Author Archive

Tempo and tension in handiwork

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Crocheting is technically just a series of knots looped through previous knots in the yarn. It “builds up” through different sequences of actions. The actions include looping yarn around a hook,  pushing the hook through existing loops, and pulling the hook through again. The process is mechanically simple. However, skill and practice is required to achieve an even series of knots with the right tension on the yarn. Too loose and the work shows unsightly holes. Too tight, and the fabric buckles, or worse, the needle does not easily slip through the loop on the next row.

The two hands work together to crochet. One hand maneuvers the hook and loops the yarn. The other hand holds the work and feeds the yarn to the hook that’s looping it. This hand holding  the work is responsible for maintaining an even tension. It does so by pulling the work down while the hook in the other hand tries to pick up the work as it pulls the yarn through existing loops.

A crochet piece achieves visual complexity when stitches are made in different combinations. This requires the crocheter to count silently while they work and maintain an even tension. Some rows are repetitive and induce a meditative state. At this point, the count is internalized as movement. The crocheter actually feels the rhythm of the pattern as they carry out manual tasks with the needles and yarn. The actions result in a tempo that internalized to relieve the need to count for long periods of time.

To communicate this tacit feeling of this work, this intervention simulates a repetitive double crochet chain. A Processing application visualizes the ideal sequence of operations, the passage of time, and input from the sensors attached to the hook and the work.

The left hand holds the work. The work is a crocheted pouch with a force sensing resistor inside. The user grips the work firmly when pulling new yarn through existing loops. This additional force counters any pull from the hook and maintains even tension. Since the hand holding the work also feeds yarn to the hook, it should otherwise relax to prevent stitches from being worked too tight.

The hook has a photocell attached to its tip. The hook slips in and out of an semi-opaque tube. When the photocell registers a transition from lighter to darker environments, the stitch has “passed through” a loop and a new knot has been made. A double crochet consists of three knots in one loop. So, the user will repeats this for a total of three times before starting again.

Users should attempt to match their tension to the tension levels illustrated at different points on the action pattern. Likewise, knots registered by the photocell should be completed at the three specified times. As users’ actions converge on the pattern, they start to understand the feel of tempoed action. Crocheters maintain this tempo between tool and hands to sustain peace of mind and achieve an even tension for their material.



Practice holding the fabric with the correct tension. A photocell on the end of the crochet hook detects a “stitch” when it enters the dark tunnel. A force sensing resistor measures the grip of the hand holding the work.

When the circles align, it’s time to retract the hook into the tube and make a stitch.

Antideskilling: A whittler’s touchstone

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

Makers have more opportunities than ever before to put together almost anything they can dream of from a kit of parts. They assemble these pre-fabricated parts and components from directions, and ultimately have a working product. But is it a craft?

This project works in the tradition of such kits, providing directions and parts for the maker to assemble. The goal is to whittle an egg from a piece of wood. Wiring electrical components creates the feedback mechanism that steers whittlers toward an outcome. But unlike kits ordered from Sparkfun, Maker:Shed and other DIY supply shops, assembling the electrical components does not itself constitute a finished product.The maker must exercise patience and manual skill manipulating wooden materials with a knife.

The hope here is that digital components mentor amateur crafters toward a tacit understanding of the raw materials they manipulate with tools. Whittling is a simple handicraft amenable to this sort of digital intervention. Newcomers to whittling usually undertake this simple project first: fashion an egg from a block of wood. The task reveals the responsiveness of wood to the force of a knife. The wood grain, the choice between a push or a pull stroke, and the wood’s hardness all have to be negotiated in this beginner’s project. The use of specialized tools is a contentious point among whittlers. Purists consider a sharp pocket knife the only suitable option since anything specialized reconstitute the practice as carving. They also reject the use of stainless steel knives, since they cannot be suitably sharpened.

Whittling is undertaken by individuals slowly passing time. As such it resists ever being subsumed by mechanization since this would remove whittling’s essential context. Master whittlers who find faces in fallen branches will never be “workers” in Rissati’s sense, since the spontaneous discovery of form with natural materials is never “simply labor produced by the non-creative hand.” Craftsmanship “depends on the judgement, dexterity and care which the maker exercises as he works.” This kit helps the amateur acquire a sensitivity to the relationship between material, tool and form, so that better judgement, dexterity and care can be applied to more ambitious projects in the future.

