Introduction: Welcome & Supplies
This is a class for someone who would like to learn how to build electronics that live on and interact with the body. There are many disciplines of wearable computing and technology; this class focuses on creating circuits using conductive thread and fabric, programming a microcontroller with Arduino and techniques specific to soft circuits.
Building wearable electronics is fun and you can build lots of creative and innovative projects once you nail down the basics and get some hands-on experience. Whether you have a project in mind, or just want to explore the possibilities, this class is for you. In this lesson, I will go over the format of the class, what you will be building, and a short (very short) history of wearable electronics.
This class teaches you the basics and focuses on getting you to think creatively about wearable electronic applications. I go step-by-step with you through all the exercises as you sew and build circuits. Throughout lessons, you will also have opportunities to explore and discover on your own. You will be introduced to sewing, electronics, the combination of the two and the Arduino software. Through the majority of this class, you will be learning several concepts and techniques through building projects and by making tools that will help you through your wearable electronic adventures.
When the microcontroller and the Arduino software is introduced, you will upload code see what it does then I will explain how it works and suggest ways to alter it so you can see how it works.
The LED Pin or Patch project is a project that gets you familiar with electricity and introduces you to conductive thread.
+ how to work with conductive thread
+ intro to electronics (voltage, resistance, current, parallel and series)
+ the running stitch
The Snap Switch and Modular LilyPad projects speak to techniques and tools that you will want to use time and again if you continue to build wearable projects.
+ what a switch is and how to make one
+ how to make different connections when building wearable electronics
+ the basting stitch
The Hi-5 Collector is a project that makes social interaction game-like by introducing a goal to achieve by collecting high-fives. Itteaches you how to design a switch for a specific physical action, make a simple pattern and introduces you to the digital input and how to insulate a soft circuit.
+ introduction to Arduino software
+ how to upload and manipulate Arduino sketches
+ digital input and output
+ how to transfer a circuit from alligator clips to fabric
+ the uneven running stitch
+ how to insulate soft circuits
The Slouch Alert is a project that teaches you how to read a body's movements using a handmade flex sensor and alerts you when you are slouching. With the same circuit, I will also go over briefly how to trigger audio files by turning the LilyPad USB into a keyboard and using it with Soundplant, a sound triggering software.
+ analog input and output
+ how to make a flex sensor
+ building a circuit out of conductive fabric
+ making the LilyPad USB into a keyboard
LED patch or pin
Snap switch/ground breakout pad
What Are Wearable Electronics?
Wearable technology has been around for quite some time. Although purely mechanical, one of the first game-changers was the pocket watch. As we got better at harnessing electricity, inventions like batteries, radios, and the transistor came to be.
The first wearable computer is documented to be a device created by Edward O. Thorpe and Claude Shannon. It was built to cheat at the betting game roulette by predicting where the ball would land on a roulette wheel. The whole setup consisted of a timing device in a shoe, a computer strapped across the chest and an ear piece that delivered a tone in the ear of the wearer.
Wearable electronics can mean a lot of different things. It can include electronic wrist watches you find in the market today and stickers that go on the skin to monitor health designed for the future. The type of wearable electronics we will be exploring in this class are soft circuits. Soft circuits are the practice of building electronic circuits from soft and flexible conductive materials. These materials include thread, yarns, fabric, wools and even soft rubbers like silicone. In this class, you will get to work with conductive thread and fabric and a resistive plastic called Velostat.
Coming from a fashion and textile background, this is what got me into wearable electronics. I find working with conductive thread and fabric promotes a certain level of hand work, craftsmanship, and troubleshooting that you don't get from using wire or circuit boards.
Tools and Materials
In this lesson, you will be introduced to the materials and tools needed to take this class and where to buy them. I link to the cheapest options, trying to keep things grouped between a few companies to help with shipping costs for the international folk. If a link is no longer good or you need help finding an item, feel free to message me!
