Introduction: Make a Breadboard Sweatshirt (Instant Wearable Electronics!)

Picture of Make a Breadboard Sweatshirt (Instant Wearable Electronics!)

Are wearable electronics The Future? I think so! Here's the quickest, most versatile wearable electronics project ever, The Breadboard Sweatshirt.

Mostly, wearables involve conductive thread for wiring. But that stuff jams my sewing machine, and I wanted to be able to change it if I didn't like it when I was done. Also, I hate doing lots of long, tedious hand-sewing.

Solution? Slap a breadboard on it!

(Q: What's a breadboard?

A: Just a piece of plastic with holes, on top of metal strips in a pattern, that makes it really fast and easy to build a circuit.)

This instructable is dedicated to the single mom in Kansas who wrote to me asking how she could make this "outfit" for her daughter's Halloween party.

Step 1: Prepare the Substrate

Picture of Prepare the Substrate

Get something really comfortable, a shirt, sweatshirt, sweater. Anything you can sew on.

I grabbed one of my dorm's logo "burning man" sweatshirts,
but I painted over the silkscreened logo so it would just be a plain black sweatshirt.

You can sort of still see it in the photo.

For a little extra brio, I added the instructions for how to use a breadboard sweatshirt, as a pun-couplet on the back, using just a paintbrush and some bleach.

Check out Alex's bleach dyeing instructable to see how I did that.

My major (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Course 6) produces an unfunny yet punny shirt every year. Walking around MIT's campus, you notice students wearing, "Six Hertz" shirts. Meaning either "(Course) Six Hurts" ('cause there's a whole lotta work), or an electronic signal frequency specification.

I thought I could do much better in terms of EECS related puns (and why should school "hurt"? I don't wanna wear a shirt that says that), so I wrote "Socket to me" on the back, in response.

Step 2: Attach the Breadboard

Picture of Attach the Breadboard

Make holes in the four corners to sew it to the shirt.
I used my roommate's sewing kit to whip it on with some matching black threads. That way it'll stay right where you want it.

Breadboards, and most electronics, are even washable! (but not batteries)

Placement: you can obviously put the breadboard anywhere, or even make your entire body into a giant prototyping board. I put it at chest height because it's where a lot of logos go.

The stitching is quick - lash a few stitches on and you're good to go.

A little extra: you'll probably want to throw a battery on, so your new little electronics bench has power. I was feeling lazy so I just hot glued it down, with the intent of adding an elastic strap for the battery later.

Real wearables pros put the battery pack on the inside of the shirt for total style and comfort.

Remember to unplug the batteries for washing!

Step 3: Decorate!

Picture of Decorate!
That's it, you're done making the sweatshirt. Wasn't that fast?

Wearable electronics don't have to involve time consuming sewing or conductive thread.
They can be within your reach and a quick trip to the local Radio Shack.

Now the EE part comes in. Curious about circuits but never built one before?
Forest Mim's electronics project books are really good.

If you already know what you want, go hog wild.

Make an LED beating heart. Make a scrolling animation.

Add an arduino, and LED, and a temperature sensor, and make your clothes change color with temperature.

Make your shirt play Conway's Game of Life, or turn it into a nighttime bike light jacket, like Leah Buechley. Actually, read all of Leah's website for inspiration, she's been my hero since I was in highschool.

Add a speaker, a tone generator, and some touch sensors and let your friends beatbox on your clothes.

Be a mintyBoost and charge your iPod off your shirt from AA batteries while on the road.
Be a walking amp with built-in jacket headphones.
Be a TVBGone, and turn off television sets wherever you go.

Look at what prof. Roz Picard has done with wearable computing.

Or, be all of these things! The beauty of the breadboard is that you can change the technology you're wearing!

Read Lady Ada's whole website, too. She's put a lot of good kits and how-tos online.
Don't program yet, but you wanna add your own hot micro? Her howto on arduinos is good too.

For my first project I decided to make a super-quick glowing green star-shaped nametag with some resistors and LEDs laying around.

For inspiration, here's a cool movie of Conway's Game of Life:

Another hot tip: Tape or hot-glue down your wires - they shake a lot and can jiggle loose while you walk around. Also, using white-insulate wires or hiding them lets people focus on the part of the project you want people to see. If you're doing anything with LEDs, try putting a white cloth diffuser over the breadboard so that just the light comes through.


fstedie (author)2015-09-19

This is all good fun except for the part about taking it to the airport. With everyone on a heightened state of paranoia due to real terrorist acts, it is to be expected that people will freak out when seeing this in public. I can only imagine that the author did this on purpose to try and "test" the system or simply a joke in bad taste.

