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.

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