Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab
Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab

Author Archive

Final Project

The most surprising thing I’ve learned and accepted this semester is that it’s okay to make mediocre pieces in the process of learning a new tool. I’m someone who is used to spending a lot of time planning art projects, and being asked to come up with designs quickly — sometimes on the spot — was a totally new way of thinking for me. I learned to take myself a little less seriously, and focus more on the process than the finished product. This is invaluable to me, as growth doesn’t come from a final piece, but the moments that lead up to it.  


With this conclusion in mind, I chose a final project that would be more process-intensive than anything I’ve done before: a fiber optic dress. This logistics of this project involved quite a lot of doodling during class and using the world around me to brainstorm. I’m proud of my idea to weave fiber optics into tulle, a mesh fabric that was lightweight, nearly invisible, and extremely conducive to holding the filaments in place. In the end, I completed a high-low satin and organza circle skirt with about 400 feet of fiber optics and 16 addressable LEDs.


My first learning goal was learning to create more professional clothing using techniques in the lab. In my proposal, I wrote:


The serger has always been intimidating to me, and I rarely take the time to do things “right” in my own sewing projects (proper seam allowances, pressing the fabric as I go, etc.) Also, I’ve never had the opportunity to make a full-length dress, and I’ve only done one circle skirt before; here, I hope to gain more experience with shape, structure, and design of fuller garments.


I’m pleased to say that I made major progress on this learning goal! With a lot of help from Duncan, I learned how to use the serger. After pressing the hem, the outcome looked much more professional than anything I could’ve achieved with a fold over hem, especially on the rounded edge of the skirt.

Of course, the reason I rarely do things professionally in my sewing is because it takes a lot of time, and this project was no exception. With a time limit of just a few weeks, I didn’t have time to pin every seam to perfection. However, I still feel that I improved my attention to details such as seam allowance and thorough ironing, and this really improved the fit and drape of the final garment.


For my second learning goal, I wrote the following:


I want to force myself to adapt quickly, since I’ll inevitably run into snags that will make my project feel impossible to complete in 3 weeks. For example, if I figure out that one of my core parts isn’t working as well as expected, like the LEDs or fiber optics, I’ll try to come up with a new method that still incorporates these items rather than ordering a bunch of new materials.  I likely won’t be able to put as much detail as I’d like into this skirt in the timeframe given, so I’ll have to dynamically re-evaluate my expectations to make sure I meet the deadline. I tend to be overambitious, so scaling down to a minimum viable product is something I’d like to practice. Accepting the fact that my final project may look nothing like my original sketch is part of this adaptation.

I was definitely correct that this was an overambitious proposal. In the case of a three-week project, “adapting quickly” turned out to mean a lot of electrical tape and pins. The final project was pinned together rather than sewn, but I was happy to trade this shortcut for a very dense, thoroughly woven fiber optic skirt. I’m glad that I learned to step back and let one component shine rather than burning out and trying to do everything. Also, the LEDs weren’t nearly as bright as I was expecting them to be, which was disappointing, but forced me to be more creative with sanding down the fiber optics to release more light. It was surprising and liberating to come up with solutions like these rather than starting over with a whole new set of materials. This was a meaningful project that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, yet accepting that it couldn’t be perfect in three weeks helped me grow.


Before this class, I would’ve called myself a maker without hesitation. However, the “Why I Am Not a Maker” article we read in class challenged my view on this definition. To me, a maker is someone who is laser-focused on the end goal of producing some physical object. Makers are defined by the success of their projects, not their personal growth or the growth of their community, and this is not what I want to be. After some panelists in class spoke about the intersection of social justice and fab labs, as well as the many roles a fab lab can play in a community, I no longer consider myself focused purely on the goal of creating things. If I can help someone become self-sufficient at a particular skill, or provide outreach to get a young girl interested in electronics, that will bring me a greater amount of fulfillment than showing off a finished product. Don’t get me wrong — it’s fun to pour your heart into an object and be proud of that finished result. But the title of maker ignores the community that enables such success. Therefore, I now think of myself not as a maker, but as a collaborator, student, teacher, and hopefully always a learner.


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Iteration Assignment – Constellation Bear

This week, I chose to iterate on my original nametag assignment, pictured below. I enjoyed working with the laser cutter the first time, and felt that I could design something more aesthetically pleasing now that I had more experience in Inkscape. The Difference, Union, and Exclusion tools we learned during the sticker unit were very helpful during my design of this project. I also wanted to try my hand at painting the birchwood. For my design, I decided on a Trinket-powered twinkling LED constellation inside the shape of Ursa Major, the bear. Although this was an iteration on the nametag and used many of the same tools, I chose not to include my name, as I wanted to make a decoration I would actually hang up. This was exciting for me, since it felt like the first project I had gotten to completely design with almost no restraints. 

