threadbare, in progress

When I learned about the Pulse Amped heartbeat sensor, I knew I wanted to work with it. I had always imagined doing something that could relate directly to my own heartbeat and the way my heart functions, which is “medically abnormal.” I also wanted to integrate some form of sewing. Sewing, to me, is cathartic, and I often turn to sewing when I’m experiencing a flare of symptoms. It occurred to me I could hack the sewing machine to sew on its own to the beat of my heart.

First, I got the Pulse Amped sensor, and then a sewing machine for very cheap off of Craigslist. I am very comfortable with using my own machine, but if I was going to start messing around with the foot pedal and motor I didn’t want something to happen to mine.

In class, Christine and I started to look at the mechanics of the machine, and the foot pedal, and we came to the conclusion that actually manipulating the motor/pedal would be dangerous and ultimately just not work without some serious mechanical and engineering skills, which neither of us do. This was decided after a test when the pedal connections sparked and smoked.

foot pedal

Christine then suggested in order to get the raw data of different heart beats that I purchase a Bluefruit LE, a microcontroller that hooks up directly with Bluetooth on your phone through an app called Bluefruit. This could visualize the data coming in from the sensor or just transmit raw numbers from the UART function. I decided to use the raw numbers. This required combining the sensor code with a Bleuart CMD mode code into one. This proved tricky. There is a lot of fine tuning calibration code in the pulse sensor, and the Bleuart is just lengthy. Christine chopped both codes down to the essentials and we were able to get the data to appear in the app and in the serial monitor.


serial monitor

At this point I had decided I would physically man the sewing machine myself while using a free motion quilting foot to create a pattern of two colors to show the different heartbeats.

I had recorded two sets of heart beat data and exported it into arduino. I had planned to use a peizo as a soundtrack of sorts to indicate to me when I was supposed to sew, but I really didn’t like how it sounded. It was mechanical over the mechanical sound of the sewing machine and you didn’t really get the sense of a heartbeat. Instead, I borrowed a microphone and took audio samples of my resting and disordered heartbeat. I used those to sew to and used my own sewing machine since I was no longer messing with its guts. The resting audio was soothing and I was often surprised by how long I had sewn when it felt like no time had passed at all. The disordered audio made me anxious and was hard to listen to, and I did fewer of those stitches as a result.

I created enough yardage to make a basic t-shirt. The fabric is organza with two pinkish viscose threads sewn into it.


sewing in action

I am very much into presenting the t-shirt as just an object. I feel kind of strange to have come out of this class in the final with something that does not really have any evidence of tech in its construction, but becoming aware of the tech led me down the path of where threadbare has ended. I will be demonstrating what the data transmission from sensor to phone looks like as well as how I sewed the yardage in class for the final critique.


In the future, once I am more capable of coding and machinery, I would love to be able to do my original plan of hacking the machine to sew on its own to my heartbeat. I realized how ambitious the project was and how little I knew about how to accomplish it and scaled back accordingly.

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