This is the story of the Wearable Electronics Workshop, given by MAKESHOP by Science Gallery Dublin in March and April 2017, in collaboration with the School of Computer Science and Statistics, Trinity College Dublin.
In 2015, I was introduced to the idea of ‘pimping your badge’ at a conference by friend Mags Amond.
It involved adding a watch battery and an LED (light emitting diode) to my conference badge to make it light up – my first wearable electronics!
Mags was later to get involved in the workshop to introduce some basic ideas about circuits.
That Christmas, at my annual birthday party, I gave similar treatment to a bow tie, and it was well received.
The following summer (2016) I found myself in St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin, having my heart checked out when experiencing a rare irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). The time in the hospital was short, since I proved to be in robust health, but enough to stimulate an idea for another wearable electronic – something driven by my own pulse:
The experience stimulated the following design, ‘LED by the heart’, which pleased me, so I resolved to try and make something wearable with it.
Feeling a little worried that it might be hard work, I sought friends and advice. My good friend at Trinity College Dublin, Doireann Wallace, offered support and interest, and later helped me to invite all my party guests in Christmas 2016 to complete and wear a glowy wearable. Doireann kindly prepared for this by cutting felt into Christmas shapes and stitching battery pockets for the partygoers to assemble.
On a hunt for new components and advice, I visited the MAKESHOP by Science Gallery here in Dublin. There, I got into a conversation with Jessica Stanley, who runs electronics workshops for them, and as luck would have it, had a background in wearable electronics. She had wanted to offer a course on this for some time, so I promised to help by finding some other participants.
Then I came across the Trinity College Dublin Visual Arts and Performance Fund. I made an application, and the committee were kind enough to sponsor our course. So in March 2017, we recruited participants to join us: some had craft experience, others programming and design knowledge – all were keen to know more.
Working together, with Jessica’s supportive and knowledgeable leadership, we each made artefacts to be proud of. Over six weeks of Wednesday evenings in the MAKESHOP we learnt to sew conductive thread, programme micro-controllers and solder circuits, as well as make sense of the exciting electronic components we could combine with interesting fabrics in our designs
Finally we demonstrated our work in an exhibition in the Science Gallery on April 26th 2017:
Doireann’s glove instrument
I am now wondering how far this can go.
The initial premise was for me to find a course to fulfil my own creative aspiration. I now think that it may be a route to learning about programming and technology, starting with our desire to be crafty and creative, building from where we are already comfortable in making things, to add a desirable electronic aesthetic dimension. Having broken the ice with this encounter, perhaps participants will find a better relationship with programming and technology, or at least a greater clarity about how such things work.
So now I feel it may be the basis for an adult education model, and so intend to pursue this as an idea for Art teachers, working with the Art Teachers Association of Ireland and the National College of Art and Design and of course MAKESHOP!
I also think it may be interesting to explore the idea with a more general public, by seeking support from Enterprise Ireland to establish feasibility.
Personally I am now the proud owner of two Adafruit Flora Arduinos – small computers usually called micro-controllers, two BBC Microbit computers and lots of lovely LED swag – I can’t wait to make the next mad idea come to fruition!
Thanks to Doireann Wallace & Jessica Stanley for working with me, to all the participants for working so hard and to Nadine McDonogh Cunningham & Rozenn Dahyot for the photographs.