As smart as she obviously is by making it into MIT, she needs to grow up a bit and realize that what she did was not smart. She is lucky to have only received a slap on the wrist.

eburman (author)fstedie2015-09-19

It doesn't even remotely resemble a bomb. It's difficult to fathom how any cognitively intact individual could think otherwise. Technophobia is a reflection of how far our society has fallen intellectually. Shame on you.

kc8rwr (author)eburman2015-09-21

The problem there is "cognitively intact individual".

fstedie (author)eburman2015-09-19

Of course it doesn't resemble a bomb! But reality is that even college educated adults (like Ahmed's English teacher in Texas) are complete morons when it comes to technology. It is not technophobia, it is techno-ignorance and the unfortunate reality is that the masses are dumb. Dumb people think that anything with wires is a bomb and if you bring it to the airport it is going to get you in trouble.

eburman (author)fstedie2015-09-20

Techno-ingnorance no doubt, but ignorance breeds fear so technophobia applies as well. If you travel, take a look at the sort of folks who are employed by the ATF. In the larger metropolitan airports they predominately come from poorly educated, lower socioeconomic backgrounds. These are people who lack the intellectual skills and broad life experience needed to make rational and common sense decisions. Airports truly are dangerous places for those who value liberty. I take exception to your assertion that it's immature and "not smart" to challenge the system. Stupidity simply leads to progressively worse stupidity when left unchallenged. I think Star is a real hero, although maybe an accidental hero because I don't think she deliberately went into this to test the system. You can be sure that little Ahmed's school administrators may be rethinking the wisdom of a blanket zero-tolerance, zero-brain policy. Of course when challenging authority the results may not be as positive as they have been for Ahmed. It takes bravery to stand up to stupidity (and a powerful social media community).

maxwelld (author)2012-06-07

I recommend not wearing this shirt to the airport.

AngelInTheNight (author)2010-12-01

After reading what happened to you I realized I really don't want to ride on an airplane ever.
Now I think the sweater is a cool idea. I'd love to be able to just wear this to school (yes I'm in an electronics class where we use breadboards quite a bit) I have a big packet full of ideas. I love the star design you did! Very nice and cool idea!

drinkmorecoffee (author)2008-09-17

Is this THE breadboard sweatshirt? The one we all heard so much about a year or so ago?

yes it is! I waited almost exactly a year to publish the instructable.

smrat alleck (author)stasterisk2008-09-23

Hooray, this finally made it up! I think we should all MAKE one and wear them in protest of the TSA. Thanks, Star!

 Nice one, I would so do that.

kill-a-watt (author)stasterisk2008-10-12

it's a scary Halloween costume, but only scary for Jackbooted TSA thugs who need a bit of drama to spice up an otherwise dull task of keeping up the illusion of security theater.

Besides, I suppose they needed a scapegoat after they made themselves look like idiots during the Aqua Teen Boston Scare (LED not IED) and the
even more embarrassing Deadly (j/k) Traffic Counter Scare a mere month later (you'll note that in the second case there were no fines or lawsuits, because the city of Boston would have to sue itself to distract the media from its own incompetence)

What I want to know is if anyone has sent you any ''This Bike is a Pipe Bomb'' band bumper stickers yet?

TechNerd1012 (author)kill-a-watt2009-04-28

lol security theater sounds like a bad midnight drama

robotguy4 (author)TechNerd10122009-09-25


Aha, very cool. I saw this and had to go re-read all the old forums and comments about that... event. It almost makes me want to walk into an airport myself with that on! But really, I almost had a similar thing happen last month when I went through security with oil-based pastels wrapped in magnet wire in my carry-on. I suppose it looked like a block of plastic explosives or something on the x-ray machine. No one pointed any guns at me, thankfully. Just some near-panicking folks keeping their cool while they searched my bag. :)

marc92 (author)drinkmorecoffee2008-09-17

Maybe we could start a movement...

One day, someone walks into Logan Int. Airport wearing one of these.
And the next day, two people do it.
Then 3 people, 3 people a day.
Then, can you imagine 50 people a day, wearing one of these shirts, walking in to Logan Airport.

Eventually Arlo Guthrie will write a long song explaining the whole event in great detail and it will become famous.

That's what I think should happen.

bustedit (author)marc922008-09-18

...and there i was, sittin there, on the group W bench, with all sorts of mean nasty father rapers mother stabbers hairy eyeball...i mean...i mean...i wanna kill...dead burnt babies...veins in my teeth

marc92 (author)bustedit2008-09-18

Maybe those lines should be: ...and there I was, sitting there, in the State Police barracks, with all sorts of mean nasty airplane bombers, and hijackers, hairy eyeball...I mean...I mean...I wanna explode...dead burnt airplanes...wires in my teeth... Lol!

gog (author)stasterisk2008-09-17

Thats cool, Infamous Art!

revtkatt (author)2009-12-18

Eit!  You have a fantastic sense of humor.

