So I got the idea to try to make some wearable technology. I think I was watching Alan Alda on PBS one day a few years back and he was with some grad students who were working on visors and backpacks that had sensors and it seemed really neat, albeit totally geeky.
After a visit to NYC Resistor last summer, I learned how to solder and I was essentially ordered to buy an arduino and learn how to use it. So I bought one and learned some basics.
I realized I needed a bit more help from the experts if I was going to do anything more interesting than flash some LEDs, so I took a trip to another hackerspace in Brooklyn (Alpha One Labs) for an arduino class. I was getting a grasp on the technology part, but I still had no idea how to sew, so I decided it was time to explore that side.
I could have borrowed a sewing machine from my mother or just bought a cheap one from the store, but I decided it would make my project better if I could start with a broken machine and learn how to fix it. (Sometimes it is just more fun to put obstacles in your own way because solving problems is good for the soul.)
So after a few near-misses on Craig’s list, I found one at a garage sale. It didn’t work, so after disassembling and examining it, I pinpointed one problem area- the wires looked to be in bad shape. I learned a little about circuits in my arduino lessons, but I didn’t know how to apply that knowledge to a faulty plug and wire in the real world.
While on vacation in Florida, I learned all about how to use a voltimeter from my father-in-law who happens to be an electrical technician. Plus, he let me keep his extra voltimeter to test the machine at home. I read a few chapters from his Electric Circuits textbook in the guest room every night before bed and I felt confident that I could now tackle this problem. So I had all that going for me.
When I got back, I tested the wire and it was totally dead. Based on what I learned in Florida, I was able to see why:
Before I learned about circuits, I always thought the two prongs on the plug and the two wires took the electricity from the outlet and sent it up into the machine. I never realized that the electricity was traveling in both directions, which I could have realized if I thought about the word circuit for a few seconds. Before I understood this, I thought a half severed cable was just at 50% power. Now it was obvious; the circuit was “open” so the electricity was simply not flowing.
Next I went to the hardware store to take advantage of even more human capital and make sure I knew what I was doing. You don’t know what you don’t know, so I wanted an expert’s opinion about what cable to buy, what plug to buy, how to rewire it so I didn’t destroy my machine or my house, etc.
He helped me, drew a diagram, gave me the right stuff and sent me on my way. When I got home, I was able to use my new tools, rewire a motor and try it out. When I plugged it in, it immediately went on. I was excited for a few seconds, then I realized that it wasn’t supposed to go on until I stepped on the pedal. The circuit was supposed to still be open until the pedal was depressed, closing the circuit and letting the electrons flow.
I was able to disconnect and reconnect the wires and test it again. I plugged it in and nothing happened. . . which was a good thing. Now all I had to do was press down the pedal and see if I was successful. Here is the video:
If you can hear, those parts hadn’t moved in years, so the next step was to oil and/or replace those parts. I still have a long way to go, but at least I was able to save a sewing machine’s life. Now if I can only learn how to use it, I might have a chance to accomplish my goal of making wearable technology. Next step: How do I thread this thing?
To be continued . . .