The Kit:

A block of balsa wood has a hollow core. Into this core we’ll insert a dowel with 3 notches on three facets, for a total of 9 notches. Into these notches, the maker will affix small and inexpensive hall effect sensors. These sensors act as proximity sensors for ferrous materials. When the steel (an iron alloy) knife comes within a calibrated distance to the sensor from outside the wood, the sensor will trigger a small vibration actuator that shakes the egg. This tells the whittler that the cut in this particular area is deep enough, and that it is time to move on to another area to shape the egg. Once the egg has been fashioned on all sides, the core can be removed. The end product contains no electronic parts. The wiring acts as tutor, and provides feedback to guide the amateur’s exploration.


Thursday, October 11th, 2012

This performance explores the interplay of weight and lightness to reimagine the construction of heavenly bodies as products of collaborative movement on earth. As dancers perform a set piece involving their interactions with each other on stage, a digital intervention captures traces of their position and saves them above the stage as astral objects with subtle movements of their own.

Stars are composed of the same material components as our bodies: carbon, oxygen, and metallic elements. The idea that mysterious elements of outer space arise from dancers’ movement on earth is something the audience can ponder while watching the performance unfold.

Modern dance embraces a dancer’s contact with the floor, liberated from ballet’s formal restrictions of ascension into space. Thus, contact with the earth that generates ascending digital forms is made more salient through a juxtaposition of process and product.

Technical Implementation
Dancers are outfitted in form-fitting costumes featuring spots of color at five different points on their body: on the feet/ankles, hands and pelvis. Each dancer sports a different color.
Using computer vision, a camera tracks the movement of these color groups as dancers move through space. When the dancer makes a swift upward movement, the acceleration of these points will cross a computational threshold and trigger the generation of digital forms: A projection mapped to the stage appears to throw these five points into the sky from these points on the dancer’s body.

This action generates a digital form with physical properties, allows it to move gently about the space as if it were a constellation in the night sky. Existing constellations can fade as new ones are generated from movements below.

This framework is extensible. Sound can play when constellations are generated, becoming gradually less intense as they fade. Dancers are able to generate the set for their performance as a result of set movements. Exploiting the inaccuracies of computer vision tracking, the resulting night sky appears different with every performance no matter how consistently the phrases of movement persist.

Slake thirst with steady smiles

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Why the long face? What’s that you say? The hanging plants are thirsty and they’re so high in the air? And the water? It’s so far away? And without a proper watering can, you have to make multiple trips to fill that old wine bottle enough times to satiate them?

Introducing, the Photogrynthesis, a watering station that not only brings joy to your plants but downright requires it from you. Here’s how it works.

Step up to the watering station. Open the sliding door and give it your best grin.
Computer Vision detects your face and translates your smile into a digital signal that the Arduino can read.

The Arduino transmits that signal via radio communication to the radio receivers attached to each of three watering cans suspended on pulleys way up in the air (one for each plant)

For each second you smile, a stepper motor rotates one degree. This stepper motor controls the rotation of a spool of string. As the motor rotates, the spool releases string and increases its slack on one end of the watering can.

The weight of the water tips the watering can as the string releases its hold, simulating the motion of a water-wielding gardener’s elbow.

Close the door to the Photogrynthesis station, and wait a few moments for the plants to start reflecting your joy.

Ashton Grosz

Crafting materio-digital combinations through use

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

This approach to technology as material positions humans as crafters who design technological objects through use. These objects are manufactured as  “workmanships of certainty” in an industrialized process that encapsulates and obscures operating logic behind set input methods.

In order to empower users without the knowledge or means to change the inner workings of the device, we might instead reimagine these technical objects as unfinished, subject to misuse by their owners.

Humans outpace machines in their abilities to personalize, improvise, anthropomorphize objects, and interpret new meaning from unexpected behavior. If we imagine gadgets as sites where users exercise such activities, we can imagine human crafters might redesign existing technologies with personal needs in mind. Humans have some knowledge of physical construction. Using this knowledge, they can redesign the object to output signs and signals that were not there before. These signals encourage further dialog with others or with the single user alone at “runtime.”

Three possible alterations leading to redesigned gadgets with new outputs and opportunities for reflection are presented here. The first two do not require the user to interact with the digital logic of the machine. The last example is possible only if the devices’ functionality is modular and interlocking to allow new combinations of sensor input and digital output.

