Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Creativity Labs Bring E-Textiles to the IU CEWiT Launch!

This past Monday, Oct. 28, 2013, Indiana University held the official launch ceremony for the new Center of Excellence for Women in Technology (CEWiT). The Center, the first campus-wide establishment of its kind in the nation, will seek to promote participation of women in technology-related fields throughout all stages of education and career. Since women are woefully underrepresented in technology fields, CEWiT is an extremely important initiative.

Sophia, in a CEWiT shirt that she enhanced with a LilyPad Arduino and several LEDs, "sits to take a stand" in the Red Chair at the CEWiT launch.  The Sit With Me campaign seeks to bring more women to the table in IT and computing fields.
CEWiT celebrated its launch with a keynote speech by Moira Gunn, host of NPR's Tech Nation, followed by a reception, where women from all across campus showcased the technology they use in their work and research. This ranged from Google Glass, to 3D printed objects, to a friendly baby seal robot, and more!

Naomi Thompson and Sophia Bender of the IU Creativity Labs brought a plethora of e-textile artifacts to display as part of this showcase. We had bags, shirts, e-cuffs, puppets, and a solar-powered backpack, all shining brightly with LilyPad LEDs, and some controlled by the LilyPad Arduino. We had Modkit running on a computer, showing how simple programming e-textiles can be. We also had a copy of the newly published Textile Messages book, edited and written by several friends and contributors to this blog, for visitors to leaf through.

Story Image
The Indiana Daily Student, IU's student newspaper, ran a feature on the CEWiT launch and snapped this picture of Sophia at the e-textile table.
Visitors to our table included members of both the IU and wider Bloomington, IN community. We spoke with teachers, journalists, Girl Scout troop leaders, an entire (very interested!) Girl Scout troop, and even Moira Gunn herself! The table was humming with activity for the entire duration of the reception.

Naomi sits in the Red Chair and shows off the e-cuff she made.
As reported in the Textile Messages book, e-textiles is the first computing field to be dominated by women. It represents an alternative technological pathway to that of more traditionally male-dominated fields like robotics. As such, the Creativity Labs' e-textile researchers plan to remain deeply involved in CEWiT. Dr. Kylie Peppler is a member of the Center's faculty alliance, and research assistant Sophia is committee director of the Affinity Groups Committee for CEWiT's student alliance. In the future, we hope to train CEWiT members to run e-textile workshops for youth in our community. We congratulate CEWiT on its launch, and wish it all the best!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

E-Textile Design Night for IU Makes

IU Makes is a new organization created by people from all over IU's campus in order to share events, work produced, and highlight work being made using innovative technologies. One of its founders is Dr. Kylie Peppler, director of the Creativity Labs, and several of her students are IU Makes affiliates.

It was only a matter of time, then, before members of the lab would begin to offer making-related programs to the IU Makes community. The first of these was a lecture on September 5, at which Graduate Research Assistant Sophia offered a similar talk and activity to the one she did at the Bay Area Maker Faire in May 2013.

The second was an E-textile Design workshop on the evening of September 26. This workshop was open to the entire IU Makes community, and attracted about 20 participants from all across campus, including students, faculty, staff, and even a couple of children of IU Makes members!

Nicole Jacquard, co-founder of IU Makes and School of Fine Arts professor, shows off the e-cuff she made at the IU Makes e-textile workshop.
The program was one our lab has done many times before: e-cuffs. Participants first learned about circuits in series and parallel by playing with alligator clips and LEDs, and then sewed three LilyPad LEDs to a felt wristband with conductive thread. A conductive metal snap served as a switch.

Not everyone used felt for their wristband, however! One participant brought in this beautiful lace, and used it as the base for her light-up bracelet.
Creativity Labs members Kylie Peppler, Sophia Bender, Anna Keune, Naomi Thompson, and Verily Tan all helped to facilitate the event. We were all inspired by the wonderful creativity and enthusiasm surrounding us at the workshop, and were grateful for the IU Makes community's openness to our work and positive response.

Meghan McGrath, intern for the new student organization Women Empowering Success in Technology (WESiT), displays her Halloween-themed wristband.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Sewing Jobs


A Wave of Sewing Jobs as Orders Pile Up at U.S. Factories

Jenn Ackerman for The New York Times
Ruth Kirchner, an instructor at the Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis, Minn., showing students different kinds of fabrics and stitches.
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MINNEAPOLIS — It was past quitting time at a new textile factory here, but that was not the only reason the work floor looked so desolate. Under the high ceilings, the fluorescent lights still bright, there were just 15 or so industrial sewing machines in a sprawling space meant for triple that amount.

