Tag Archives: laser cutting

Finalizing our Fab Lab Creations & Initial Project Steps

What We Did This Week

Hello! This week has been by far one of the most exciting classes because it resulted with us walking away with some complete creations. After laser cutting and sewing for the past 2 weeks, we were finally able to introduce conductive thread to our items and finalize them.

We began class by learning how currents flow in a circuit (which is how our conductive thread would be working). Our instructors let us know that electricity always travels in a circle and follows the path of least resistance. They gave us a battery, battery switch, conductive thread, and LED’s. We were then tasked with drawing out a diagram of how we would be connecting each of these parts on our fabric (it is useful to diagram because of the potential complexities from connecting the positive and negative ports). Below is my diagram:

As you can see, I ensured that each of my positives connected with other positives, and my negatives connected with other negatives. There are also not any areas where a positive wire crosses a negative wire (which would cause short circuiting).

After diagramming, we were ready to get to work. We used a needle and conductive thread to stitch the LED’s and battery pack to the fabric (again, being careful to keep the positive wires only connected to other positives, and negatives only connected with other negatives). Below is a picture of the back of my fabric with all of the internal parts sewed on:

Once I got all of my parts into place, I flipped the On/Off switch and my LED’s turned on! This was nerve-wracking because if they had not turned on then I would have had to go back and potentially unthread/rethread some areas–which would definitely be difficult. Check out the lights turned on below:

To finish up my box, I cut off the excess fabric that draped over the sides of my box. This resulted in a clean-cut box that you can check out below!


What’s to Come?

Now that we are equipped with the proper knowledge, skills, and resources, we are able to begin working on our final projects! This is extremely exciting because these projects are essentially created by our groups from the bottom up. My group (FastFoward) plans to create a Laser Person Counter (example: http://www.instructables.com/id/IR-laser-person-counter/). Essentially, this device would utilize lasers, wires, arduinos, etc. to count the number of people in a specific facility or area. This could be useful for restaurants, bars, and class buildings around our campus because it would give users the ability to understand capacity without necessarily being physically present at a location. Our goal for the next week is to gather the required components/parts and grasp a better understanding of how we can bring this idea to fruition. We are going to need to learn some coding skills in order to make this project work, so we will also be researching around in that realm!


Thank You

As always, thank you for taking the time to read my post. Stay tuned for the coming posts to follow along FastForward’s progress in developing our final project!


-Scott Provenzano

Adventures with Digital Embroidery

This week was the second FabLab workshop in which we got to try our hand at embroidery! During the workshop we learned several different functions within the software program in order to take an image from online and transform it into an image we were then able to embroider. I enjoy traveling, therefore I decided to embroider an image of a map for the top of my box. It did not go as smoothly as I expected going in so the rest of this post goes into the 3 main things I will look out for next time.

Lessons Learned

  1. Size Matters: One thing I did not carefully consider during this process was the size of the image. When making the map, I added an airplane and line coming from the US to signify travel while also making the image unique to me. However, when I went to load it into the embroidery machine, it turned out that it was too small to actually look like a plane but rather looks like a grey blob in the ocean. I know what it is though, so that’s what counts!

2. Double check thread before starting: My first attempt at this embroidery did not end up working. The white thread on the underside was not pulled taught when the machine started therefore about halfway through, the canvas ended up getting caught in the machine and I had to cut it out and start over with a new machine. The lesson learned here was to make sure both bobbins of thread are correctly inserted into the machine before starting.

3. Group colors within the image before exporting to machine: If you do not have all of the parts of an image that are the same color grouped within the software they may not sew consecutively, therefore you will need to change the thread color way too many times. I did not realize you can change the sewing order by moving around the items. For example, originally the machine sewed North America in pink, then South America in purple, and then went back up to sew Greenland so I had to change the thread color twice to the original pink color. In order to avoid this on my second run through, I made sure to group all of the colors and reorganize the object sewing order so that I would only have to insert each thread color once.

Overall, this experience was filled with lessons and definitely an exercise in patience but it was worth it! I have previous sewing experience however I have never made such a detailed embroidery before. I can definitely see myself creating various embroidery pieces to hang around my apartment in the future so I am glad I got the opportunity and experience with these machines and software.  I am happy with how it turned out and look forward to using conductive thread this upcoming week to add a couple lights!

Box Update: 

Another exciting part about this week was that I got to pick up my finished box from last week. We ran out of time in class to make all of the boxes so it made this class even more exciting since I got to pick up the pieces and assemble it. I’m really happy with how it turned out and look forward to displaying it in my room!

Fab Lab and Laser Cutting

This week I went to the Fab Lab that we have on campus.  I never realized that this place existed, but I am so very glad that I now know of it. I plan to visit it later this week to create customized stickers for an organization that I am a part of! The FabLab is opened to the public and is a space that encourages people to be makers and try out different techniques and processes.  With the wide range of tools being offered, I worked with the universal laser system X-600.

The goal was to make a customized wooden box that would use the system mentioned above. But, first I needed to create and design the different parts of the box on a software known as Inkscape which is a free and open-source vector graphics editor similar to Adobe Illustrator. As any new software, it took some time getting used to it, but it wasn’t too difficult! For my box, I wanted it to capture the highlights of my senior year. I also wanted to test how well the laser would would construct the details of a digital photo image that I took. I included that image on the bottom of the box for safe measures. Next, I needed to transfer the design to the laser system software, select my material as well as brighten the digital photo for better quality.  I placed the ply wood into the system and then began the laser process.  I was really impressed by how the final product came out and I am pleased with the overall quality of the shadow box.

