Kicking off the Smart Fabrics Conference in San Francisco on April 23 is an E-Textiles Hack-A-Thon hosted by Sparkfun's Dia Campbell and Pearce Melcher. The workshop runs from 8am-12pm and looks like a great way to dive into wearable tech by getting your hands dirty.
Dynamic Duo: Pearce Melcher and Dia Campbell of Sparkfun
Curious to find out a bit more about the workshop and the ideas behind it, we caught up with Dia Campbell for a sneak preview.
You're likely to have a wide range of people attending the Smart Fabrics Hack-A-Thon, from textile experts to electrical engineers to interaction designers. Do you have any tricks for working with the diverse range of people who attend an event like this?
Dia Campbell: Collaboration! Working with a group of people from a variety of backgrounds is far more interesting than working with a group of people who all know the same things. If you can encourage everyone to pool their skill resources, everyone ends up able to do so much more than they could have done on their own! And that's where the real take-home value of a workshop like this is at. A project that you make in a day and take home has limited utility, but new skills, new tips and tricks, continue to benefit you in future projects.
New collaborators, people you've had a chance to work with and get to know on a small project, can pay off indefinitely! Finding people with skills you need and value, and who can introduce you to new applications for your own skills, is the farthest-reaching investment of time and resources that I can think of.
Sparkfun's E-Textile Workshop at SXSW 2104
Your background is in costume design and fiber art. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how you ended up working with electronics?
DC: Theatrical costuming, cosplay, and costume design have been a passion of mine for a very long time. The bulk of my theater work was done in school (there's a tremendous time demand that is easy to meet as a student, and much more difficult to balance with full-time work!), but I've continued to create costumes on my own time. The discovery of e-textiles as a medium opened a great many creative doors, and I started working with sewable electronics in 2009. I've had to learn everything I know from the ground up, and I'm definitely still learning a great deal. I'm lucky to have had the opportunity to work with very talented educators and engineers, and to spend so much of my time discovering and experimenting with new materials. I hope that this workshop will be an opportunity to share that experience!
Your title at Sparkfun is "TechStyle Specialist". Did the role already exist at Sparkfun, or was it created especially for you?
DC: The role did not already exist, but I think it might be an exaggeration to say that it was created for me. It was created in response to a need that I have been able, and very happy, to fulfill.
What does a TechStyle Specialist do on an average workday?
DC: I'm not sure there's any such thing as an average workday! Every day contains at least a little bit of preparation for upcoming events. There's a lot of work to be done pushing products and kits forward, a great deal of conversation with collaborators and educators in the community, and occasionally even a little bit of technical support for people getting started! On my favorite days, there's either a hands-on workshop to teach or time to sit down and focus on making something interesting, useful, or beautiful.
A sweet smile of success at Sparkfun's E-Textile Workshop at SXSW 2104
Sparkfun has a history of enabling and supporting e-textile experimentation, but they are primarily a hardware company. What's it like working with their engineers when you come from such a different discipline?
DC: It's wonderful! I think a lot of my love for inter-disciplinary collaboration comes from the tremendous luck I've had, meeting and working with brilliant and creative people. The frustrations, in my opinion, are fewer and less painful than working in groups where everyone shares a background, because areas of expertise are so easy to define, and everyone isn't trying to do the same job on top of each other! We respect each other's competence a great deal. On the one hand, within a project everyone can feel like they are the master of their own domain. On the other, sometimes being a bit outside the field can provide surprising insights!
What has been your favorite project so far at Sparkfun?
DC: I get so wrapped up in every new thing, that I feel like there's no right way to answer this! On a grand over-arching scale, I've been working on a series of videos called ElectriCute, which I'm very proud of. It's really important to me to showcase individual materials and make them approachable and understandable to newcomers, so ElectriCute is very close to my heart. Within that series, I think my current favorite episode project was a prosthetic illuminated tattoo we made to demo the Elastolite products we're carrying. I loved the way it came out, and I'm really excited to use it in future projects!
Finally, can you give us a sneak preview of the kinds of tools and materials people can expect to work with at the Hack-a-thon? Anything new from Sparkfun's secret underground labs?
DC: Everything I can get my hands on! I'm rounding up everything we sell, because it's handy, but I'm also trying to bring in parts, materials and products that we don't sell. I want people to see as huge a range of supplies as I can get into their hands, not pretend that the SparkFun catalog is where the buck stops, necessarily. There are a few new supplies that you'll see coming up in our catalog, hopefully including at least one board still in prototype, but this is about the broader palette of available tools, collaboration, and learning by doing!
Thanks, Dia, looking forward to the workshop!