Here's the transcript from last week's soldersesh with Natasha aka TechnoChic (pronounced Techno-Sheek)! During this time, Carrie and Natasha put together some of TechnoChic's DIY Blinky Bow Ties and lit up their look! Carrie also worked on putting some LEDs on her OHSummit bag (where the LEDs are, of course!) while Natasha got started on one of her DIY Light-Up Tutu Kits! Read below about how Natasha got started with STEAM growing up and throughout college and how that led into the idea of merging fashion and technology for TechnoChic! Natasha also did some show & tell with the Lady Gaga matrix mask (AND OUTFIT!) she made for Halloween and a project idea she had for a keyboard she had laying around. Hint, she completely reskinned it!
You can find Natasha on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, & Instructables.
You can shop for TechnoChic products on her website and Etsy!
(1:15 – 5:40) Why Natasha Started TechnoChic
Carrie: So, tell us a little bit about the bow tie kits. What was your impetus for creating them?
Natasha: It was all about Maker Faire. I went to a few Maker Faires, and I knew that the branding and the vibe that Maker Faire was giving off probably wouldn't be something that my parents would have brought me to as a girl. I'm an only child and I was a little ballet dancing girl, but I also obviously love all this tech stuff now. I knew that my parents wouldn't see that in me when they saw this big red robot and all these engineering things; they wouldn't bring me there. So, I thought, “You know, maybe I could try to make a really quick craft project that had that tech in it but was a craft project at its heart.”
Natasha: That way the parents might be like “Oh, look, it's a crafty place, let me bring the stereotypical mindset of bringing the girl into it.” I started to create these mashup projects and tried to figure out like, “Okay, if you're the type of person who only buys in the girl aisle and there's no tech there, that's not good.” So, I started to think about how I could do these crossover things, because the Maker Faire did a good job of welcoming the more masculine stuff, but not as much as the feminine stuff. So, that's kind of where it came up and I actually started; I made little flower pins and then I was like, “Oh, I could make a play on formal wear. So, you could wear it as a bow tie or a [hair] bow.” I was trying to bring in all the ranges of gender, all the ranges of different types of tech and shiny stuff. Just kind of throw all those things together and then make a project that was as simple as possible. So that you would feel not only was it a good experience, but you felt empowered by it, and you could then take the next step and think, “Oh look, there's an Arduino project with a flashing LED, I wonder how that works.” You know, be that little, tiny bridge that gets people feeling confident. So that's where that all came from.
Carrie: I love it. I also love that these are circuit board themes [bow tie patterns] too. Super cool. I didn't even know that when I got the kit and was like “Whaaat?!”
Natasha: You got a lucky one because they are random! There's I think seven different patterns that I made. Actually, it's kind of cool because you got two [bow tie patterns] in a kit with the circuit board and that would be kind of rare because they're randomly chosen.
Carrie: Dang I feel kind of special now. Now that I am noticing, it is pretty lucky that I got two circuit boards.
Natasha: So yeah, you have the blues kit and I have, there's actually four kits. I have two of the other ones in front of me. Should I do pink, orange, yellow, or red, white, black. What should I do?
Carrie: Well, I was going to say for us, it was between the blues kit and the neon kit.
Natasha: Okay, I’ll do the neon one. Let’s open this up and see what I got. It's a box of chocolates.
Carrie: They come with these nice instructions here.
Natasha: Yeah, everything in here is designed by me. I made the little instructions, and I made the battery packs and I added on it, “You have the power to change the world” so that if this is your first project with a battery, you feel empowered to keep going.
Carrie: Yeah. I loved that. I thought that was so cool that you had the batteries branded too. I was like, dang that is fancy.
(23:52 – 29:31) Natasha’s Path into STEM
Carrie: How did you get into STEM in the first place? Because it sounds like it might not have been on your parents' radar.
Natasha: I wasn't offered a lot of encouragement in that, but the funny thing is my parents actually owned a little mom and pop computer store when I was little. So, I remember being counter height, like I could barely see over the counter and watching the guy in the back soldering the machines, because when I was a kid and your computer broke, you didn't send it away – you got it fixed. It was not disposable or like, “Oh, send it and they'll repair it and sell it to someone as refurbished or whatever now.” So, there was a repair guy in the back; you bring your computer in and he's literally soldering on the computer itself. I think I was just around it a lot. That's what made me feel comfortable enough when I was out in the world to be like, “Oh, this is interesting to me.” But coming from the expectations of what a little ballerina looks like, you don't get offered as many of the more masculine [opportunities]. In that era, a generation above me, it was a masculine thing to be an engineer or to be a computer geek or whatever they wanted to call you.
