Monthly Archives: April 2011

Ghost Ship Porthole electroluminescent dress

For White Mischief’s fabulous 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea themed extravaganza, I wanted to create something suitably inspired. I daydreamed about Jules Verne, sunken adventures, ships and galleons, then came up with the idea for a ‘Ghost Ship Porthole’ dress. To elaborate, I decided to use electroluminescent neon panels to illuminate sea-faring motifs so in the dark my dress would glow with a spooky light shining out of a ghost ship’s portholes.

Electroluminescent panel portholes

The motifs I sourced from vintage stencils and illustrations of anchors, seahorses, Japanese Koi, ship’s cats, pirate skulls and more. In this case, the portholes were limited in number by the amount of spare splitters (cable/sockets to power source) I happened to have.

Electroluminescent panel portholes

I plan to scale this dress up and incorporate accessories, I ran out of time to make the neon-ghost ship for my tricorn hat, but that’ll be made in time for the next calling of the Ghost Ship Porthole dress!

Electroluminescent panelled me

PS, If you haven’t been to a White Mischief event yet – do go, they’re wonderful!


Temperature sensing t-shirt (AKA: “Yr in mah face!”)

'Yr in mah face' temp-sensing t-shirt

At last weekend’s 24-hour Pachube Hackathon, I created an electronic wearable I wasn’t expecting to make! To clarify that statement, I intended to hack on a LoL Shield I’d recently soldered together (it has 126 LEDs = steady hands needed & much love to the soldering iron ;-)). Unfortunately, I’d mislaid an accelerometer to interact with the LEDs, so it was no go for that hack…

Spaghetti croc clip testing works!

After spreading out all my spare LilyPad Arduino components and kit from my toolbox on the table at Pachube Hackathon, I decided on a new hack – a temperature sensing t-shirt! I spent some time writing and debugging the code before it would happily compile in the Arduino IDE. I then tested the code by uploading it to the LilyPad and connecting all the modules together with crocodile clips, and yay it worked!

Creating my hack: big heart cat heads

I’m very interested in interactive wearables and so decided to create a t-shirt that would use loop poll Celsius data from a sensor on the t-shirt and average them, then visualise the results. The tshirt uses sewable LilyPad Arduino modules and conductive thread to sew all the connections together.

I didn’t have much time left, once I’d got the code to compile and uploaded it, then tested everything together with the crocodile clips, so the designing, cutting out from fabric and sewing all the fabric and components together with conductive thread was a manic rush. No prizes for tidy sewing and elegant design I’m afraid, but a prototype conceived designed and built is less than 24 hours!

Creating my hack: big heart cat heads

So here’s the amusing concept scenario… imagine you’re a shy and retiring geek like me, who might find themselves in a social situation, such as a loud, crowded bar. The temperature sensing t-shirt I’m wearing has two cat heads: one green – the colour of cool, calm collected cat – its LED eyes signaling temperatures of less than 27 degrees Celsius, if the wearer were to say have someone at close proximity talking loudly at them, the heat from their breath would push the sensor Celsius average over this point and the LEDs would turn off on the cool calm collected green cat head and come on, on the hot, red, angry coloured cat head!

Creating my hack: early conductive thread sewing

This would be a signal to whomever is causing the angry red cat’s LEDs eyes to light up, to back off “You’re in mah face” or perhaps if the wearer is hot and embarrassed, to have a nice sit down in a corner with a cool drink of lemonade.

Creating my hack: woo done in the nick of time!

Creating my hack: back view, negotiating tracks of conductive thread

But seriously, my t-shirt is a fun proof of concept, I’m very interested in how sensing tech such as temperature sensors can have wider and useful usage. For example, in a society where more of the population is living to a ripe old age, then smart wearables such as temperature and other sensing modules can help older or disabled people, who might need their health monitoring constantly, carry on living at home for longer and keep their independence. Also, I can think of various lifestyle and sporting uses, such as comfortable sports clothes that would also have reasons to track data, plus smart clothing for people who work with extreme temperatures, chemicals or in harsh environments.

Me and my hack - yay it works!

