Supercon 2019: Designing Wearables For The Human Body

Bradley Ramsey
Nov 25 · 6 min read

Sophy Wong showcases her unique approach to wearable design using tools like laser cutters and 3D-Printing.

Sophy’s LED Manicure Project

There are always two things that can grab my attention in the world of hardware and electronics. The first is anything involving gaming, AR, or VR. The second is cool wearables. The concept of meshing together fashion and technology opens up infinite possibilities for expressing ourselves.

At Supercon 2019, I was quite busy helping speakers get their slides ready for prime time, but one of the few talks I did manage to see from start to finish was Sophy Wong’s Making With Machines: 3D Printing & Laser Cutting For Wearable Projects. Let’s check it out!

The Intersection of Hardware and Art

You can check out Sophy’s talk on the Hackaday YouTube channel, but in the meantime, let’s talk about her wearable projects!

Sophy is a designer and maker by trade, but it’s her approach to wearables and her artistic style that immediately makes her work stand out from the pack.

At the beginning of the talk, she describes how she enjoys taking on the challenge of designing wearables for the human body. Everyone is different, after all, and even the smallest of nuances can necessitate changes in a wearable’s design.

She also seeks to explore technology’s growing role in both our lives and in the way we use it to express ourselves. Her work includes jewelry, costumes, and all manner of other wearable tech.

For the focus of her Supercon 2019 talk, Sophy takes us into some of her work that incorporate new types of techniques and utilizing machines like laser cutters and 3D printers to fabricate some truly stunning designs.

Right off the bat, she shows the audience a laser-cut motorized wing that uses a capacitive copper pad so you can trigger the wing to close or open with a single touch.

To give the audience an idea of her expertise, Sophy presents a slide with her 3D printer, laser cutter, and CNC Mill. She also includes a list of software that she uses, reminding the audience that proper software and design are just as crucial to your success as the hardware you’re using.

The Magic Doesn’t Happen Inside The Machine

A poignant slide from Sophy’s talk

To illustrate her point around hardware and software, Sophy compares the process to sewing. In reality, the portion of the process that utilizes a machine only amounts to 10 percent of the total work.

The other 90 percent of the process involves preparation, adjustment, and countless other tasks which make up the majority of your project. Thankfully, in the case of these projects, the design is within that first 90% on your journey to “pressing the magic button” as she puts it.

For her first project, Sophy shows a space suit costume that she created, complete with enigmatic blue lights inside of the helmet. While she acknowledged that you can’t see out of your helmet when there are lights inside, she also recommended doing it for the badass look it gives you.

The original helmet

She started with a basic helmet and used blue tape to draw and cut out patterns that she could then scan into Adobe Illustrator and transfer to her laser cutter. Beyond simply cutting out the shapes, Sophy also leveraged the cutter to create detailed textures and engravings on her shapes.

The end result was the physical look of things like metal or plastic, when in reality everything was made using EVA foam. With the helmet finished (and looking amazing), Sophy decided it was time to make a suit as well.

The finished helmet design

Overcoming Obstacles When Designing For The Human Body

Designing a helmet is one thing, but when it came time to develop something that would fit properly, Sophy took a different approach. It started with wrapping herself in plastic and drawing out patterns that were taken directly from her own body.

Instead of going straight to the laser cutter, Sophy also recommends printing out your shapes on something less expensive like paper and taping them together for fitting. This allows you to make adjustments prior to the final production.

Since you’ll need to overcome the size limitations of your hardware, Sophy also recommends cutting or printing in pieces that can fit together into a larger wearable. She mentions using a heat gun to shape the foam into volumetric shapes as well.

This spacesuit project was accomplished without the use of any 3D modeling, which is certainly impressive when you see the finished costume. Let’s see what happens when Sophy adds another dimension to her work.

A New Dimension of Wearable Design

Sophy’s completed LED jacket

Next, Sophy walks us through designing an LED jacket. The process starts in a similar way with tracing patterns and scanning them into Illustrator. The key difference here is that she brought one of her patterns into Fusion and extruded it.

She then brought the pattern into Cura and sought to try her hand at a technique that involves 3D printing onto fabric. To do this, she prints one layer of the model, and then adds in fabric before finishing the job.

Using the 2D SVG file she had, Sophy printed out the pattern and used that to create precise holes in the jacket for her to then run the LEDs through beneath the surface.

To do anything more complex, she would need to learn more of Fusion 360, so Sophy challenged herself to make something every day in Fusion for 31 days. The goal was to learn and retain that knowledge, so she could take it into future projects.

Turning Control into Collaboration

Sophy’s ongoing dress project

This led to her new project where she seeks to apply the same 3D printing on fabric technique to an entire garment. At Supercon 2019 she had the upper bodice portion of the garment on display, and plans to do the skirt next.

She started with small samples in Fusion 360 and experimented with different shapes and sizes to see how it affects the fabric. Ultimately, she discovered that she could modify the behaviors and characteristics of the finished product purely through the design itself.

Using a similar process, she created mock-ups and scanned them into Illustrator. Eventually, Sophy had to move to another computer that could support the complexity of the pieces she was creating in Fusion 360. Sophy also uses an interesting technique with the 3D-printed material that involves “welding” pieces together using a 3D pen.

Sophy closes her talk by talking about how this journey has shifted her perspective away from being controlled by technology.

Instead, she views it as a collaboration in the sense that she is working around the constraints of the technology while also still leveraging her design skills to ensure she gets to make what she wants in the end.

Given the novelty of her techniques, it’s no stretch of the imagination to think that Sophy’s work with 3D printing on fabric could lead to exciting new types of wearable fashion in the future.

At the very least, knowing that her inspiration comes from sources like Star Trek Discovery’s Klingon attire makes me eager to see how this project and her future ones turn out.

Supplyframe

Discussing the business of hardware and hardware manufacturing.

Bradley Ramsey

Written by

Technical Writer at Supplyframe. Lover of dogs and all things electronic.

Supplyframe

Discussing the business of hardware and hardware manufacturing.

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