American Made

A series that examines the challenges associated with manufacturing in the United States.
Previous Article in This Series:
The issue wasn’t poor demand for the curtains, pillows and other textiles being produced at the factory. Quite the opposite. The owner, the Airtex Design Group, had shifted an increasing amount of its production here from China because customers had been asking for more American-made goods.
The issue was finding workers.
“The sad truth is, we put ads in the paper and not many people show up,” said Mike Miller, Airtex’s chief executive.
The American textile and apparel industries, like manufacturing as a whole, are experiencing a nascent turnaround as apparel and textile companies demand higher quality, more reliable scheduling and fewer safety problems than they encounter overseas. Accidents like the factory collapse in Bangladesh earlier this year, which killed more than 1,000 workers, have reinforced the push for domestic production.


Have the changes in American manufacturing affected the livelihood and opportunities of you or your family?
But because the industries were decimated over the last two decades — 77 percent of the American work force has been lost since 1990 as companies moved jobs abroad — manufacturers are now scrambling to find workers to fill the specialized jobs that have not been taken over by machines.
Wages for cut-and-sew jobs, the core of the apparel industry’s remaining work force, have been rising fast — increasing 13.2 percent on an inflation-adjusted basis from 2007 to 2012, while overall private sector pay rose just 1.4 percent. Companies here in Minnesota are so hungry for workers that they posted five job openings for every student in a new training program in industrial sewing, a full month before the training was even completed.
Patricia Ramon during a sewing and production specialist class as part of the Makers Coalition, an effort to create a skilled work force from scratch.
Margaret Cheatham Williams/The New York Times
Patricia Ramon during a sewing and production specialist class as part of the Makers Coalition, an effort to create a skilled work force from scratch.
“It withered away and nobody noticed,” Jen Guarino, a former chief executive of the leather-goods maker J. W. Hulme, said of the skilled sewing work force. “Businesses stopped investing in training; they stopped investing in equipment.”
Like manufacturers in many parts of the country, those in Minnesota are wrestling with how to attract a new generation of factory workers while also protecting their bottom lines in an industry where pennies per garment can make or break a business. The backbone of the new wave of manufacturing in the United States has been automation, but some tasks still require human hands.
Nationally, manufacturers have created recruitment centers that use touch screens and other interactive technology to promote the benefits of textile and apparel work.
Here, they are recruiting at high schools, papering churches and community centers with job postings, and running ads in Hmong, Somali and Spanish-language newspapers. And in a moment of near desperation last year — after several companies worried about turning down orders because they did not have the manpower to handle them — Minnesota manufacturers hatched their grandest rescue effort of all: a program to create a skilled work force from scratch.
Run by a coalition of manufacturers, a nonprofit organization and a technical college, the program runs for six months, two or three nights a week, and teaches novices how to be industrial sewers, from handling a sewing machine to working with vinyl and canvas.
Eighteen students, ranging from a 22-year-old taking a break from college to a 60-year-old former janitor who had been out of work for three months, enrolled in the inaugural session that ended in June. The $3,695 tuition was covered by charities and the city of Minneapolis, though students will largely be expected to pay for future courses themselves.
After the course, the companies, which pay to belong to the coalition, sponsored students for a three-week rotation on their factory floors and a two-week internship at minimum wage. Then the free-for-all began as the members competed to hire those graduates who decide to pursue a career in industrial sewing.
“We need to think practically about getting skilled labor,” said Ms. Guarino, a founder of the training effort, known as the Makers Coalition. “The growth is there but we’re going to be in trouble if we don’t have a pool to draw from.”
Last year, there were about 142,000 people employed as sewing machine operators in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, which had almost 1.75 million workers last year — and where the unemployment rate as of July was 4.9 percent — only 860 were employed in 2012 as machine sewers..
Airtex had room for 50 of them. “We are looking for new sewers every day,” said Mr. Miller, the Airtex executive.
Wooing Immigrant Workers
Airtex’s roots in Minneapolis date to 1918, when Mr. Miller’s grandfather started the Sam Miller Bag Company, specializing in potato and feed bags. In the 1980s, Susan Shields founded a baggage company, and the two combined in 2000 as the Airtex Design Group, producing home textiles for companies like Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware.
Soon after the merger, the company began producing in China, first in the Dongguan area, then Wuxi and Shanghai. Today, it still employs about 100 Chinese workers through a partner factory in Dongguan, but production there is no longer the bargain it once was, said Ms. Shields, Airtex’s president.
Initially Airtex paid $3 an hour on average for its Chinese workers; now, it pays about $11.80 an hour, including benefits and housing.