Pachube International Internet of Things Hackathon, London

Pachube hackathon

A fantastically fun 24-hour hackathon organised by Pachube at 01 zero-one, in Soho, London. The hackathon was open to software and hardware hacking, the Pachube APIs, were available to use (hackers could of course use any other APIs of their choosing). The Hackathon was also simultaneously happening in other cities around the globe including Zurich, New York, Lancaster and Eindhoven.

When I arrived at 2pm on Friday, 01 zero-one was packed and I had to squeeze my way through tables of geeks to find a spot to set up my laptop and listen to the opening announcements and demos.

Paul Tanner at Pachube hackathon

Demos included Nanode by Ken Boak, Arkessa’s GSM modems, Paul Tanner on mbed, Adrian McEwen and Michael Margolis were on hand to help with any Arduino questions.

Ken Boak - Nanode

I had intended to hack on an Arduino Duemilanove driven disco shirt using a LoL Shield I’d recently soldered together = a charlieplexed matrix of 126 LEDs! Unfortunately I’d mislaid an accelerometer that was key to the work, so I had to give up on that idea (for now), but cheered myself up by chatting to friends about their hacks and making some new friends.

I did some mulling and consolidating of bits and pieces of LilyPad Arduino components I had with me and decided to start a new project from scratch. My new hack was to be a sensing t-shirt, using LilyPad Arduino, temperature sensor and LEDs. The premise of the t-shirt was to detect if someone was too close to you for comfort, say in a bar and if they were so in your face that the heat from their breath or that you might feel uncomfortable and get hotter – either heat causing a Celsius testing script to sense a temperature over a certain level. This status was reflected on the shirt by two cat heads with LEDs, one green to indicate being cool, calm and collected, the other red and angry/alarmed! Basically the looping script takes a number of sample temperature and averages them to find whether or not the situation is getting horribly hot – this is indicated in the LEDs of the appropriate colour cat head’s eyes lighting up!

Spaghetti croc clip testing works!

Creating my hack: big heart cat heads

On Friday evening I put the code together and spent a while debugging it to get it to compile. On Saturday morning I connected all the components with crocodile clips to test the code with the hardware – luckily it worked = hurrah! I spent a tense time during the run up till the presentations designing how the shirt should look, working out where the components would go, cutting-up fabric and sewing frantically with conductive thread!

Creating my hack: big heart cat heads

I was still sewing my hack together when the presentations started, which incurred some rather rushed stitching and some rubbish looking conductive thread bridges (to avoid shorts) on the back of the fabric!

I think I finally finished sewing about 10 mins before the end of presentations and gave a rather on-the-fly talk about my work as I hadn’t really had time to contemplate what I was going to say, but luckily my hack worked for the presentation and relief ensued.

Me and my hack - yay it works!


There were some great hacks and some well deserved winners, such as the Waving Kitty, Marvin the Paranoid LaptopBot, Display Cabinet, Nanode hacks and an umbrella that turned lights on and off! I’m looking forward to hearing how the hacks progress…

Presentations: Sarah's Marvin the paranoid laptop bot

Hack winners: Dan, Tim & Ben

Sadly, it was all too soon time to go home, but I had a fabulous time, the welcome and hospitality from Pachube and 01 zero-one was fantastic – cheers guys!

Presentations: Umbreller

Presentations: Lucky Cat hack

Smart Fabrics Conference, 4-6 April, London

Dr Jan Zimmermann on tech embroideries

Smart Fabrics Conference gathers together people and companies from fashion, technology, electronics, research, academia, textile and diverse applications communities, to discuss what’s happening in the industry and to showcase what’s new and being developed, plus panels discuss and answer questions.

Smart Fabrics - day 2

The conference was fantastic, an excellent eye-opener to the commercial world of smart textiles and I met some really interesting people working in this area. The conference was in it’s 7th year and as a newcomer it was great to chat to people who have been working in this area for over decade and hear their stories, plus talk to students and start-ups. At the moment there seems to be a really good buzz in this area, and it feels like the time is right – driven by forces such as an ageing population, lifestyle, medical, sports, military needs and entertainment – for smart fabrics and wearables to take off.

