SparkFun helps Halloween costumes go high-tech
“I’ve been a costumer most of my life,” said Dia Campbell, techstyle specialist at SparkFun Electronics Inc., a Boulder-based online retail store. “But I felt like there was always more I wanted to do.”
That “more” turned out to be adding electronics to fabric, a touch that enhances the aesthetics and abilities of cloth.
SparkFun sells a wide array of gadgets that probably can turn a technophobic into a tech-savvy geek. The company aims to make electronic projects more universally doable, regardless of a person’s technical prowess.
E-textiles make up one category of SparkFun’s products, which range from parts needed for a robotics project to cables.
Campbell does her part in supporting the company’s mission by designing projects and tutorials that provide step-by-step directions for all levels of electronic crafters. The end results include things such as a circuit that twinkles a large section of lights as decoration on a dress that she suggested “would make an amazing fairy costume.”
Wearable technology, also known as e-textiles, involves embedding electronics such as integrated circuits, LEDs and batteries into fabric. Using these options to take a Halloween costume up a few notches creates movement, luminosity and sound effects.
And creating an outside display for trick-or-treaters or inside displays for a party that showcases alter egos makes bobbing for apples a static activity that merely passes time.
The history of e-textiles traces back to the late 1990s, when students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created artistic applications for electronics. The show included balls that could play music and drapes that changed colors when sensors were engaged.
Research into e-textile medical applications has emerged since then. Fabric with sensors woven into it, for example, could track blood pressure and heart rates of cardiac patients.
Campbell’s interest, however, is blending her longtime love of fabric art and costuming with all things electronically possible.
In the case of the Tinkerbell costume, Campbell talked about using an mp3 trigger, loading an SD card with Tink’s sound files and connecting a switch.
“I used to work at a Renaissance festival as a fairy, and kids loved to touch the wings,” she said. “They were disappointed if I didn’t feel their touch because they think the wings are a body part of a fairy.”
To stay in character, Campbell realized that it was possible to make the wings appear to be touch-sensitive by adding a vibration alert that lets the “fairy” know its wings have been touched.
“I plan to have a tutorial up well before Halloween that will show people how to make illuminated fairy wings,” she said.
How affordable are e-textile projects? Hobbyists can light up a costume for under $20 with another $20 to add a microcontroller that allows for sound and motion, according to Campbell.
“I meet people who say they wish they could make the things I make but they’re not technical like I am,” she said. “I tell them if they know how to sew, it’s easy — and if they don’t, that’s not hard to learn either.”
Whereas her costuming experience dates back far, Campbell’s focused experience with adding electronics to the process has only been in the past couple of years.
“I found SparkFun and then lost my job at a bank,” she said, explaining that she was excited to land a job at SparkFun as a receptionist.
“I loved their products and I wanted to get a discount.”
After six months of talking with customers and learning more about electronics, Campbell took over the e-textile division.
“The engineering department decided there was a need to have someone exclusively handle e-textiles, and they were more interested in teaching me about electronics than they were about learning to sew.
“I get that Cinderella feeling some days now because I feel so lucky that what I previously did as a hobby is what I now get to do for a living.”
More breaking news...
Visitors bureau helping Boulder lure lucrative offseason events
Website promotes eco-friendly businesses