A Factory on Bicycle Wheels
by / December 30, 2012

(Mexico City) – The sound of a surprising opportunity rose above the tumult of traffic. “Factory for electronic textiles offering work,” came the message, shouted from a megaphone that sat in the basket of a white bicycle pedaled by Amor Muñoz, an artist in a black jumpsuit. “One hundred pesos an hour!” Even on the streets of this busy capital, where sales pitches flow from speakers attached to anything with wheels, the offer stood out. Work? For about $7.50 an hour, a little above the American minimum wage? The rush was on. By the time Ms. Muñoz parked in her usual spot outside a hospital in one of Mexico City’s peripheral neighborhoods, a line had already formed. Women of all ages squeezed together — one held a baby, another was nearly too old to walk — as Ms. Muñoz opened up a white wooden box revealing thread, needles, cloth, timecards and employment contracts. The work involved creating interactive art pieces that combine the old craft of sewing with 20th-century electronics and 21st-century tags allowing smartphone users to look up who worked on a given piece. “It’s about community,” Ms. Muñoz said. “I’m interested in sharing the experience of art.”

Her maquiladora, or factory, she said, is a “fantasy” meant to condemn the harsh reality of a global economy that uses and discards poor workers, especially women, to keep prices low. In Mexico these days the project amounts to artistic subversion. At a time when the country’s new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, is trying to recast Mexico as an economic marvel, with growth rates surpassing Brazil, Ms. Muñoz’s factory is a countervailing force — a mobile reality check highlighting Mexico’s darker economic truths. Take wages. The minimum wage in Mexico is about 60 cents an hour, and while the average pay in manufacturing has grown over the past decade, it is still only about $3.50 an hour, according to government statistics. Even according to higher estimates by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, Mexico’s hourly compensation costs are still only two-thirds of those found in Brazil, where the benefits of economic growth have helped a larger share of workers rise from poverty. Economists recognize the problem. “We need to increase wages to become a true modern country,” said Luis de la Calle, a former Mexican government official who helped negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. But as Mexico tries to improve its image and gloss over its violent drug war, government officials have mostly described Mexico’s low wages in positive terms, as a way to compete with China. The market, it is generally assumed, will eventually drive up wages. Ms. Muñoz is unwilling to wait. She described Mexican wages as an insult to human dignity, and every time her mobile factory appears, the power of work for reasonable pay goes on display. The crowds that gather are typically large. Sometimes people push and shove for two hours of work and $15, though once the day’s employees are selected (first come first hired), a calm tends to follow. Earlier this month, the team included nearly a dozen women and one young man, all that Ms. Muñoz could afford. Many, like Sara Peregrino, 50, were homemakers with sewing experience. Others, like David Quiróz, 18, a taxi dispatcher, struggled to thread a needle without drawing blood.

In Mexico, the average pay in manufacturing is $3.50 an hour, according to government statistics. {photo Ginnette Riquelme}

Nearly everyone said the money they earned would go to one of two things — food or Christmas presents. “For women, it’s very hard to find a good job,” said Patricia Zamora, 33, a mother of two who arrived with Ms. Peregrino, one of her neighbors. “There is a lot of work for not much pay.” Many of the women seemed to appreciate a chance to be involved in an art project. María González, 75, smiled widely when handed a needle and adjusted her purple scarf, excited to be creating something rather than worrying about her husband in the hospital. “This,” she said, sewing without looking down, “is a wonderful distraction.” Ms. Muñoz seemed to agree. She stood nearby, waiting for her favorite time of day — when she paid the workers and took their photographs, which she would post online, linked to the artwork. It is an effort to make the workers more visible, she said, but also hints at her working-class past. She grew up playing among the hammers and nails of the hardware store her parents owned in a marginal neighborhood like the one with her factory. She said she always appreciated manual labor and never felt comfortable in an office, even after receiving a law degree. Textiles had once been a hobby — she used to collect huipiles, the traditional woven tunics of Mexico and Central America — but when she decided to become an artist in 2006, she returned to cloth and sewing. Her work now involves a mixture of textiles and technology. Many of her pieces involve sewn images with circuits that let users push buttons for sounds or displays of light. Completed works from the mobile maquiladora project, for example, will create the whine of an ambulance siren. Like many other young artists in the capital, she is trying to push Mexico forward by combining older traditions with the interactivity of social media and open-source software development. She dreams of finding financing for more mobile factories, and her lack of faith in government and industry is matched only by the optimism she expresses when discussing the power of networked youth. “With technology, everything can be democratized,” she said. “It’s fabulous.” Still, the human interactions are what she values most, so when Ms. Peregrino suddenly appeared and presented her with a pink plastic bag after being paid, Ms. Muñoz was visibly touched. The two women hugged as Ms. Muñoz put the gift in into the bicycle basket with the megaphone. Only later did she look inside, finding a hand-sewn purple scarf that must have taken days to complete.

