Digital Embroidery: My New Favorite Hobby

Welcome to the FAB Lab

This past week, our class had the extraordinary privilege of visiting the Champaign Fab Lab for our weekly session. As the campus’ 3rd oldest building, you would never guess the place is such a hub for innovation and creativity! What once housed horses and manure is now a platform for making and makers in many different ways.

Upon walking into the FAB Lab, the essence of raw ideas waiting to be transformed into tangible creations was exceedingly evident through the ways the staff interacted with you and the whimsical designs on the walls. My group and I were led back into a room where we saw dozens of patches and three very cool looking sewing machines, but they looked just a bit different from the normal ones!

Champaign Fab Lab

Champaign Fab Lab

Blast from the Past

One of the themes I’ve noticed throughout my experience in this course is that different techniques digital making often tend to be something we’re capable of doing without these softwares, but on a much more basic, rudimentary scale. For example, I could likely create a model for a house using sketches, plastic or wood, and some adhesive. However, the beauty of digital making is the capability of the different platforms to expedite, optimize, and perfect these making processes using technology and computing. Digital embroidery is no different! As I saw the various sewing machines with their fancy screens, I was reminded of a sewing class I took in 8th grade. I marveled at the precision and speed that the machine was able to produce an embroidered masterpiece.

My Turn: Time to Sew

Not quite, though! While I could have shown off some of my middle school sewing skills with my knowledge of how to thread the machine and get the bobbin ready and what-not, I had to let the experts show us how it’s done. We learned how the digital pattern from the computer would be transferred into the sewing machine via a USB cable and then how the machine actually carried out the sewing. The machine would segment the image (and eventual patch) into its various areas of color and create the patch by focusing on one color at a time. The way that the machine began the digital embroidery began sewing reminded me a ton of how the MakerBot 3D printers laid out their bases for printing objects and then built off from there. Within the few seconds or so, you were able to see somewhat of an outline of the colored area that the machine would stitch over.

For my patch, I couldn’t decide on something but then decided to make a Holy Cross to use as a bookmark or patch in light being in the middle of Holy Week (a religious week observed by Christians). I got pretty excited when I found a cross that I liked and chose a color combination that I thought would turn out pretty neat – and it did! You can see the cross printed out below. Myself and my friends all ended up digitally embroidering different kinds of patches with different symbols and designs. I’m still AMAZED with the precision and accuracy by which the patch was stitched. I’m excited to learn more about how technology is automatic actions like sewing to create even more things like this!

My patch!

My patch!

Fab Lab – Week 1

These next couple weeks we are venturing away from the Maker Lab and get to learn a bit about the variety of things that the Fab Lab has to offer. We split into three groups for the different sessions, and my group got to start in the front area of the lab. This area has computers available to design products using any of the available software they have installed, multiple 3D printers (that we won’t be using at all since we have access to them in the Maker Lab), a laser engraver, and multiple electronic cutters.

Laser Engraver

We first focused on the laser engraver, a hot spot in the lab. We were given small journals that we got to design a cover for. After a brief introduction to the Inkscape software, we were off to designing. Our instructor for the session, Jeff Ginger, set up the laser engraver and showed us the safety precautions that were in place to prevent fires.

Here’s what I designed on Inkscape and my completed journal cover:

2015-03-31 15.11.572015-03-31 15.11.39 I am very happy with how my journal turned out, and I am so glad I got to watch it be made. We learned the difference between raster and vector as we watched. Raster takes off a layer of the material, which is what we did to the journal cover, and vector cuts right through the material. I hope in the next couple weeks we can see the machine vector something.

Electronic Cutter

Next we learned about the the electronic cutters. We continued using Inkscape to learn a few more of its functions as we designed our next project. This project was to cut out stickers from sheets of vinyl. We chose two animals and learned how to morph them together to create one creature. Unfortunately, I wasn’t too creative in my choices and went with an elephant and a giraffe. The next step was to bring our design into the Silhouette Studio program. We learned how to set our designs up to send it to the cutter.

Here is my design and cut out sticker:

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I wasn’t too pleased with my design, and I never even peeled the sticker off. (It was pretty lame compared to some of the other creatures that my classmates created.) But I decided with the remaining time left of the session that I would print out a better design that I would be proud to show off. I went with a school spirit filled design. It took two tries to cut properly because I did not set up the machine correct the first try, but I am very pleased with the results!

Here is my design and sticker:

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I placed my sticker in my journal so I could keep them together. I am so glad that I got the chance to use the laser engraver and electronic cutter this week. I learned a lot and had a great time in the lab. I can’t wait to see what next week will bring!