Nov 082013

Actually, the piece ended up being  framed as featuring “weird” college classes. But we’ve learned to love the label.

Doug Magditch from the local CW affiliate recently contacted the UT Dallas Office of Media Relations looking to do a piece on “unusual college classes.” Mr. Magditch visited EMAC 4372 Topics in Emerging Media and Communication: Fashioning Circuits the next day.

Here is the resulting news piece that also features a short film from classes taught by Todd Fechter and Eric Farrar, my colleagues in EMAC’s sister program in Arts and Technology (the embed code is broken, apologies for using a link):

image of classroom with the text of the course description superimposed

Fashioning Circuits featured on CW33

I was definitely caught off guard by the framing. Of course I know that as part of a mainstream media outlet, Mr. Magditch’s responsibility was to draw in as many viewers as possible. And “weird” is going to grab more attention than “unusual.” I admit that I was a bit worried about what the administration would think of it. But by all accounts, the powers-that-be seem pleased that we were featured and only wish we had had a bit more screen time.

The student proposals just came in for final projects and it’s true: the things they want to make are weird. But in a wonderful way. Project ideas range from shoes to help children learn to put their shoes on the correct feet, to mapping quiet places on campus, to interrogations of privacy and transparency, to challenging people to think about the invisibility of depression, and other interesting solutions or social statements. My friend and EMAC alum, Colleen Lin, sent me this quote, which is a perfect response to being labeled “weird”:

“There are people who are generic. They make generic responses and they expect generic answers. They live inside a box and they think people who don’t fit into their box are weird. But I’ll tell you what, generic people are the weird people. They are like genetically-manipulated plants growing inside a laboratory, like indistinguishable faces, like droids. Like ignorance.”

– C. Joybell C.

It’s a wonderful quote and if being weird means not being generic, then we’re happy to be weird!

Oct 202013
Vinyl Banner with the design your world logo

SMU was decorated and ready

Early on a Saturday morning, 11 Fashioning Circuits volunteers, ranging from 11 to 50-something years old, trekked down to Southern Methodist University for the Fall installment of the Design Your World conference, for 4th and 5th grade girls. Our volunteers included current and former students, parents, daughters, and friends from neighboring universities.

The event was organized by the Dallas Society of Women Engineers (SWE) in partnership with the SMU chapter of SWE . They invited Fashioning Circuits to lead an all day “Electronic Fashion Camp” workshop for twenty girls. In the morning, the workshop included an opening discussion about Fashion as Communication, an introduction to the concept of physical computing, and a coding workshop and time for geeking out and messing around with the Lilypad Arduino. The afternoon was focused on a take home project – a twinkling headband!

Young girl standing at a table where two girls are seated. An adult woman is hunched over the table.

Our youngest volunteer, Audrey, age 11, sharing her skills with her peers

It was a really fun day. The girls who attended that day learned a lot but we also learned a few things. Lessons that we learned include that you can never have too many pairs of scissors and that for future workshops we should not be tempted by the inexpensive sewing needle multipacks – many of the needles had eyes that were so tiny they were very difficult to work with! This was our first workshop for a group this young that included a take home project. Our strategy of gluing down the LilyTwinkle, LEDs, and battery holder in advance worked quite nicely.

According to the Dallas SWE’s writeup of the event, 82% of the kids responded that they would attend a Design Your World event again, and 88% responded that they would recommend the event to others. We hope that our numbers for Fashioning Circuits were even higher.

many children are seated at tables while adults sit or stand nearby

Lance and other volunteers help the girls during the coding activities.

The day made an impact on our volunteers as well. EMAC senior, Lance King, writes, “When I first got involved, I had no idea Fashioning Circuits would be such an impactful experience. The young girl I was mentoring through this project was so patient and inquisitive! Once we finished working on her head band, I looked her in the eyes and said, ‘The batteries are in now…Do YOU want to turn it on?!’ She nodded her head and as she flipped the switch…her eyes lit up and sparkled brighter than any LED could hope to! It felt SO amazing to be a part of a child’s educational experience in that way. I don’t think she’ll forget it and I know I won’t.”

If you would like to make your own twinkling headband, you may download the tutorial from here:

Oct 122013

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve just signed an advance contract for the book Fashioning Makers and Counterpublics: Critical Making and Public Humanities with University of Iowa Press for the Humanities and Public Life series. Below is the blurb I wrote about the book for my website:

In Spring 2011, the Dallas Museum of Art announced an upcoming exhibit on the clothing of Jean Paul Gaultier, which would open the following Fall. The exhibit had only one other U.S. location scheduled – San Francisco. Given the sparse touring schedule, this was a unique opportunity to involve students in the program in Emerging Media and Communication at UT Dallas with an event in the local arts community. The first node of connection originated in an image of a Gaultier dress that was designed for Kylie Minogue (below).

Kylie Minogue in an elaborate crocheted dress designed by Jean Paul GaultierThe crochet elements of the dress are reminiscent of the traces on a circuit board and prompted the basic idea for Fashioning Circuits. The project originally took the form of an independent study on fashion and media with topics of study such as embodiment, gender identity, and the historical relationship between fashion and media. The original group of participants, one professor and four graduate students, read and discussed theories of fashion, technology, identity, and globalization. They blogged annotated bibliography entries and critical analysis of wearable media. Perhaps most unusual for a Humanities context, they used sewing machines, soldering irons, and microcontrollers to create wearable media objects.

It quickly became evident that the most significant potential of Fashioning Circuits was not in the connection to the local arts community but in the way it challenged students to engage in sewing, electronics, and coding as new forms of scholarly production. Students with little to no experience in this area became empowered in new modes of expressing ideas. The project in its current iteration still contains all of those original elements (blogging, criticism and making) but now also includes multiple ways of operating beyond the bounds of the traditional classroom. These are workshops with community partners to introduce young women to coding and making in a Humanities context, Creative Labs that are open to the campus community, and the ongoing work on the blog. Through all of these activities, Fashioning Circuits attempts to empower students as makers, which in turn contributes to counterpublic formation.

The book Fashioning Makers and Counterpublics: Critical Making and Public Humanities will explore the theoretical foundations of the project and will share detailed information on its genesis and operations, including perspectives from project partners and the successes and challenges of this kind of scholarly activity. Chapters will include theoretical foundations (including the ways in which it contributes to counterpublic formation and its status as a humanist project interfacing with issues in STEM fields), a detailed project narrative, perspectives on university coursework, perspectives on community engagement, the project’s impact on educational technology (authored by Laura Pasquini), future directions and the wider context of the project. A companion website [hosted here] will include tutorials, teaching materials, a workshop planning toolkit, a bibliography, links to suppliers, and other resources.

Jul 022013

In a few weeks, the Fashioning Circuits crew is going to lead a workshop on Open Source Fashion at the Girl Scouts College Journey — Teaming for Tomorrow summer camp at UT Dallas. In addition to introducing students to open source and the Lilypad arduino, we will be leading 25 high school students in a take-home project. Each student will get to make and take home a twinkling wrist cuff with four colored LEDs, made from the LilyTwinkle and Lilypad LEDs. Kim Knight just finished making the prototype and will be training the trainers soon. We only have four hours total for the workshop so we’ll cut out all of the fabric and sew the first few seams in advance, but the tutorial below covers the entire process from start to finish.

Caption: video of twinkling wrist cuff

Here’s the tutorial: Twinkling Wrist Cuff Tutorial