Introduction: The Pig Empathy Suit
Hey everyone, ready to brave the pig world?
So first of all a little disclaimer, this is not a joke. I might be somewhat crazy but this project started pretty seriously and ended in this fun but also very interesting direction. I originally wanted to design a musical instrument for pigs (if you want to know more about that I have a blog documenting my process). I quickly realised it was very difficult to design for beings that I don't fully understand. There is a huge difference between observing a barn and actually being in the barn. So I had to do something to really know who I was designing for,I had to become a pig!
Let's talk a bit more about what an empathy suit is. I think the whole thing started when people tried to understand how the elderly live. To help elderly better or just to create awareness, researchers built an age empathy suit to go through the same handicaps. There is also Thomas Thwaites who tried to become a goat. I really like this idea of experiencing someone's point of view and I decided to try it with pigs.
In the end the experience was really amazing and I am happy to share this so you crazy curious guys can try it too!
But why do you need a suit? I could also have gone in the barn simply on all four right? That may work at home with your pet pig, it all depends on the settings. But the pig environment is full of mud or straw, it might be cold, it might be wet. I wanted the experiment to last a few hours at least to really get immersed in pig world. To stay on all four a very long time you will be happy to have some protection, same if you intend to be in the mud or in straws. There are also some body parts that we miss to be at least a socially functional pig. The snout is like a hand for pigs, they search, poke, do everything with it. Pigs express their dominance by biting each others ears. Some breed also have their ears fall in front of their eyes and alter their vision, which is a part of the experience I tried to reproduce.
Do you also want to become a pig now? Let's go!
Step 1: What You Need to Be a Pig
So how can you become a pig? It depends a bit on why you want to become a pig:
If you only wish to experience the point of view of a pig in your garden or with your pet(s) in a safe environment you will only need the following materials:
For step 1: the headset
- a gopro (if you want to film your experience)
- old pants with a tough fabric (jeans, linen,...)
- a sewing kit
I have tried to make this suit as cheap as possible with left-over and scrap material. I was lucky to be able to borrow the gopro and head mount from my school but if you need to make your own head set you can check this instructable!).
For step 2: the snout
- old measuring beaker or any plastic container that fits your face
- a drill (drill bits between 5 and 8 mm diameter)
- foam in sheets of 1 or 2 mm thickness
- ~50 cm of large elastic band
- leather glue (see this step for more info)
- again your sewing kit!
For step 3: hand hoofs
- 2 blocks of wood 5x9.5x7 cm (I glued some pine wood planks together to make a block)
- access to a wood band saw
- wood sanding machine or sanding paper
- metal saw
- drill (25 mm bit)
- 2 second hand or abandoned crutches
For step 4: knee hoofs
- 2 blocks of 11x13x7 cm (I glued some pine wood planks together to make a block)
- access to a band saw
- sanding machine or sanding paper
- 2 skating knee pads discarded by your little sister
/!\ If you want to try it in the mud, in a farm, with a herd of pigs like I did you need other precautions /!\
Pigs are extremely curious and will nimble on everything you love and also everything you have, fingers, hanging clothes, ass, EVERYTHING. If you are with your beloved pet or only with a couple of pigs it is possible to handle it but otherwise I strongly recommend the following protections:
- working gloves (as long as they are thick and strong)
- a water proof overall (can be found second hand for free if you ask for discarded ones at science universities or other labs) that you should cover with tight clothes so no loose textiles will be open for biting and tearing. It is not a bad idea to seal wrists an ankles with duct tape.
- boots or strong hiking shoes (you should seal or hide the laces though)
- if you go outside and it's winter like now put on some warm clothes like your mama taught you ;)
Step 2: Headset With Ears
To make your piggy ears, grab your old jeans of 1995, a pair of textile scissors, a pen and some paper, here we go!
- First trace and cut the pattern on paper as shown in picture. I didn't measure a precise size, I just made it a bit bigger than my hand. Once you have you pattern write on each side face 1 and face 2.
- You can now draw the contour of your pattern on your old jeans. You need two times face 1 and two times face 2. The inside line that I drew is the line where we will be stitching, it helps when you are not very experienced with sewing like me.
- After cutting them all up you can assemble face one with face two twice. Fix the whole thing with pins otherwise it will move when you start stitching. If your not used to sew you might need to improvise some pins out of electronic components or whatever you might have at hand, do not hesitate. If you can use a sewing machine it's a bit faster but as we already established I am not a fashion designer I had to sew it by hand.
