Fashioning the Future With: Angela Sheehan
She's artsy. She's crafty. She's a tech force to be reckoned with: She's the amazing Angela Sheehan! Not only is Angela a prolific maker and a product manager at SparkFun Electronics, but she is also the force behind GellaCraft, a website with tons of great tutorials for makers new and experienced.
GellaCraft is a veritable DIY paradise! If you're curious about how to get your feet wet as a maker or are just looking for some e-textile crafting inspo, GellaCraft is the place to be.
Angela, herself, personifies artistry and technology. Angela and her creations have been featured in Make: magazine (her Insta-Hue LED Party Heels knock our socks off), and she can be often found teaching workshops around the country as well as leading talks and giving presentations. She's worked with fabulous organizations like PBS SciGirls, iD Tech Camps, Women Who Code/Boulder and many, many more.
Angela often also attends conventions as an invited guest. She will be at Atlanta, GA's Dragon Con over Labor Day weekend. If you find yourself in ATL, spot Angela in her amazing color changing fairy costume — complete with color stealing wand!
We were excited ask Angela some questions about the origins of GellaCraft, what advice she has for people who want to get into soft circuits, and what kind of super-gloves she'd wear if she was a superhero (which we think she already is).
How did you first get into wearable technology?
I first discovered wearable tech and sewable electronics while pursuing my bachelor's degree at Bennington College in 2005. I was enrolled in a physical computing course during the early days of Arduino and was exploring different ways to create interactive objects. I discovered some of the research Leah Buechley and others were doing around using conductive thread and electronics in a craft and costume context and begin my own research and explorations.
What inspired you to start GellaCraft?
GellaCraft is an extension of my previous project Soft Circuit Saturdays, which was a blog about sewable and wearable electronics I started in 2009 (you can view the archive here). As my projects and interests expanded beyond just soft circuits, I decided to make a new site for all of my interests which involve costuming with and without electronics, illustration, and product design. Gella (short for Angela) is my childhood nickname.
What is your favorite thing about sharing your projects and tutorials with the world?
I really love posting progress pictures and video of what I’m making on Twitter because the excitement and feedback my friends give me keeps me motivated and also offers new ways of thinking about projects, especially working through points where I may be frustrated or stuck. One of the best feelings was being at Maker Faire Bay Area last month and having people come up to me excited to see one of my finished projects in person after watching me work through different iterations of it on social media.
What does it mean to you to be a part of the maker community?
Being a part of the maker community is like having a big group of friends who are unabashedly geeky and celebrate it in all its forms. Even if you share something that may not be a topic they are personally interested in, many members of the maker community will share the enthusiasm that comes with the pride you take in tinkering and DIYing a project. I love to participate in events such as Maker Faire where the whole energy of the gathering is filled with moments of geeking out about everyone’s accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem to the maker.
What is the first thing you do when you have an idea for a new project?
Tell everyone around me about it! I like to think out loud and have lots of close friends who also get excited about brainstorming, so a lot of our time hanging out consists of project talk. I also like to gather up materials and supplies before making a final plan and creating some creative chaos in my studio before starting my sketches or designs.
Do you have any creations that are particularly meaningful to you?
One of my first wearable electronics projects was a piece called Interactive Formalwear which had a social aspect that was really fun and playful. It remains one of my favorite to present in a gallery opening because people have a great time dancing with the models wearing the outfits. Working on that project sparked my interest in creating costumes that are both performative and invite interaction. My latest project, a color sampling fairy costume is one of my current favorites to wear out to events and interact with people while wearing, it continues to feel like magic to me even though I know all the inner workings of it :).
What is a good project for someone entirely new to soft circuits to start with?
I always recommend starting small with a project like an accessory or craft item to learn the techniques unique to these materials. Often we dream big and can end up unintentionally setting roadblocks for ourselves in making a first project too elaborate. I teach a glowing pin project as a guided intro to soft circuits that is easily customizable or made more complex. Once you've completed a few successful projects, you’ll build up the confidence to push to more complicated and daring designs. This is something I do with my own practice, every new project is an opportunity to learn a new skill or push myself to try something new. I’ve written a lot of getting started guides for SparkFun and on Instructables that you can try out. Check out https://www.gellacraft.com/diy for a full list.
Do you have any favorite scientists, designers, or artists (etc!) who inspire you?
Right now a lot of my inspiration comes from watching the next generation start to make their mark, particularly Allie Weber @RobotMakerGirl, who I got to see speak at Maker Faire Bay Area back in May.
Fashion tech designer Anouk Wipprecht has been an inspiration to me for years, her pieces are not only futuristic and beautiful objects but augment our interactions with the people and world around us.
Amy Wibowo @sailorhg of BubbleSort zines is also a constant source of inspiration and for those of us who feel that cute and pink can coexist with real computer science concepts and ideas. I wear one of her Hello World tees every time I teach a workshop on LilyPad Arduino :).
What advice do you have for younger girls (middle and high school) who want to pursue STEM?
It can be tough to pursue a subject that you are interested in if you don’t have a lot of support around you. Finding a place to share your projects, goals, and passion for a subject helped me a lot when I was younger. A school club, online forum, or community spaces such as makerspaces can help keep you motivated and connected to others who share your passion for STEM.
If you were a superhero, what would your go-to wearable tech device be?
I’d love to have a set of gloves with a small projector in them to instantly display a hologram of designs, maps, or info on the go to interact with. Bonus points if it also includes a scanner so I can wave my hand over things I am investigating and capture a digital likeness to use later.