Its American factory-floor workers make about $9 to $17 an hour, though Airtex estimates benefits add another 30 percent to those figures.
As costs were rising in China, Airtex was also getting a new message from some of its clients: They wanted more American-made products.
Health care clients wanted medical slings and other sensitive medical products made domestically to ensure quality. Retailers did not want to pay overseas freight costs to import bulky items like pillows, and they wanted more flexibility in turning around designs quickly. As Airtex considered production in Vietnam and elsewhere, it became concerned about safety and quality issues — and increasingly interested in the American alternative.
“The opportunity for domestic business right now is unbelievable,” Ms. Shields said. “Either we start to bring it back here, more of it, or we start going to places that are marginally unsafe.”
But the lack of workers here in Minnesota made shifting business back home frustrating.
It had gotten to the point where new business sometimes felt like a headache, not an opportunity. As Mr. Miller was headed to Chicago for a sales pitch in February, for instance, he was more worried than excited about landing a new contract.
“What concerns me is, if I get it,” he said, “where are we going to find the people?”
In the various waves of American textile production, dating to the 1800s, the problem of an available and willing work force solved itself.
Little capital was required — the boss just needed sewing equipment and people willing to work. That made it an attractive business for newly arrived immigrants with a few dollars to their name and, often, some background in garment work. Typically, the mostly male factory owners would recruit female workers from their old countries for the grunt work.
From the 1840s until the Civil War, it was new arrivals from Ireland and Germany. From the 1880s through the 1920s, it was Russian Jews and Italians, who would buy newly mass-produced Singer sewing machines and often set up shops in their tenement apartments with wives, daughters and tenants making up the initial work force, said Daniel Katz, provost of the National Labor College and author of a book about the garment industry.
Puerto Ricans, who were given citizenship on the eve of American entry into World War I, and black migrants from the South rounded out the work force until the 1960s, when Chinese and Dominican laborers took over, Mr. Katz said.
In San Francisco and New York, a small number of Chinese women came to the United States despite the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 barring Chinese laborers, making up a base of garment workers. After 1965, when immigration restrictions eased and Chinese were allowed to join family members, greater numbers of women came and that pool of workers grew.
“It was pretty well known that basically the day after you landed, you’d be taken to a factory by a relative to learn how to use an industrial sewing machine,” said Katie Quan, associate chair of the Labor Center at the University of California, Berkeley. In Los Angeles, Latinos made up much of the work force. And in the Carolinas, Hmong immigrants filled textile manufacturing jobs well into the 1990s, halting — or at least delaying — the migration of jobs overseas, said Rachel Willis, an American studies professor at the University of North Carolina.
Now, here in Minnesota, immigrants are once again being seen as the new hope.
Wanted: English and Math
Last fall, Lifetrack, a nonprofit group in St. Paul that helps immigrants, people on welfare and those with disabilities, began screening clients for possible admission to the sewing training program. Inside a gray-green room in a building on the edge of a four-lane road, people gathered around three tables: Burmese women at one of them, Ethiopian men at another, and at the back of the room an African-American woman, then 61, and a white man, 60, both born in America.
The first task was for students to test their English and math proficiency. Language skills are essential so workers can communicate with their bosses, but math skills are just as important in textile work because sewing requires precise measurements. As the students worked on the proficiency tests, Tatjana Hutnyak, Lifetrack’s director of business development, went over the basics.
Starting wages: $12 and $16 an hour. Transportation: The college, Dunwoody College of Technology, is on a bus line, but if students interview with a company not on a bus line, Lifetrack will help them get there. After passing career-readiness tests, students could qualify for the course, which would give them a certificate in industrial sewing — and, ideally, a job.
“They want to have a career rather than packaging, assembling, cleaning jobs,” said a Lifetrack manager, Dagim Gemeda, explaining why clients were interested in the sewing certification.
The Burmese women had come to Minnesota after spending time in refugee camps in Thailand. Paw Done had done piece work, sewing at home while she watched her children. The others had little sewing experience.
The Ethiopian men, who ranged in age from 21 to 42, had been in this country several years. A couple were students, one was a former custodian who had moved from another state to be close to his college-bound son, and a fourth, Abdulhakim Tahiro, had been laid off from his job at an airport car rental kiosk.
“It’s good, for my level it’s good,” Mr. Tahiro said of the starting wages.
Mr. Tahiro and Ms. Done enrolled in the course that started last January, when about half of the class were immigrants. Another student in the course, Patricia Ramon, 56, was an entrepreneur in Mexico with sewing experience. Ms. Ramon already had a job as a sewer at J. W. Hulme, but quit to take the course with the goal of obtaining certification. She wanted proof, she said, that she had technical skills.