Natasha: I kind of had both sides tugging at me like, “Oh, this is really cool, and I feel comfortable because I've been around it.” I kind of kept that in the back of my head. I did take a few computer art courses in high school, they honestly weren't very good, but they at least kept me in it. Then I went to art school where I thought I was going to do advertising and produce TV commercials, but that didn't really work out. I graduated in 2008 and there were no jobs. So, I was like, “I like teaching, I like computer stuff.” That was in my background and my mom's actually a teacher. So, I got a job at the Apple store, teaching computers. I did that for a bunch of years. That was interesting because I met so many people. Everyone comes into the apple store, right? So, you have this really wide range of personalities that you meet, expectations that people have for you and all of that. Through those classes, we sat down, and I would teach people how to use Final Cut Pro and Keynote and even how to use a mouse sometime – all ranges of people.
Carrie: I didn't know that the Apple store actually taught classes. Is that something that still do?
Natasha: I don't know. I know that they still do something. It used to be that you basically would book time with me, we would consider ourselves the “shrinks” of the Apple store. I could sit down and make you feel better about your relationship with your computer for an hour. So, it'd be these one-on-one classes with people. We would do small group workshops and at the bigger store, the one that I worked at in Soho, we actually had a theater! So, there would be a group of maybe like 30-40 people who could sit down and learn at once, like a classroom. That was really interesting because I was watching people learn software and kind of make them feel good about their confidence and their abilities to use everything.
Natasha: One of my students, actually, I was explaining that I really kind of loved this whole smart home thing, all these cool products coming in. I really would love to know how to be a creator of that, not a consumer of all this. She told me about this program at NYU that was called ITP [interactive telecommunications program]. It's basically a combination of art and tech. She was actually a professor somewhere else in NYU and she was like, “You need to go here to find people that are like you.” This weird mashup of artists and techie enthusiasts. And she was right. So, I went there, and I come at it hard from the arts, like “I'm just here to support my art, but I want to be able to learn how to incorporate all of this because they're so much more linked than anyone will ever let you believe, you know?” So, I hate that they put kids into boxes and say like, “Oh, are you good at art? Or are you good at science?” It's like both!
Carrie: Yeah. Can there be room for all of that? It's interesting how many people think that engineers are not creative. I'm just like, I don't know what engineers you’ve been hanging out with but man, engineers are some of the most creative people I know actually. Yeah, I’m definitely about breaking down those weird stereotypes and misconceptions.
(45:44 – 52:25) Lady Gaga Mask Project
Carrie: I would love to hear more about you're Lady Gaga mask project, because that was so impressive. I mean it looked like legit, the real deal and I'm curious, did you ever get any notice from lady Gaga herself for it?
Natasha: I didn’t… but the company that made the original mask, I tagged them, and they were like, “Oh, this is amazing! Good job doing a knock off of our project.” Which was awesome because sometimes when you do that, people are like, “Don't knock off my project.” It was clearly for a Halloween costume so hopefully they’d be cool with it. I just saw that, and I think that was when COVID hit and all of us were going, like, “What skills do I have? What skills do I want to have?” At the time I was working– I had like five jobs. I was working for a company that did LED lights and code and dance as this class. So, I was teaching in a few schools in Brooklyn, and then I was doing an afterschool program in Manhattan, and I was doing my TechnoChic stuff, and I was doing some content creation and I was also the janitor because I needed to afford this space. So, I was literally just so overworked. So, I went from being absolutely exhausted to just, “Bye no more work.” I just had started to list things like, “What would I like to do more of?” One of it was I'd like to get back into sewing.
Natasha: That's something that I really enjoyed when I was younger and haven't picked up with. I had started to do some LED stuff and I had never done a matrix before. I'd done LEDs preps, but never had a reason to do a matrix. Then I watched the VMAs and I saw that costume. For those of you who have never seen it, it's like a spandex bodysuit, that's pink and it has all these shapes cut out of it. I thought two things, first, I was like, “This is an amazing use of pink that doesn't look young.” And that's just exciting, because I actually love the color pink, but you risk looking like not being taken seriously if you wear it.
Carrie: I have a difficult relationship pink because of that. It's a difficult color for me because of that. I avoided it for a very, very long time because I wanted to be taken seriously as an engineer and that means you can’t be girly.
Natasha: Right? I mean, not right – wrong, but yeah. Working in retail, I learned how to control how people would talk to me based on what I was wearing and how I was standing and all of those things. Then I saw this costume and I thought, it looked powerful to me. It's a weird costume. It's totally weird. Go look it up.
Carrie: I mean, it's Lady Gaga. It's going to be weird. It's going to be great.
