MakeFashion Spotlight: Common Experience

MakeFashion Spotlight is an insider’s look on our 2014 gala pieces. Follow us as we showcase each of our designers and the inspiration and technology behind their work. Photos by Edward Ross photography.

Kathryn Blair and teammate Ryan Blair, creators of “Common Experience” are both from Calgary.

“I like that the maker and art communities in Calgary are very open and easy to get involved with. It’s also a city that’s changing a lot, and it’s exciting to be a part of that. I came to work with wearable technology via physical computing, which I’d worked with for some art work in the past. My first wearable project was for MakeFashion 2013. It was called “Somatic System” and it was a coat that used a temperature sensor and a pulse sensor to monitor the wearer’s mood. It would then change colour and play music to correct (calm) a bad mood, or maintain a good mood.

You could totally commercialize a headband that would tell the world how much attention you’re paying, but it would be so scary!

I’m very interested in biofeedback and exploring the intersection between mind and body – it’s so easy to think about your mind as a separate entity from your body, and easy to think about your mind in other context – identifying with other people, imagining what it would be like to be different. That’s totally vital for our ability to empathize with others. But our minds are a part of our bodies, and our bodies have a huge impact on how we think and feel, both the physical reality of our brain, and the physical reality of other parts of our bodies, and of course external stimuli also impact our brains. I love exploring those intersections, and wearable technology and EEG provides an amazing set of tools to do that.


The technology used in Common Experience includes:

  • Neurosky Brainwave Starter Kit (
  • Raspberry Pi (
  • Programmed in Python
  • The python-mindwave-mobile library:
  • RGB LED strips (like these):
  • Hobby servos like these
  • Lipo batteries –


MakeFashion-SNEAK PEEK-High Res-46

Kath Blair models “Common Experience”. Photo by Edward Ross photography.


When building Common Experience I worked with my husband, Ryan Blair, to figure out how to execute. I tend to get an idea and execute, and my revisions tend to be in the specifics and how I’m executing, rather than the idea overall. So of the basic idea, there was pretty much one draft. Of the specifics, there were hundreds of revisions of exactly how we should do things, how it should look exactly, what it should be made of. Many of the deciding factors were practical – will this work? Will it look good? Will it move the way I need it to?

I come at this more from a visual art background and having done programming and physical computing before, so I serve as my own technical support on the programming side, and my husband Ryan is great with electronics. I also got some help from Dave at Solarbotics, and on the fashion end, from Julia Wasilewski, a costume designer.

Rather than use a model, I chose to wear the piece myself! I was very focused on getting down the runway okay and trying to keep my timing decent. I like to model my pieces myself because for me it’s kind of about that relation / intersection between wearer and garment. We had a great movement coached who helped me figured out a way to model it theatrically. She was great and very helpful!

Using the EEG (the input sensor) is the real wow factor of the piece. It’s so amazing that you can buy an EEG for $130 and read the data from it and use it to make crazy projects – nerf guns that fire based on your brainwaves, for example ( I used the EEG output – the attention level of the wearer – to control the colour of the lights on the garment, as well as to move servos, which pulled origami deployable structures into different states of tension.

This year I learned a lot of programming and I’ve never worked with servos or Raspberry Pi (or linux) before, but I think one of the most useful things I learned was about my personal process – I love to play with materials and test out different options, and I can put off making decisions (and spending significant money on materials) until I absolutely have to make that decision. My advice to new designers is to play with whatever technology strikes your fancy. Never wonder if you can accomplish something – see if you can find a way to do it before you dismiss it.

I think a lot of the body-monitoring biometrics is starting to become big, and starting to integrate, and I think that will get really all-encompassing and able to make better inferences about your body’s state and suggestions about what you should do, and it will be popular among the very health-conscious.

You could totally commercialize a headband that would tell the world how much attention you’re paying, but it would be so scary – who wants everyone to know if you’re not paying as much attention as they would want you to? I hope that doesn’t happen, so big-brother-ish.

You can reach me via my website,, or on facebook at, or on twitter at @kathblair.

– Kathryn Blair, returning designer for MakeFashion two years in a row.


The 2014 MakeFashion gala brought to you by OnConference in March 2014 had over 400 attendees and showcased an inspiring collection of local and international wearable technology. for information on how to become involved as a volunteer, designer, tech enthusiast, or sponsor.

MakeFashion Spotlight: The Widow

MakeFashion Spotlight is an insider’s look on our 2014 gala pieces. Follow us as we showcase each of our designers and the inspiration and technology behind their work.

Video by Paul Spenard

Shannon Chappell (the maker) is from Prince Edward Island, and Kayna Hardman (the seamstress) is from Calgary. We both now reside in Calgary. What we like about Calgary is the lack of division between different disciplines, which makes teaming up with others more about creativity and less about competition.