“I am not like an old-time seamstress,” Ms. Ramon said. She expects to sew as a career, and said that making $16 an hour with health insurance would be enough to live on.
The students who were not immigrants often had difficult work histories or other problems. One of them was Lawrence Corbesia, the man sitting at the back table during the screening session. He was a former machine operator and custodial worker who had been looking for work for three months.
Another was Edward Johnson, 44, who was homeless when the course started. After food service and call-center jobs, he went to prison for felony assault, and had a tough time finding a job when he got out in 2009. He moved to Wisconsin to pick fruit, moved back to Minneapolis because he hated picking fruit, and was living on the streets and selling watercolor paintings when a homeless-center counselor hooked him up with the sewing program.
Until now, the only sewing experience Mr. Johnson had was sewing on buttons — a punishment meted out by his mother when he misbehaved. To save money, Mr. Johnson walked the 45 minutes to and from the college.
The program was overwhelming at first, he said, “so frustrating that sometimes I’d go home crying.” But he spent days at the library, watching YouTube videos on sewing techniques and studying terms used by the industry. By the end, it had gotten easier, he said, making pajamas, tote bags and aprons.
So many people are on government assistance, he said. “I’d rather learn a trade and go to work — and work,” he said.
By Margaret Cheatham Williams
For Edward Johnson, 44, a criminal record made it hard for him to get a job. He turned to an industrial sewing program after enduring bouts of homelessness and unemployment.
A Long-Term Solution
Manufacturers elsewhere are also trying to build a new labor pool.
In a former glove factory in Conover, N.C., the Manufacturing Solutions Center has touch screens showing the technologies that textile manufacturers use today, while new machines spool out printed fabric. In Pennsylvania, a work force investment board has started a program with plant tours, YouTube videos of workers and a Web site promising that “contrary to popular opinion, many good jobs in manufacturing are still available.”
Other industry groups have created a curriculum for high schools on manufacturing, including Manufacturing Day, with factory tours for school groups.
Still the difficulty attracting young people frustrates Debra Kerrigan, a dean at Dunwoody overseeing the Minnesota program.
“I think it’s just the idea of, ‘Oh, I’m a sewer,’ that doesn’t thrill the average young individual today,” she said. “Skills for a lot of different industries are coming back now, machinists and automotive workers and sewers. I think if you have a skill when the economy gets bad, you’re more likely to succeed than someone who doesn’t.”
Compared with the other courses Dunwoody offers — graphic design, Web programming, robotics — sewing can seem a little old school, students say. But Elizabeth Huber, 22, who took a break from the University of Minnesota to take the sewing course, said that can also be a selling point.
Elizabeth Huber, 22, and several Makers Coalition students completing sewing samples.
Margaret Cheatham Williams/The New York Times
Elizabeth Huber, 22, and several Makers Coalition students completing sewing samples.
“I like getting back to making things, to touching and manipulating materials rather than just pushing buttons or tweeting all day,” she said.
As the sewing course drew to a close, members of the Makers Coalition were jostling for the 18 graduates. Don Boothroyd at KellĂ©, a firm that makes dance costumes, hoped to snag 10 of them. J. W. Hulme wanted five, and was considering covering a student’s tuition for another course exchange for a contract promising that the student would work at Hulme for one year. Airtex hoped for five to 10 students.
But only nine students completed the course — many dropped out for personal reasons, or decided they just weren’t interested in the work — and eight got jobs. The coalition is now revamping the curriculum to focus more on hands-on work and machine maintenance.
Airtex decided it could not afford to wait for the coalition’s training program to work out its kinks. So, as the course proceeded, Airtex redoubled its efforts to find people who had some background in sewing. Mr. Miller and Ms. Shields offered a bonus to existing employees who brought in friends. They hosted an open house for prospective workers, and tried to think of groups they had not approached before — like a nonprofit that works with people with disabilities.
“I had a guy driving me to the airport the other day,” Mr. Miller said, “and he mentioned he knows a lot of people in the Cambodian community and I should call his pastor.”
Finally, Airtex decided it had to pay for training itself, even if that meant the company was less profitable for a while. It trains workers for a few hours a week, with a technical-college instructor and existing employees instructing new ones on topics like ergonomics and handling tricky materials. Airtex has since made 10 new hires for floor jobs, none of whom were highly experienced.
“The reality is, if we want good workers we know we have to train them and bring them in ourselves,” Ms. Shields said.
The factory floor now seems less barren because there are 25 sewing stations (there is still room for another 25). And most significantly, the additional workers mean the company can take on new work: Airtex has tripled its capacity, and is now making about 70 percent of its products in the United States.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Monday, September 2, 2013

