workshop: Deborah M. Kōdō

Light, sound and touch clothing in the making...

A report on how to electrify your outfit

16 Jun 2009
16 Jun 2009

We were very happy and pleased that we had Nadya Peek in Amsterdam to guide the electro-clothing workshops. The first workshop kicked-off on Saturday June 13.
In every workshop I've noticed it's quite a mixed group of people, and certainly not only girls (although they outnumber the guys a little bit of course). The participants come from various fields. Among them were choreographers, students, just for fun people, techies, nerds, fashion lovers and artists.

Nadya presents her Caché dress (a dress with embedded piezo transducers) and explains how the dress works. Caché consists of a website and a dress. On the Caché website visitors can click on pictures of a number of body parts; a knee, an arm or a shoulder. By clicking on one of the body parts a Bluetooth signal is send to the area of the dress that covers that certain body part and then produces a clicking sound. Nadya knows exactly when somebody is checking out her website and her photographs.
More about this dress and an interview with Nadya can be read here.

On the dress, the piezo transducers are connected to each other by laser cut Stretchy Conductive Fabric Traces. The way this dress is made is also the basic set-up of the workshops. First people solder the little SMD board, to this board they connect and solder a battery pack for AAA batteries, and the sensor they are going to use. A lot more little steps have to be taken.

After the soldering of the board (pre-programmed by Nadya) and attaching the battery pack, people receive the parts they want to use. In this case I'm at the Light workshop so people receive the LED's. They can pick a color. Then there is some explanation about the basic workings of electronic circuits and in this case of course, the LED chip: diodes, cathodes and anodes.

Everybody needs to cut 4 small pieces of conductive fabric (or 8 patches if you are going to use multiple color LED's).
The components have to be soldered on the fabric and that's a little tricky and this is what makes this workshop a bit more difficult than the sound clothing workshop we had on Saturday and Monday.
You have to make sure your patch (which is in some cases shaped as a heart or star) cannot be directly connected to the LED. So this means there has to be a little space (1.5 mm between the patches and the metal parts of the LED to make sure the electric current can run through the area properly). Basically the LED ends up on the intersection of the fabric patches.

To continue we have to put a little flux on the intersections of the fabric. Flux (in this case in a fluid form) is used to prevent the temperature from rising to quick which would burn the fabric, but it makes it also a bit harder to add the solder to the fabric. Thijs and Jeff are much needed to help people out. It's tedious work but most people succeeded fairly quickly on their own. Once everybody stuck the LED on the fabric we can start testing if it works. We give the people crocodile clips to test if the LED works. A crocodile clip is a temporary electrical connector, named for its resemblance to a crocodile's jaw.


DSC06887.JPG - Alice Bodanzky

So next is ironing the conductive fabric traces form the chip (also known as the motherboard) to the spot where the LED's are. This is much simpler and fun to do, especially if you are using the mini iron (made for patch and knitting working house mothers and grannies)... The battery pack can be hidden in a pocket or attached somewhere on the garment (and covered by a piece of regular fabric).

Then we need to make a button. The buttons consists of a piece of conductive fabric, felt in the middle and then another piece of conductive fabric. The shape can be designed the way you want, as long as it's fabric / felt / fabric it will be fine.

The final step is attaching the snap button which you can sew them on with conductive thread. Eventually these tiny little snaps will make your sensor go on or off. People look very pleased and happy after hard labor. Especially a few are very glad they were able to make their electro garment. They came in without knowing anything about soldering and electronics and they leave with their impressive and funnily annoying sound clothing, touch sensitive or blinking garment!


The LED lights up when Nahuel is breathing in. - Deborah M. Kōdō