¿Cómo funciona la energía solar fotovoltaica?
“Se basa en el denominado efecto fotovoltaico. Consiste en que la energía contenida en las partículas de luz -fotones-, es transmitida a los átomos del silicio. Los electrones libres de estos átomos reciben esta energía, que los pone en movimiento; a este movimiento de los electrones le denominamos electricidad. Lógicamente, la instalación fotovoltaica es diferente dependiendo de si vamos a utilizar la electricidad para consumirla en el lugar o vamos a transportarla para ser consumida en otra localización geográfica. Cuando se consume en el mismo lugar donde se produce, se inyecta en unas baterías, para poder reutilizar la electricidad cuando la demanda lo requiera. Si, por el contrario, pretendemos vender esa electricidad, necesitamos una conexión a red potente en las cercanías para poder volcarla a la red.”

Once a piece is finished, the worker embroiders on it a unique BiDi code (similar to a QR Code). As the BiDi is decoded, typically by a consumer with a smart phone, a web page appears which renders visibility to the process of production: Name of the worker, location, date and duration of the work session, salary received, schematic and a “self-representation” section where the worker can optionally add information on him or herself, stories, dedications, donations, videos or anything else.


The Creators Project: Sewable Circuit Boards Create Jobs In Mexico
by Johnny Magdaleno  / Jun 10 2014

In Mexico, where the minimum wage averages less than $5 a day, being visited by Amor Muñoz and her giant white bike-trailer is like winning a small lottery. Rolling into the working class barrios in places like Mexico City and Campeche, Muñoz flips its panels and doors, opens up a shelved work station, and hires members of the crowd at an undeniable hourly rate. By the end of the day, once the commissioned work has been done, she packs it all up and moves onto the next destination. As ephemeral as it seems, it’s actually part of a long-term project called Maquila Region 4 (MA4), which Muñoz started in 2012. Inspired by the operations of Mexican-American border town factories, known as maquilas, this “performative intervention” gives residents in marginalized areas of Mexican cities the chance to work for $7.50 an hour. The work involved is an extension of Muñoz’s ongoing fascination with blending electronic and artisanal technologies. If you’re lucky enough to get contracted by a visiting MA4 unit (you literally have to sign a contract), you’re then assigned to a unique project: sewing conductive thread into cloth, to create fully functioning, textile-based circuit panels.

The socioeconomic disparities probed by this project makes it one of the nascent decade’s finest examples of art-for-social change. And it’s only one in a line of Muñoz’s experiments that aim to shatter the class-oriented divide between traditional Mexican crafts like embroidering and sewing, and costly electronic technologies. How functional can an electronic textile actually be? Pretty functional, it turns out. Take a look at Esquemáticos (2011), one of Muñoz’s projects that prefaced MA4. It’s a series of 5 different sound-generating electronic textiles, each of which were hand sewn based off Munoz’s schematic drawings (hence the name).

One piece, for example, emits the sound of a siren and radiates with patches of color when you take a drink of alcohol and blow into its attached breathalyzer. Another oscillates a high-pitched radio frequency while you draw on a piece of paper that’s rigged up to its circuits. See both, along with another three cloth devices, in the video below:

It’s worth keeping updated with Muñoz over at her website. There, she’s already been posting snippets of information about her next project. The details aren’t fully out yet, but it’s looking like it’ll continue along the same path as the projects mentioned above. Photovoltaic panels appear sewn into fabrics, essentially creating super portable generators. If you’ve got sunlight and access to lighting infrastructure— yet can’t afford monthly electricity bills (or are simply in a village that’s off the grid)— this could present a means to self-sustainability. It’s called Yuca-Tech, and it has its own blog here. If it’s as effective in its power generation as it is at being socially aware, it’s just another contribution Muñoz has made to bringing modern world to those without access to it.


Electrical problems are problems with either the design or construction of your electrical circuits. These are physical problems that you’ll need to fix by hand with scissors, a needle, thread, fabric, and glue. The next several pages provide examples of common electrical problems, information about how to find them, and step-by-step instructions for fixing them.

• loose connections
• short circuits
• reversed polarity

Loose connections occur when the thread that is stitched through a component (like an LED, speaker, LilyTiny, or Protoboard) is too loose. If the thread is too loose, there will not be a consistent electrical connection between the thread and the component. To carry electricity through the circuit, the thread must be tightly pressed up against the silver holes in the component. Loose connections can be caused by loose stitching or unravelling knots. If a knot is not secured with glue, it can come undone, loosening the connections near it.

If there is a loose connection in your project, parts of your project will only work some of the time. For example, if there is a loose connection between your LED and your battery board in the bookmark project, your LED may flicker on and off or only work some of the time.

checking your project for loose connections
Gently bend and stretch your project. If this causes your LED to turn on and off, it is likely that you have a loose connection. To find loose connections, look carefully at the connections between your thread and your components. Make sure each connection is snug and tight. If you find a loose thread around any tab, or an unravelling knot, you’ll need to fix it.