Makevention: Bringing Maker Culture (Including E-textiles) to the Larger Bloomington Community

On August 24, Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University, held its first Makevention, a Maker Faire-like event introducing the community to aspects of Maker culture, from 3D printers to FIRST robotics teams to upcycled clothing to medieval-style weapons and costumes.

Diane and Sophia from IU's Creativity Labs participated by running an e-textiles booth in the ReFashion Textile Area. At least 20 youths stopped by our tables with their families and learned about circuits using alligator clips and LEDs, learned how to curl the legs of regular LEDs to make them sewable, and sewed LEDs into shirts, fabric scraps, felt bracelets, etc.

This girl had a "close encounter" of the STEAM kind when she sewed a blue LED onto a Roswell shirt!
Creativity Labs member Kate Shively stopped by with her daughters. One daughter wanted to repair a tear in her stuffed snake by using e-textiles, and the other upcycled and decorated an old t-shirt.

Creativity Labs member Kate Shively and daughter enjoying the ReFashion Textile Area at Makevention
While only about 20 youths were able to complete their e-textile projects at the event, about 100 people per hour passed through the doors, and many of those who could not stop to sew at our tables at least stopped to talked to us about e-textiles, took some of the informational flyers we had, saw many demonstrations of e-textile projects, and found out more about how they could get involved.

We greatly enjoyed spreading the word about e-textiles at Makevention! This was our first showcase of these materials for the larger Bloomington community, and we are thrilled at the positive response we received. We'd like to extend our thanks to Bloominglabs, which hosted the event and invited us to participate, and Discardia, which collaborated with us on the ReFashion Textile Area.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Full STEAM Ahead for E-Textiles at South Fayette School District

Last week, Dr. Kylie Peppler, Verily Tan, and Sophia Bender of IU's Creativity Labs visited the South Fayette School District near Pittsburgh, PA to facilitate e-textiles workshops at the district's STEAM Summer Institute. The district has been working to integrate Art into its teaching of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, and, in fact, it will open a new intermediate school (grades 3-5) this fall where STEAM will be the focus. The STEAM Summer Institute introduces South Fayette's teachers to STEAM innovations they can use in their classrooms. Besides e-textiles, this year's Institute featured workshops on Scratch programming, Makey Makey, game design, and flipping the classroom with Classroom Salon.

The district has recently taken an interest in e-textiles; after all, they fit right in with STEAM because they integrate science, technology, computational thinking, and creative crafting. South Fayette hopes to bring e-textiles into all of its fourth-grade classrooms as part of an existing unit on electricity, and to use them throughout the district in places like art classes and after-school programs. First step towards doing all of this? Providing e-textile training to teachers!

The members of the IU Computational Textiles team offered two 2-day workshops with similar content. Over the course of the workshops, educators used alligator clips and LEDs to practice making series and parallel circuits, sewed LEDs onto a quilt square, and learned how to program and sew a final project containing the ProtoSnap - LilyPad Development Simple board. This board contains a LilyPad Simple microcontroller, four sewable LEDs, and a buzzer that can play music notes. Educators learned how to use the Modkit visual programming language to program their LilyPad Simple to control the behavior of their LEDs and make music with the buzzer.

