I did notice that the one snap didn’t keep the battery stable so I added two small snaps on either side which seemed to make the connection stronger.

My next project was to create a simple t-shirt using the Lilypad.  The simple circuitry didn’t threaten me too much, but writing code – now that was another issue all together.   Thanks to my team Mishael and Sophia, I had the Arduino and Ardublock systems loaded and working on my computer.  I now had to tackle writing the code to make my three lights light up in the pattern I planned and make the buzzer play a little tune.  As the Ardublock program is visually based, I didn’t have too much of a problem working with this and really began enjoying playing around with different ideas for my light show that preceded the tune I wanted.  I couldn’t believe it, but I was really having some fun.  My design idea for the t-shirt was an old fashioned bicycle incorporating the Lilypad in the big wheel and the lights on the road leading to a buzzer in an old streetlight playing a tune.  It was quite simple to adjust the frequency for different notes, lengthen the duration the note played and upload it to Arduino.  I did have one difficulty in playing the tune.  We realized that a delay must be inserted between each note in order for the tune to play.   Once again, I was relieved and happy to see my ideas actually work and the tune play. 


Now I’m on to a more complicated solar panel powered sweatshirt.  Stay tuned for my progress and the big reveal of the design. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

LED Dress

For my final project I decided to do a dress with LED panels. There are two panels, each consisting of 34 colored LEDs and then one Lillypad with 9 white LEDs that blink very quickly in a circle. The two panels are mirror images of each other except the Lillypad one starts at the top and one starts at the bottom so when you turn them on together they “spin” opposite of each other.

The actually dress is just a simple cotton dress with a very mild shark bite hemline and a v-neckline. The Panels were made with a Pleather material so I also added a similar material to the sides and the straps. I also have a v-strap in the middle.

Before I could start the panels I needed to know how many LEDs one battery pack could support, the most I have connected to a single battery is 13, so I started at 8 and built up from there. I have a feeling you could add more than 13. Something that I did find out that was interesting was at first I had designed the dress with sections of blues and greens and then sections of red, yellow, and pink.
I had previous trouble with getting the pink to light up, and when I did the test of how many I could fit on one battery I did it with red, yellow and pink specifically to see if the pinks would work this time and they didn’t. So I changed my design to just be sections of blue and green, and then red and yellow. But, after talking to Sophia we started thinking that maybe the pink was actually considered a cool color. So then I did another test to see if I could group together pink, green and blue and it worked! So now I have one section on the panel that has the three colors.

My next problem I had to solve was how to attach the panels onto the dress. The problem is I wanted to hide the battery packs on the bottom so you would still have to have access to them. So my solution was Velcro. I sewed the rounded side of the panels to the dress and the middle point, but kept the top and the bottom points free then added a piece of Velcro to the panel and Velcro to the dress. Now it sticks to the dress while still allowing me to peel it back and add the batter when I need to. The other thing I did was slice a section of the side to secure the batteries for the Lillypad.

So that’s basically it, I think it turned out really well, I’m not sure how comfortable it would be to wear because of the battery packs sticking into you, but at least it looks cool!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Crafting culture? Count me in.

It has become clear that the mathematics of traditional female crafts are hiding in plain sight. One need not look far, but if you want to look far, go ahead - you will still find the math.

A few weeks ago, I crossed paths with Dona Claudia Vega, a local artisan in San Salvador, El Salvador. Claudia is a older women, perhaps in her mid-seventies or older, but her mind is young. She carries herself gracefully and is the type of woman whose wisdom you can feel when she enters the room. Her specialty is weaving.

Claudia arrived at the workshop location with a portable loom, fiber material, and many examples of her work. She had prepared a weaving demonstration for the children attending the workshop. She set up her loom near a stairway, explaining the importance of correct tension to her craft. She told the children that she was only eight years old when her grandmother taught her the craft, and that she was considered an expert by age ten.

As she unpacked her tools and began to weave, she spoke with the children about the process of making. Her hands moved and manipulated the material so naturally and easily, as if she was not even thinking about her actions. In the moment, I remember thinking that the material itself seemed to be an extension of her body. Claudia touched on many familiar ideas, such as the connection with material one develops when using her own hands to make.

Dona Claudia Vega demonstrates her process of making with her weaving loom. 

Claudia also spoke about number. While elaborating about the planning and design stages of her artwork, she stressed the importance of even numbers and groups of four for specific patterns. The artisan must keep track of the count, according to Claudia, and if one does not think about the number, one cannot envision the final product. She also talked about addition and subtraction, with respect to color work.

At the culmination of her demonstration, we told Claudia that we planned to use one of her works for an e-textile project. The material we selected had taken Claudia three days of near-nonstop weaving to create. She mentioned that the artist must be mindful while making, but this was not a challenge for her, for the craft itself is a mindful practice. It is interesting to observe and identify commonalities in material and traditional female crafts cross-culturally. Number, mindfulness, and sense of community arise naturally in conversation again and again.

Claudia explains that number and mindfulness are key to crafting.