USB Stretchy Fabric Connection





Introduction: USB Stretchy Fabric Connection

Make a stretchy fabric USB cable for whatever reason you like. This was a first test for me and... it worked! So the next step will be to integrate this USB connection into a shirt that I can wear, with a pocket for my digital camera, containing a USB connection that connects to the end of one of a sleeve, so that I can plug right into my laptop to download my pictures (see sketch).

This Instructable will cover the basic principle of how to make the stretchy fabric connection and isolate it. Though I take no responsibility for what might go wrong.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

- Stretch conductive fabric from
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- Fusible interfacing from local fabric store or
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- Conductive thread from
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- A USB cable from your excess of USB cables lying around or from any local electronics store
- Stretch fabric (cotton jersey or similar) from local fabric store or old clothing item
- Regular sewing thread from local fabric store
- Aleene's stretchable fabric glue from
- Baby powder from local drugstore

- Fabric scissors
- Sewing needle
- Iron
- Soldering iron and solder
- Wire clippers
- Wire strippers
- Stanley knife

Step 2: Stripping the Wires

Cut both ends of your USB cable off leaving about 2-3 cm space (plus some extra for mistakes). I actually don’t know why I did not strip my cable close to the plug on both ends, so now I still have a long piece of wire at one end. Which I actually don’t want, but am too lazy to un-sew and re-solder and re-sew.

Once you have cut the wires, strip the wires (see picture). Another thing I didn’t do, which would be a good idea, is to actually solder a wire to the ground (isolation) and also make a stretch conductive connection for this (I’ll include this in future versions).

Once the wires have been stripped, make little loops as the end of each wire and using a bit of solder, fixate these so that they are closed circles.

Step 3: Ironing Conductive Traces

Fuse (iron-on) some interfacing to a strip of stretch conductive fabric. Cut this strip into 5mm thin strips. Enough so that you have 4x (or 5x, including ground) the length of the connection you want to make, in my case 30cm long, although I'm not sure if the resistance over a longer distance will effect the USB connection and it might not work. Will also try out in future versions.

Lay out your piece of regular stretch fabric on an ironing board or other good ironing surface. Iron it flat, and then fuse (iron-on) your conductive strips so that they go from one end to the other with about 5mm spacing in between.

The resistance for a 5mm thin strip over 30 cm seems to be about 60 Ohm. You can actually about half the resistance by making the strip twice as wide (1cm).

Step 4: Sewing

Thread a needle with conductive thread and take it double. Sew the loops that you soldered to the end of the USB wires to the conductive strips. Make at least 3-4 stitches connecting the two. For the first side it does not matter which colour wire connects to which strip. But for the second side you definitely want to MAKE SURE that all the colours match up (green to green, red to red... whatever colour wires your USB cable contains).

Step 5: Insulating

Now that everything is in place we want to isolate the individual stretch conductive strips from one another so that, should the fabric fold, no short circuit or signal disturbance is caused. You can surely try other methods, but I’ve found Aleene’s stretch fabric glue to work best for me as it does not affect the conductivity much or at all.
You can either isolate each trace individually or, as I ended up doing, you can spread a thin layer over all of the traces and spaces using a piece of cardboard to spread the glue after first applying it evenly.

You will also want to isolate the conductive stitches on the back of your fabric!

NOW you will have to wait a whole day for it to dry. So better to just leave it and come back to it the next day.

Step 6: Baby Powder

NEXT DAY you will find that the isolation, though set, is still sticky, or at least it likes to stick to itself. An easy solution to this (if it bothers you) is to sprinkle some baby powder on top and rub it in. Then shake it out the window. It smells very intense, almost awful.

You can check the resistance and it should not have changed at all, or only very little. In my case it even improved (or I measured a different trace the second time round).

Step 7: Plugging In

Now that everything is isolated (best check with a multimeter that you have no cross connections) you are ready to plug in a USB device that fits the type of USB connection you selected.
In my case I chose a regular to small USB connection that I normally use for my digital camera, to download images. And it worked!
First of all I downloaded all of the pictures for this Instructable using a non-tampered-with USB cable. And then I took a random picture of my wall and plugged in my stretch fabric USB connection and then my camera and all worked. But I have no proof that things aren't going wrong at the same time. So please do this at your own risk.
But have fun doing it.

Pictures of this last step were taken using a different camera, since my camera can not take pictures of itself. So these will be uploaded shortly.


Step 8: One Last Thing

If you want you can sew the fabric together and turn it inside out. this makes everything a bit more compact and better looking (see pictures).



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    Just FYI: The parentheses in your links are preventing proper navigation to the websites.

    Asome instructable- i wonder if this technique could be used for a headphone cord extender in a hoodie or jacket, or would there be problems with resistance

    two comments.

    (1) USB uses "differential" signalling, like professional microphones, RS-422 (not RS-232), ethernet, modern LVD-SCSI, and other high-performance cabling systems.

    On a USB connector, pins 2 and 3 carry the actual serial signal, the other pins carry power and ground.

    Differential signalling exploits a nifty little trick. By carrying the signal twice on two wires, but with each wire carrying a signal 180 degrees out of phase with the other, any static or RFI interference that is picked up over the length of the line will be cancelled out at the receiving end by the receiver, which inverts one of the signals and combines them. The interference is 'added' to both signals equally, but then through the invert-and-combining process, gets deleted mathematically from the signal, sort of like how Dolby works.

    While I believe the twist is not essential, it helps ensure that any interference is 'evenly' added to both signal wires.

    Thus if you don't twist your signal lines, your wiring is more susceptible to picking up interference.

    Solution-- Twist your conductive strips by braiding them, though you'd need an insulating layer of fabric or film or paint between them.

    (2) Also, USB suggests but does not require shielding, again to reduce interference. Follow the pinout documentation above to connect the shield to the ground only at the host end. Perhaps some foil around the whole bunch of conductors? (again, separated by fabric, paper, film, or paint).

    While both twisting and shielding are not essential for USB operation (there is probably error detection and correction embedded in the serial transfer protocols), you might find better performance (i.e. faster downloads) over a higher-quality (less interference-prone) serial connection. This will proably be important in RFI-noisy environments with high-speed USB2.0 devices like live cameras, hard disks, etc when performance is important.

    and definitely consider strain reliefs. I discovered that hot melt glue gun adhesive is great for this (remains semi-flexible when re-solidified).

    USB signals (and every other type of differential signal) can travel using two parallel strips of copper like this fabric. the impedance of the cable is defined by the cap between the signaling conductors relative to their width. A regular USB cable also has a foil outside the data pair for extra shielding. I however see no problem with the design for short distances.

    Remember that Hi-speed USB is 480 MHz. Not all USB transfers have full error correction and retry. If your cable isn't transmitting the 480 MHz signal clearly enough, you can lose data.

    Yes Hi-speed USB could easily run into problems.

    Also, for Hi-speed USB, the width of the wires, separation of the wires, and so on is critical for the signal to get from one end to the other without errors. I'd be surprised if this works with Hi-speed devices. For low-speed signals this is a great idea, but for USB, it would probably be better to find a thin, flexible USB cable that you can sew along the cloth.

    WOW thanks!!! this is a big help. i'll try to take all this into consideration. thanks again!

    Can you wash this? How would you?

    Wow. Awesome Instructable. +5/5 stars. By the way, what kind of soldering iron is that?