I had never worked with a Trinket before, but was able to build off my knowledge from the Arduino week. The Trinket has five pins, and I decided to use all five of them to power ten LEDs. This would allow me to fade five sets of two LEDs in and out at different intervals from one another, apparently randomly. 

During the paper circuits assignment, I learned that working with copper tape was significantly easier, cleaner, and flatter than soldering wires to LEDs. I couldn’t do all my power wiring with copper tape, since I had five sets of LEDs in parallel, and the tape would’ve crossed over itself. However, I did all the ground wiring with copper tape, and it saved me a significant amount of time and wire. Alternatively, if any of my classmates plan to solder for their final projects, I highly recommend using the helping hand clamps to hold your pieces steady. They saved me a good deal of time and headache.




I learned a lot from the iterative part of this project, Inkscape design, now that I had more design knowledge at my disposal. Unfortunately, since I was not iterating on the Arduino portion, I ran into some unanticipated issues with power draw. Two of the Trinket pins successfully light up their LEDs, but the two coin cell battery packs cannot light up all ten LEDs in their current configuration. 


For the final version of this project that I’ll keep in my apartment, I’ll most likely revamp this project with one long, parallel circuit, and remove the Trinket interface. This will allow me to power all the LEDs in parallel. After the video was taken, I also sanded down some of the LED surfaces so that the light wouldn’t be quite as blinding.

In conclusion, I’m really glad that this assignment was part of the curriculum. I enjoyed being able to come up with my own process and figure out the materials and procedures I needed to use for it. 

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Pom Pom Bot

This week, we used multiple servos and craft materials to make iterative pom-pom robots. It was refreshing to work on something that could be very quickly evaluated, scrapped, and redone. My initial design is shown below. The two servos are connected with duct tape at the dotted line, and each popsicle stick is hot glued to straight servo horns. Each popsicle stick has been broken in half so that the bot will have a lower center of gravity and hopefully maintain its balance more easily. The bot will start in the “unfolded” position, and then both popsicle stick legs will press down at once, lifting it off the table. My bot’s movement was not inspired by a particular animal; for the first iteration, I just wanted to see how hard the servos could press off the ground.


This prototype had a strong tendency to fall on its back and wave its legs in the air helplessly, so I tried adding some extra stability in version 1.5 below.

This was not much more successful, probably because the weight was still unevenly distributed. These iterations convinced me that I would need a robot that could stand stably before it tried to walk. Also, I wasn’t getting the results I wanted with code that tried to swing the servos back and forth by a full ~130 degrees, so I decided to narrow the range of the servo movement. I didn’t think the materials needed to be changed, since the wood was providing enough support, it just wasn’t placed correctly. 


Just for experimentation, I programmed each servo to randomly pick a value within 10 degrees of its rest position, and this ended up working! One leg of the robot was slightly longer than the other, and I think the fact that it was at a slight angle allowed it to travel (or rather, jitter) sideways. This was unintentional, but surprisingly effective, and if I were to do another iteration, I would make this unevenness intentional. It’s not the fastest or most elegant bot, but it moves very reliably to the left in a fairly straight line! I added some feather decoration just for fun. The resulting bot is more stable and more reliable than my first two concepts.

I enjoyed working on a project that was quick enough for me to let go of my original design and truly focus on improving each iteration, without worrying about the time sunk into an early iteration. 


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Introduction to Arduino

This week’s lab was an introduction to the Arduino. I am fortunate to have a background in Arduino from both my classes and my hobbies, but I still picked up some new information in class. I had never worked with an ultrasonic sensor before, and it was surprisingly easy to use! Its sensitivity could have quite a few future project applications. 

One nuance of the Arduino that would be helpful for my peers without an Arduino background: when working with digital pins, the digital pin itself is providing power when the pin is high. There’s no need to have a circuit between 5V and ground; current will go from the digital pin to ground. 


For my Arduino-sensor concept, I decided on a tea-brewing robot that uses a temperature sensor and a servo to automatically start brewing a cup of tea when the temperature drops below a certain point! It’s not practical, but I thought it would be a fun way to incorporate both the sensor and some basic robot-like motion. 


Since I have had experience with Arduino, I decided to go ahead and implement this concept. Below is the loop code I drafted for this robot. If I were to redo this project, I would refactor the second if/for statements to be a while loop, but this code worked well for the first iteration. I had to play around with the max/min angle of the popsicle stick on the servo to get proper teabag motion. 

