The DIY workshop
a project by Vishal Rawlley
supported by Open Space

Students of Pearl Academy of Fashion, Jaipur, participate in a 'Sign Wear' workshop, 4 - 8 March


Wearing a T-shirt or a dress with a sign or slogan is a common trend. It displays the wit, humour and ideology of the wearer. But what if this writing on the shirt could be extended across multiple shirts - so that when several people come together, they could form a big human sign! This form of clothing could be a useful accessory in a flash mob or a street performance.

How this will work

First, each shirt should have the capability to become any character in the letter set. Then, for example, to write ‘Hello’, 5 people would have to come together, each becoming one letter of the 5-letter word ‘Hello’.

Refer to the image alongside:

This demonstration uses a 16-segment matrix – commonly used in digital displays. By ‘lighting up’ some of the segments in the matrix, one can form any letter or number in the English alphabet.  Similarly there are different kinds of pixel and dot matrix font types which use a basic grid which can become any alphanumeric character depending on the pixels or dots that are on or off.

Student Exercise

  1. Designing a font which is based on a simple matrix:
    This matrix should be able to transform into any alphanumeric character by selective "switching" of matrix segments.

  2. Transforming this font into wearable clothing:
    How will the matrix be embedded on fabric? How can the different segments/ pixels be turned on/ off? We could use LED strips, buttons, zips, velcro, flaps, fur, etc. What will be an easy and practicable solution?

  3. Making a performance with the prototype dress:
    What should we write with our ‘Sign Wear’? How do we animate the letters to transform them rapidly into different words? We can use human movement to make this sign run and dance. We can use this Sign Wear to make a street performance or a flash mob.  We can use it to create interesting photos, videos and animation.

Exercise 1 - Designing a simple matrix font

After trying out various options we settled on a grid made of 9 dots arranged in a 3 x 3 matrix. By joining these dots with straight lines, we could not only make all the alpha-numerals of the English language but also innumerable design patterns.
Above: Students design letters and shapes based on a 3 x 3 matrix.
Students try out the exercise on T-shirts using double-sided tape and paper strips. Then they make letter forms and pose in groups to create word-images.
Exercise 2 - Re-configurable clothing

Students experimented with different materials and techniques to create the 'sign wear' dress. These included buttons and ribbon strips, two-coloured lace running in a loop, velcro with stick-on strips, etc.
Below: Videos demostrating the various techniques used by students

Exercise 3 - Sign Wear Performances

Students demonstrate the expressive potential of human signage by creating a mood for each day of the week.

Image captions:

Sleepy on Monday
Active on Tuesday
Combative on Wednesday
Dreamy on Thursday
Happy on Friday
Ecstatic on Saturday
Relaxed on Sunday