A teacher's jazzed-up, double-layered quilt square, with 3 LEDs in parallel.

On Monday and Tuesday, we had a very diverse group of attendees, including one fourth-grade teacher, art teachers, technology coordinators, a French teacher, and even some high school students who will act as teachers' assistants during the school year. They brought in t-shirts, bags, hats, and hoodies for their final projects, and left with amazing programmed creations.

Teachers from the first workshop discover that the maximum number of LilyPad LEDs that can be lit in parallel by one 3V battery is 24.
On Wednesday and Thursday, attendees included an art teacher and four fourth-grade teachers. The fourth-grade teachers actively planned throughout the session how they could integrate these materials into their classrooms' circuitry curriculum. For their final projects, they sewed their LilyPad onto small cloth bags, and made their LEDs shine in all kinds of beautiful patterns.

This fourth-grade teacher told us she planned to add glitter glue to spice up her beautiful LilyPad mini-purse even more.
The workshop even ended up in the local paper!

Speaking for myself, I've never led a workshop involving the LilyPad before this, and I was astounded by the new possibilities for creativity that programming afforded, things that normally wouldn't seem possible in the medium of textiles. For instance, this bag actually plays the song "Starry, Starry Night" while the stars twinkle:

And here's a patriotic shirt with a flashing firework on it:

The examples of beauty and creativity were endless in these workshops!

We thank Aileen Owens, Director of Technology and Innovation for South Fayette, who coordinated the Institute and was a constant positive force while we were there. Thanks to our wonderful, creative participants for their enthusiasm and cooperation. We also thank the whole district for taking an interest in e-textiles, and we hope to maintain an ongoing partnership to help showcase the potential of these materials in schools!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Path of Least Resistance: Bitwise Luna Moth!

Sophia here again from the IU Creativity Labs. Today I made a Bitwise Luna Moth and worked with resistors for the first time! See the video below to find out more. :) Bitwise E-textiles was founded, and its kits created, by Fay Shaw, who I met at the Bay Area Maker Faire this year. The project turned out wonderfully, so I definitely encourage you to check out her site

This was a great way to start off a week that will be full of e-textiles for Dr. Peppler, my fellow graduate assistant Verily, and I. Starting tomorrow, we'll be facilitating an e-textile workshop for teachers from the South Fayette School District near Pittsburgh, PA. Stay tuned to see how it goes!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Glovetopus: A Non-E Textile

Hi! Sophia here, from Dr. Peppler’s Creativity Labs. A few weeks ago, I used a couple of extra gloves lying around the lab to make a Glovetopus as a gift for a friend. A glovetopus is a cuddly undersea stuffed creature with eight tentacles. I bought a poster of directions to make one from the Bay Area Maker Faire this year. While a glovetopus is just a mere regular textile rather than an e-textile, I’d like to share with you my experience making it.

Here’s what I used to make the glovetopus: a pair of gloves, some matching thread, a needle, and scissors. Not pictured is the stuffing I used: tissues! (I didn’t have any cotton stuffing) I also used some white felt and black thread to make the eyes—but you can make the eyes out of anything you want.

According to the directions I got from Maker Faire, I stuffed the fingers first. The directions suggest you use a pen to push the stuffing into the gloves’ fingers, but I found my own fingers worked better. Then I sewed the gloves together.

Next I finished the stuffing…

…and cut off the wrists and thumbs of the gloves.

Finally I finished sewing the tops of the gloves together.

The next part is a little tricky: flipping the gloves inside-out. The best way to describe it is to see what it looks like when you’re done:

Because the friend I gave this to has a one-year-old baby, I decided to make the eyes out of baby-proof materials rather than googly eyes or beads that could be pulled off and swallowed. I sewed two little ovals of white felt on the glovetopus and made the pupils of the eyes by stitching black thread multiple times over the center of the felt.

Here’s the finished glovetopus! Say hello! :D

This was really easy to make and came out super cute. It would probably be easy to add a LilyPad LED or two to it as well. Highly recommended little project!

Monday, June 24, 2013

E-textiles at the Library

The Creativity Labs have been busy with e-textiles again this month! On June 6, members of the lab conducted an e-bracelet workshop with several girls at the Monroe County Public Library. This program was part of MCPL’s Maker Days, which will occur throughout the summer.