A fan.

dla888 (author)2009-11-16

This must bring back memories of Boston Logan.

robotguy4 (author)2009-09-25

Well, its not as big a security threat as playing <a rel="nofollow" href="">this</a> in an airport...<br/>

Ben The Builder (author)2009-03-25

Have any of you seen the article in Make, I don't remember what volume but this lady had a sweatshirt almost exactly like this and she walked into an airport to meet one of her friends (and this was how she was going to impress him) and they actually put her in jail because they thought she was going to set a bomb off, I guess the moral of the story is "Don't wear exposed electronics into an airport"

Psst... Ben. You do realize that this Instructable was MADE by that lady, right?

Yerboogieman (author)2009-07-28

Damn peaople.

zencoder (author)2008-11-18

Star, heard the story first day on CNN and thought defending you would be simple. Got some of most nasty ignorant comments ever on youtube, most deleted (/winsleuth). I learned a lot on how little the public understands the toys they love so much. Many thought it was about IED's, not LED's and Wow were they upset. Best of luck to you and sorry you had to go thru this event this way. There is so little empathy these days. Cheers

stasterisk (author)zencoder2008-11-18

Thank you, zencoder!

endolith (author)2008-10-02

Put the breadboard inside the shirt and poke the LEDs through the fabric?

clamoring (author)2008-09-20

Just saw your interview on bb. The community is squarely behind you! chin up!

jimmyb0nz (author)2008-09-20

great stuff. why did it take me so long to find the story on hack a day? Congrats, you are up there with the Boston guys.

The Expert Noob (author)2008-09-19

Some things I have tried is the conductive paint and conductive glue. the combination of the two work great on clothing! but it is permanent and its not recommended to wash it.

cmrc (author)2008-09-19

Inspirational, and very informative. Thank you for pointing me towards Leah's site. Again great work. Keep pushing the envelope!

gmjhowe (author)2008-09-19

nice work! i might try walking in with an old style alarm clock hung round my neck, see what happens…

askjerry (author)2008-09-18

The concept is interesting... it allows people to show off prototyping which for me could be useful. ( I am the president of the robotics group )

But I have a suggestion for you, How about attaching velcro to the back of the board, then sewing the mating peice to your shirt. This way it can be removed with ease for washing and such. Also, a small pocket could be sewn to the inside of the shirt and a small grommet installed. Then, the battery could be hidden from sight which would make the eye notice the board more and the external wiring less.

It would be a great project for an Atmel Mega-8 or Atmel Tiny-26 with many LEDs attached... doing patterns and such. A programmable shirt!

stasterisk (author)askjerry2008-09-18

Hey, yeah! The velcro is a good idea. I thought about it, but didn't have any handy, and sewing is easy. Nice idea on the battery! If you make one, post pics!

askjerry (author)stasterisk2008-09-18

I have a great idea... I was looking at another instructable that showed a method of bleaching colors... and I started to think... I have a laser engraver... so I could make some spiffy stencil... bleach out the pattern, then do the breadboard.



Yeah... kool.
(Cheezy grin)

suhasm (author)2008-09-18

@ viacin , do breadboards really cost 10$ in america? here in india, they r available for around 80rs which is less than 2$.

askjerry (author)suhasm2008-09-18

The best I can do is from Electronics Goldmine at They are $4.95 for the small ones...

A nice one is $30

If you have a cheaper source I'd like to get a few.

wayn3w (author)2008-09-17

Those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it. Google "Star Simpson"

Kiteman (author)wayn3w2008-09-17

Ahem, you do know, don't you? This is the same person. She's not repeating history, she's making history.

dillweed (author)Kiteman2008-09-18

hah. werd.

Lithium Rain (author)wayn3w2008-09-17


viacin (author)2008-09-17

gah...this grieves me. what a waste of a perfectly good breadboard. plus, I think it's ugly. Nice try tho, maybe would be better with a perf board.

viacin (author)viacin2008-09-17

breadboard = $10-$30
Perf Board = $ 1-$3

trebuchet03 (author)viacin2008-09-18

I'm guessing you're not an EE major at MIT? Plus, you're overpaying for breadboards ;)

bustedit (author)trebuchet032008-09-18

to whom were u replying? ( i gets so confused ) i own 1 small breadboard, from radio snatch, cost 8 bucks and its about the size of an altoids tin. i have seen a few cheaper, but not by much, in a mail order catalog, but if i get another, i would like one w power, or at least terminals for power.

stasterisk (author)viacin2008-09-17

breadboards are free for me, and numerous. Why use perfboard? Nobody is going to bother to solder things all over your clothes. This way anyone at all can just grab the right parts and plug them in.

bustedit (author)stasterisk2008-09-18

how be it that they are free, might i inquire??

bustedit (author)bustedit2008-09-18

nevermind. i get it, MIT and your major, free boards, very cool.

trebuchet03 (author)2008-09-18

I dig the steel cable and tape :)

About This Instructable




Bio: Hi! I'm Star Simpson! I'm a real me! See more at []. photo by [ ... More »
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