Natasha: It really was. First off, I just thought it was an amazing costume. Then she had this mask that was totally techie, which is obviously also my other passion. I thought, “Okay, first off, I had always wanted to sew spandex because I wanted to get into costume making and never did it. Plus, I had heard it was really hard; and I'd always wanted to do a matrix and I heard that was hard too, but I had time. So, I decided this is what I'm doing.” It was around my birthday actually in 2020. My boyfriend got me the matrix, I wasn't going to buy the matrix; I think it was over $200 worth of LEDs in the matrix. So, I was actually going to fake it with a raspberry PI with one of the little screens that you could get, but he got me the actual ones that lady Gaga used for my birthday! That was just cool because I was like, “Now I get to feel legit. I'm going to make this thing and it's going to look exactly like the real thing.” A lot of the fabric that I bought, not all of the colors, but some of them I'm pretty sure, were the same color swatch that was used in her costume. I was so happy to see this goal come up after all those, you know, 2020 was just, everyone's just scrambling for purpose and all of that and that's what I did with it.
Natasha: I have the mask here if you want to take a look. I don't actually know if it even turns on, but I can plug it in and find out. This is like a two-year-old project, but I have it on a little head here. I'll plug it in. Let's see what happens. Want to bet on it?
Carrie: I'm optimistic. I think it's going to work. Yeah, it’s on! Nice!
Natasha: Oh, the tape did undo itself, no. It was funny, I don't usually use duct tape, but this thing has to last for one Halloween night, so.
Carrie: Cool. You publish the instructions for it too, right?
Natasha: Yes, they're on Instructables and on my blog technochic.net. I'm still in the process of creating the video for the spandex bodysuit, which I did. I shot everything. Unfortunately, I had a hard drive failure at the end of 2020. It's still now two years later and it's on my to do list. I have to put that video together.
Carrie: We have plenty of things like that. Plenty of things that are on the to-do list and kind of languishing at the bottom.
(1:20:12 – 1:27:59) A Maker’s Mind
Carrie: I'm probably overthinking this. I mean, you know... [Carrie is sewing LEDs into her OHSummit bag]
Natasha: I think you're only overthinking it because you've probably had the experience of a stretchy fabric doing that. When I got those bags, I was adamant that it was going to be a non-scratch fabric, because if it is then exactly what you described, it bunches up and then it comes back together. Now there's a weird bunch in your threads also touching the wrong thing, and now it's not going to turn on. If it's not that, then, I liked your idea of potentially once it's done either sewing a piece of fabric on top of it or doing an iron-on fusible once it's all working and then that'll protect everything and keep it all structurally flat, I guess.
Carrie: Yep. Exactly. That was one of the things, too. I really liked about your bag is that you obviously designed it with the kit in mind to have that really big pocket on the inside that would cover up all of your stitches. I was like, “Oh, that's really smart because I could see that wearing as you use the bag and put stuff in and out or accidentally shorting your LEDs out, if you have something metal in there.” I was thinking I kind of want a protective layer on this bag, but it doesn't have a pocket.
Natasha: Yeah. I had a tote bag similar to the one that I ended up getting made for the kit and it did have a pocket and I actually loved that pocket first for its ability to hold my phone and it doesn't get lost in the bottom of the bag. But then I realized that's the perfect place to hide a circuit and have something useful. All it is, is two squares of fabric sewn together and then sewn at the top with the top side open. I am sold out of those bags so if anyone out there is wanting to make this, it's a fairly easy sewing project to make a pocket too. So, you could do that. The other benefit is if you just did with the bag from a year ago, a year has passed and you're like, gosh, I'd like to make another project, I wonder what the circuit looks like. It's not embedded into something that you can't lift up and look at anymore.
Carrie: Yeah, that's true for this one. If I do the iron on stuff, then it's going to be one-way.
Natasha: Right, one and done. Maybe that's just the maker in me that you don't want to cover anything up, because you know someone's going to ask you how you made it.
Carrie: Yeah. That is true. It's also definitely a sewer and a knitter thing where it's like, let me see the back. I want to see the back. I need to see how you did this.
Natasha: Yeah. I was so lucky; they did a show in New York that was all the costumes from Broadway when Broadway was shut down. You could look at the costumes up close, and I just thought that was so neat. You see it from the stage, like that's so pretty, but how did they do that? Then you get to see all the hand work that goes into everything. So yeah, it's a maker thing. We’ve got to see how stuff is put together, reverse engineer everything in our heads.
Carrie: Absolutely. How can I make something like that?
Natasha: I wasn't even thinking about like all the components that I've saved. I had USB microscope and I broke the USB on it and I was like, “Oh my gosh, there's a tiny LED ring in the end of this, I must harvest you.” I have no idea what I’m going to use it for, but it just seemed like something that could not possibly be thrown away.
