Last week, I were at a three day workshop on Smart Fabrics and E-Textiles for Wearable Technology at the Makerversity in London. This workshop was given by Riccardo Marchesi from Plug & Wear. After the Wearable Tech Show on Tuesday and Wednesday, I was looking forward to do some hands on and learn how to actually make things and smart clothing. Since I never worked with such Technologies and even am a total newbie to Arduino, I was excited…
The first day was filled with an introduction on what e-textiles and fabrics are and what you can do with them. It never occurred to me, that it is possible to make usually mechanical things like push buttons, stretch sensors and pressure sensors with fabrics. But it is possible and opens up totally new possibilities for the development of wearable technology.
During the first two days we learned a lot about different materials used for e-textiles. There is a lot to keep in mind when you choose the materials you want to use. The material and its nature matter a lot when it comes to conductivity, longevity of the material (some materials oxidate quite easily and are not suitable for washing or products used over years), and the processability (some materials are so fine, they can just be used for hand knitting, some materials are not suitable for soldering). These materials can now be used to rebuild usually mechanical elements with fabrics. It is possible to knit a push button wich it totally flexible and made out of normal and conductive thread. When the material is squeezed together, the circuit closes and current can flow – just like with a normal button. We even saw pressure matrixes which can be used to measure pressure at a certain point on the material.
But next to all the theory and hands-on on materials, we also got an introduction how to use these components with Arduino Lilypad and build own little projects with sensors and actuators. On the third day we even sew our own pressure sensor and tested it with Arduino to control the light intensity of an LED. The highlight was Giulia Tomasello presenting her RUAH corset, which senses the deep diaphragmatic breathing and then inflates belly region of the corset by using a nitinol spring which transforms the fabrics layer on top. This dress is supposed to give the user immediate feedback on his deep breathing and raise awareness.
Overall, this workshop was a good starting point for me to refresh my knowledge about electronics, gain a good insight into the use of conductive materials with fabrics, and get a good inspiration on what is possible with these materials.