To fix loose connections, thread your needle with conductive thread. From the back or underside of the fabric, push your needle up through the tab with the loose connection. Loop through the tab a few times. Make sure your thread is touching the original stitches you sewed in several places. Push the needle to the back or underside of the fabric. Tie a snug knot, making sure that the new thread is pulled tightly against the tab and the old stitching.


If you have a knot that is unravelling, find the end of the thread and pull on it to re-tighten connections. Cut out a small piece of fabric and glue it down over the unravelling thread. You will also need to resew stitches that have come undone. Make sure that your new thread touches the existing thread in several places to make a solid electrical connection.<


Short circuits or “shorts” happen when two threads that should not touch one another come into contact. Power (+) and ground (-) traces in a circuit should never touch one another. More generally, traces connected to different tabs on a Protoboard, LilyTiny, or other component should never touch one another. It is OK for traces connected to the same tab to touch each other. For instance, all of the threads attached to the ground (-) tab can touch each other, but thread attached to tab 9 should never touch thread attached to the ground (-) tab.

Causes of shorts include: long knot tails that brush up against each other, stitches from two different tabs that cross each other, stitching that continues from the (+) tab of a component to the (-) tab of the same component (That is, you forgot to stop and tie a knot after stitching through one of its tabs.), and loose thread around a tab that brushes against a neighboring tab. Each of these problems is covered in more detail later in this section.

If there is a short circuit in your project, parts of your project either will not work or will only work some of the time. For example, if you have sewn across your LED in the bookmark or monster project, forgetting to stop your stitching after the (+) or (-) tab, your LED will not work. If you left long knot tails dangling behind your speaker in the monster project, the speaker will stop working whenever the tails brush up against one another. This will result in a speaker that works some of the time but not others.

checking your project for short circuits
To find shorts, follow each trace in your project looking for the problems described in this section. Check all of your knot tails to make sure that they can’t touch other traces, make sure that none of your traces cross or touch other traces, make sure that you have not sewn across any of your components, and, make sure that there are no loose threads that may touch other traces or tabs.

Loose thread touching another pin or trace: From the back of your fabric (if possible), pull on the loose thread until it is gathered in one spot. Cut out a small piece of fabric and glue it down over the extra thread, making sure that the extra thread is not touching any neighboring traces or tabs.


Stitching across a component: If you have accidentally sewn the (+) side of a component to the (-) side of a component, you will need to cut the thread that is connecting the two tabs. You will be left with two very short threads. Tug on each thread tightly, move it away from the other thread, and glue it down with a small piece of fabric.


Knot tails touching: To eliminate long knot tails, trim them down to 1/4” (6mm) or shorter. Seal them with glue so that they do not come unravelled. Make sure that the tails cannot brush up against any neighboring traces. You can also glue a small piece of fabric down over your knot tails to keep them from unravelling and touching other traces.


Overlapping stitches: If there is an area in your project where two traces cross each other and come into contact, separate the two traces with a small piece of fabric. Slide the piece of fabric underneath one set of stitches and on top of the other to keep them apart. Glue the fabric in between the two threads so that they cannot touch one another.


When you stitch the (+) side of a component to the (-) side of a battery (or the (-) tab of your Protoboard), and the (-) side of a component to the (+) side of a battery (or one of the numbered tabs on your Protoboard), you have connected it backwards and it will not work. Electricity will only flow through most components in one direction—from the (+) to the (-) side of a component. Examples of reversed polarity are described below.

If one of your components is sewn in backwards, it will not work at all. For instance, if you’ve sewn your LED on backwards in the bookmark project it will not turn on.

checking your project for reversed polarity
To find instances of reversed polarity, look carefully at each component in your project. Make sure that each component’s (-) tab is stitched to a matching (-) tab on the battery holder, LilyTiny, or Protoboard. Similarly, make sure that each component’s (+) tab is sewn where it should be—to the (+) tab on a battery holder or one of the numbered tabs on the LilyTiny or Protoboard.

Unfortunately there’s no easy way to fix instances of reversed polarity. To correct this problem you need to remove the component and reattach it in the correct orientation. You’ll need to cut your stitches to remove the component. Once you’ve removed the component, glue it back on in the correct orientation. Make sure you get it right this time!


Thread your needle with conductive thread. Begin with the (-) trace. On the back or underside of the fabric (if possible), tie your new thread to the old stitching on the (-) trace. Sew toward the reattached component. Make sure your new thread is touching the original stitches in several places. Stitch through the (-) tab of the component several times. Tie a knot on the underside of your fabric, trim its tails, and seal it with a dab of glue. Repeat the same process for the (+) tab of your component.


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