8

I have been collecting used keyboards for a while. Mostly to get the plastic circuit map underneath for making wallets and what not. Recently I ran into this picture of a suit made of keyboard keys:

Keyboard key suit

Image from TomsGuide.com

My problem is I can't figure out how the keys are attached to the suit. Most keyboard keys don't lend themselves well to be attached to anything other than the keyboard itself (obviously). If you look at the bottom of most keys there is not much surface area to work with.

Under a keyboard key

Image from techgage.com

So it's not like I can sew this.

What can I do to attach keyboard keys to clothing. In particular a suit jacket like the one pictured above.

  • Please note that I do consider this "crafting". I am testing the waters of what questions we think are acceptable for this site. specifically in the upcycle category. If this is to be closed by the community then so be it. I would like good reason though beside "its not arts and crafting" – Matt May 4 '16 at 3:01
  • I just realized... Could you actually just hot glue them? – user24 May 6 '16 at 3:58
  • @CreationEdge Would that actually work? I thought hot glued would eventually peel off for this. – Matt May 6 '16 at 4:04
  • I think hotglue would definitely fail. It doesn't do well with flexing. I do think however you could use super glue (or some other plastic adhesive) to adhere a ring to the back, that could then be used to loop thread through. Similarly, I wonder if a VERY small drill bit could put a hole through the bottom of the stem, then sew through that hole. – BrownRedHawk Jun 11 '16 at 18:55
8

The simplest approach is a hot needle.

Hold a rather thick needle with pincers (pretty much any kind) and heat it up - stove fire will take seconds to make it glowing hot, but a candle flame should suffice. Melt the hole through both sides of the stubs. The needle should be considerably thicker than the one you'll use for sewing because the holes close up a bit when you remove the needle.

6

This will be untested, as I've never done such a thing, but I think my theory is sound.

I would take a rotary tool, such as a Dremel, with a fine drill bit. Then I'd drill two holes at a shallow angle on opposite sides of the key's center support. Do all four sides if you want to sew them more like 4-hole buttons.

From here, I'd recommend a curved sewing needle, except that they're too fat! So, instead, I'd use some pliers to give a small needle the curve you need to fit through the holes. Then sew away!

A problem you may run into is the assortment of keys you have. The ones you pictured are actually from a mechanical keyboard (in fact, the same exact model that I own), and so they have strong, uniform central posts. Those posts also have hollow centers, because the switch fits into them.

However, most keyboard keys you'll probably have will look more like this underneath:

enter image description here

These are keys from standard membrane keyboards. They have posts of varying widths and shapes, and they aren't always hollow all the way through. Sometimes the post, like in the image above, will stick out beyond the key, which makes drilling easier. If not, it may be a little more difficult to line up the separate drill holes so that there's a clean path the entire way through.

  • I worry that the post would be weak and not withstand the procedure. Definitely worth trying. – Matt May 4 '16 at 13:55
  • @Matt With the second kind of key, which are made cheaply, I can see that. – user24 May 4 '16 at 14:33
5

If you look closely at the images, you'll see the keys seem to float above the surface of the jacket a bit. I don't see an evidence of the keys being sewn directly to the fabric with side-holes, although I agree it is a good approach.

I suggest sewing regular buttons onto the fabric and then gluing the keys to the buttons. Since they are both hard plastic, the glue bond can potentially be very strong, and the sewing is a little more straightforward since you can use familiar (or a least well documented) techniques for buttons.

I believe that sewing from the center helps give the keys their flexible, and random appearance.

Also, this is not the only jacket of its kind. Another artist, Jessica Latorre also created a keyboard jacket (image not inserted because her site specifically asks not to reproduce). The key density seems higher than the Julien David jacket, and the more rigid pattern looks like it could be glued or possible edge-sewn. I'd lean towards glue because it's in the "Prop Design" section of her website.

Image searches show pictures of each suit mixed up and attributed to the wrong artists. Julien David made the jacket with the white lapels, and Jessica Latorre's is all black.

4

Being someone who is always experimenting with new ideas on out-of-the-ordinary crafting / sewing projects such as this awesome one you have chosen, I have some thoughts. In this situation I would think about drilling into the back outside edge of the key button itself, perhaps just two holes, on each on opposite sides of the square. It seems to me that {a} the back edge would be much easier to drill into accurately than trying to get a decent hole in those little inner fins and tubes, and {b} edge holes would be much more accessible for sewing the keys onto a flat surface.

As with most projects, a huge percentage of success is having the right tools. I think in your case, it will be important to have a small clamp-on crafter's vise, such as this one, which is a model available at Etsy, and similarly should be readily available at your local craft store:

enter image description here

To safely drill holes in such small objects:

  1. Mark with a pencil where you want the holes, at least 1/8" from the edge for a 1/16" hole, or 3/16" from the edge for a 1/8" hole.
  2. Place some protective padding such as felt over the vise ends, so as not to scratch your keys.
  3. Wear safety goggles while drilling.
  4. Secure the key in a vise with the desired edge facing up
  5. Using a sharp object such as a nail, awl or center punch, carefully carve a tiny dimple at the mark, to keep the drill bit from wandering as you begin to drill.
  6. Drill using a 1/16" or 1/8" bit.
  7. Use a very small rat-tail file to smooth out burrs and sharp edges. (If you can't find one that small at your local hardware store, try a local beading shop.)

Thread choice will be an important consideration, and in this method would depend on how smoothly the edges of the holes end up to be. If they seem fairly smooth, I would just go with good old quilting thread. Light weight fish line or transparent nylon sewing thread could be a more abrasion-resistant alternative. The advantage of quilting thread of course would be the ability to match the thread color to the background fabric. Fish line being transparent could also be considered an advantage. The choice of thread would somewhat depend on your sewing skills for making the stitches invisible, and how invisible you feel the stitches need to be.

It is possible that sewing the keys to strips of fabric which match the background fabric, then attaching the strips to the garment, could be the most efficient way to apply the keys to the garment. Looking closely at Julien David jacket, most of the keys do appear to be aligned in rows, so this method might have been part of their approach.

I would be so interested to see what you end up finding to be the best method of attachment, and how your project turns out! I am new to StackExchange, so I don't know about such things, but I hope you can post some sort of outcome report with pics? At any rate, it looks like an extremely fun and creative project: happy sewing!

  • For those who are metric like me, 1/16" is 1.6 mm, 1/8" is 3,2 mm, 3/16th is 4.8 mm (or near enough for this). So in metric I would go for 1.5mm, 3 mm, and 4.5 mm, which are near enough. – Willeke Jan 14 '17 at 22:35
  • Already have a vise like that. Now I know what it is called . Thanks – Matt Jan 15 '17 at 3:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.