Wearables: Fashion & Technology

I’ve become quite interested in ‘Wearables’ lately — that’s a term used to refer mainly to clothes/shoes/accessories that have some type of electronics embedded in them that can do various things such as respond to environmental factors or biometrics (e.g. sweater embedded with LED lights that change colour depending on wearer’s mood) or even display data. One nifty example is the “Twitter dress” by Cute Circuit, which is a great-looking dress that displays tweets that include the hashtag #tweetthedress in real time. You can see it in action in this video.

Twitter Dress

The Twitter Dress by Cute Circuit

There’s also a whole range of ‘e-textiles’ (electronic textiles or smart textiles) that include things like:

  • conductive threads and fabrics that conduct electricity and therefore the circuitry can be fashioned right out of these fabrics rather than having to use wires (see photo of samples of copper taffeta, silver lycra and others at e-Textile Lounge)
  • luminous fiber optic fabric (see examples here)
  • ‘muscle wire’ that flexes when heated with electrical current, and returns to its original shape when cooled — interesting possibilities for incorporating into garments

Lest you think wearable technology is something only for engineers and code geeks, there is a big DIY aspect to it and it’s not terribly difficult to create wearable electronics. I took a 6-week class late last year on wearables with Instructor Erin Lewis. One of her projects involved taking a simple pair of mittens and, using conductive thread, a small battery, and some LED lights, ‘hacked’ them so when the wearer put their hands together, the mittens lit up.

LED_mittens_Erin_Lewis

Erin Lewis demonstrates her responsive mittens. The LEDs light up when she puts her hands together.

The palms have decorative patches of conductive fabric, which essentially close the circuit when pressed together, allowing the battery power to flow to the LED lights.

The palms have decorative patches of conductive fabric, which essentially close the circuit when pressed together, allowing the battery power to flow to the LED lights.

As part of this class I learned how to use a loom to weave and incorporated fiber optic cable into the weave. Fiber optic cable conducts light all along its length, so I attached LED lights to the ends of the cables. My intention is to eventually hook those lights up to a circuit boards that, say, reads data from Twitter and changes colour when someone tweets me, and then incorporate that fabric panel into, say, the outside of a handbag. The possibilities, while not endless, are kinda neat to contemplate.

The prototype fiber-optic weave.

The prototype fiber-optic weave. The lit-up stripes are a bit hard to see.

What I really liked about the class was that it was the perfect blend of handmade and high-tech. I also made a pair of knitted wrist warmers that, when I placed my metal (conductive) ring on a patch of conductive fabric on the wrist warmers, sent an alert in the form of a vibration to someone else.

The wrist warmer with electronic circuitry to send a subtle 'nudge' to a partner wearing another circuit in their clothes.

The wrist warmer with electronic circuitry to send a subtle ‘nudge’ to a partner wearing another circuit in their clothes.

I have a tendency to fall down a rabbit hole while surfing the vast range of cool wearable technology out there, and I’m fallllling….faaaalllllllinnnnngg…. So to keep myself on track today, suffice it to say that I’ll likely be posting more on specific aspects of wearable technology over the coming months…and that a project on my Sewing To-Do list is to make a skirt that incorporates some LED lights that light up when I swing the skirt around, or maybe can even be controlled from my phone. Here’s some inspiration for that with this neat light-up skirt from PuzzleLightDresses on Etsy.

 

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