Fashion is something very personal and intimate. You might not always be aware of it but your body is touching either clothing or textiles almost all the time. This makes it the perfect platform to incorporate technology, not only in terms of functionality but especially also in creating new ways to communicate identity and to interact with our surroundings.

Fashion can be seen as an interface that mediates between our bodies and surroundings. I'm interested in creating interactive fashion pieces that are able to change their expression. For 'Flip Dot Dress' I challenged myself to create a kinetic display on the body. This project was developed during an intense one month artist in residency in the MQ Vienna. I collaborated with Daniel Schatzmayr, engineer/software developer/robot hacker. And next to him I had the support of a small team of both fashion and electrical engineering students.

This instructable will give you an insight in the entire process. Keep in mind that this is quite an artistic piece, which doesn't focus so much on creating truly wearable solutions for electronics in garment. Yet it will show you how 'hard' technology can be combined with the softness of fashion and how working with electronics impacts the construction and make of the design.

The flip dot dress is a kinetic garment that responds to sound. It is made up out of tiny flip dots, which are electro-magnetic discs that can flip from one side to the other. The design incorporates 600 flip dots in total, which flip from black to red and can be consider a 600 pixel display on the body.

Learn more about flip dots onwikipedia. The technology has been used extensively on public information displays.

Step 1: Getting Started With the Design

Develop your design: think about where you want to place the flip dots, keeping in mind what kind of visual effect you want to create and how that influences the construction of the garment. I experimented with the pattern of the dots by making various stand drapes, whereby I stuck the dots in holes of the fabric, creating a nice arrangement that would follow the body in a attractive way. I placed them quite densely, because that would make the effect of a display more obvious. But you have to keep in mind that even though you can place the dots right next to each other, you might need some space in between them to accommodate for other components like diodes and wires.

I soon found out that because of the height of the dots (about 2cm) it would be nicer to embed them in a relatively heavy thick material, so that the fabric surrounding the dots wouldn't create a pulling effect.
I decide to make a body with a kind of black vest zipped on top of it, whereby the dots would be visible from all around.

Step 2: Draw the Wiring Diagram

A way to create a series of designs with your drapes is to make digital collages with photo's of your stand drapes. After creating a visualization of the final design in Photoshop, you can translate the design into a paper pattern. On the paper pattern you can sketch out the exact placement of the dots. It's most precise to use a large format scanner or a pattern digitizing table. I used illustrator to create nice lines, fairly parallel to the outlines of the pattern, on which I placed the dots in a fixed distance to create a clear grid with a nice flow. The flip dot coordinates are very important when making the wiring diagram and for later on when laser cutting the fabric and foam layers.

Then it started to become a little more complex. In order to address each dot individually, I had to connect all the dots in a matrix of 30x40. Having the dots placed in a specific lay out that fit my design, made it quite a puzzle to come up with the most efficient wiring diagram.

Step 3: Preparations for Laser Cutting

Since the flip dots had some height, I decided to place them inside a lightweight airy foam. That way they would stay nicely in place. In order to create the pattern for the dots to sit in, you can use Illustrator or any other vector based drawing software. I scanned my paper pattern with the placement of all the dots, drawn manually. Then I traced it all in Illustrator and added numbers for all the dots that could be engraved in the foam. This later on helped me when soldering the connections.

Step 4: Laser Cutting

Find a laser cutter machine nearby. Search for a fablab, maker or hacker space. Daniel and I worked at Metalab, a hackerspace in Vienna. Which has a Epilog Legend 36EXT laser with a cutting area of 890x590mm

We laser cut the square shapes out of the foam as well as small holes for the circular shaped 'heads' of the flip dots out of the neoprene outer layer of the design.


Working with the scale of the body often results in working with quite large pattern pieces. Since our panels were much bigger than the surface the laser could cut at once, we cut the material in various steps. After cutting one part we had to move the fabric around to cut the next. But of course both cutting sessions need to be aligned according to your file…

The TRICK is to engrave a simple cross outside of the outline of your laser cut pattern, so basically in any left over piece of fabric that the laser can reach. When replacing the fabric to cut the next part of the file, you align the engraved cross again with the head of the laser. You let the laser engrave the same cross again but instead of actually engraving, you leave the cover/hood of the laser open, so that you can see the red pointer moving over the cross, but not actually lasering. Since the cross has two axes it creates quite a precise alignment. (Check with your type of laser cutting if opening the hood makes it cut 'fake' and just move over the pattern without actively lasering. If not, this can be very dangerous!)

Step 5: Construction

The construction of the body and it's outer layer with the circular holes can be done separately from the construction of the foam layer and its integration of electronics. Later on the two layers will be put together.

We made a testing device with a breadboard and a battery pack to test a series of flip dots all at once.

We used these diodes which quite efficiently were soldered into garlands which then could be easily connected with the flip dots.

Step 6: Organized Chaos

Soon the design starts looking like a mess, but make sure to keep the chaos an organized one! Use a lot of heat shrink to make sure there will be no short circuits. All the leads of the flip dots which are soldered to the wires can be bend flat afterwards.

PS: Over 4300 solder connections were made to create the full construction.

Step 7: Combining the Layers

The outer neoprene layer functions as a shell around the foam layer that now incorporates all the flip dots. Carefully put the foam layer inside (as if you're putting a cover over a pillow) The plastic heads of the flip dots can be pushed through the holes in the neoprene. After putting this together, there's no way you can use a sewing machine anymore because of the weight and thickness of the piece. So keep in mind that every seam that still needs to be fixed or closed will need to be done by hand!

Step 8: PCB

Daniel designed and developed a cool custom made PCB that would drive the flip dots.

The small PCB board of 86 x115mm is integrated in back of the dress, in between the shoulder blades. It has 70 power outputs, a wireless module (XBEE), an SD card slot, and is able to deliver up to 5A.

We hooked up the flip dot matrix to the board, for the 16 and 20 pin connectors we used ribbon wire.

Step 9: The Result

The design was showcased at the Techno Sensual symposium in Vienna organized by Anouk Wipprecht.

Check out the final design in action in this video made by Hammond Images.

A project made possible with thanks to Daniel Schatzmayr, Anouk Wipprecht, Philipp Tiefenbacher, Geoffrey Lillemon / Oculart, Carrie, Ina Holub, Metalab, Alfa Zeta, Franziska Prandl, Theresa Wilson, Markus Piller, Horia Botezan and everybody else involved.

<p>Amazing! Where did you get the single flip dots?</p>
<p>This is beautiful! </p>

About This Instructable



Bio: Pauline van Dongen researches the body in a technologically textured space. After graduating from ArtEZ, Academy of the Arts in Arnhem, the Netherlands, she started ... More »
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