No glove, no love.

I told myself a few months ago between starting this journey and remaking the pattern that those multi-coloured gloves would be the ones that got me through this year. Oh, how naïve I was!

The previous posts gloves did allow me to test the pattern. They were designed with shorter flex sensors than I had access to at the time, and my shipments were once again delayed. A running theme of the year. Still, I ended up disliking the channelling configuration on the top of the gloves and knew that with the lock-downs I was going to have to buy all materials so far in advance that I wouldn’t have fully conceptualised the changes to design. So I bought a few metres of PowerMesh and an assortment of other 4-way stretch fabrics (green crushed velvet, black lycra, black neoprene, and two colours of PowerMesh) to get me through different designs and aesthetic directions. Failing that, I could make an epic catsuit.

The neoprene will serve as an extra durable layer that the electronics can be connected to. This safeguards the PowerMesh against damage (which though durable, is not that durable) and provides structure for the gloves and prevents unnecessary tugging of delicate fabric. Two layers of mesh are only okay for fabric strength and build quality. I will be trying one layer of Lycra and one layer of PowerMesh (and the neoprene layer) for the topside of the next iteration. I have also been toying with one layer of neoprene with sensor sleeve affixed (or heat-bonded) to it, the palm from lycra or PowerMesh, and the sides of the fingers as a separate piece of fabric. I’m not convinced that these extra construction complexities will lead to superior performance, though, and I have concerns about the fit on my injured hand.

New piece of the puzzle.

For these gloves, I have substituted the finicky channels with two layers of PowerMesh for the top side. The channelling has been sewn directly into the double layer. This means that there are no loose fabric ends poking out and far less fiddly sewing to be done. At the moment, fiddly tasks are a great concern due to an injury I sustained last month to my left hand. I came off second best against a utility knife. I have only just begun to rehab my hand and was recommended by my doctor to completely rest the hand until the wound had healed, and follow that up with light tasks while we see whether there is any permanent nerve damage and for the specialist’s appointment. For now, the tingling in my fingers isn’t excitement or magic – it’s nerve damage.

We’ll build this glove from the ground up

I have sketched out a build order to streamline what needs to happen and when for the most efficient construction of prototyping designs. I’ll quickly note that this would not be effective for mass production. I have written these steps as such so that I could take a few tasks and do them on one day, taking all the time I need to do things with the utmost care and attention to detail. The longer I spend on construction in one day, the more frustrated I get with the idea of perfection. I get tired, I get cranky. I get sloppy.

  1. Cut 2x layers of fabric for the top of the gloves. Cut 2x layer fabric for the bottom of gloves. Cut 2x neoprene sleeves for gloves. Slit holes for sensors and wiring in the neoprene. Print (3D) housings.
  2. Sew two top layers of the gloves together. Sew channels for flex sensors into the layers. Sew velcro wrist closures onto neoprene.
  3. Prepare electronics. Solder sensors and wires for sensors. Measure all of the wire lengths to the fixture points against the channels and neoprene slits. Cut each sensor’s wiring to the measured lengths.
  4. Sew on the underside layer of the gloves. Remove all tissue and flip right-side out. Inspect and quality assure the seams and seam strength.
  5. Fit electronics into the neoprene and gloves, separately.
  6. Hand sew the neoprene to the palm section of the gloves. Connect any loose wiring.
  7. Attach the battery and Arduino housing to the neoprene.
  8. Test that all electronics are still working after all that jostling about.
Strategy-as-you-go.

I wanna know what glove is.

Aside from learning that I can sew the gloves onto a single ply of facial tissue, in manufacturing them with the electronics ready to go I have come to a few process realizations. Counterintuitively, keeping each sensor’s wire group in their connected ribbon leads to the wiring taking up more space and being more difficult to manage. The strips want to fold oddly and are hard to get through small holes. The thicker wire grouping also pulls the flex sensors into non-optimal positions and prevents the switch and toggle wires from being neatly and discretely coiled. I will investigate expandable PPS sleeve (like a woven tube cable tidy system) for bundling the wires in the future. A tubing like this will keep them together and protect the thinner wires. I considered heat shrink as a ready alternative, but that seems like it will be too rigid (when shrunk) or too bulky (when at its normal size). Other configurations and materials to test are 3D printable conductive filament and conductive fabric/thread use. This could make the gloves extremely low-profile and easy to make one button or toggle cover a flexibly sized surface area with no detriment to hand movement.

Refine-as-you-go.

My early-stage goal with the housing, according to somaesthetics and soma design principles, is that the housing doesn’t actively detract from the user’s experience due to its size or placement on the body. The housing size and position has already been significantly reduced from the initial prototype and the battery housing is in a much more useable position. The biggest size improvement will happen when I am ready to go for a custom PCB and am confident enough in the robustness of the system to really experiment with different shapes of housing. I have grand ideas of an organic shape that flows with the shape of the body (inasmuch as possible) and is ultra-low-profile that skims the body so that movement is not impacted and that it looks sleek, like elven jewellery in The Lord of the Rings. The cosmetic impact of a wearable system seems outwardly trivial, but anyone that has used high-end products knows that the feeling of luxury affects your perception of how something functions – even if you know about this effect. There is pleasure in an elegant, graceful design.

There is, my downside, the distressing design concern that will pessimistically remain ongoing. The cut in my hand and the area that has been affected is still tender some time on from the injury. I want to retch whenever fabric or surfaces touch the numb area (basically anything that isn’t my own finger when I’m testing out the damage). When I move my arm, shoulder, or hand in specific ways, the nerve fires like an electric shock. This has, fortunately, lessened in frequency over time and now only happens once or twice a week. The sparkling nerve tingle happens regularly if there is pressure or movement against the side of my palm. It fires inside of the wound and in the numb area. If I use stiff fabrics or fancier construction methods as the Mi.Mu gloves use, I may well find myself in a world of discomfort. I have to don any kind of gloves very carefully at the moment. Should this remain a permanent fixture in my life, I will design for the situation at hand (heh) and less to the aesthetic ideals that I would like.