Category Archives: conductive fabrics

Opentech 2011, ULU London

Dorkbot talk Saul & Pete

(As usual) I had a fabulous time at this year’s Opentech 2011, a multi-stream conference that brings hacker, open source advocates, civil servants, open rights and other communities together to discuss, debate, chat and drink beer. It’s a great day of talks intersected with a fab geek social, it traditionally occurs at ULU in London.

Taken straight from their website intro: “OpenTech 2011 is an informal, low cost, one-day conference on slightly different approaches to technology, transport and democracy. Talks by people who work on things that matter, guarantees a day of thoughtful talks leading to conversations with friends.” It is certainly all these things.

Hard curves, soft electronics
Photo by @PSD

I gave a presentation titled “Hard Curves, soft electronics – code, tech and textiles” – at which I demonstrated some of my wearable technology pieces, specifically those made with LilyPad Arduino (an open source technology) sewable microcontrollers, sensing modules and conductive threads and textiles. These included Twinkle Starduino, I ❤ 0X0, Twinkle Tartflette and 'Yr In Mah Face', plus I mentioned some of my mbed work. I also discussed how e-texiles and the LilyPad help dismiss the idea that electronics are grey, sharp and cold. I also feel that the rise in tinkering with Arduino and e-textiles is a great way of encouraging girls / hobbyists / anyone to have fun and see beyond the stigma of electronics and coding being a dull and difficult to pursue.

Here's a link to my slides, plus one of the videos I showed during the presentation which demonstrated my ‘Yr In Mah Face‘ temperature / mood sensing t-shirt.

Talks I enjoyed this year included, a history and expose under the sheets of London dorkbot – ‘doing strange things with electricity’ from janitors Saul Albert and Peter Brownell. The session included some hilarious, bonkers and touching reminders from dorkbots of the past. The London dorkbot chapter was second to evolve, after New York being the first and has been going for nearly 10 years.

Paul Downey of OSHUG gave a lovely introduction to open source hardware, some examples of projects, events, plus various groups and people hacking tech.

Opentech: PSD on open hardware

Russ Garrett, spoke about the London Hackspace and gave a brief history of how it grew from small beginnings and venues into a very organised space today with at the time of the event, membership being nearly 300 people.

Open hardware questions: Russ

It was good to hear an update from Suw Charman-Anderson on Ada Lovelace Day: a celebration of women’s achievements in science, technology, engineering and maths – a subject very close to my heart.

Steve Goodwin gave a talk about digital archeology and the difficulties in creating and archiving retro technology. Steve concluded by showing his EMF emulator framework for a ZX 81.

A bit of light hearted and NSFW fun came from Jag who was inspired by his father’s knowledge of morse code, to play with it and come up with “an attempt to acquit extremely offensive & censured words using morse code, din & music”.

After the talks concluded, everyone made their way to the ULU bar to chat with friends old and new, plus quaff beer. Sadly the kitchen wasn’t open in the evening – I’m sure it would’ve done a roaring trade in its legendary curly fries. An awesome day – thanks to Sam Smith and all the lovely organisers for a very well executed day, the only shame is that I’ll have to wait till next year for the next one!

Ourduino PCBs
A couple of Ourduino’s beautiful PCBs.


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!

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!

Upcoming: Smart Fabrics 2011, London

I’m always on the lookout for interesting events that’ll help me develop my work and next week I’ll be going to the 7th annual Smart Fabrics conference in London on 4-6th April. I’m pretty excited about this as I’m hoping to see lots of innovation in fabric tech and inspiration for my future wearable electronics and artworks. What would be particuarly useful is some info on advancements in the durability of conductive threads, fabric and printed circuitry, plus I’ll be looking out for the latest news on sensors and lighting for wearables.

Electroluminescent me

Can’t wait to see some new creative applications and how e-textiles are being used in areas I haven’t really looked into yet such as medical and space tech and I’m hoping to be wowed by new tech in R&D and smart fabrics I’ll see in the future.

I’ll blog as much as I can and a try to find a Twitter stream for the event!

Conductive velcro has arrived!