“Start with a big grandiose vision, go all out and try to achieve that, then work your way down to something that is manageable”

I have been working with costume design for around 3 years. In my costumes I had always tried to achieve some level of realistic functionality with them; for the most part I would incorporated LEDs and minor switching functions. I had created a Cyborg costume that had numerous parts that lit up and pulsated, as well as a hand and eye piece that open/closed and turned off and on via mercury switches.

The inspiration for our 2014 piece “The Widow” was primarily the black widow spider. Incorporated into this idea was the idea of spider sense, motion detecting and the control of large spider legs. Also we wanted to tap into peoples fear of spiders and to achieve that through a very creepy stylized dress.

Technology in the piece that we used:

  • Ultrasonics- to create a wave of light across the train as someone passed by it.
  • Vibrating Motors- to give the model a sort of spider sense as to when someone was behind her.
  • Robotic/servos- to move and operate the legs.
  • Flex sensors- integrated into the models glove to operated the robotic spider legs.

The concept and draft came partly from a photo that I had for years of a woman with giant spider legs growing out of her back. But most of the idea came from waking up in the middle of one night with the idea in my head, drawing it out, and then making sense of it the next morning. Only one draft was made and we tried to work as close to that as possible, to remain true to the vision. The deciding factors when finalizing were mainly to do with what were the technical limitations based on the design and the ability to properly integrate the design and tech together.

Many parts of the dress were made from salvaged materials. Like place mats, pingpong/christmas globes, a golf glove and lamp parts. The train was made out of gutter mesh and party streamers. A special bustle was made that was on rollers to help support the weight of the legs and train.

Assembling The Widow. Photo by Zev Vitaly Abosh: PhotoArt4U

Assembling The Widow. Photo by Zev Vitaly Abosh: PhotoArt4U

Most of the dress was a challenge. A lot of the materials and electronics that went into were a first for me. This was the first time I used robotics and more involved electronics. Also I generally built by myself and this time I had to learn to work with a team. Other challenges were to make such large legs that worked with minimal wobble based off a light weight design. Also weight was a constant problem, to which we had to come up with many different ideas on how to redistribute the weight comfortably over the models body. This was the first time I had brought in outside help on one of my creations so it was a learning process which was helpful especially when learning on how to relay my vision to other people in a way they can understand so we can be on the same page.

I worked with Kevin Loney and David Bynoe to complete this dress. Kevin designed and built all the tech for the dress and David was the one who designed and built the robotic legs for the dress. Under a tight deadline we all came together and achieved great things even under pressure.

The home for this dress I feel would be in a movie, some sort of cold dark cavern. Something that plays off the eerie nature of it and the fear it instils.

Something I learned from MakeFashion was to make deadlines and and try your hardest to achieve them. Stay in constant communication with the other members of your team and help each other as much as you can. My advice for aspiring wearable tech designers is to start with a big grandiose vision, go all out and try to achieve that, then work your way down to something that is manageable. Always be pushing the boundaries of what wearable tech is and could be.

You can find me at my website:
or via email:

-Shannon Chappell, first-time MakeFashion designer participating in the 2014 gala.


The 2014 MakeFashion gala brought to you by OnConference in March 2014 had over 400 attendees and showcased an inspiring collection of local and international wearable technology. E-mail for information on how to become involved as a volunteer, designer, tech enthusiast, or sponsor.

Looking for Design Innovators!

People often ask me why wearable technology matters; perhaps the assumption being that putting blinky lights on an outfit might be a cool fad, but it doesn’t go much beyond that.  Well, that’s not the whole story by far!

We are currently engaged in a mobile technology revolution, but as we are also in a time of exponential technology advancement it means that the next revolution is just around the corner.  There have been advancements in processing power, reductions in size, improvements in power consumption and innovations in battery technology – all of these things converging means that technology as we know it will begin to disappear, both in physical size and interface; and by doing so it will begin to integrate seamlessly and invisibly into our lives.  Even now computing is shifting away from ‘devices’ and into everyday objects, and equipped with sensors these objects are beginning to gather information and provide value to our lives.

Alongside the disruption of computing we’re seeing huge changes in materials – 3d printing is happening on a micrometer scale allowing for the creation of incredibly detailed weaving of plastics and metals, and many new futuristic and meta-materials are on the horizon as well – everything from light as air insulators like aerogels to products that bend light around objects.

The most amazing thing of all is that these advancements are happening at once, converging on us from all directions which will inevitably lead to huge changes in the way we live and interact with the world around us.

Here’s a great video of designer Laura Dempsey’s piece, modeled by the always graceful Sara Bella!

And 10 new materials, coming to you from the future!