Carrie: We have a junk box and it's that same sort of thing where broken electronics go. Sometimes you just want to see how did they do those buttons? What was their implementation? Was it a Silicon stack up? Did it have a hard plastic point on the back of it that was actuating it and pushing another small button on a circuit board?
Natasha: I love that. I love looking through all that stuff. Oh, actually I have a show and tell. Do I have it? Well, I'll have to send you somewhere else to look for it then. What I was going to show you is one of the projects that I haven't created a video for yet, but plan on it. Hold me to it. I don't know if you watch Bob's Burgers…
Carrie: I don't, but Charlene who was on the show does. She does amazing, amazing stuff with LED rings and things like that, she is a big Bob's Burgers fan.
Natasha: Awesome. So, on Bob's Burgers, one of the little boy characters [Gene] has a keyboard and it's a very stylish, little 80s keyboard. I bought this rolly piano, which is a piano that rolls up. It’s silicone, has a little controller, and it rolls up. It was perfect because I wanted to make his keyboard. I basically disassembled it and re-skinned it. It looks just like the keyboard so, keep an eye out for that. When I had to cut the keyboard to use it in my project, I opened it up and it's just this gorgeous labyrinth of tiny little metal traces that went into each key in the keyboard but are on a flexible, I guess it's like plastic, transfer sheet basically. I saved the scrap that I cut off of this thing, just because I thought it was a beautiful circuit board, and the same thing, I basically repurposed all the buttons on the board and fed them through to the buttons that I had created for the keyboard in the style of the cartoon. So that was a fun project. I really got to get on posting that one, too. That's a fun thing to do with electronics, just give it the case that you want it to have.
(1:36:19 – 1:41:35) Keyboard Project
Carrie: Pat [in the comments] says they would love to see the inside of the flexible piano board and you've sparked some cool ideas.
Natasha: Okay, I will give it another 30 seconds of looking. I know it's in here. Oh wait, I found it. I'll give you a sneak peak of the project. You want to see a sneak peek of the project?
Natasha: So, this is Gene's keyboard from Bob's Burgers.
Carrie: Dang. Wow. That looks cool.
Natasha: If I remember how to turn it on. Oh, here's a little on-off switch. If you know the show, I made little foam buttons. I don't remember which one does it. There we go. It's a fart sound.
Carrie: Nice, I love it.
Natasha: There’ll be a video coming soon, but I'll show you the inside of this. So, I cut this off because it's scrap.
Carrie: And that's just like, sort of rubbery plastic on the outside?
Natasha: It's got to be some type of silicone because I tried to glue stuff to it and every adhesive was just like, no. So, look at this beauty.
Carrie: Oh, wow. Yeah.
Natasha: There’s actually multiple layers here. Then there's these little, tiny dots and then the mold of the interior of the keyboard. I don't know if you could see that, but there's little tiny dots underneath that line up with the little, tiny dots on here, which almost feels like braille to me. They must align up perfectly with whatever's on the next layer and then you see all the traces running back to the board. I think this thing costs maybe 20 bucks on Amazon. It’s marketed as a toy, but it's a really nice object.
Carrie: Yeah. I find that so interesting. I don't know anything about how to make, like how people make the kind of cheap circuits that aren't on circuit boards. There are, I mean, I didn't even know, but there are sometimes in some toys, there are paper circuits, which is crazy. It's just paper with, I guess, conductive ink on it. I'm just, I'm fascinated. I would love to learn more about how those very inexpensive circuits are made because that's cool.
Natasha: Yeah. I mean, I'm not a circuit, I do paper circuits as a craft. Not as an electrical engineer and I'm going to put those in a product. The flexible ones just are so interesting to me just because of their wearables application and it seems like a good way to do it, too. Why make something rigid when you can make it flexible.
Carrie: [Reading comment] “Looks like the remote we used for the traffic light game.” Yeah, I need to revisit that because that remote did not work like we thought it would. Now we have some ESP whatever's, not 32s, the other ones. I want to just use those maybe instead of Leonardo or just hook them up to the Leonardo and use them just for Wi-Fi. We have actual traffic lights that I got a surplus store. Robyn and her dad built this really cool wood enclosure for them. We made them into a Simon Says game with arcade buttons so the traffic lights flash, and you have to enter the sequence on the matching buttons. The only kind of issue was it was the traffic lights are really, really bright, like blindingly bright. So, we had these really long wires running to the controller. So, it'd be nice to make the controller and the traffic lights have wireless communication so that you could put the traffic lights way up and out of the way so that they don't blind you.