Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Since I haven't done this yet, here we go:

Neuron Shirt, TM, 

Synesthesia Suit, TM,
Depression Suit, TM,
Autism Dress, TM,
© 2014 Catherine Yunis, All Rights Reserved

These are the copyrighted works of Catherine Yunis © 2014 Catherine Yunis, All Rights Reserved.

For any inquires about licensing/use of my work contact catherineyunis@gmail.com

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Gallery opening tonight

Tonight was the opening for the gallery my friend Tara generously split with me, and where my outfits will be living for the next month. The gallery is called Wiesner Art Gallery and is located on the 2nd floor of the Student Center here at MIT. Here are some pictures from the tonight.

Thank you Tara for splitting the space with me!

Depression suit.

Autism dress.

Synesthesia suit.

Neuron shirt.

All together now!

I'm so glad I was able to do this project. Thanks to the Eloranta Fellowship for the opportunity, for Tara for sharing her space, and to everyone who has been following this blog :).

Neuron shirts, making of

The past two weeks have been a bit hectic which is why I wasn't able to post before. However I am finally able to present you with... the neuron shirt!

I've already gotten about 10904890128 requests for copies to be made, and am looking into mass production (possibly Kickstarter... unless anyone can send me recommendations :D). This shirt was made more for aesthetic/fun purposes, although it does still have an educational element. The shirt has a pyramidal neuron silk-screened onto it, with SparkFun electronics sewn on. When a strong light is present the IR detector at the cuff reads the light 'signal' and LEDs light up sequentially on the sleeve until the 'signal' reaches the cell body. This is a pretty example of how signals are transmitted as electrical current through cells, initiated by some outside input (in this case the strong light detected by the IR detector). Once signals reach the cell body, depending on the type of neuron and the type of signal, the cell may send a signal out of the cell as a current through the axon.

Now how to make your very own neuron shirt! (I promise this one could actually be a DIY project, if you were interested).

To begin with, I got a lot of silkscreening supplies and went shirt shopping for some nice button-ups to use. To get the print you want to silkscreen, you need to make a positive, or basically a cutout of the image you want to use. I printed a basic pyramidal neuron I edited from an online image at Kinko's, and then spent some time making the lines nice and thick so that I'd have a good positive.

Coloring is fun. Especially when it's the color black.

I then cut out this image and split it into three sections so it would fit on my screen.

From here I applied the first coat of photo emulsion to the screen with a squeegee. The photo emulsion is a light sensitive chemical, which when exposed to strong light will harden. Therefore I had to let it dry in the dark. When it was done drying, I exposed the screen, which is where the image I want to print is placed on the screen to block light, and I put the screen under a strong light to 'paint' the image on the screen with light.

The result is that when I wash the screen, the parts exposed to the light remain hardened and water tight, while the part covered by my positive washes clean, and is ready to use for screen printing!


Ready to print!

After this I was ready to print on my shirts. I ran two test prints and then printed the button-ups.

First one down. 

Two for two!

Fitting the cardboard so the paint won't leak through to the other side of the shirt when I print.

Cutting off the buttons on the shirt so the print goes on cleanly.

Printing the button-up!

Pretty goooooood.

The paint needs to be set with ironing for about 5 minutes, and then the shirt is fine to wash. To print the other parts of the shirt, I applied an emulsion remover to the screen, scrubbed off the print, and then repeated the process from the beginning with my other two positives. I ironed the shirts once I was done and they had dried.

Drying the screen before adding the second emulsion.

Drying the screen after washing the positives clear.

Taping the edges to avoid paint getting through cracks.

Taping off the part I don't want to print.

Printing in process.

I had to wash the screen after every print, to avoid the ink staining or clogging the screen.

Ironing the finished prints :).

Once the prints were done, I still needed to sew on the blinky blinky fun bits. This consisted of the Protosnap LilyPad Simple from SparkFun, as well as some white LED's and an IR detector from the site. I used the 30' conductive thread spools they have to sew the circuit of LED's and IR detector such that the IR detector was at the cuff, where it would detect any strong light and cause a 'signal' to be sent through the LED's up the sleeve to the cell body. Sadly, I am still waiting on the USD cable for my Arduino to connect to my computer so I can upload the code. However, the code is fairly simple and can be easily modified once it's uploaded.

Circuits sewn on the shirt.

Details of the cell body/arduino on the shirt. 