Below is a video of the final result! The body is a cardboard box with a hole cut out for the servo. A popsicle stick is rubber banded to the servo, and a teabag is draped over the popsicle stick arm. Finally, a cup of hot water is placed below the teabag, and the robot gently bobs the teabag up and down for a period of three minutes. Even though it’s a whimsical invention, I’m proud of the final result! I think it’s a cute application of sensors and servos, and a fully functional final result. 



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Soft Circuits

This week we covered some of my favorite topics: sewing and e-textiles! I’ve had some experience hand embroidering with LEDs and a Gemma, so I was excited to see this project come up in class. 

Each of the three methods we used — machine sewing, embroidery, and e-textiles — has pitfalls that should be emphasized before beginning. A common misconception with machine sewing is that the backstitch button actually undoes previous stitches. Some of my classmates had to take a seam ripper to a doubly-stitched line after attempting this. For e-textile hand sewing, it’s important to note that the positive and negative threads should never touch, or else they will cause a short circuit. This means all stray threads should be tied down, clipped, and even insulated if possible. Finally, as I learned with embroidery, it’s best to avoid very small or very isolated designs, especially tiny dots. The machine cannot achieve very clean edges on such a small scale, and clipping the threads may leave the design slightly messy. 

An unexpected feature of PEDesign 10 is that you get wildly specific color names. The instruction for me to load the “carmine” colored thread caused some confusion, and I ended up with the wrong color for my second flower (below). Fortunately, I was able to use this scrapped piece as a template patch for placing my LEDs, so it ended up working out. 

Sewing down the switch and LEDS was the most frustrating part of this project. You can’t pin down the elements, and they dangle everywhere while you’re sewing them down. It was extremely helpful to have the failed first embroidery as a placement guide, otherwise it would’ve been very difficult to get the LEDs exactly where I wanted them. 

My original intention was to have the LEDs shine through the centers of the flowers, but I didn’t realize how well the dense fill stitch would block light, so I moved the lights up to create the illusion of another group of flowers. 

One I reached this point, I was happy with the design and decided I would stick with this iteration, so I went ahead and sewed the bag. This was my first time using a zipper foot, and it was so much easier than using a regular foot and just sewing as close to the zipper as possible. 

If I were to redo this project, I’d redesign the fabric template so that it produces a nice horizontal rectangular shape, rather than the square/tall rectangle shape. Other than that, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the embroidery turned out, and how well the machine captured the intricate leaves and tulips. This was a fun project, and I really enjoyed working with textiles this week!


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3D Modeling and Scanning

This week, we explored 3D modeling and made our first 3D print. I had some experience with TinkerCAD modeling, but I had never printed before, so I was excited to see the process of going from model to physical object. Fortunately, the printing software is automatically able to add supports to any design; I would emphasize this point to any classmate going through the process so that they don’t waste time adding supports to their model. 

Geometric process (TinkerCAD):

I addressed prompt #2, creative flatware design. My point of view was aesthetic-based; I was inspired by a set of flatware designed by Salvador Dali that combined metallic leaves, petals, and stems to create a gorgeous, organic-looking set. I wanted my flatware to be a conversation piece and aesthetically pleasing above all else. My storyboard below depicts someone dreaming up creative decorations for an upcoming party, and choosing my utensils as an accent to the party theme. 

In my storyboard, I was able to communicate my design much more clearly than in TinkerCAD, due to the limited amount of shapes in the modeling program. The design I settled on in TinkerCAD was two pieces: a flower-shaped spoon and a hybrid fork/knife with tree branches as the fork, and an arrowhead as the knife on the opposite end. 

In addition to operating the software, I learned about material options. The Fab Lab uses PLA and ABS, each with different useful properties, such as sticking to itself well while printing. I also learned about the scale of prints; even if objects looks far apart enough in the 3D model, the printer nozzle may merge two thin lines together due to its limited size. This is what happened to my printed fork/knife, pictured below. If I were to design another version, I would make the fork have fewer, thicker branches, and the entire object would be thicker and more durable. 



Organic process photos:

Of the three softwares we explored in class, I definitely found Sculptris to be the most challenging. Over time, I learned that a stronger, wider brush was best suited to molding specific shapes, while narrower brushes were more suited to fine detail work. I again followed prompt #2, opting for dishware this time. My vision was a triple fondue bowl that would sit above a common flame holder, but adding rectangular shapes proved very difficult in Sculptris. The process photo below features only the triple-bowl aspect, but if I were to 3D print this, I would add structural supports and a flame holder in TinkerCAD, which is better suited to geometric models. 


Scan process photos:

Since I found TinkerCAD to be the easiest software to work with, I imported my scanned model into a new workspace for editing, and decided to add a flower crown. One pitfall of the KINECT scans is the hole in the head. It seems like there is a trade-off between capturing the model’s head or chin due to the nature of the scanning technology. 