The girls at our E-Fashion Design program created an e-textile bracelet out of felt, conductive thread, a 3V coin cell battery, and a single LilyPad LED. We had the girls diagram on paper the circuit they would put on their bracelet before they began sewing, and we found that this greatly facilitated the process, giving them more time to decorate their bracelets. Which they did to tremendous effect! Take a look at these beautiful designs:

Dr. Kylie Peppler facilitated the workshop, with help from her advisees Sophia, Verily, and Kate (who graciously photographed the event). Thanks to Sarah Bowman from MCPL, without whom the event could not have happened.

The next week, from June 11-12, Diane, Sophia, and Verily facilitated a 2-day e-textile workshop for Teen Program Coordinators from throughout the Chicago Public Library system. Organized by Yolande Wilburn, the program took place in the Harold Washington Library Center in downtown Chicago. This library is opening a Makerspace soon, and its branches are hoping to provide maker programs as well. The purpose of this workshop was to train the Coordinators so they can offer e-textile programs in their own branch libraries.

 On the first day, the program participants learned how to use multimeters to test for conductivity, and learned about series and parallel circuits by lighting up LEDs with alligator clips—we discovered that the max number of SuperBright LEDs that a single 3V battery can light in parallel is 14! They then sewed their first soft circuit on a quilt square with a single homemade sewable LED, which is simply a regular LED whose legs have been curled into two flat circles, and finally they sewed an e-cuff with 3 LEDs in parallel.

The next day, they learned how to make DIY battery holder and switches. Conductive tape came in very handy for this purpose. DIY e-textile components help to cut costs, since oftentimes e-textile parts are prohibitively expensive. The participants then used these homemade parts to make a project with the LilyTiny, which is a small sewable microcontroller with 4 pre-programmed pins that make LEDs flash according to various patterns: twinkle, heartbeat, fade, or blink. The workshop participants sewed a LilyTiny and LEDs onto textiles they had brought in, whether they were t-shirts, jackets, shirts for their children, bags, or even a fabric disco ball! The session ended with an introduction to programming the LilyPad Protosnap Development Board with Modkit.

We wish MCPL and Chicago Public Libraries all the best with their upcoming e-textile and other making programs!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

E-textiles Broadening Participation and Sewing the Way at Bay Area Maker Faire 2013!

Last weekend, IU Creativity Labs’ Dr. Kylie Peppler and Sophia Bender both presented on e-textiles at the Bay Area Maker Faire’s Maker Education Initiative tent. Both sessions were well attended and produced a great deal of audience interest and participation!

On Saturday, May 18, Kylie spoke about how e-textiles can help broaden the participation of females in the fields of computing and electronics. She presented findings from both her own lab and from colleagues showing that e-textiles are the first computing field dominated by women, and that these materials help to empower girls to take a leadership role in e-textile projects. She also emphasized that e-textiles can be a legitimate computing field in and of itself, without needing to be viewed as a “pathway” for girls to enter into more “traditional” computing fields such as robotics. Finally, she ended with a discussion of the potential for e-textiles to teach youth about circuits more effectively than do traditional materials such as alligator clips, because e-textiles use uninsulated conductive thread and help to make circuitry concepts more embodied and more visible.

Sophia presented on the experiences and best practices for learning circuitry that the lab has developed while conducting e-textile programs with youth. This involves a process of starting with a mini-circuit activity, doing a mini-sewing practice activity, doing the e-textile make itself, and finally sharing and reflecting. The audience then got to try out the mini-circuit activity, attempting to light up one and later multiple LEDs with alligator clips and a 3V coin cell battery. In the process, they learned--just as youth in our workshops do--about series and parallel circuits, current flow, and voltage. This then prepares youth to work with circuits in their e-textile project.

Sophia ended her talk with five lessons gleaned from our experiences with e-textile workshops:

  1. Build from kids’ existing understandings and give them tools, materials, and activities to shape new understandings.
  2. Privilege the technology and crafting aspects equally.
  3. Give kids the language they need to understand what they’re discovering as they explore the materials.
  4. Provide making activities that allow for multiple solutions and personalization.
  5. People who work across diverse sets of materials are better prepared to work with formalisms.

