Name: Jessica Koe
Current Location: Los Angeles, CA
Day Job: Computer science student at the University of Southern California/teaching assistant in the ITP department
Makerspace: My desk
How did you get started making?
I’ve been sewing since I was a kid (sewing by hand, though since then I’ve occasionally experimented with using a sewing machine) and always liked crafting and making new things. It’s always been really satisfying to bring designs to life, and I like creating custom earrings, bags, etc. My desk is often a mess when I’m in the making mindset because of a lot of thread, cloth, yarn, beads, and wire!
Specifically regarding sewing electronics into dancewear/clothing, I got started when a professor came into the office with a box of electronic components specifically designed to be sewn onto cloth. He was showing my professor/boss (who also loves sewing and crafting) how the parts could be connected onto metal snaps to then be snapped on/off clothing for washing or general reuse, and the capabilities of different electronics. I sort of sat eavesdropping in the corner but also taking notes on my laptop, then when I got home I ordered a bunch of different materials, binge-watched a bunch of tutorials, and started experimenting.
What type of maker would you classify yourself as?
I’d probably describe myself as a crafter and dancer who also happens to know some coding. But I like to experiment with whatever I can. It’s been really cool to mesh a lot of interests together while building new and beautiful things. I demo a lot of parts of my project by wearing and dancing in them myself so people can see different pieces in action.
What’s your favorite thing you’ve made?
A pair of pointe shoes which light up when you balance on your toes (and only if properly on your toes; if you aren’t balancing on the right spot or with the right alignment, the lights won’t shine at full brightness). This particular pair of shoes is actually the first piece I started sewing electronics into, and since then I’ve been hooked. People are often surprised that all the lights are powered by a single coin battery and that the electronics barely add any weight and bulk to the delicate ballet shoe; I enjoy playing with that balance between beauty and functionality. It’s also my favorite project piece to demo with too since I get to dance in the shoes and absolutely love it.
What’s something you’d like to make next?
I’d like to put electronics into a classical tutu someday, to decorate the tutu with sequins and lace and tulle but also incorporate small LEDs that you won’t notice until you turn on the circuit and let the colors change. Having a design where everything happens in the little details is the goal, as well as hiding everything so that you don’t see wires and batteries sticking out in weird places. Given that I would first need to get a tutu and that there’s a lot of research I want to do about tutu decoration/construction before I’d feel ready to begin, this might not happen for a while…but a girl can dream, right?
Any advice for people reading this?
Don’t be afraid to try new things. The first time I started playing with working with an Arduino and incorporating electronics into things, I was crazy nervous because I was approaching sewing with new considerations (where to put a bulky battery pack, how to make sure wires don’t cross, how to knot and finish off steel thread) and very little knowledge of circuit design. Honestly, there was also a small concern in my mind that I might start a small electrical fire. But there are a lot of resources out there to look at and start with, and trying new things and learning along the way is all part of the making process. The more you research and experiment the more you learn and the cooler things you can make!