Nathan Dennler: Concept Proposal

As a senior ready to graduate, I have been doing a lot of thinking about what I want to do with my life. All this introspection made me question a lot of things about identity in general and what I want my “brand” to be. For this project I wanted to relate themes of identity to whatever I make.

I’ve been thinking about how some traits are very niche, like people who figure skate. Some are very broad, for example, people who are in mechanical engineering. I feel like sometimes these forms of identity can be pretty divisive, and I am a big proponent of inclusion so I want to make something that looks at identity from a very macro-scale. This made me think of astrology, which I think is a quite interesting topic / social phenomenon. It’s beauty is in its arbitrariness–It has nothing to do with how you were raised, your experiences in life, which social or economic group you are a part of, or which country you are from. I view the signs as archetypes, and I think it is an interesting way of discretizing the huge “space” of human personality (as a disclaimer, I definitely don’t believe in them–they’re just fun). They have a cosmic sort of ‘unity’ and ties nicely into having light as a material since they are also constellations.

In terms of medium, I have been pretty interested in fashion lately. Specifically, I was inspired by the Met Gala this past year (2018), where the theme was Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. While this theme is quite denominational, it produced a lot of interesting worn pieces across several cultures. See some of the clothes below. I can say this is probably the closest I’ve been to having a religious experience:

For my project, I want to make pieces that would make the “celestial bodies” of the astrological signs into a physical form. I wanted to stretch my skills as a costume maker by making these pieces as different as possible, so I plan on making several types of clothes as well as different headpieces that tie into the central theme. In a perfect world, I would want to make clothes for each of the signs, but there’s no way I could do all 12 in the 5 weeks we have left (without sacrificing quality), so I plan on doing two. I ended up settling on Cancer and Leo. I feel like these signs are stereotypically juxtaposed, so I think there’s a lot of opportunity for dynamic range.

I started off the process by making some sketches of costumes that I thought might be reflective of the archetypes of the two signs I chose. If you are not familiar with the signs, Cancers are a water sign and are stereotyped as being emotional and internalize feelings. Sometimes they are viewed as having a “hard shell” (like a crab, get it?) and can seem unapproachable. Leos, in contrast, are stereotyped as always wanting to be the center of attention. When they enter a room the whole room will be aware of it (for better or for worse). I tried to personify these archetypes in the following designs:

The lighted part of the Cancer piece is the shirt, which will be lit by plastic fiber optic cable. To make sure the light actually shines through the shirt, I wanted to make it out of sheer material, like mesh. I also wanted to have LEDs near the ends of the sleeves to give the sense that light is totally emitted from the core of the person. I anticipate placing the controller and battery somewhere near the lower back, since the jacket will be relatively loose, so it won’t be very visible. I want to make this light dynamic by incorporating a heart rate sensor to make the light beat with the heart.

The lighted part of the Leo project is the headpiece and the ropes that drape over the bodice of the dress. The headpiece I envision as a complete sphere of paper flowers with NeoPixels spaced evenly around the sphere. I hope to make this dynamic by incorporating pre-coded animations that constantly play. I think that the lights on the dress will be statically lit, or possibly on a similar pre-coded schedule to the headpiece. For this design, since the dress will be relatively form-fitting, the best place to put it would be in the headpiece, then the lights in the back can be made to look similar to the nerves in the spinal cord.

I wanted the color schemes to also be juxtaposed between the pieces, but still congruent with the personality of the sign. I ended up using a subdued blue palette for Cancer and a light yellow for Leo.

I also started to develop a list of the electrical components for these projects. I only listed the components that I did not think I could obtain easily, so I left out things like wires, resistors, connection cables, and assorted electrical components. These are listed below:

Fiber Optic Cable:
This fiber-optic cable has a nice side-emission, and also has pretty interesting effects at the tip too.

Adafruit Trinket:
This microcontroller is SUPER small, and it seems to have a lot of functionality.

Adafruit NeoPixels:
This is a set of individually addressable RGB LEDs, these one seem to be the most cost effective for my purpose, where I will want them to be spread out. The strips probably wouldn’t do so well, and soldering will be required, but that’s not too much of a problem.

