Between the Threads

A Tactile Notebook and Interactive Dress

Contributed by Rita Shewbridge Tangible Interaction Designer at Computational Design Lab, Carnegie Mellon University
June 04, 2012
Rita Shewbridge's picture
Part of the Cluster:

Rough Cuts: Media and Design in Process

Envision a workshop atop a hill facing the ocean, a light breeze, ambient music, and a candle lit glow; now face your fears and release your innermost thoughts to a blank page that you will shortly read out loud to a group of strangers.  It might seem scary at first, but this was how I began my studio notebook practice.   A few years ago, in order to understand what my creative process meant to me, I spent a week at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine learning how to do proprioceptive writing and to use plain notebooks as a portable studio.  There I learned to use a notebook to store my ideas before they became anything tangible.  It was a strange and transformative experience that has followed me to this day.  There were no rules on how to use your notebook—simply to work a little each day and devote time to your practice. 

Below are some glimpses into my notebook studio, the work before the work:

  

At first the pages seem arbitrary: fluffy fabric, torn pages, mud, and text filling the pages. But if you look deeper they all lead to some definitive idea that is unearthed from its pages.  Is the art the notebook or is what comes from the book the art? The line is blurred and I see them as mirrors of one another.  I often have ideas that sit with me for years and through my notebook I am able to revisit them and see where they may lead me.

Storytelling has been a lifelong interest for me. As a child I was fascinated with movies and literature.  I would spend most weekends going to the movies to see anything from foreign films to Hollywood blockbusters.  As an adult I studied film and photography, which eventually led me to interactive media.  I was interested in finding ways to implant and embed stories into our everyday experiences; to blatantly reclaim the sense of wonder we often lose as adults.  From this searching came the notion of embedding audio into threads.  I wanted to find a way to embed or give the illusion of embedding audio into fabric and have it play stories of my childhood. 

Sonic Threads came out of those interests: the dress provides a way to share stories through touch and sound.  When the embroidered threads on the dress are touched, pre-recorded audio of children’s fairy tales play through a set of speakers.     

The images below show thoughts and designs that were not consciously linked but led me to the making of the storytelling dress.

           

Sonic Threads began in my notebook and progressed to mini samples.  Patterns are shown below: 

The final design of the dress came from a pattern from the 1950s. The embroidery resembles sections of the stories they relate to: a bear for Goldie Locks and the Three Bears, a wand for Cinderella, and a spinning circle for Rumpelstiltskin. 

The prototype dress can be seen (and heard) in this short video.

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