The final model is pictured below.


I really enjoyed our 3D printing unit. While it’s fun to make aesthetically pleasing objects just for fun, modeling and scanning seems extremely versatile and useful for making custom parts, inventions, and even prosthetics. Of the class projects we’ve done so far, I feel that I have the most room for improvement in this unit. All 3 of my design methods could be improved significantly with another iteration, whether by making the object larger, performing a more thorough scan, or increasing my comfort level with the Sculptris software. As always, I had a lot of help from Duncan and the other Fab Lab staff members who walked me through the steps of getting my model printed. 

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Paper Circuit Pop-Up Card

I was excited to come back to the Silhouette for this assignment to create a more polished card. I knew I wanted the focal point of my card to be something that lights up in the real world, so I chose a lighthouse and opted for exposed LED bulbs in the cut-out windows. Fortunately, I have prior circuit experience from the labs in my major, so I was confident in my ability to design a series circuit in a custom shape. I’m a big fan of the ability to create flat, flexible circuits; I see paper circuits as a very versatile art tool. 

If I was teaching paper circuits, I’d be sure to emphasize the importance of LED and battery polarity. Reversed terminals can be a common pitfall for those with no prior circuit experience. 

I began by using the Silhouette to cut my pieces out of thin construction paper. Even with a high blade setting and low speed, I had some snags and ragged lines, so if I were to repeat this project, I’d slow down the speed even more. Then I traced a circuit path onto the back of my paper shapes. I wasn’t sure the flimsy paper could sustain the weight of the LEDs and copper tape, but I really wanted the exposed bulb in the lighthouse window, so I gave it a shot. 

To achieve the design I wanted, some circuit elements had to be at ninety degree angles relative to each other. I taped the circuit flat initially, then folded up the lighthouse vertically. 

I ran into a lot of frustrations once the circuit was assembled with a proper switch. Although two yellow LEDs lit up perfectly fine with a single coin cell battery, the resistance of the copper tape in this circuit was too high. After connecting each LED to power individually to debug, I decided to add a second battery where the first switch originally was, and that worked perfectly! Special thanks to the fab lab employees for bouncing solutions around with me. 


With both LEDs lighting up perfectly, this project was finished. If I had more time to spend on this card, I would like to add more 3D elements and a message to the card, and also redesign the circuit so that the LEDs lit up upon opening the card. I’d love to spend more time on an elaborate, Silhouette-cut popup card. This project was fun to work on and I’m proud of the end result! 

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Silhouette Sticker Adventures

For my multi-layer sticker, I wanted to design a Block I that looked intricate and pretty while still being recognizable. The silhouette was able maintain good control over the delicate keyhole pattern I chose. After carefully pulling apart this layer, I put it on top of the orange vinyl to be cut as one unit. This was significantly easier and cleaner than trying to align two separately cut layers, and the silhouette had no problems cutting through the double thickness. 

I finished off the piece with a thin navy blue outline. The thin lines proved very difficult to align at right angles, even with the transfer paper. I would use a solid blue block I layer underneath the other layers, rather than over them, if I were to remake this project. 

I am a huge Harry Potter fan and knew I had to make a patronus sticker when I saw the holographic vinyl. The delicate script and thin antlers turned out to be a big issue, and I had to increase the size of my sticker several times. By the fourth attempt, the sticker had cut correctly. The transfer paper stuck a little too well to the small, unconnected stickers, but I was able to pry them off with the edge of my pencil and get them to stick onto my laptop case. The result looks awesome and I couldn’t be happier with the holographic effect!


The final patronus sticker was inspired by my first first sticker, a holographic griffin combining a unicorn and a narwhal. This was a great opportunity to learn about Inkscape’s difference and union tools. 

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Laser Name Tag – Christina Ernst

For my nametag project, I wanted to improve upon my original design, which was a simple donut made in the first lab. I really wanted to add color and make the shape more recognizable as a donut, so colored acrylic frosting seemed like the perfect choice. Since no tan acrylic was available, I decided on plywood “dough”, and I really like the texture differences in the finished product. 

There was a small gap between my first cut of plywood and acrylic, so I cut a wider plywood circle and mounted the other two pieces on top with wood glue. 

I also really wanted colored sprinkles on top of the frosting, so I painted over the rastered sprinkles with colored acrylic paint, and immediately wiped off the excess with a tissue. The result was not very vibrant, but stayed inside the edges of the etching very well. For more color vibrancy, I think glitter or several coats of paint would be a better option. The yellow paint on top of my etched name also turned out very pale, so black or blue would probably be a better choice if I were to remake this project. Below is the original iteration of my nametag from the first lab. The bright pink acrylic and colored sprinkles really add a lot to the final version!

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