- Yes! The ears just need to be turned inside out and you already have them! You only need to stitch them to the headset or elastic band you possess in a way that they will slightly appear in your vision and you are set!
If you are still not convinced of the utter functionality of your piggy ears, you know at least that you will look cute as hell (let's hope)!
Step 3: Make Yourself a Snout
After a first test I realised that this part is quite essential. When your hands are occupied by holding the hoofs you realise that your face is way too short to do anything with it. There would probably be improvements possible on the snout I made but this way you can make some quick results.
- Find a plastic container that is comfortable on your face. I used a beaker with an elongated shape. You might also want to choose for a plastic easy to drill and cut.
- Let's drill some holes! To make a slot for the elastic band: drill a hole at each of the two extremity of the slot you want and then carefully cut in between the hole with a knife to make the slot. Repeat on the other side.
- Drill some more holes around the slot for breathing.
- Put the elastic band through the slots and try the snout on to see how tight you want it and then sew the elastic band to itself.
- To make sure the snout is comfortable against your face, cut a long band of foam and glue it on the beaker by folding it around the edge. I used some kind of obscure Italian shoe glue that works on anything all the time (it's my favourite thing).
You are now snout equipped! Your head is now completely piggiesed.
Step 4: Hoof Your Hands Up!
(You can read the title on this song).
This element is surely the most important as it will put your arms and hands in a comfortable position. I found some crutches that someone didn't use any more, I think it is quite possible to get some second hand ones.
- First of all cut the crutches. As you can see on picture two I only left 3 cm after the ridge of the handle, just enough to stick in the wooden piece.
- I used a band saw to shape the wooden blocks, cutting the long side first and the short one then. I have included here a plan with measurements (in millimetres) of the pieces I made. You need to take in consideration that I am a small girl so you might need to adjust the dimensions to your size.
- Drill a hole on top of the wooden pieces of the same diameter of your crutches' tube. Watch out to not make it too deep so it doesn't come out on the other side. I made it 3 cm deep.
- It's good to seal the wood with some kind of waterproof finishing especially if you plan on going in the mud.
- Then just assemble the hoofs on the crutches, it should be tight enough but if you want it extra strong you could use epoxy glue.
The front part of you hoofs is ready!
Step 5: Hoof Your Feet Up!
Now that your hands are hoofed your feet need to level up!
- Find some skate knee protection that fits you.
- As explained with the hand hoofs: cut and varnish the 2 wooden pieces. The knee hoofs need to be bigger for a better stability, you can follow the plan included in this step.
- To attach the hoof I just screwed the knee pad to it in three points. It's very solid so I don't think you need glue. However it's important to put the wooden piece in the right position for maximum stability: the short side aligning with the side of your leg, the long side aligning with the front of your leg.
With this step you have finished all the elements of the suit!
Step 6: Assemble!
You can now put everything together!
Again if you want to try it outside I recommend warm and waterproof clothing underneath each element. Otherwise putting on the suit is pretty straight forward : knee hoofs, headset, snout and hand hoofs.
Step 7: Meet Your Pig Friends
You have now completed the pig suit and you are hopefully wearing it with pride!
From my personal experience it was already very interesting to go around my house in the suit and to see how things designed for humans felt while being in the pig suit.
However visiting a pig environment and even being with pigs in this suit is the real deal. The change of height makes everything look, sound and smell very different. You feel with your hoofs that not every floor is comfortable. Even covered in straw you slip as well as the pigs slip sometimes. The fact that your hands are not available also creates a very different perspective.
Meeting pigs takes a lot of patience as you will literally be a rock-star for the little group. They will be super curious of you for a long time and munch on everything they can, just to understand what you're made of. After a while you have a little more space to explore their world. The most touching thing I have seen is some little pig pushing its snout through a slot in the fence to touch his mom's snout on the other side. There are also very funny moments when the group gets scared for no reason at all and I tried to run away with them.
There are a lot of points that could be improved in this project so don't hesitate to tell me if anything crosses your mind. I hope that some of you will be inspired by empathic design and by this attempt to understand pigs better, maybe you will want to try it out yourself.
A big thank you to the amazing welfare pig farm Vair where I have been doing all sorts of experiments, check out what they do on their website (in Dutch only but Google translate is your friend), as well as to Arvid Jense who has been helping and filming this wild adventure.
Third Prize in the
Animal Innovations Contest