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Working with conductive fabric is fun and it's ideal for wearables, soft circuitry, e-textiles and other projects that take advantage of it's properties. Learning the basics will help you make design and material choices tailored to your application.

This Instructable is jam-packed with insights from using it over the years as well as favorite resources for further development. You will learn techniques, such as how to cut and attach conductive fabric and how to build the following:

    • momentary switch
    • linear touch sensor using resistive material
    • basic LED circuit with switch
    • capacitive touch piano using Arduino and CapSense

    I intend this to be something you bookmark, favorite or download for later as a go-to reference. Keep in mind that to stay safe from electrical shock, this information is intended to be used with low-voltage DC projects. Please comment below to add your own insights and to ask any questions!

    Contents

    1) Why Conductive Fabric?

    2) Woven, Stretch or Non-Woven?

    3) Electrical Properties

    4) Cutting Conductive Fabric

    5) Attaching Conductive Fabric : Sewing

    6) Attaching Conductive Fabric : Hot Melt Adhesives

    7) Attaching Conductive Fabric : Glue

    8) Attaching Conductive Fabric : Double-sided Tape

    9) Avoiding Short Circuits

    10) Making Electrical Connections

    11) How to Insulate Conductive Fabric

    12) Traces

    13) Resistors

    14) Switches

    15) Sensors and Variable Resistors

    16) Capacitive Touch

    17) Build a Basic Circuit

    18) CapSense + Arduino Musical Circuit

    19) Resources

    Step 1: Why Conductive Fabric?

    Unique Properties

    Conductive fabric offers the softness and malleability of fabric, while also having electrical properties. It's mainly used in projects where a soft, flexible and sometimes washable circuit is needed. It's also great for creating low profile switches in projects where manufactured and hard conductive materials are not appropriate.

    Fabric can be cut, sewn, stretched, crumpled and manipulated in other ways that hard metals, carbon and plastics can not. Knowing how it behaves can lead to unexpected creative applications and end up solving specific design problems. Not all applications need to be wearable. For example, take a look at Adrian Freed's Tablo Fabric Drape Sensing Controller that uses the fabric's ability to stretch and have tension as a tactile musical interface.

    One of my favorite projects is the Massage Me Jacket, a video game controller that gives the wearer a massage as the gamer back + front + kicks their way through Street Fighter II. Hard switches would definitely not be suitable for this design!

    IM Blanky is a beautiful example of intricate cuts and hand-built soft sensors on a large scale. It has 104 soft tilt sensors and uses traditional embroidery techniques. The creator describes it's function as such: "By draping it over an object the blanket reproduces digitally and in real time that which it covers." Super cool.

    Biggest Downfalls

    Having listed some of the great things about cond. fabric, it's only fair to list some negatives.

    I would say the biggest con is that conductive fabric comes uninsulated, so when building circuits, it's susceptible to noise and interference from outside sources, as well as noise generated by the circuit itself. It also gives a lot of opportunity for short circuits.

    Another challenge, which is related, is that cond. fabric erodes over time. To make fabric conductive you coat or impregnate it with metal. Sometimes this metal and fiber bond isn't the strongest, so it wears down and wears off through use. Depending on what metal is used it will also oxidize since it is not properly insulated. There are ways to insulate, this is gone over in the "how to insulate" step.

    A good challenge would be to design a project that highlights these negatives, thus turning them into positives to you can work with.

    A Bridge Between Demographics

    Conductive fabric can be an excellent way to introduce electronics to a wider group of people, such as knitters, weavers, textile artists, fashion designers and a younger age group. It has helped close the gap between fashion and engineering fields, making a new breed of fashion technologists. Designers are finding they want to learn more about programming and electronics and engineers are getting interested in how fabric behaves and best techniques for building with it.

    Leah Buechley, the inventor of the LilyPad Arduino, has been a pioneer for teaching girls and women electronics and programming, teaching workshops and writing books that use materials such as conductive fabric. Check out some of her projects and I recommend reading one of her papers on electronics and education.

    Wow , very nice . <br>Thank you for sharing
    You're welcome! Lmk if you any questions arise while going through it. I like to think of it as something to add and improve over time.
    <p>This is amazing - definitely one of the best Instructables I have seen. Thank you so much for publishing this, you've got me dreaming up some new projects already.</p>
    Thank you! You are welcome :) Let me know if you ever have any questions or suggestions for additional content/improvements.
    <p>What a fantastic resource, thank you so much!! I'm doing a project with some textile students who will find this super useful I'm sure. </p>
    Really happy to hear that! I hope it is helpful. Let me know if they have any questions or if parts are unclear. :)
    <p>nice work lady! def going to use this as a major reference for others - super helpful and well-organized :)</p>
    Hey Liza! :D!<br />That's so great! Thanks! I'm going to shout it out tomorrow on some channels to see if anyone else may find it helpful in the education field. If you have any suggestions for topics that you think should be covered, lmk, in this ible and for the future. I'm putting together some more references like this one.
    <p>Is it possible to connect ic with the conductive fabric with conductive glue?</p>
    Yes, it is possible. Be careful to not create shorts and be weary of it's strength. <br />A lot depends on what kind of glue, how you apply it and what you are gluing it to.
    <p>Thank you. :)</p>
    You are wonderful! An absolute expert in this field. I need your expertise to helo me think through a project. Please if i may reach out to you. kt.williams17@gmail.com
    <p>Hey there! I'm more than happy to help! I'll shoot you an email and you can fill me in on your project. </p>

    About This Instructable

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    Bio: Specializing in sewing, soldering and snacking. More stuff I do... I teach an interactive fashion and textile class called Wearable and Soft Interactions at California ... More »
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