Finger Sleeve Sensors

I made these knitted sleeves from a conductive yarn that changes resistance as the knit is stretched.

Jenna Boyles, Kyle Werle, and Christine Shallenberg beta-tested the sensors at Pumping Station: One. They selected sleeves for fit, then stitched on the wires themselves. Kyle and Christine were able to use the sensors to control an analog synth and a processing sketch.

Knitted Finger Sensor from Jesse Seay on Vimeo.

With this project, I wanted to design a glove that could be machine-knit for workshops cheaply and quickly, making a wearable bend sensor available to people with no textile skills.

I decided to go with a modular approach (individual sleeves instead of single glove) because:

  • gloves are not easy to knit by machine
  • fit is important, as the tightness of the knit impacts the resistance. The tighter it is, the lower the resistance.
  • there is no one-size-fits-all with gloves. individuals with the same hand width might have very differently-sized digits

With a range of sleeve sizes, users can select the sleeve with the best fit and resistance range for each digit. We attach flexible silicone wires by means of a snap press, and the wearer then sews the wire in place with a tapestry needle and yarn -- very easy!  Transferring the sewing to the end-user means I can produce a batch of these more quickly for a workshop. Once the sleeve is finished, the user can use the tapestry needle to easily sew the wire leads in place along a fingerless glove.

Resistance varies by user. Everyone could reduce the resistance to less than 100 Ohms by curling up their finger. We were generally able to get a maximum resistance of at least 5k with a tight fit, to 20k or 30k for a more comfortable fit. The shorter the sleeve, the lower the highest possible resistance. Longer sleeves had much more range.

The sleeves are knit on a Super S48 double bed machine. Both beds are at tension 10, with a bed gap of 4. The sleeves are circular knit, with cast on/cast off using waste yarn, then finished by hand stitching. The sleeves should cover most of the finger, but are not intended to cover the fingertips.


Sizing has been a challenge with this project and it took some experimenting to get a useful range of sizes. For workshops, I need to be able to knit sleeves of the appropriate size ahead of time, based on a single hand measurement submitted by a participant.

I tested the sleeves for fit and resistance on a dozen volunteers at Pumping Station: One. From that, I created a sizing chart, in order to offer a range of sizes, based on hand circumference.

Machine Knit With Wire

I've been working on a method to machine knit with copper wire, for creating eTextiles.

the challenge:

  • wire needs to come off the spool with zero drag
  • 30-36 AWG magnet wire is super thin and breaks easily, also tangles
  • magnet wire spools are heavy, which means inertia and momentum if the spool spins, which will snap or tangle the wire.
  • it's got to be cheap

the solution (so far):
  1. place the spool on the floor in front of the machine
  2. mount a wisker disk on the top of the spool
  3. place a guide hoop above the spool for the wire to pass through
  4. attach a light-weight rope thimble to the tension mast, to minimize bending of the wire

things to improve:
a better stand
experiment with larger rope thimbles (maybe 3D print?)

I based this design on industrial coil winding methods. For instance:

This research has been a part of my Public Engagement Maker Residency at UIC/Mana Contemporary, working with Professor Sabrina Raaf. Also, props to Ed Bennett, for pointing out the tension mast wire-bending issue.

Knitted Circuit: Cuff

I'm experimenting with machine knitting 2-color patterns with wire and cotton to create "pads" for direct soldering of components.
This simple circuit uses 5 leds, a switch and a battery, all soldered in place.
The wire looks great, and the circuit held up fine during a day of wear.

Knitting Wire Swatches, Yarn Burn Tests

I'm developing a method to machine knit and solder copper wire, resulting in a flexible and conductive textile. Here are some of my test swatches, all knitted on my Brother 940 knitting machine in my new studio space. The swatches are knitted with 3 strands of 34 AWG wire, held together as a single strand.

In order to mix non-conductive fibers with the wire, I've conducted heat tests on traditional yarns like acrylic, wool, silk, and cotton. I'm interested in finding textiles that can withstand the heat of a soldering iron for the 2-3 seconds necessary to make a solid joint. So far, silk and cotton are the clear winners (and now I have a great excuse to buy luxury yarn!).

