Turn your Instagram selfie into thread art

BREAKFAST and Forever 21 unveil a massive, one-ton machine that turns your Instagram photos into thread artwork. 

While OLED or LED screens can often be found throughout retail storefronts, Forever 21 has decided to do something a little different by displaying images using motorized belts of multi-colored fabric instead. In order to bring their unique idea to life, the company called upon the creativity of New York City-based design firm BREAKFAST. And with some incredible inthreadable ingenuity and engineering, the collaborators have unveiled what they’re calling the F21 Thread Screen — a one-ton machine that uses 6,400 spools of thread to show Instagram posts.


Needless to say, with over 200,000 parts — that’s eight times more parts than the average car — the project is certainly one of, if not, the most complex installations ever built for a brand as part of a marketing campaign. The F21 Thread Screen itself stands at 11-feet tall and 10-feet wide, and is comprised of thousands of motors and gears driven by 200 AVR MCUs, seven miles of fabric and 600-plus pounds of milled aluminum. More impressively, the entire apparatus was crafted from scratch.

Despite the complexities living under its hood, the result is a beautiful yet simple display that is mesmerizing to watch, and super easy for consumers to partake in. Given Forever 21’s massive following on Instagram (over 7 million fans), it was a no-brainer as to which social network to implement for the most visibility and engagement. How it works from a user’s perspective is pretty straightforward: Sharing a picture with the hashtag #F21ThreadScreen will prompt a live video stream of the fabric photo coming alive online. Once posted and processed, the individual will receive a short clip of the image being converted to thread.


The F21 Thread Screen boasts a resolution of 80 pixels by 80 pixels, with each “pixel” actually being a five and a half-foot strip of threaded material that can display various colors depending on what part is being shown. The system works by pulling the tagged Instagram posts, downsizing them and automatically re-mappping the colors to its 36-tone palette using a special algorithm. That’s when the wheels start turning…. literally.

Each loop of fabric rotates around a set of cams, including custom-printed wooden spools near the front, similar to a conveyer belt. Every ribbon has a reflective strip sewn onto it as well, which when scanned by an infrared sensor, helps the display know where each color is on the loop and what color is being shown as a pixel. At the moment, the spools don’t quite fast enough to support full-color video, but can produce GIFs in black and white.


In front of the display sits a 1080p video camera that is employed for broadcasting to the brand’s teenage fans across the world, while another small webcam helps the programmers and technicians easily monitor the machine’s status, Mashable reveals. That way, should a fabric pixel go out of alignment or encounter some other hiccup, the team can use the web image and on-screen grid to determine the root of the problem and reset it accordingly.

As one can expect with more than 200,000 custom parts requiring constant revamping and piecing together, BREAKFAST surely had its fair share of obstacles along the way. One of the hurdles throughout the year and a half project was static electricity.

Co-founder and CEO Andrew Zolty tells WIRED, “A single module was producing over 20,000 volts of static electricity with our initial grounding plates. That static would run through the motors, the motor leads, then back to the PCB (circuit board) and often cause it to catch fire. We had to reengineer how we grounded the entire screen, and now it has three redundant systems to ensure all static is dissipated.”


Although the original idea was to install the F21 Thread Screen inside one of the clothing retailer’s highly-trafficked stores, given the size and weight of the machine, its creators decided that it was best to remain housed inside BREAKFAST’s Brooklyn office… for now at least. Intrigued? Watch the hypnotizing project in action below!

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