Monday, December 20, 2021

Getting Creative in Tucson

December is always a fun month for creating and making and this year I decided to join Tucson's makerspace -- Xerocraft, to get access to a laser cutter for some holiday presents I hoped to make. 

Yes, I got access to the laser cutter, but I also discovered an amazing maker community and made some new friends.    We visit lots of maker spaces in our travels, and I have to say that Xerocraft is the friendliest, most accessible and inclusive maker space I've had the pleasure of engaging with. 

The fact that they allow one month membership makes it very accessible.  They don't have a lengthy tool certification process, and instead volunteer shop leads get you up to speed so you can get started quickly and safely.  

Guy and Terry got me going with  their laser cutter within days of my joining, and I experimented with lots of iterations for ideas I had for holiday presents.  It was so handy to be able to purchase materials in house as I needed it without having to interrupt my making to go source wood. 

I noticed a sewing class happening on the Wednesday night and was welcomed by Cyndi and several members working on a variety of sewing projects.  

That night I discovered they had an old embroidery machine gathering dust on the bottom shelf. 
Since I've been looking to explore Turtle Stitch as a way to explore coding, I convinced Craig to see if he could get it up and running.   (We came close) 

That night I also got to witness an amazing interaction between an amazing mentor and his middle school aged mentee.

I even got a potato gun demonstration in the maker spaces's 'out door' space  that 'blew me away"  

Just imagine the multi-generational relationship that can be developed
while making your own potato gun. 

The next week I attended the Tuesday night WTF hack where the makerspaces is only open to those who identify as women, trans, and femme.

My new friends  from Xerocraft's WTF  were eager to help me consider new possibilities for renaming my 20 year project (TechSavvyGirls) to become more inclusive.  We brainstormed lots of possibilities that I will take back to Vermont.   Terri even invited me to share my e-Textile skills at their holiday party and the next WTF hack night. 

I decided to create an entry level project that allowed you to light up 
a bowtie that could be used to embellish a holiday outfit or dress up a holiday gift. 

Of course these creative ladies took it in several new directions. 

A few days later I brought my project to their 
annual Holiday party and got to meet more fun and adventuresome creatives. 

Craig was a great sport and helped me out when we needed it.
He also networked with some amazing creatives  like this 
artist using irradesescent beetle wings in  her crafts. 

My only regret about my membership at Xerocraft was that 
it was only a month because I had an airplane ticket to make it 
back east to spend Christmas with the grandkids. 

During our stay at Tucson, we stayed at Desert Trails RV park 
which is in western part of Tucson adjacent to the Tucson Mountain County Park where
we took some wonderful walks through the desert.

I even introduced other snowbirds at Desert Trails RV 
Park to add sewable LED lights with conductive thread to 
their sewing projects.  


Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Family Visits in Arizona

 We kicked off our month in Tucson with a weeklong visit from Craig's son, Warren. 

Craig got to show Warren on all favorite places in Tucson

Including the Desert Museum

and the best places to get Sonoran hot dogs

and of course, frozen concoctions at Eegees

We even discovered a few new places together, 
like this fabulous diner called Richie's Cafe at Ryan Airfield

And not long after Warren left, we drove up to Cottonwood Arizona to celebrate  the 90th birthday off Craig's Dad - Bryce Lyndes.

Breakfast at the  Black Bear Diner

Leisurely walks at Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Time for a good steak at Steak and Stuff

And finally the official birthday dinner -  Joy's  Jambalaya

Jan, Joy, Kim, and Craig with their Dad on his 90th birthday

 Diane's approving glance as her mom Denise and Bryce 
read all the birthday cards

Great time with Craig's family this month.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Sewing with Conductive Thread inTucson

 As the Christmas holiday approaches while our bus is parked in Tucson,  I found myself inspired to create an Arizona inspired e-textile project that can function as this year's Christmas hat. 

I started with a straw hat that I had purchased to walk around the desert with; the  decorative holes were begging for sewable LED's.   

