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  • Ramyah Gowrishankar
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DeFInt (MA thesis)

Designing Fabric Interactions (DeFInt): A study of knitted fabrics as an electronic interface medium was the subject of my masters thesis in New Media at Media Lab Helsinki. The focus was to specifically use the familiar “language” of fabrics to create novel experiences and interactions in our everyday scenarios.

Defint aspires to investigate the existing interactions and our material understanding of fabrics to find opportunities for creating interesting and fun interfaces. It is an in-depth material study as well as an attempt on building a more creative and active relationship with one’s surroundings through e-textile artefacts. These fabric artefacts react to different gestures as well as various objects that it comes in contact with.

The field of electronic textiles although a young one, has gained momentum in the last decade. Textiles have been an integral part of our cultures for thousands of years and have adapted to the different needs and lives of people. They provide a rich source for interactions and scenarios from the context of our everyday lives that can be reinterpreted for electronic interfacing. Creative practitioners working in the field of e-textiles aim at efficiently combining electronics with traditional fabric materials. However, not many have tried to derive inspiration from the existing language of fabrics to design these interfaces. Most of the commercial e-textile products, while incorporating cutting-edge technologies, seem to copy or directly follow previous trends in wearable computing rather than truly attempting to design specifically for the medium of fabrics.

This project explores methods of integrating fabrics and electronics to create interfaces that are specific to the medium of textiles. Following the approach of ludic design, this work also emphasises the potential of e-textile interfaces to invite unexpected interpretations and responses from the users while enabling an active, creative relationship with their surroundings. The practical work focuses on an in-depth study of knitted fabrics as a medium for electronic interfaces. The process involves working and experimenting with knitting yarns, conductive threads and off-the-shelf electronics while using traditional fabric construction tools like knitting and sewing machines. Using a material-driven approach, a collection of single instances of fabric interactions or “soft triggers” that explicitly interpret fabric related actions as inputs were prototyped. These soft triggers were designed to essentially work with physical properties such as conductivity or shape of the other objects as a way of creating an immediate relation between the user, the soft trigger and their surroundings.

A copy of the thesis is available for download here.

A hands- on approach was taken in which sketching and prototyping were important steps for concept development. Learning to be proficient with construction and assisting tools was also an integral part of this investigative process.

More details about the different techniques used as well as various intermediatory findings and tutorials can be found in the project blog: www.defint.wordpress.com

 

Shape sensing soft trigger from ramyah gowrishankar on Vimeo.

Scrolling soft trigger from ramyah gowrishankar on Vimeo.