One thing that I did noticed when the plywood was being lasered, was the small fire that emerged from time to time. I wondered if this was problematic with the system or if it is considered to be hazardous.  I found out that laser safety standards are well established and relatively harmonized internationally. And that those standards establish four broad classifications of laser safety for products. The classifications range from Class 1, in which the laser energy is fully contained within the laser system and the operator is not exposed to any laser energy, to Class 4, in which the laser system does not have containment provisions and the operator can potentially be exposed to high levels of laser energy.


Final Project

Ultimately, we have decided that for our final project we would like to incorporate 3D printing into window farms. We would like to create a window farm that uses various sensors and a micro-controller to sense its environment and adapt accordingly. After doing some more research,  we would like to work with vertical hydroponic gardening systems. These plants do not use soil to grow but rather use mineral solution nutrients. I am very exciting for our project and I am looking forward of the development of it.

That concludes my blog for this week,

Thanks for reading!



Week 8 Reflection

Week two at the UIUC FabLab was constructive and entertaining. When I arrived, I retrieved my laser cut box. The box says “The Force will be with you, always” a quote from Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope. On the bottom of the box, there’s a large Rebel logo. I was able to fasten my box together without any glue, meaning the cuts were precise enough to allow for a friction-fit. I was impressed with my craftsmanship, despite the skinny balsa-like wood.

After retrieving our boxes, we worked with Duncan to create an embroidery pattern. We used a program called PE Design that resembled Adobe Illustrator. Duncan taught us how to use the basic functions of PE Design before we got a chance to delve into our own project. Duncan helped me find a proper silhouette of an X-Wing fighter, also from the Star Wars universe. Duncan counseled me with adding an area to insert my LEDs next week. I ended up removing the front of the X-Wing’s rocket boosters, which I will replace with white or red lights on Wednesday. Duncan encouraged me to add more to my design, but I was quite content with just a simplistic X-Wing design. I explored adding an Imperial logo, but I decided it did not fit with my vision of the finished project. As much as I like my embroidery, I do not think I will end up using a box with a cloth on it for anything. I prefer ergonomics over aesthetics and I do not need the art project for anything. I’d rather use the box for storage of coins, keys, and other knick-knacks. When I return home for Spring Break, I plan on giving my box and embroidery to my little cousin, the biggest Star Wars fan I know.

Not only has laser cutting been used in industrial manufacturing, it has found a second wind in art projects. Laser cutting allows the artist to make very precise impressions that a human could not perform. I checked etsy.com to see what designs are being sold on the internet. Many of the exquisite designs can cost over a hundred dollars, but many small projects can be purchased for well under a hundred. Many artists made laser cut skylines, maps, and geometric designs. If given another opportunity to make a laser cut art project, I would likely have the skylines and maps of Chicago and Washington, D.C., my two favorite cities.

Laser Cutting & Conductive Thread (Week 7)

This week, our class met at the Fab Lab and learned how to laser cut wood and how to sew conductive thread into fabric. Unfortunately, I was sick this week and was not able to attend. Therefore, for my weekly reflection, I’ve researched these two activities and will share what I’ve learned.

Laser Cutting Wood

I am not sure which laser cutter the Fab Lab uses, so I researched a little bit on the machines themselves. Makezine published an article called A Guide to Buying Your First Laser Cutter, which talks about how laser cutters are popular in maker spaces and guides you through the first steps of buying one. A laser cutter can power through many materials with consistent, high precision. This is something drag knife cutters, paper cutters, and vinyl cutters can’t do. And while a CNC router may be able to make the cut deep enough, it cannot do it with precision. Laser cutting requires some design on the computer before printing – just like 3D printing. The laser operates much like the print head in a 3D printer. In fact, MakerBot, Printrbot, SeeMeCNC, Ultimaker, and many other companies started out producing 3D printers made from laser-cut parts. Epilog and Full Spectrum are popular brands for individuals buying their own, smaller laser cutters.

I’ve found that Illustrator’s Pathfinder and Inkscape are popular software programs used to design laser cuts objects. The two pictures below are screenshots of the programs. This website takes you through everything from setup of your laser cutter to designing on Illustrator. It is an article specifically targeted towards makerspace laser cutters.

Conductive Thread

I found an article literally titled Sewing With Conductive Thread, which is very helpful considering that’s exactly what one group learned in class this week. Conductive thread carries current like wires can, so it can be used like a circuit if arranged the correct way. With this thread, you can create a flexible circuit that requires no soldering. There are many types of thread with conductive metals in then, but you should know what size and give you want your thread to have before sewing. 2-ply silver-coated thread is small enough to be threaded in a sewing machine and fine enough to allow fabrics to hang normally. Another popular material for thread is stainless steel.

I know how to sew both by hand and machine, and it looks like sewing with conductive thread is not much different. I’ve read a few warnings about how the ends can fray easily and how the thread is not insulated. It is recommended that thick fabric, fabric paint, or electrical tape be used to cover the thread. You should be very careful not to create a short circuit, which can lead to heat, smoke, scorching, or smoking. Sewable components like LilyPad, Aniomagic, and Flora lines are available to purchase and are made from printed circuit board (PCB).

I’ve used a laser cutter before, so I hope to learn more about conductive threads in class next week (if I get to choose my rotation). I think both of these are important skills to know in the makerspace. I can see immediate uses for laser cut prints and products, but the I believe the application of conductive thread lies in the future where we all have wearable electronics. I’m excited to see how conductive thread will be included with fashion and tech in the future.