Designers Have Finally Discovered Wearables

For a number of years now, I have been following this industry.

I love wearable technology.  For starters, I have a fitbit on my wrist at almost all times. For someone who has a data obsession to begin with, there’s really nothing better than having  a constant flow of data. About myself, no less.

But beyond that, I have been keeping an eye on all wearable technology.

If the truth be known, we haven’t really found that huge breakthrough that brings it all mainstream and into the lives of every human being.  We are getting close, and this is my favorite time in any industry…when the possibilities are endless.

I was working in the field of marketing and advertising when the Internet came along.  I begged, pleaded, talked to superiors, made presentations, wrote papers, power points, sent emails telling anyone who would listen that this was the future of retail.  The future of basically everything.

The early reaction from executives…yes many VERY highly paid executives…was that the web was a passing fad.  Seriously.

But not everyone felt that way, and when more voices chimed in, things began to change.

I feel the same about wearable technology.

We basically have no idea where any of this is going, but it’s going somewhere. Now is the fun part..where all the entrepreneurs get to try things, where the experimenters get to experiment.

Last year, I made a vest using Adafruit’s circuitry. Here’s a link to the end result, but if you want to see the whole process, just click “previous” on the post and it will take you backward through the whole painful journey. (FYI…I wasn’t a STEM student…when I grew up STEM was part of a flower).

But now.

Ah, but now, people like Karl Lagerfeld are on board.  His whole spring 2017 fashion collection had a technology theme.  But my favorite is the large clutch.

I had to laugh at the reaction of the crowd.  Once you’ve built something, it’s not hard to understand how it’s done. But before, it’s a mystery held only by physicists.

The latest thing I’ve seen is this bag from Lisa Perry and Leo Villareal.

Again, it’s another bag that lights up, but trust me LED lights are fascinating to watch, and they are very bright.  We humans are so attracted to bright, shiny, flashy things.

Not everyone is working with the blinking lights though.  Here’s a great article from WIRED magazine about high tech fabric that helps to cool you down during a workout.

But by far my favorite so far has been this lovely fiber optic Cinderella gown from Zac Posen.  So lovely.

I haven’t given up on any of my sewing, quilting and embroidery.  But if I were ever to start over, this would be my new field.  Who knows?  I might have a third act left in me!

The Neopixel Process

So, with the vest finally complete, thought I would let you see it in action.  I know it’s a little creepy as everything is in shadow so the lights would show.  Actually, they show pretty well in daylight too.  Those little neopixels are quite bright!

You can see that I used the Adafruit book as a reference during every step.

adafruit book

After I had the lining of the vest created, I used an erasable sewing pencil to trace out the pattern of the pixels, making sure to keep power and ground from crossing.

power and ground designI numbered the pixels to keep track.  The next step was to handle all the wiring.

Problems encountered:

  1.  The conductive thread, while it did work, would have lost a lot of power by the time it went through 19 pixels.  So we switched to 22 gauge insulated wire for both power and ground.
  2. We use the thread to attach the accelerometer to the Flora and it did hold up, but did not like the silver solder at all.
  3. Working with wire and Neopixels is tiny, tiny work, much tinier than wool embroidery, or even working with embroidery thread.  Be prepared with a nice set of wire strippers.

power and groundHere is a pic showing power and ground and attached to each pixel with the 22 gauge wire.  White was power, black was ground. Each neopixel was at least temporarily held in place.

solderNext came the one thing I didn’t do.  My husband did all the soldering. Silver solder every place the wires touched the pads on the neopixels, the flora and the accelerometer.

vest sewnThen I brought the whole thing to the sewing machine, and zigzagged down power and ground.  I found that I needed to add a cutaway stabilizer behind all the wire and stitching to support the fabric.  When I finished all the stitching, I went back and trimmed the stabilizer as much as possible.  All of that added a lot of stiffness to the vest, but surprisingly, it still hung pretty well when I added the top layer of fabric.

We repeated the whole process with data in and data out: wire to the neopixels, pin down, solder, stitch.

vest lining1Finally, I created the top layer and attached it to the lining.  It was designed to have serged edges, one of the reasons I chose the pattern.  However, I think if I were to make it again (without any wiring,) I’d do a more traditional lining and finishing technique.

finished vestI’ll say this much about the project.  It’s a big hit at parties.

We worked together on the programming. Actually the Adafruit book is very helpful with that, as everything is done in software and transferred via USB to the Flora.  My vest is programmed to do a number of sequences, based on the movement of the accelerometer.  As you see in the video above, I just have to shake it, and it changes mode.

Actually, I learned a great deal about simple wiring, I am proud that I could get through something like this, even with expert advice!

My next LED project will likely be a bag that lights up.

For now, I need to get back to some simple quilting.  But I have lots of spare parts and I’m excited about the idea of another electronic project!

We’re lit! Neopixil go time!

IMG_4563This is a  shot before I added the outer part of the vest which covers the wires, and before I sewed on the data lines.  You can see they are held on by pins.  I’ll try to capture a video today to show you how we’ve programmed the lights to change, and I’ll do a follow up blog with the details of how we made decisions and problems we overcame.

But it’s working!!  Thankful today for a patient husband, willing to teach me about electronics starting with what is a circuit.  I did all the wiring and sewing but I could not have done it without his 35 years of expertise, guidance and humor. (not to mention his tools, like wire strippers, soldering gun, and stash of wire.)

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Don’t Cross Power and Ground!

My husband has said that to me now at least 100 times, even though we are not at the point of adding any electronics to our attempt at a twinkling holiday vest.  That said, we have progressed with nary an accusation by either one of us accusing the other of knowing nothing about each other’s field of expertise.

vest2The lining of the vest is ready.

We are getting ready to prep for wires, and so I thought I would share with you some of the baubles we brought in.

neopixel2This is a packet of 20 neopixels.  (A neopixel is a light). They snap apart like plastic toys.

And here is what my husband has been telling me.  As you can see, each neopixel has 4 places for wire.  Power and ground must be on opposite sides and they must never cross as they travel from one neopixel to the next.

neopixeladjusted

The other holes are for the software to speak to each pixel.  Input is info coming in, output is info being passed on to the next neopixel.  It’s all fascinating and new to me since I have never had any experience with electronics…not even the slightest bit.

flora1The “flora” is basically the brains of the operation.  It also has a neopixel in the center.  These things are bright!  However, they may lose some brightness as they move farther away from the power source (battery – which has a limited life).  This explains why my husband suggested using guage wire (covered in plastic) as power and ground, and conductive thread only as data in and out. Still to be determined there.

My next step is to draw up the layout on the vest with each neopixel in position.

I have requested non-leaded solder which for some reason makes my husband want to cry.  Apparently leaded solder melts like butter.  Silver solder requires much more heat and is more difficult to maneuver.

I leave you with this thought, today, which came on the packing slip from Adafruit.

science