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Crafty mind makes technology simple

WITH carefully-styled blond hair, expertly-applied makeup and fashionable blue dress, nothing about Alison Lewis even hints at the word "nerd" at a Manhattan party for her first book.

But ask her about circuits or light-emitting diodes and you'll see that she is equally familiar with switches and soldering irons as she is with swatches and seams.

Her book, "Switch Craft: Battery-Powered Crafts to Make and Sew," brims with instructions for projects that combine technology with clothing and accessories. For instance, there's a music-blaring bag, a pillow with a cell phone headset, an illuminated skirt and wriggling squids for cats to play with.

Lewis, 34 and living in Philadelphia, wants to communicate that technology doesn't need to be complicated or unfriendly. In fact, it can be approachable and stylish enough to tote or wear.

This idea of adorning clothing with wires and LED lights might sound incongruous. But electronics have seeped deeply into our lives.

You might care as much about remembering your cell phone and MP3 player as your wallet and keys when you leave the house. And if you're already toting these gadgets with you, why not integrate their functions with a hat or bag?

Lewis' work also speaks to the popularity of crafting the hand-fashioning of everything from zombie dolls to do-it-yourself electronics.

Both have swelled over the past few years, helped by publications like O'Reilly Media's Make and Craft magazines and Websites like handmade marketplace and online crafting community Craftster.

Besides Lewis' book, which is the culmination of more than two years' work with artist and designer Fang-Yu Lin, she hosts a Web video show called "Switch" that integrates fashion and technology. And she has co-taught a fashion technology class at Parsons The New School for Design in New York.

But "Switch Craft" could bring her widest audience thus far, buoyed by a mini-flurry of similar fare released in the past year. This includes the book "Fashioning Technology: A DIY Intro to Smart Crafting" by designer and friend Syuzi Pakhchyan, and a book that explores the intersection of clothing and technology by Lewis' co-teacher at Parsons, Sabine Seymour.

"This is going to change the way people craft," Lewis says.

Lewis sought to make "Switch Craft" more approachable than other books. Nothing in it requires any computer programing, and several projects can be made with a modicum of craftiness and minimal tech know-how. Some, like a hat with a pouch for an iPod Shuffle, require no tech skills at all.

Pakhchyan, a media designer who lives in Los Angeles, thinks that making technology accessible to a general audience is Lewis' strength.

"She's basically giving people the first step and opening their mind to it," Pakhchyan says.

With the help of a sewing machine, I tried making one of Lewis' simpler projects: A foil-lined cover intended to protect your passport's radio frequency identification chip from nearby snoops who might be scanning for personal data.

After a few hours and some ripped-out seams, I had a pretty cute red-and-white patterned cover. I'm not sure how well it will protect a passport, though I tested it by slipping an RFID-laden key card inside and was still able to open doors around the office.

But even if that project ends up being more paranoia chic than protective, it felt good to make something that appealed to both the nerdy and crafty sides of my brain. I'm less intimidated now by the idea of a light-up skirt.


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