Best of Systers, Community Voices

Where Design, Art and Technology Meet, Innovation is Endless!

Leslie Birch

Technology innovation is just that, innovation.  It is used to help industries like health field, communications and businesses improve their processes and help their customers more efficiently.  But Leslie Birch, a recent Spring 2013 Pass It On award winner, innovates through technology in art, design and fashion.  Read her thank you note below and don’t forget to watch her personal video to Systers.


I’m a geek.  I do videos for nonprofits by day and I’m a member of two hackerspaces.  I even collect Star Wars toys.  Lately I’ve even been dreaming of being the female equivalent of Ironman.  I believe that is the feminist side of me expressing itself, and it is certainly pertinent to my story.  It was through the Ada Initiative’s alum list that I discovered Systers and their award program.  My dream is to become an artist and teach women tech-art.  I’ve been working with the Lilypad Arduino to make interactive/wearable projects, but I needed an opportunity to push myself and learn more.  So, when I won the award to study with Leah Buechley, the inventor of the Lilypad Arduino, at Shakerag Workshops in Tennessee, you can only imagine how excited I was.

The first few days I had to get over the fact that I was sitting next to the rock star of wearable microcontrollers.  Once that settled, I was busy working with conductive copper tape and surface mount LED’s to make paper circuits.  I even invented a bookmark with copper tape, conductive thread and a battery to power individual pages in a book.  That escalated into working with Leah’s newer Lilypad Microcontroller with a removable snap base.  The base allows you to use one microcontroller for multiple projects – smart, smart, smart!  I ended up bringing an idea to life that I had a few years ago – atouch sensitive spider’s web that makes sounds.  The Arduino was stitched in place with a felt hatch, and spokes of conductive thread emanated outward.  Using a Capacitive Sensing program, I was able to associate a sound with each thread.  I had no idea I would even develop this project at the workshop, and I actually got weepy when giving my presentation. I got a huge round of applause — it was a great moment.


Now it’s time to give back.  I’m a big fan of collaboration, and two projects have already emerged from this workshop.  One is that a few of us are looking into creative ways for women to address cell phone radiation.  This will most likely result in an open source collaborative project.  The other project involves another Philadelphia woman that was attending.  We are scheduled to do a pop-up circuit card class for a “holiday hack” in December at The Hacktory.  Both of these projects will act as a gateway for women into the tech world, so it appears my teaching has begun.

So, what does Ironwoman look like?

“I’m Leslie Birch. I build neat stuff, teach tech, and occasionally save the world.  So why can’t I sleep?”


Systers, thanks for helping me to become a superhero (well, at least amongst women).  And I do sleep at night, well, almost always. J  Check out my latest work and follow me on Twitter @zengirl2.