E-textiles: Custom Design Cushions with LED Lights

etextiles_pillowcase-320_smallA group of young fashion engineers gathers on Saturday afternoons to design and create e-textiles; bracelets, soft toys or other accessories using conductive materials and LED lights. The design process starts with thinking about the functionality of the creation; Which materials will be needed and how to assemble everything together.

Items needed vary depending on a project. For these custom design cushions we used the following: felt fabric in different colors (from amazon.fr),  sewable LED lights (from Kitronik), conductive thread (from Kitronik), 3V Coin cell battery holder with the latch (from Kitronik or Lilypad), 1 x CR2032 Coin Cell Battery and filling (organic wool from amazon.fr).

We first designed the cushion’s artwork, then cut the patterns from a sheet of felt and sewed them on another sheet of felt (in this case size of a sheet was 30x30cm). Secondly, we decided where the LED lights should go and designed the circuit. It’s good to test if all the components function by connecting them with the crocodile clips. Thirdly, we sewed the components on the cushion with the conductive thread. Make sure to do it right – check the Sparkfun Tutorial on Conductive Thread and Conductive Thread – 10 Tips Youtube video by Adafruit Industries. Lastly, we stitched together the patterned felt sheet and a blank one leaving a small opening for the filling on one side and closed the opening when the cushion was nice and puffy.

 

Put that Learning into Practice

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Learning something is somewhat comfortable, but putting it into practice is the tricky part. We have an extraordinary ability to grasp new knowledge, but it’s not until we implement the learning that it becomes a real skill. We need to activate the potential by creating something useful, practical and/or beautiful that showcases the accumulated information in practice.

A new language, for example, is of no use, if you don’t read in it or communicate in speaking or writing. The same applies to computer skills: your knowledge of JavaScript or Python will only be tested when you create a new web application.

Project-based learning provides a solution. You gain content knowledge and accumulate critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills by carrying out a meaningful real-life project. For example, when I learned front-end web development, it was only the first big project, Neighbourhood map, that tested if I had actually understood all the online lectures I had listened over the past few months.

There are dozens of online courses teaching web development, but I personally favor the Nanodegree programs of Udacity because they are project-based and community oriented. Udacity provides excellent forums for asking questions from peers and mentors alike. Students work on different projects over an extended period of time – from a week up to a few months. They are engaged in creating apps with varying complexity and therefore get to demonstrate their knowledge and skills by developing a product for the web or app store. Over the course of project development, and especially when you feel like giving up, the community is there to support you.

Screen capture of a Cafe and co-work appThe Udacity Nanodegree programs don’t only require us, students, to implement the skills we have acquired but at the same time provide us with the portfolio projects demanded when applying to jobs. These projects also serve as references for future work. The code has been reviewed and is, therefore, according to industry standards.

Putting knowledge into practice should be a requirement for all educational bodies. I might have become a mechanical engineer had the formulas of rotational motion been demonstrated in the real-life projects at the high school physics class!

Endless Source of Inspiration

smileycafe-640_mediumI’ve troubles in finding inspiration. I’m sipping my morning coffee in a beautifully designed Parisian coffee shop while writing this post. Flavor of the Belleville coffee and the ambiance of Bleu Olive should toss me into it, but no, it’s no go, again today. The energy of a young adult has vanished long ago, and bourgeois lifestyle might have drained the rest of it like those dementors in Harry Potter, who gradually deprive human minds of happiness and intelligence.

Or maybe it’s the urban way of life. Running back and forth – being busy. Too many stimuli. Personal characteristics add up to this lack of motivation – tendency to overdo and get tired, trouble in finding a perfect balance between labor and leisure. Labor meaning not only work but strenuous physical activity in the form of any sports. I do tell my kids that downtime is critical, but my example is contradictory.

Google search provides me with many self-help lists for finding the inspiration. According to many disconnecting and giving yourself a pressure-free moment or creative expression would do the trick. Also contemplating everything you’ve learned and achieved and how you’ve made a positive difference in the world would fill the bill.

I’d add recalling your goals to this list. Those reasons that pushed you to the exercise at first place. I’ve scribbled mine in a notebook and will revisit them right now.

Out of the Box Thinking

colorful-640_medium“Creativity is more important than knowledge.” I’ve loosely quoted Albert Einstein to my children. “Does it mean that we don’t need to go to school but we can just build lego or play computer games instead?” Why not, if somehow through that play, the basic concepts and rules of math, sciences, and living in a society would be transferred to you. School, in general, provides a wide variety of information: we learn the basics of math, sciences, languages, history and geography. We practice our social skills by being a part of a community; We learn discipline and to respect the rules. An excellent school also provides nurturing for the curious minds and makes them want more.

Knowledge can thus be acquired by learning from books and from people, but when the imagination steps in the new inventions are born. Creativity is our inner quality that can be fed and knowledge provides nourishment for the innovation. Without knowledge, there is not much to innovate on. Hence, learning is a key and creativity will define the door it will open.