May 142013

This semester in Fashioning Circuits, I was commissioned (re: required) to create a final project that exhibited the dual nature of fashion and circuits. Although I felt up to the challenge, I actually spent many weeks accidentally setting my project on fire and haphazardly learning about coding. It wasn’t all bad: I gained some new programming and sewing experience, learned a lot more about fashion and its intersections with sociology and my personal experiences, and also learned that I am capable of coming up with really cool ideas, even if they don’t exactly see the finish line.

The premise of my project was simple: visibility. I wanted to use fashion to positively steer my personal representation in public; thus, the idea of a pair of light-up “twerking” short really appealed to me. I intended (and still intend!) to wear such shorts in a party environment  where dancing was encouraged. The idea was to have the shorts light-up according to my movement: it would draw a lot of attention to me, but it would be on my terms (when dancing) and according to my comfort level. In part, the shorts would be a commentary on eating disorders and body image, being a Black woman in primarily Othering or hostile spaces, and empowerment via active and visible struggles against anti-Black misogyny.

My plan was to use an accelerometer that would take in my movement and generate it into a current that would affect a LED light, so that the light would flicker faster or slower. Having several LEDs positioned throughout the skirt would create a fashionable aesthetic that would still adhere to the “stylistic” part of the project. The circuitry would be moved by the Lilypad Arduino, a microcontroller board designed for wearables such as my project, and would serve as the brain of the operation.

Unfortunately, I ran into a couple of complications, the main one being that my Arduino seemed to be damaged. While trying to connect the circuity to my skirt using conductive tread, my Arudino would constantly lose charge, catch on fire or stop responding to my laptop. In the beginning I was able to successfully program the Arduino, but overtime–and with many re-sewings, my Arduino began to suffer many scratches and eventually began to spark and catch on fire when the current was turned on.

Another issue I had was successfully sewing the circuit together. Conductive thread requires that the wires do not touch, and I had to sketch out several placements in order to reach the right one. At one point, I’d have faulty wiring but was able to build a circuit; at another point, I had the complete opposite. Sketching helped some times, but was not able to award me with a complete circuit all of the time. My amateur relationship with conductive thread and programming also played a part in how well I was able to conduct things semester.

Despite some shortcomings, I feel that I have definitely learned a lot this year. Programming has never been my strong suit (I’m a coding kind of girl!), but learning about the Arduino software and its related code has helped me very much expand my ideas about coding. My sewing has gotten a little better too, as well as my technical knowledge and history of fashion.

In the end, I would very much like to continue the product. I do believe my intentions are still important and would love to see the project come into fruition. I know this will definitely require better knowledge of programming and the Arduino, but I am very much excited to pick up the task.

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