I have aspired to learn how to use color changing Adafruit neopixels that  I've been carrying around for a few years.

I broke off 7 of them and considered where I might want to sew them on my hat. 

I also experimented with where I might want to place a micro-bit and battery pack
 so it would be comfortable and secure inside the hat.  The microbit would be used to control the lights using code.

Out came the alligator clips so I could attach the neopixels to the  the microbit 
and play with controlling them with block code (via MakeCode).  This was actually the first time I have used neopixels in a project.  I always felt intrigued but  intimidated by them.  
Thanks to the  Adafruit Uberguide to Neopixels, I started to understand them better.

I felt comfortable sewing conductive thread to the Ground and Power pads in extexile
but adding a third conductive trace through the DATA IN and the DATA OUT pads was new to me. 
It still baffles me how so much data can pass through a single piece of conductive thread through a series of neo-pixel lights. 

After some frustrating and unpredictable results when I experimented with
wiring the circuit, the code and neopixels. 

Eventually I  felt like I understood the circuit paths and started to use conductive thread 
to sew 7 neo pixels onto a piece of black ribbon. 

Unfortunately the final results didn't light up.  
No matter how hard I looked I couldn't spot the problem. 
Eventually I started to cut apart the black ribbon, but on a hunch, I  tested the 
circuits after each cut.

My hunch paid off, and after sacrificing two neo-pixels, the 5 remaining neo-pixels lit. 
I reworked my design to one with the 5 working neo-pixel strip and moved on. 

The next challenge was thinking how I might attach the three strands of thread to the microbit without shorting out the circuit from loose conductive thread moving around under my hat. 

The plan I came up with was to use conductive thread to sew a piece of fabric onto the microbit -  then add snaps to the fabric that were connected to the microbit via conductive thread. 
This would make the microbit removable to be used in other projects if needed. 
It also kept things soft and flexible.
Of course I tested to snaps in my basket to make sure they were conductive before sewing them on. 

I hit another obstacle when I came to attach the threads from the black ribbon to the snaps.

I could not see anyway to create a short circuit.  I came to the conclusion that I would need to insulate the threads to prevent a short circuit. 

I finally decided to make cloth channels for each piece of thread.  This insulated  the thread while keeping everything soft and flexible.   It was not pretty, but it worked.  I also chose fabric scraps that created a way to color code the (now hidden) wire to match Ground (black fabric scrap), Power (red fabric scrap) and NEOPIXEL data (multi-colored fabric scrap)

I'm almost embarrassed to post this one picture, but I  reminded myself that this was really a proof of concept prototype level project, and it was okay to forgo beautiful for functionality and focusing on my aspiration to learning to code and control neopixels. 

I tacked the black ribbon with just a few stitches - and when I was convinced that that the circuit worked with no shorts, I applied a layer of nail polish to  any exposed thread as an insulating layer.  Crossing my fingers that this would prevent shorts from happening as I moved around wearing my hat.
I grabbed some good old white thread, a glue gun, and velcro and did a quick job securing  everything in place before heading over to play with code. 

Next I started to play with the MakeCode environment and soon had written some code to control the 5 Neo-pixel lights. 
I was ready to continue playing with code, but the two empty pins on the microbit called for something. 

  So I grabbed a black ribbon and some red and white holiday decorations and added a festive looking band to the hat.     I added two simple sewable LEDS  which I attached to PIN 0 on the microbit.   This would allow me demonstrate the code needed to control straightforward external LEDS as well as NeoPixel LED's

I made sure they worked by adding a couple simple code snippets that would turn the little LED sequins off and on with button A and B 

And voila a physical computing project that has me vested enough to experiment with 
Microbit code.  

But wait -- there is one more pin left open.
I can't let that go unused. 

Considering that I also aspire to gain more creative confidence with sensors --
I think that this seems like the perfect use for that open PIN. 

I've received some interesting suggestions from my online network. 
More experimenting ahead --