Details of the IR detector on the cuff, along with a resistor for the detector.

The battery cable for the arduino fits through the closest buttonhole on the front, and the battery has a little pocket I sewed into the button lining, so that it rests right on the chest to power the circuit. The best part of the shirt is that it's washable! The battery just needs to be removed first. Hopefully this prototype will be the model for a much larger amount of shirts if I mass produce them.

For more information about screen printing, here are some websites I used:

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Learning about Autism

This is a separate post from my ‘Autism Dress, making of’ post because otherwise the posts would be too long. I have a lot to write because I learned a lot this summer. When I started out, I knew very little about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). I had read several articles in the spring that described ASD as a disorder caused by broad tuning in the brain where neurons fire for a broader array of stimuli. An easy metaphor for broad tuning is when someone might read the letter b and d as the same letter (I have no idea if this is what occurs with dyslexia, to be clear). What’s interesting is that previously, people had believed the opposite - that those with ASD were people whose neurons didn’t fire as often as someone without the disorder. This meant the perception did a 180 - from thinking of someone with ASD as a ‘slow’ thinker, to thinking of them as someone overwhelmed by stimuli most people would find unremarkable. 

ASD is a disorder that is hard to classify, since once you know one person with autism, you know only one person with autism. This ruled out representing autism by any one complete instance; I would need to find more general characteristics of the disorder to portray in my dress. To do so, I tried to develop a better understanding of the disorder by reading personal narratives by Temple Grandin, Donna Williams, and parents of autistic children. I also tried contacting people in the area and looking for people who worked with people who have ASD. I got lucky and was able to meet with Cathy Gott, the mother of a man named Danny Gott who has autism. They were nice enough to allow me to meet with them, and talk about my ideas for the dress. By this time, I had come to the conclusion that the best way to represent the disorder would be to stick to the sensory impressions, the overstimulation, and as I would later learn, understimulation that those with ASD live with. 

From there I was connected with people at Autism Speaks (http://www.autismspeaks.org/), at various occupational therapy clinics, at ACEing Autism (http://www.aceingautism.com/), at Foothill Autism Alliance (http://www.foothillautism.org/), at Exceptional Minds Studio (http://www.exceptionalmindsstudio.org/), at Center for Developing Kids (http://www.centerfordevelopingkids.com/home.html) and at Danny’s Farm (named after Danny Gott himself - http://dannysfarm.org/). All of the people who work with those who have ASD for a living gave me a much broader perspective of the disorder than I would have gained just reading books or articles on my own. From these talks and my own research, I think that the best thing I could say about the disorder actually comes from other people’s mouths. Here are some notes from the Q&A’s I did:

Danny Gott - edited from memory*
-Sensorily, what is it like to have ASD?
I’m usually one-sided - so my right side is dominant, stronger, with better vision and hearing. Rough material like linen, wool (itchy sweaters) and sometimes buttons, zippers and tags in shirts used to be bothersome when I was little, but I’ve grown out of it. I have a harder time temperature regulating, and in general with body awareness. I can hear from several rooms over (it’s hard for anyone to keep a secret from me - especially 500 feet away), and I can smell from very far away. It’s not hard for me to filter sounds though, I can still talk if there’s ten people in hearing range. Any more and it becomes hard to hold a conversation. Fireworks used to be scary, but not anymore. Offensive words bother me, like curse words, and loud instruments are a sensory overload. 
-What are some things that bother you?
I have anxiety about lots of things: graduation, big crowds, lightning, sudden blackouts, sharp objects (because they’re dangerous), loud horns, the dark. I try to hide my anxiety a lot because I don’t want to upset other people. Loud noises hurt like bee stings for me, and lightning storms are like a swarm of bees. I also don’t like when I’m not in the loop, when people talk as if I’m not there, and I feel ignored or unaddressed. 
-What are some things you like?
Ok good things: video games, talking, writing stories, acting, animals (dogs), garnet (the color), and Italian food (pasta). 

