String Figuring is a project that wanders: starting from a motivation to explore fiber-arts for feminist retaliation and culminating in the design and development of a novel soft sensor. Perhaps best characterized as an act of reflective design or critical making, the story of design that we will tell in this paper, which will be presented at CHI 2018’s Late Breaking Work session, ties together feminist theory, material studies, and cultural reflection to suggest a novel form of sensing – a string figure sensor.
The string figure sensor is a concept or early prototype for a string-based sensor that can know something of its own shape. We created a proof of concept by knitting conductive thread and wool around a wire core, resulting in a semi-rigid loop that feels similar to a pipe cleaner in one’s hands. When someone plays with the loop, the crosses and knots created in it result in measurable changes in resistance. We take resistance measurements at five points along the length of the loop to create a resistance “signature” that correlates to various shapes or figures created with the string.