Embedded Speakers

I've been working on a design for simple, efficient speakers that can easily be embedded in textiles. Pictured are two of my working prototypes. The one above is knitted, and uses hand-made paper. The one below is a no-frills version that I'll use to illustrate the design concept here.

[ETA 6/4/14  Here is a video of several speakers in action, taken at a speaker-making workshop I led in March.]

This speaker consists of four pieces of magnet wire, glued between two pieces of paper, positioned precisely over a magnet from a hard drive. The 4 pieces of wire are soldered together at both ends so that they carry audio signal from a small amplifier in parallel. The wires are placed just over the mid-section of the magnet. 

This creates an effective speaker because hard drive magnets are dipolar. The broad face of the magnet has both a north and south pole. (Most bar magnets have just one pole per side, and aren't as effective for a flat speaker design.) Additionally, hard drive magnets are extremely strong.

When the wire is placed directly over the boundary between the magnet's two poles (i.e. the red line on the paper rests on the red line on the magnet), it produces a clearly audible speaker.

How and Why It Works

Electric current running through a copper wire produces an electromagnetic field. If this wire is placed in a magnetic field, it experiences physical force.

The directions of the current, the magnetic field, and the physical force are all perpendicular to each other. A good way to remember this is Fleming’s left-hand rule, which uses your left hand as a mnemonic.

image: Jfmelero

The thumb, forefinger, and middle finger are held perpendicular to each other, forming an x, y, and z axis. The first finger is the magnetic field (B), flowing from north (knuckles) to south (the fingertip). The middle finger is the electric current (I) traveling from positive (the knuckles) to negative (the fingertip). The thumb is the physical force (F), the direction the wire moves.

You can see this principle at work in a conventional speaker:

image: Tony DiMauro

The coil of wire (“voice coil”) fits into a circular slot, the sides of which are a magnet.

The middle piece is the north pole, and the outer ring is the south. So the magnetic fields run perpendicular through the coil, with the result that it pushes out, in the direction of the cone. Very efficient!

Flattening the Speaker

A coil is great for speakers, but not particularly flat, as it sticks out perpendicular to the resonator.

So I started with a straight length of wire, glued between two pieces of paper. I centered it between the two very powerful poles on the face of the hard drive magnet. I attached a resonator, the paper, so the wire vibrates the resonator, which vibrates the air much better than a piece of wire. The result is an audible speaker. (The wire-between-two-magnetic-poles will look familiar to those who know the work of sound artist Alvin Lucier.)

However, one piece of wire doesn’t move the paper very much. To increase the volume, I attached several pieces of wire, glued parallel to each other across the paper. I also sent the current running through the wires in parallel (this is very important for increasing volume). Now all the wires vibrate the paper in sync.

My development of this design is on-going, and I am currently refining my knitting machine fabrication techniques. Stay tuned for more documentation.


Hannah Perner-Wilson's Kobakant - resource for e-textiles

Karla Spiluttini and Piem Wirtz at V.2 - a previous knitted-speaker project

Jess Rowland -  foil-and-paper speakers using parallel wiring

Dr. Dominique Cheenne - my Columbia College colleague who suggested I look at planar speakers as an alternative model for embedded speakers

LaFolia Loudspeaker Project - a site for diy planar speakers

Magnepan - manufacturers of the first planar speaker, Magneplanar, invented in 1969 by Jim Winey

The Clamshell Stompbox: Adding Code

Playing around with the clamshell stompbox, I used two sketches included in the Arduino examples to turn it into a functioning switch.

To make a momentary push-button switch, I used the sketch, “IfStatementConditional”, found in the “Control” examples.  

This sketch was meant for a potentiometer, so I treated the clamshell stompbox as one half of the potentiometer, and used a fixed resistor for the other half.

The Clamshell Stompbox: Part 1

This is a DIY variable resistor I designed as an interface for live performance-- like a stompbox.

Resistance ranges from 0 to about 20k ohms. It's very sensitive to slight changes in pressure. If you want subtle manipulation, I'd recommend using your hands. But with an Arduino, you can use big jumps in resistance as an on/off switch-- perfect for foot-powered control! The important thing is that it can take a beating, as long as the solder points are protected.