Ruffletron is a prototype of a wearable musical interface and an experiment in performative interaction.
This project was in collaboration with Cullen Miller. Since I wanted this project to have good sound quality, I asked him to be the sound engineer. I am a very lo-fi sound artist and need to be schooled in high quality DSP, Cullen is the perfect person to fill this role. Cullen is trained in music and has worked as a composer, it was not only important to have his technical skills, but his insight as a musician.

How I started:
To strive for simplicity, I asked myself – what is a recognizable shape or aspect of fashion design I can take and make interactive using electronics and DSP? I thought of the simple action of ruffling, well… a ruffle and worked to extend that action into something more interesting and performative.
From the neck I wanted to have an interface fall low enough to grab onto and manipulate. I imagined obtaining a range of values by curling and bending, while having a lock mechanism of some kind that would hold the position along the range of values for sustainment.

I made two prototypes:
– the bend sensor with wire mesh to see if I could bend to lock the value
– layers of fabric with embedded digital switches to emulate each turn of a large ruffle

After building the sensors I learned:
– the wire mesh was too brittle and broke once bent too many times in one spot. I tried copper and aluminum. I scrapped that idea until I could get my hands on better material and instead used the hook side of black velcro attached to the end of each sensor. The hooks sink nicely into felt, however it can be a bit unstable, which you can see some of the demo videos.
– the ruffle worked nicely, later versions will have woven in conductive contacts and traces.

Hardware and Software:
LilyPad Arduino
Ableton Live
* For prototyping sake, this method was great, once I build a more robust and polished version I will be looking into wireless or onboard processing. I may need to change the sound processing app depending.

The final design:
Once I had the prototypes in working order I sat down and starting thinking of designs that used the ruffle in a simple, yet dramatic way.
I came up with a skirt and designed a sculptural neck piece made to wear with a banded collar that looped and fell in strands over the bodice.

I decided to stay with using the craft felt for the skirt, but decided to hand felt the neck piece. I used the draped version as my pattern.

Cullen and I took this to Maker Faire, 2012, Bay Area and set up to demo in the E-textile lounge. Here is a video of an interview we did there on Artfuture’s Youtube channel.

Pictures from process, click through to get further explanation in the captions.