Dr Jan Zimmermann - tech embroidery

My observations…


  • Smart fabric tech is still an emerging technology, but feels like it’s on the verge of an explosion of interest
  • Interest in sensing wearables for sport, medical, industrial, military and lifestyle interests is taking off and is where the funding opportunities are
  • Obviously lots of opportunity for innovation and room for more companies/creatives
  • I’m excited by fabric pick & place sewing machine that replaced traditional solder with conductive thread
  • Conductive embroidery with LEDs could be very exciting for fashion/textile artists
  • Performance & sporting events are a big driver for smart wearables


  • Smart fabrics technology is still looking for a killer app
  • Necessity for more standards and classifications
  • Sustainablility
  • Cheap disposables for medical purposes
  • Supply chain isn’t yet set up for wearable tech
  • “A lot of focus on the technology, but not enough on what the consumer wants”
  • Marketing focus
  • “Progress is usually slower than prediction”

My wish list:

  • Emerging tech could possibly thrive faster with some open source collaboration and sharing of ideas
  • Manufacturers should keep in mind emerging artists and designers for showcasing their products, as well as wanting to give to top designers
  • I’m really excited about developments in electroluminescent yarns, fabrics and films for artworks and wearables, though sadly I didn’t see much in development and available anytime soon in small quantities for artists like myself to buy
  • Would love to hear more about combining code with hardware prototyping, from hardware/code hackers like myself
  • Be great to explore some applications for smart fabrics use in gaming
  • I’d like to hear more user-testing examples, what do end users want/like?

I came away from the Smart Fabrics conference feeling very inspired and with a ton of knowledge. I hope it isn’t too long before some of the smart fabrics & tech discussed will be available to me, both as a designer and consumer.

Dr Uwe Mohring: novel illuminations

Dr Uwe Mohring: novel illuminations

HITEK: conductive fabrics

Smart Fabrics 2011, Hotel Russell, London – Phreaking Fashion!

As a pre-conference warmer for Smart Fabrics 2011, on Monday I went along to Nancy Tilbury’s Fashion Phreaking workshop. Nancy’s has been working in wearable technology for 15 years and runs the Nancy Tilbury Studios, plus teaches MA at Kingston University.

Nancy Tilbury Studio examples

The session kicked off with an introduction to the studio, Kingston Uni MA and Nancy’s experiences in making wearable tech. She told us about how this area has swung in and out of fashion since she was studying. She recalled how in the past wearable tech examples were often clumsy and cumbersome and the fashion companies of the day weren’t keen to engage with it.

However, interest is now picking up in wearable tech and Nancy has been working with various clients and students who are interested in probing and uncovering future lifestyles, creating pieces in the form of benchmarks and prototypes.

In taking stock, Nancy says, “We’re at a point where we need to engage with science and science needs to engage with design to form hybrid partnerships.” She went on to pose “Why is the time now?’ and described that it’s because of what’s happening in entertainment, for example, Lady Gaga is working with many wearable tech artists *and* also people now want the skins of their life to be digital.

Blushing dress

We heard about and saw a range of themes on wearable tech from over the years since Nancy was a student. One theme, emotional technology, looked at the Blushing Dress: which had on the base a suite of sensors, plus one for the hand. As the wearer becomes emotionally aroused, the dress changes.

Mini Wink workshop

The rest of the afternoon was spent as a workshop and we split into teams of 3 or 4 people and created ‘Mini Wink’ pocket patches to sew onto shorts. The patches and shorts were constructed from recycled denim. The Mini Wink patches use LilyPad Arduino (a sewable microcontroller PCB) connected to a soft switch and circuit made from copper fabric. Once constructed you tap the soft switch on the pocket and the shorts would wink at back at you via misted plastic pyramid shapes containing LEDs. Each team was given a kit with a slightly different circuit to construct, which included a conductive thread sewing kit, copper pieces, LEDs, their coverings and a coin battery.

Mini Wink pocket

It was a fun workshop; a great ice-breaker for meeting people and everyone who attended clearly enjoyed themselves. The session was followed by a fashion show of the Mini Wink pockets in action. During the Smart Fabrics conference reception drinks the Mini Winks were on display for all to see.

Team Twinkle Mini Wink pocket

Flashing away above is our Team Twinkle Mini Wink pocket!