Summer Workshops: Jewellery, Hats & Costumes

MakeFashion has officially launched with three workshops scheduled in July. The workshops are open to the public and offer fun, easy-to-do projects. The workshops do not require any previous experience. Each workshop offers basic materials and projects, but if you have a specific project in mind (want to re-vitalize grandma’s old jewellery or start early on your Halloween costume?)  feel free to bring your ideas and extra materials.

All workshops are held at Endeavor Arts, located centrally at 12th ave and 1st St SW.

*We’re moving the jewelry workshop to Protospace, but will still be meeting at Endeavor at 6pm prior to heading down.

Wed July 4. 6 to 9pm
Jewellery – Hosted by Protospace & Endeavor Arts – $20.00

LED, batteries and a variety of lasercut jewelry kits provided.  Additional kits can be purchased onsite.

Purchase tickets for the jewellery making event. 


Sat July 7. 10am to 1pm
Hats – Hosted by Night Envy & Endeavor Arts – $49.00

Make your own EL Wire hat!
EL Wires, drivers and batteries are provided to get you going.
Hats are provided (one size fits most!) for an additional $10, but if you have a hat you’d like to work on, please bring it!

Purchase tickets for the hat making event.
Sat July 14. 10am to 1pm 
Costume Patches – Hosted by Mike Hermann & Endeavor Arts – $49.00

“Pattern patches”
This shows how you can put fairly complicated EL wire patterns on large patches.
The patches are made from vinyl and backed by velcro. They are intended to be removeable for washing costumes, and are connected electrically to each other. Multiple patches are combined to form a costume. Upper/lower arm, upper/lower leg, torso, shoulders, etc.
EL wire is attached using a standard sewing machine, loaded with lightweight monofilament (fishing line).
EL Wire, driver, battery and patch material provided.

Purchase tickets for the costume patch event.

MakeFashion Launch Party Wrap-Up


The MakeFashion launch party on June 6th was an exciting preview of the upcoming festival as well as a dialogue on the future and relevance of technology-integrated fashion.

The panel, featuring Jeff de Boer, Dee Fontans, and Lara Prebster (led by event organizers Shannon Hoover and Chelsea Klukas) discussed the merging of arts and technology, the cultural significance of arts and technology, and the practical uses of technology in clothing. The panelists also discussed their own experiences and their vision for the future potential of fashion and technology.


The event also featured a molecular cocktail bar by Phil Grandbois complete with smoking bourbon shots and alcoholic gelatin.


Local designer Kyle Nylund modelled a spectacular preview of the MakeFashion runway show in September. The deadline for entries has been extended to June 29th, and designers, creatives, and technology enthusiasts are encouraged to apply.


Interested in contributing to MakeFashion and becoming a part of this exciting festival? MakeFashion is currently seeking sponsorships and offering packages to our sponsors, contact for more information.


View the full gallery of event photos by Faby Martin here!

About the Materials

The designers for the MakeFashion fashion show and the public workshops will utilize a number of materials.

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs)



Electro Luminescent wire and Tape

Fibre Optics


LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) are small, efficient light sources that can be wired or sewn into clothing. Adding micro-controllers and sensors to the mix you can have them change intensity, flash or react to external forces like sound or motion.
There are a huge variety of sensors that allow electronics to react to their environment – temperature, motion, humidity, sound, range, touch and flex to name a few.

The effect of LEDs can be modified with diffusers and channels.  Acrylic rods are often used for this purpose, but there are hundreds of materials (including tape, feathers and fabric) that can provide an interesting effect.
Micro-controllers are small, cheap computers that are often used to control wearable electronics.  These range greatly from very cheap and basic to highly complex micro-computers.

The most basic micro-controllers allow for sensor input and trigger effects like fade, blink or twinkle.  Programming them can be as simple as selecting menu items from a drop down list on your iphone, then pointing it at your micro-controller.

EL Wire (electroluminescant wire) is commonly used in costume design and as accent lighting.  It provides a cool Tron-like effect and is very easy to use.
While it isn’t a hard and fast limitation, EL Wire controllers typically have 2 (or so) states – on and blink.  Since they require alternating current to activate, it is harder to integrate EL wire into other electronics like sensors and micro-controllers.  EL Wire can be spliced and split up, but it isn’t trivial, and the controllers aren’t tiny  – both issues that need to be considered in the design stage when using this product.
Fibre Optics provide a very pleasing, subtle light source, and can be woven into fabrics – however this is a time consuming process which results in a higher cost of these fabrics.
Fibre Optics work by bundling the fibres and connecting a light source (generally an LED) – this means that:
  • the light source can be small
  • if you want multiple colours you have to have multiple light sources
  • the design has to account for each fibre running the entire length back to the light source

Examples of pieces using LED lights, Fibre optics, and EL Wire