Introduction: Electronic Embroidery

Stitch LEDs onto your needlepoint to add visual interest and enhance the scene. I'll show you how to add light-up fireflies to this frog embroidery. I use conductive thread to connect the battery, switch, and LEDs.

If you're having trouble finding some of the components for this project, you can purchase them as a kit from my store (six colors available).

Check this project out on Make: Projects!

Step 1: Materials and Tools

Materials:
pattern
carbon paper
wooden embroidery hoop
fabric
two LEDs
switch or snap
coincell battery
sewable battery holder
conductive thread
embroidery floss
regular thread

Tools:
pen/pencil
scissors
needlenose pliers
embroidery needle

If you want to get the high quality frog template design, you may download it for free here:
http://sternlab.org/ElectronicEmbroidery/ElectronicEmbroideryPattern.pdf

Step 2: Prep Work and Standard Embroidery

Download the pattern provided, or make up your own. Transfer the design onto the fabric with carbon paper: place the black side of the carbon paper on top of the fabric, then the design template. Trace over the lines of the pattern with a pen or pencil (press down hard). Embroider the scene with traditional floss using whatever stitch you like. I used a backstitch for this one.

Step 3: Prepare the LEDs

Now we're going to prepare the LEDs so they're sewable. Bend the longer lead in a square fashion, coiling it towards the cap. Coil the shorter lead in a round fashion up towards the cap. Repeat the process on the other LED. The difference in coiling style is so that you can tell the difference between each side of the LED, because it's going to matter which lead is which when we sew them.

If you're using a standard toggle switch, now would be a good time to solder on some leads and coil the ends. If you're using a snap, just move along.

Step 4: Sew the Positive Side of the Circuit

Hold the LED in place with one hand. Thread the needle with conductive thread. Bring the needle through from the back on the outside of the square coil. Bring the needle from front to back inside the square coil, stitching over the metal lead. Continue to make stitches all around the square coil. This makes a strong mechanical and electrical connection. Backstitch a line down to the positive battery connector following the pattern. Hold the battery holder in place with one hand, and sew it in place with the other. Notice we're sewing the end with the + on it (not the -). Stitch it the same way as the LED. You'll reach a point when the needle will no longer fit through the hole because it will be too ful of stitches.

Without cutting the thread, stitch a path (still in backstitch) to the other firefly, and sew the square-coiled lead the same way you did the first. Tie off the thread. Weave it back along the stitched line the same way you do with the regular floss, then cut it. The reason you weave it back is that the end tends to fray, which could cause a short circuit if it were near another conductive trace.

Step 5: Now the Negative and One Half of the Switch

Start sewing the negative leads of the LEDs together. Sew a path to the other negative LED lead, around the positive trace and tack it down. Be sure not to catch the thread on the positive lead anywhere. If you're using a switch, thread it through a hole in the wooden hoop and bend the leads apart and sew one of them to the negative conductive path. If you're using a snap, sew one of the sides to the negative conductive path.

Step 6: Switch and Battery Holder

Bend the other switch lead toward the unsewn battery connector and sew it down using the same technique as the LEDs. Sew a line to the negative battery connector terminal and sew through the hole in the connector. If you're using a snap, sew the second half of the snap to the loose (un-hooped) flap of fabric, so that when it folds around back the snaps align. Sew a line of conductive thread from that snap half to the unsewn leg of the battery holder.

Step 7: Finishing Up

Check your circuit against the diagram and watch out for fraying thread shorts. Set the switch to the "off" position or make sure your snap halves aren't touching each other. Insert the battery into the holder. It goes in at an angle, then push it down. The + side goes up (the side with the writing). Push down the battery to make sure it's flush and completely in.

Turn it over and flip the switch or snap the snap. The lights should come on! If they don't, turn it off and check for good connections and shorts.

Trim the fabric within 1.5 inches of the edge. Use regular thread and a running stitch to gather the edge on the back side. Here's the back. You can change the battery when it dies. If you leave it on 24/7, it should last 1-2 weeks, gradually getting dimmer as time goes on. Enjoy!

Comments

author
NachoMahma (author)2009-03-10

. I agree with uguy - excellent.

author
uguy (author)2009-03-10

You go girl! Extremely well done ible. Love the design.

author
PKTraceur (author)2009-03-09

Nice! You got featured! What is conductive thread, anyways? Do you know where I can get cheap/bulk? -PKT

author
bekathwia (author)PKTraceur2009-03-09

You can get it by the spool from Sparkfun or Lame Lifesaver. I prefer the latter, as it doesn't fray as much.

http://sparkfun.com
http://members.shaw.ca/ubik/thread/order.html

It's used industrially for producing fencing outfits, among other things.

About This Instructable

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Bio: Becky Stern is a content creator at Instructables. She has authored hundreds of tutorials about everything from wearable electronics to knitting. Before joining Instructables, Becky ... More »
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