The Maker Faire was a wonderful, inspiring experience, and Kylie and Sophia appreciated the opportunity to spread the word about e-textiles there. Thank you to Maker Ed for inviting and welcoming us!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Education Day at the Bay Area Maker Faire 2013

On May 16, two days before the Bay Area Maker Faire, Sophia Bender and Christian McKay from the IU Creativity Labs presented two hands-on projects to educators who attended the Educator Meetup at Maker Faire’s Education Day.

Sophia ran an e-textile table, where educators learned about the educational potential of e-textile materials, sewed their own soft circuits, and saw a demonstration of a program for the LilyPad Arduino ProtoSnap Board. Educators used conductive thread to sew an LED and a switch into a square of fabric, and then lit up the room!

The e-textile station was busy all afternoon, with at least 15 educators sewing circuits, and many others stopping by to observe and chat. Sometimes they would ask for advice about running e-textile activities for youth, some told Sophia about plans to use e-textiles in their classrooms or after-school clubs, and one teacher remarked, “The LilyPad is the Arduino for pretty things! Arduinos don’t have to be only for those ugly robots!”

At Christian’s table, the educators got to play with Makey Makeys and create their own interactive books, using graphite pencil lines and their own bodies to control events occurring on a computer. To find out more about Christian’s interactive book project, check out his blog post about it here:

Saturday, May 18, 2013

E-Fashion Design at IU!

The Indiana University Creativity Labs have been busy lately with several E-Fashion Design workshops for youth. We ran two e-cuff workshops for Girl Scouts who ranged in age from about 9 to well in their teens, with a few adults participating too!

The scouts designed bracelets out of felt, into which they sewed 3-4 LilyPad LEDs of various colors, connecting them to a 3V coin cell battery with conductive thread. A metal snap acted as a switch for the bracelet. The girls learned about putting circuits in parallel, because in order to get all those LEDs to light up, they had to sew them in parallel. They also learned how a circuit must be a complete loop, since their bracelets only worked when they closed the snap and completed the loop of the circuit. And finally (with help from volunteer facilitators), they learned debugging skills when they ran into problems with their circuits, such as shorts. At the end, each scout received a Fashion badge.

The lab also provided an Electrici-Tee workshop for several girls in the Girls in STEM Science Saturdays program, sponsored by the university’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs (DEMA). Several middle-school girls used conductive thread to sew a LilyPad LED and an on-off switch into a t-shirt, powered by a 3V coin cell battery. Besides also learning what the Girl Scouts learned, these girls appreciated the chance to personalize their shirts with decorations, and the opportunity to learn how to sew, which many of them were previously unfamiliar with.

The adults who accompanied the girls to this program hadn’t been expecting to sew a circuit of their own, but we had enough materials to let them participate too!

Special thanks to all the sponsors and volunteers who helped make these workshops possible. We greatly appreciate your support of these programs that help to expand interest in and learning of STEM concepts through hands-on making!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Perfect Night for eCrafting

May 6, 2013 - Friday night, April 26, was cool but clear—the perfect night for gazing at the stars and making eCrafts.
GSE professor Yasmin Kafai taught a delighted group of children and adults how to embed fabrics with electronic components during Astronomy Night in Franklin Square.  The Square was one of dozens of venues around Philadelphia devoted to stargazing that night, but the only one offering instruction in eCrafting. 

eCrafting integrates electronic components into traditional craftwork, especially using textiles such as fabric, felt, or canvas.  Dr. Kafai, a Professor of Teaching, Learning, and Literacy at GSE as well as Professor of Learning Sciences and Information Science at Penn’s School of Engineering, uses eCrafting as a tool to encourage young people—especially girls and young women—to learn about computing.  The electronic components, including LEDs, sensors, conductive threads, and microprocessors, are programmable so the craft project becomes conductive and responsive to input. 

The event was part of the annual celebration of science known as the Philadelphia Science Festival.  Part of a national movement to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers, the Festival offers free lectures, hands-on activities, and special exhibits.  More than 55 institutions, led by The Franklin Institute, support the Festival, funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

Dr. Kafai’s work has been instrumental in launching youth digital media design activities and communities for learning.  Last year, the National Science Foundation awarded her a $500,000 grant for a project that engages students in collaborative projects involving digital media design and computer science. She serves as Principal Investigator for the project, which also involves Penn Design Assistant Professor Orkan Telhan and The Franklin Institute’s Director of Educational Technology, Karen Elinich.