Inspiring E-textile People: Interview with Afroditi Psarra

Every Friday I will be publishing a full-length untranslated interview with one of the e-textile artists featured in my book "Wearables für Maker: Experimentieren, nähen, gestalten".  These remarkable people are talking about their e-textile practice and perspective, failures and successes, tricks and inspirations.

Afroditi Psarra


Multidisciplinary artist/Assistant Professor in DXARTS, University of Washington, Seattle US.
courtesy of Afroditi Psarra

How and when did you get into e-textiles / wearables?
Ever since I was a small girl I was always interested in art and technology. In primary
school I was taking extracurricular activities that included learning programming (with
LOGO and QBASIC), painting, theatre improvisation and dance. And also, I was introduced
to the world of handicrafts through my grandmother who taught me how to sew, knit and
embroider. When I finished high-school I studied at the Department of Fine Arts and Arts
Sciences of the University of Ioannina in Greece and soon after I graduated I moved to
Spain to pursue a master and a PhD in “Image, Technology and Design” at the School of
Fine Arts of the Complutence University of Madrid. While I was in my second year as a
graduate student I had a Processing class and so I committed myself to learn how to
program, but soon I realised I was missing the tangible character of my previous work
and I needed to start using my hands again for something other than typing commands on
a screen. So, I started doing a series of embroideries that had a technological theme, but
did not have any technology embedded in them. Meanwhile, I was attending a number of
workshops on art and technology at the Medialab-Prado in Madrid and so I got familiar
with the Arduino platform and the LilyPad Arduino micro controller - that is specifically
designed for textile electronics. In the late summer of 2011 I bought myself a kit and I was
immediately hooked, as the field of e-textiles encompassed all my previous interests.

Your very first project?
My very first project was a tutorial that I followed from instructables called “Soundie: a
musical touch-sensitive light-up hoodie” by Kanjun Qiu. I never completed the entire
project I just made a fast prototype to see how the conductive thread can be used as a
capacitive sensor to control light and sound. It was a “Eureka” moment for me, as I
realised the potential of creating handmade electronic music.

A project you are proud of?
I am especially proud of “Lilytronica” - a series of textile synthesisers that I began
developing in 2012 and they are still evolving as a performance piece. But in general I am
proud of all my e-textiles projects since I feel there is something magical when you finally
see a handcrafted artefact that you’ ve spend so much time and manual labour coming to
life. Doing e-textiles is a slow process, but the results are always rewarding.

Main source of inspiration (Other artists? Tools? Situations?)
I draw my inspiration upon the world of pop culture, science fiction, music, technology
and physics, and try to compose a hand-crafted future scenario filled with playful and
romantic tones. I see myself as a remixer of tradition, futurism, high and low tech
materials and techniques, working in the intersection of art, crafts and science.

Favourite tool?
Needle and thread

Favourite component?

Favourite crafting technique?

Favourite trick / hack?
Software: Using the Arduino INPUT_PULLUP command on analog sensors. It’s great if you
are prototyping and you don’t have the right resistor at hand for your sensor. The
command is normally used for digital pins - for attaching a pull-up resistor to a button or a
Hardware: Connecting an audio output to a monitor’s line in (using a jack to RCA
adaptor). This way you can easily visualise the sound that your circuit is producing. Then
if you approach a coil connected to a mixer you can pick-up the sound of the EMF that the
monitor is producing and create feedback to the image.

Your most frustrating moment with e-textiles?
Having too much resistance from using conductive thread instead of wires, or having an
EMF because of using too much thread. But you can work around both of these problems…

What do you do if a project doesn't work? How do you approach bugs / problems /

I never give up if something doesn’t work. I am awfully obsessed with debugging. If there
is a hardware problem, I use the multimeter to find the problem and solve it, if there is a
software problem I go back to my code line by line and retest everything, and it there is a
machine/object hacking problem, I read the manual and try to understand what went
wrong. Of course, sometimes if I can’t get around something I ask for help from friends,
other e-textiles practitioners and forums.

How do you start a new project?
I always start by an essential idea by writing keywords and doing research on materials
and techniques. Then I usually find some sort of reference point - it could be an image, a
text or an object, and I start sketching my prototype and figuring out the circuit and

Advice to e-textile newbies?
Start by following basic tutorials. Experiment and don’t be afraid to fail or burn
something. Starting out is always frustrating, but once you understand how things work,
you can build almost anything! Be careful with AC, high voltage and high current
transformers (these are not things that you want to play with).
Soft Articulations. Courtesy of Afroditi Psarra.

Tools & materials. Courtesy of Afroditi Psarra.

Tools & materials. Courtesy of Afroditi Psarra.

Lilytronica. Courtesy of Afroditi Psarra.

Lilytronica. Courtesy of Afroditi Psarra.

Idoru. Courtesy of Afroditi Psarra.
Idoru. Courtesy of Afroditi Psarra.

Divergence.Courtesy of Afroditi Psarra.

Culture Series. Courtesy of Afroditi Psarra.

Culture Series. Courtesy of Afroditi Psarra.


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