Cathy Gott
-What do you think are the most unrelatable parts of ASD? What aspects of working with kids who have ASD are more difficult than working with kids who don't have ASD?
Most unrelatable: Difficulty reading social cues, easily over-stimulated, difficulty expressing wants and needs.
-Are there any aspects of the disorder that you wouldn't have understood except by knowing someone who has ASD?
How sensitive they are, how much they do understand but just can't communicate it.
-What do you think is the most important thing to do for someone who has ASD?
To have loving, patient people around them who support and accept them.
-And just a personal question, because I've read various opinions about it - do you think that it is better for someone with ASD to change their behavior to adapt to society, or do you think that maybe society can learn how to adapt its attitude to those with ASD?
Great question - it's a balancing act. There are certain behaviors that need to be taught in order for them to function, but not being ashamed of who they are is very key - allowing them to express themselves & finding the beauty and joy that they bring to our world is so important - but I do think that they need to understand boundaries and rules so that they can be the very best they can be.

Harvey Rubin (from ACEing Autism) - edited from memory*
-Do you think that ASD is truly a disorder, in that it impairs those who have it?
Oh yes, the biggest problem with autism is the lack of human connectivity - be it eye contact, inability to converse, to be touched, etc. 
-In working with so many kids over the years, how would you say autism affects someone?
Hard to say because it affects each individual differently, but the underlying personality is always intact. So autism shapes itself around the personality.

Dr. Estie Hess - edited from memory*
-Would you say that those with autism are sensorily hypersensitive? What would you say are some typical behaviors in autism (particularly clothes-wise)? 
Well no, because there are kids who are hypersensitive sometimes, but hyposensitive in other situations. Lots of repetition in kids, they like to wear clothing in layers.
-What are the most unrelatable parts of ASD?
For someone with ASD the specifics of what feels good or bad cannot easily be named, and so becomes a way of life. Also those with ASD can be both hypo- and hypersensitive.
-What are some things that may be sensorily uncomfortable for someone with autism?
If clothes are too tight (like with latex) or too loose (like with cotton). Visual stimulation and excessive coloration as well as auditory stimulation like very loud bells are not good. 

Max (from Dannys Farm) - edited from memory*
-What are some things in clothes that are bothersome for someone with ASD?
Broken zippers and useless pockets are bothersome - basically items that should have a function but don’t. Or if there’s a size mismatch to the function - for instance a small pocket for a big object. Shoes that are too tight are annoying, but in some cases pressure can be good. For example, bumpy seats are much better than smooth seats because the lack of sensory input makes kids with ASD restless. One solution is to give the kid a bumpy ball that they can hold and touch, or to provide them with an exercise band for them to kick. Kids don’t like feeling still, they need movement. 

Yudi Bennett (from Exceptional Minds Studio) - edited from memory*
-What do you think are the most unrelatable parts of ASD? What aspects of working with adults who have ASD are difficult?
Adults who have autism often have this rigidity that you have to work around. They have particular patterns that they don’t really change.
-What is the difference between kids and adults with ASD?
Of course the disorder affects each individual differently, but one difference that I have seen from my son is that he became much more flexible as he got older. He used to only eat three different foods that we would rotate, but now he eats more different foods than I do. Also there is less tolerance of transitions as a kid, especially with new subjects or ideas.
-Do the adults you work with ever show signs of being sensorily overwhelmed?
Yes, even as they get older it affects them (most kids seem to grow out of the worst of their sensory difficulties). For instance, my son went out with some friends of his to see a movie, and one of them who is 20 years old had to leave in the middle of the movie because the noise was too much. In our classes some of the kids have to take breaks from the noise - a lot of them wear headphones when they work.
-What do you think is the most important thing to do for someone who has ASD?
We try to look at someone’s strengths - to see their abilities, not their disabilities. There are kids who can’t hold a conversation very well but are brilliant artists. The phrase don’t judge a book by its cover is really true here.
-And just a personal question, because I've read various opinions about it - do you think that it is better for someone with ASD to change their behavior to adapt to society, or do you think that maybe society can learn how to adapt its attitude to those with ASD?
Its a little of both. We teach work readiness classes because there is a society expectation of a certain type of behavior to be accepted in the workplace. Although our kids are honest, you can’t just tell your boss that you don’t like his haircut. So we try to help them adapt to societal norms. However society needs to be more enlightened about disabilities, the same way that we try to be about cultural and racial differences.
The students at Exceptional Minds are hugely successful in their pursuits in the VFX industry, working on movies such as American Hustle and Dawn of the Planet of the Apeshttp://www.exceptionalmindsstudio.org/Web_Assets/pdf/press_release_feb_25.pdf

