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!