MA Thesis, 2011
Media Lab Helsinki, Dept. of Media,
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 thesis 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 emphasizes 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. The soft triggers prototyped are proofs of concepts representing parts or units of possible medium-specific e-textile interfaces that facilitate an active engagement between the user and her surroundings. Thus, the design process undertaken was successful in illustrating methods for creating e-textile interfaces that are specific to the medium of fabrics and that curiously involves the users in a dialogue with their immediate environment.