Intro to Wearables Week 14

Final Project: an exploration of bioplastics and using them in a temporary installation.

I wanted to try to create my own plastics in order to combat the amount of waste that I produce at school. Every project has its own materials that usually are not reusable to its fullest extent. I think it’s important when creating temporary, one use projects to think about the materials that are being used and how one project can have a long term environmental impact. So for this project, I wanted to create as little waste as possible, or at least as little non-easily biodegradable waste. I tried to limit the amount of new materials or components I bought and I tried to reuse other materials from previous projects.

After presenting my samples during week 11, Jingwen asked me to think about the potential uses of bioplastic. I thought maybe it could be used for children’s toys, labels or packaging. I thought of things that were supposed to be “temporary” or within the lifespan of a sheet of bioplastic (3-5 years) and that would have limited exposure to water (in case the bioplastic wasn’t waterproofed). I wanted to test out the labels and toy theory along with going through with my button array idea.

During week 12, I started by testing out a new recipe because the previous recipe (4 tsp of gelatin, 1/4 cup of cold water, 1 tsp of glycerol) was too rigid. The new recipe had 2 tsp of gelatin, 2 tbsp of water, and 1 tsp of glycerol. I added more glycerol in order to make the plastic more flexible and reduced the overall amount of the recipe in order to make smaller batches. I also laser cut some molds from leftover acrylic I had in order to test my label theory and try to create sheets for the button array. I think went on to make a lot of bioplastic. I tried out the labels using the mold I laser cut and I also tried to use the molds that I used for the button array. In this case, the label mold did work, but only the first time that I tried to do it and the other times got ruined (maybe using a mold release or cooking oil would help). For the larger molds, this also failed because the heat was bending the really thin acrylic (1/8 inch) and the molds themselves were pretty thin as well. Also by the time I got to spreading the molds, the bioplastic had already started to dry so it was really difficult to spread out the plastic across all the molds. I also tried to test out my toy idea by using molds that I had made from a previous class of a little hand. I would have made my own mold of an actual children’s toy, but I didn’t have enough time in order to do this and making a new mold would lead me to create even more waste (and I had failed in my attempt to create as little waste as possible). Then I tried to make another activated charcoal sheet of plastic, but with more charcoal this time (10 capsules for the recipe above). In order to make the button array, I would also need to make more rigid sheets, so I decided to make charcoal bioplastic on top of gauze along with normal bioplastic on top of gauze. I also just wanted to try to get better at making the plastic, so I made many normal, food colored pieces of plastic. I also tried to make a sponge with the bioplastic by adding soap foam. Because I was really fascinated by the hands, I made as many hands as I could over the weekend.

I let the bioplastic dry for 3 days without touching them, and then I flipped them over. I think the thin thickness helped the bioplastics dry pretty fast. This was the hardest part, because I get very curious when I am waiting for something to dry so I always end up touching it and then after I touch it, I ruin it so I tried not to do that this time (although I did poke it a couple of times). After I saw the hands out of their molds, I thought of lighting them up using the button array. I tried to plan this part out really carefully, but it was pretty difficult. This is something I learned from, it was difficult to build something from small sheets of plastic, that I had made without thinking of what I will do with them.

From the plastic sheets I started by making 2 inch by 2 inch sheets, but then I quickly realized that making such large swatches would not optimize the amount of material I would be using, so I decided to make 1 inch by 1 inch swatches. I cut them out and measured them using a ruler, this was difficult because the fabric kept moving or slightly changing size, so the swatches I had so carefully measured, were not actually carefully measured. After I had cut out all the pieces, I laid them out. I wanted to “quilt” them together and to make my hand sewing more precise I marked out measurements. While I was making the marks, I realized how each swatch actually varied in size. I chose to still make the charcoal plastic be the indication of pushing and the other multicolored swatches were there as decoration. I then proceeded to sew all of my pieces together, this was also really difficult cause it took so much time and even though I had marked out where to see I still seemed to be off my marks. Sewing through 2 swatches was fine, but when I went to sew through 4 (in order to put it all together), it became increasingly difficult. It was also difficult because the swatches were so small, but that’s my fault because I didn’t think things through.

After I quilted the plastic together, I wanted to utilize one of my activated charcoal plastics to create fsr’s that would control when the light would go on or off. I took several small pieces of the plastics and sewed them together using conductive thread. I thought the conductive thread would lower the resistivity of the charcoal (one single charcoal sheet laid flat had a resistivity in the Mohms). I then put a piece of conductive foam on top of the little charcoal, velostat replacement, package and a piece of conductive fabric on the bottom. I used the foam to make the button interaction more satisfying. I had to use a board to put the conductive fabric on and to make a structure to hold the quilted plastic. If I were to pursue this again, I would make much thicker bioplastic to make a structure (but that would lead to a much longer drying time). Then I also sewed sewable LEDs to the bottom of some of the hands in order to illuminate them. In the end, I ran out of time and got sloppy when I was trying to construct the button array. I will update my blog with some final photos and videos when I complete the project, I’d like to have it shown during the spring show. I might ditch the idea of having the button array, since it is very difficult to construct neatly. Also it was terrible trying to solder conductive foam and fabric (it kept burning).

Towards the bottom of this page, you will be able to see some photos from this process.

process photos

final photos


Spring Show

For the spring show, I made a small display with the lit bioplastic hands as an example of how bioplastic can be used for temporary installations or art pieces.