Sue Trautman (from Center for Developing Kids)
-What do you think are the most unrelatable parts of ASD? 
People assume because someone can’t speak they can’t understand. It is hard for someone with ASD to convey this, and it is hard for someone without ASD to understand. Often people don’t realize that relationships can be strong without words. 
-Are there any aspects of the disorder that you wouldn't have understood except by knowing someone who has ASD?
What I’ve mentioned above holds true, and also people often assume that because someone is autistic, or different they must be unhappy. The kids are fine usually happy, it seems like 80-90% are generally happy, and often it’s the parents who are worried and scared. Many of the kids don’t really consider themselves that different.
-Do the kids you work with ever show signs of being sensorily overwhelmed?
Oh yes, all the time. There is an insatiable need for movement in many of the kids I see, and the need for lots of input to the muscles and joints. So those are underesponsive systems. The overresponsive systems are usually the auditory and olfactory, and sometimes tactile. All of the kids may have fluctuating responses though. The kids usually have an amazing visual sense - they can do puzzles in a minute, or have great visual memory, and I think this also helps them more broadly to have a great memory as well.
-What are the hardest parts of the sensory difficulties?
It looks like the hardest sensory experience to live with for many is sound, because its so overwhelming. Smell and taste are also difficult too, because we all have to eat, taste and smell and these senses are primal and protective and linked. Touch can be difficult in the same way.
-What do you think is the most important thing to do for someone who has ASD?
Assume they understand you, talk to them as such, and treat them with dignity. There is no loss to doing otherwise, even if they don’t understand. We should respect their differences and desires, if they can or can’t communicate or if they have a desire to move, and not freak out. If you treat someone with respect in that way, then you can form a relationship - and for me, that’s what’s most important. So respecting their needs is key for relationships.
-And just a personal question, because I've read various opinions about it - do you think that it is better for someone with ASD to change their behavior to adapt to society, or do you think that maybe society can learn how to adapt its attitude to those with ASD?
A little of both, but I would say its more necessary for someone with ASD to adapt, only because of the misunderstandings that are out there. But awareness of autism has skyrocketed, so society is naturally changing. If I had a grandchild with autism they would be in such better shape acceptance wise than they would have been 10 years ago. Helping children adapt or adapting the environment is my job as an occupational therapist; to help kids participate in their daily occupation comfortably, mostly related to school and family activities.

*Remember that these are notes that are run through my faulty memory filter, and they may be inaccurate. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Synesthesia Suit, making of

This suit is one that I wanted to make to represent the neurological phenomenon of synesthesia, or a mixing of the senses. 


Common forms of this include seeing letters and numbers in color (color-grapheme), seeing numbers or days of the week taking up allotted physical space, or hearing colored shapes/geometric figures. No two forms of synesthesia are exactly alike, and it seems that almost any combination of the senses could occur. This sounds very exotic, but many with synesthesia do not realize - sometimes for their whole life - that they can see/taste/hear/feel things differently than anyone else. The neuroscience behind it is a little complicated, but research has pointed to the limbic system being involved (the limbic system is also the seat of emotions, behavior, motivation, long-term memory, olfaction and often unconscious brain processes). If you’d like to read more about the subject, a good, non-scientific read is The Man Who Tasted Shapes by Richard Cytowic. Another interesting text is The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book About A Vast Memory by A. R. Luria. Although this text is better known for its documentation of the subject's seemingly endless memory, the subject also had very, very complete synesthesia. If you prefer videos, this TED talk by Daniel Tammet also covers some details of living with synesthesia: https://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_tammet_different_ways_of_knowing

After reading The Man Who Tasted Shapes I was intrigued by a case listed in the book of body posture synesthesia - a very rare case where a boy would have a specific body posture for each word. This combined with documented cases of dancers and others with kinesthetic synesthesia (usually some motion to some sort of visual effect) inspired me to make a body suit that represented synesthesia. 

One synesthesia bodysuit.

The body suit is nude, so that more attention is called to the decorations. I wanted to use only primary colors, because synesthetes often see in very basic colors, or only in a certain range (red to white, or yellow to blue for example). 

Detail of red fuzzy spots on my leg.

I also wanted a variety of textures to show the wide range that can be felt (the man who tasted shapes, in Cytowic’s book, could detect pointy, earthy, smooth (like glass), among other very specific, detailed sensations). I stuck to basic shapes and geometric figures in the suit (lines, circles, rings, lighting bolts) because visual stimuli are often limited to such simple figures. 