Bright LEDs:
So this seemed like a super good deal for relatively bright LEDs. I think that the iPhone flash has a rating of ~3,000mcd for reference (these ones range from 2,000-14,000mcd, with red as the dimmest, and white as the brightest). Also I definitely won’t need all 100, so feel free to reach out to me to use some if you need them!

I think I have a lot of portable chargers for cell phones, which could theoretically be used to power the microcontroller and LEDs. Assuming I have ~40 LEDs with a draw of ~50mA each.

As for the sewing parts of this–including fabric, patterns, and other supplies, I plan on using some of the things my mom has at home, as well as the sewing machine I own. To prepare for the term, I rented locker number 18 in Foisie, and signed up for the industrial sewing session next Wednesday to get access to the industrial machines (and to learn more about the resources they have at Foisie).

I also wanted to get a head start on this project to make sure it’s feasibly, so I found some patterns that were close to the designs I had in mind, so I could just tweak them slightly to get the result I am hoping to achieve.

from left to right the patterns I plan to use: Dress, left (Leo), Pants, Jacket (Cancer), Shirt (Cancer)

I wanted to quickly make the shirt just to see if the sheer fabric is possible at all, and what sewing with it is like since I’ve mostly done non-stretchy fabrics. Cutting it didn’t pose too much of an issue (even including the fact that I only had like 10 pins I could use to keep the fabric in place).

fabric after cutting

I tried to keep the stretch in the fabric by using a zig-zag stitch. It seemed to be going well, but backstitching at the beginning and end of a seam to lock it in seems to just produce a big knot. I also made my first of many mistakes–I made the seam connecting the front to the sleeve backward!

the seam on the right should look inside out like the seam on the left. oops!

I didn’t want to rip the seam out since I felt like it would ruin the fabric, and I was really only making this to see how the light would shine through anyway, so I just continued on. Instead, I just repeated the same error on the other connection from the sleeve to the front so at least the look was symmetrical. I even had a friend stop by when I finished to try on the “rough draft”.

The neck ended up not being as long as I would like, and a little loose, so I will cut more fabric and add some darts to the back to make it a little more snug.

I also have heard that some people have trouble with fiber optic cable, so I wanted to do some testing to see how visible it is, especially when it is behind a fabric. I went to the IMGD lab in fuller and shined my iPhone flashlight into the cable to make sure you could see the sides and not just the tips. I was actually pleasantly surprised by how visible it was (I think it looks brighter in person, which probably has something to do with the ISO settings on the camera which I didn’t really set). I was also able to tell that they were being lit up from the side view even when the lights were on.

A bundle of 0.75mm diameter cables

I also tried sanding some of the cables with a very fine-grit sandpaper that I found on one of the tables and it was able to make the cable even brighter! I sanded the whole lengths of about three individual cables and didn’t notice any dissipation problems.

The patch near the middle of the image was sanded, and it is noticeably brighter.

The last thing that I wanted to test was the ability to see the cable through the mesh, which I assumed would be fine, and it ended up being pretty visible. I had some trouble getting the wires to not curl up, but I think if I actually weave them together once I have an appropriate amount (not the whole 100), then it will be easier to manage.

The cables inside the shirt

For the project, I wanted to set a few goals that I think I can definitely achieve and some “reach” goals too.

My main goals are:
– sew a dress, jacket, shirt, and pair of pants
– create the flower headpiece
– attach and power lights to all the pieces
– program patterns to display with the lights

My stretch goals are:
– interface with a heart-rate monitor to make pulsing lights
– take interesting pictures of the clothes on a person
– add LED tears to the glasses from the Cancer design

My Timeline for this will be:
1 week from now (Maquette):
– have the mesh shirt with fiberoptics as a maquette (statically lit)
– get the dress done
– if the microcontrollers and NeoPixels come in by then, attempt to interface with them

2 weeks from now (Failure, Recalibration, Iteration):
– make the jacket and pants
– figure out how the ropes will drape around the dress

3 weeks from now (Everything Working):
– make the headpiece
– finish all the circuit elements

4 weeks from now (Polish and Present):
– program designs
– attempt the stretch goals

Since I will not be in town on Monday (or this weekend) to get feedback on the proposal, please send me an email at if there are concerns you have or glaring issues that I have overlooked, or any other commentary you have. I’m excited to hear from you and to see all the other projects!

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