  1. Coat the device in thermochromic paint. When the device, such as a remote control or a cellular phone, has been held for a long period of time, the gadget will change colors. This visibly changed state of the device sends a signal to the user that a significant amount of time has been passed with the device in use. The user can determine for him or herself how to act based on his or her needs and the context of use.
  2. Encase the object in a material that translates the gadget’s buttons into personally meaningful labels. For example, a remote control might be redesigned as a tool with limited use by obscuring buttons leading to undesirable outcomes, or by explicitly labeling buttons to reify the implications of their use. When increasing the volume of a button labeled “annoy neighbors,” the user is reminded (in that moment) that he or she may be creating an undesirable situation for others.
  3. A device reveals a pre-recorded message when it is moved. In this scenario, a child escapes from his bedroom window at night, leaving his smartphone positioned so that an opened door hits it. With access to the device’s logic, the child can program a simple interaction that displays a message when the device senses a change in compass direction. The child uses the device in absentia to say goodbye to his mother at the precise moment she discovers he’s gone.

Reflecting Rocks

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

This “messing about” works to make abstract concepts of philosophy more comprehensible through a material connection to a pet rock. The act of making the rock and of taking the rock should open new perspectives on the philosophical figure and the ideas this figure develops. The constructed object is a medium between the intellectual and the playful, the material and the digital. The maker should assemble the pet rock as an embodiment of the forthcoming theoretical reflections saved in digital space and tagged to this object.

This digital message can be a YouTube video, a twitter account, a blog, a facebook page, or any sort of social media channel traditionally associated with a living person who walks and breathes. This messing about complicates the rigid notion of personal profiles online, by repurposing these spaces as a forum for dialog between an anonymous conduit for a lofty or inaccessible figure and a recipient of a childish physical object.

Attaching a QR code to the object will provide a hyperlink to the rock’s “soul” in digital space. The maker of this hybrid object can explore different perspectives by producing digital artifacts as if he were the philosopher. The recipient can exploit the methods of two-way communication built into social networks in order to communicate with the figure embodied by his found rock.

Making the rock might prompt questions such as:

  1. Who will care for my rock?
  2. What does my rock stand for?
  3. How will my rock be received?

These questions refer to the physical object being made, but metaphorically extend to the human figure it represents. For example

  1. Who will care for this figure?
  2. What does this figure stand for?
  3. How will this character be received?

The recipient of the rock might ask, “How is this rock meaningful in my life?” to which he can begin to find the answer exploring the digital information matched with this crafted object.

Rock all the Things

Thursday, April 12th, 2012


People who step onto balance boards in this interactive installation are complicit in the production of a collective painting. They participate in a process that combines traditional artistic mediums with networked electronic communication.

Each of the two balance boards can be manned by one, but are large enough to accommodate two, affording the chance for human connection through serendipitous engagement. Bystanders dictate the color of the painting, dipping balls into nearby paint buckets and tossing these into the production frame. The paper in the framework is replaced and the painted piece hung up to dry. People take away the work as a record of their collaborative effort.

This project evokes the nostalgia of our childhoods through a combination of three formative games: labyrinth puzzles, Montessori balance boards and marble paintings. The two-dimensional art in the production frame evolves organically as users movements on the balance boards transform into digital signals. These signals are communicated over a short distance to the double-axis production frame, where the kinetic movement of paint-covered balls are a focal point of the performance.




Modular Craft: Outwards & Down

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012
The modular pieces of a hanging mobile are the tools people use to craft this piece according to their specifications. Clips, string, hooks and metal wire are provided as a guides to get started, but by using inexpensive objects found around the home, we hope builders are inspired to create additional parts from various mudane bobbles.
The next step is to digitize the mobile, which I hope to accomplish by wiring the piece as a simple circuit. Individual parts will be equipped with analog inputs (tilt sensors, photocells) that respond to the environment and store values that control other parts equipped with digital and analog outputs (LEDS, speakers) once the circuit is completed. Additional opportunities for kinetic action are possible with Nitinol wire, which assumes a set shape when exposed to heat.  This way, the modular piece is a representation of the user’s actions and the immediate environmental context in which it behaves

Abstracting Dance

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

In this piece, gestural movements of dance are preserved but recoded as an interconnected set of paisley shapes. The artist’s dance would be recorded and the movements paired with specific points on the vector, multiplied and translated in space to disguise the dancing human female form objectionable in the context where it is to be displayed. Movements required to interact with the piece constitute dance, and the process of exploring the responsive feedback transforms onlookers into dancers. This interaction removes them from their immediate environment and recasts them as unwitting subverters.