Lightning armpit!

Lastly, I added the blue sleeve because I wanted fabric that would change shape as the body moved, thus connecting body motions to the silhouette of the bodysuit. 

I don't really have a good picture of this - I might upload one later.

Looking at the bodysuit, I’m not quite sure if someone who has synesthesia would ever see the body like this. But as a visual/physical representation of the phenomenon, I don’t think it is too far off target. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Autism Dress, making of (UPDATED - 8/29/14)

Based on talks with people who have autism, parents of kids with autism, therapists, and by reading various books by people with autism and their relatives, I've developed a decent idea of how I wanted to represent Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in dress form. (For more details on these talks and how I came to my dress design see here: http://neuralfashion.blogspot.com.es/2014/08/learning-about-autism.html). I chose to represent two contrasting aspects of the disorder, with a dress whose top half is overstimulating, and whose bottom half is understimulating for the senses.

Finished product!

Roughly, the current scientific theory is that autism is caused by broad-tuning of neurons in the brain. This means that neurons are firing for a wider range of stimuli than normal - one comparison would be someone having a hard time distinguishing between a b and a d on paper.


This could be due to an oversensitivity to inputs in the brain, which manifests itself as hyper-sensitivity of the senses. So normal lights may seem piercing, mildly annoying wool becomes too scratchy to wear, and high pitched noises seem to burrow to the depths of the brain, instead of being easy to ignore.

To represent the overstimulation in my dress I had a couple different approaches. In the bodice of the dress I chose to use fabrics that look 'dizzying' and a liner that is made of scratchy sequins. I also installed an obnoxiously large and uncomfortable tag in the back, since tags can be particularly annoying to autistic kids.

Pinning the two layers to check for size.

That's me!

Cowbells are attached to the bottom half of the dress to generate an obnoxious amount of noise when the wearer moves.

However, for the rest of the bottom half I tried to convey the understimulation that occurs. Sometimes when sitting on smooth surfaces, or trying to stay still for long amounts of time, kids with ASD will have a hard time focusing due to how little stimulation they are receiving tactilely or otherwise. One trick to help stay focused is to hold a bumpy ball, which provides enough tactile stimulation to avoid feeling restless. Thus the bottom of the dress is smooth, undecorated and loose, to mimic this lack of stimulation.

I have a series of buttons up the back that are shiny, but nonfunctional, as well as a string around the waist that is solely decorative. This is because a volunteer who works at Danny's Farm mentioned to me that excessive attachments that have no function on clothes (pockets that are the wrong size for their function, broken zippers, etc.) are particularly annoying for many of those with ASD.

Useless buttons.

Useless string.

I also added details like optical illusion buttons and a shoulder patch on one side. This is to both add to the overstimulating look of the top, as well as represent how in ASD one side of the body can be dominant (better hearing, stronger, faster, better hand grip, etc). The skirt is asymmetric for this reason as well.

Asymmetric sleeves.

 Choosing optical illusion buttons to mess with your eyes.

Sewing this dress required a lot of planning in advance to figure out how I could include all the details I wanted but still have a dress that looked like, well, a dress. Once I finished planning, I started with an old pattern I had for a corset bodice, and cut out the front halves and sewed those together.

The shoulder was made by draping on my body form.

I also cut out the sequins panels and sewed those sequins side in, so that the liner was uncomfortable as could be (I actually had to wear an undershirt when I was testing the dress because taking it on and off was scratching me too much).

I measured, cut, ironed and sewed the bodice, and then got to work on the skirt.

This was pretty simple, I just took measurements for my hip to knee length and my hip to floor length and cut the skirt to fit. I had to shorten it a bit so I wouldn't have to bunch it to fit the circumference of the bodice.

After I sewed the skirt I cut a slit in the back and ran through about 30012938 different tests of zipper location on the back. After about 5 modifications The zipper was sewn on.

From there I just quickly added the string around the waist, the buttons and pins to front left side, and the cowbells to the bottom (with an extra panel of fabric so that the skirt won't rip under all the weight). Wa-la! One autism dress, made to order.

I haven't yet tested the dress on anyone but I plan on doing that sometime next week, if I can find someone my body size. Although it took a long time, I'm glad I went through the trouble of planning this dress, so that putting it together was relatively easy.