- 4x 8" x 12" sheets of wool felt
- Fitted T-shirt
- Sewing needles
- Conductive thread
- All-purpose thread
- Fabric scissors
- Craft scissors
- Seam ripper
- Soft measuring tape
- Straight pins
- Sew-on snaps
- Fabric glue
- 1 foot Shieldit Super conductive fabric
- 1 foot of Velostat resistive plastic
- Disappearing ink fabric marker or tailor's chalk
- Iron and ironing board
- Sticky back Velcro tape
- Heat 'n' Bond
- 5mm LEDs
- Resistor kit
- 2 sewable coincell battery holder
- 2 CR2032 batteries
- 1000mAh Lipoly battery
- USB microB cable
- LilyPad USB microcontroller
- LilyPad vibe board
- Sewable LEDs
- Flex sensor
- Needlenose pliers
- Long alligator clip leads
- Short alligator clip leads
- Computer with Arduino software and USB port
- USB hub if computer only has USB 3 ports (newer Macs)
- Light diffusion materials like hot glue sticks, parchment paper, or poly-fil
100% sheep's wool felt is much nicer than the acrylic felt found in your local fabric store. The acrylic felt will also not be able to tolerate the heat of an iron, it's made of plastic and will melt! Buy a few colors for variety or stock up on your favorite color.
[x1] fitted t-shirt.
The fitted part is important because you will be attaching a sensor to it to read body movements. The sensor will need to be close to the body and held there in order for it to bend and move with you. The shirt should be made of a medium-weight knit because you will be sewing to it and don't want the material to tear easily.
[x1] pack of sewing needles (embroidery recommended)
This class does not require a sewing machine, instead, you will be hand sewing your projects. If you have a machine, you are welcome to use it.
The needles will be used with regular and conductive thread, the latter can be fairly thick, so choose a needle that has a medium to large sized eye. The trick is to get a needle that has a large eye but isn't too thick. You can end up punching large holes in materials if the needle is too large. Embroidery needles are usually a good choice, they are thin and sharp, but have a larger eye than standard needles.
[x1] bobbin conductive 3-ply thread
Adafruit, who distributes this thread, also sells 2-ply, which is thinner. The one that is more all-purpose is the 3-ply, so that is required. Feel free to purchase the 2-ply to try out for yourself.
[x1] spool polyester all-purpose thread that matches your felt
Only one spool is necessary, but feel free to stock up on other colors or a small kit for variety. Gutermann is my favorite brand, so I've linked to them.
Blades and Rulers
[x1] pair of scissors
Ginghers are my favorite for sewing projects, but you can get a sharp pair for cheaper. Keep them dedicated to cutting fabric to keep them sharp. A small pair of scissors is very handy for when you need to get into smaller places but they are not necessary.
[x1] pair of craft scissors
For cutting sticky back velcro, paper, and for all else that is not fabric.
[x1] seam ripper
[x1] soft measuring tape
[x1] straight edge ruler
A grid ruler is great for squaring lines but any straight ruler will do.
[x1] box of straight pins
These are used to hold fabric in place while sewing or prototyping. These are extra fine pins and are made for delicate fabric, this means that they are sharp and thin, so they glide through fabric very easily. Even though they are made for delicate fabric, I think they are the best for general purpose sewing too.
There are many kinds of fabric glue, depending on what kind of hold and what type of fabric you are applying it to. The one I link to Fabri-Tac, it's the most permanent fabric glue I know of that you can get in a fabric store. It's great and has a very strong hold.
I also use Aleene's Ok to Wash. It can be machine washed, has a low odor and isn't as thick as Fabri-Tac which makes it more manageable. It's a lighter glue I use for securing knots.
Iron-on Conductive Fabric
[x1] foot of Shieldit Super conductive fabric with hot melt adhesive backing.
Scroll down the page to find Shieldit Super.
Resistive Plastic: Velostat
[1x] foot of Velostat by 3M resistant plastic.
Scroll down the page to find Velostat by 3M.
Sticky Back Velcro
[x1] pack of 24" x 3/4" of sticky back velcro tape.
You can get any width from 5/8" - 1" if you would like to buy it from your local fabric store.
Heat 'n' Bond
This comes in light-weight or heavy-weight. Either will work for this class. Heat 'n' Bond can also be purchased at your local fabric or craft store.
[x1] assorted pack of 5mm LEDs
You technically just need one, but the rest are good for experimentation, plus they are affordable enough that getting a pack of multiples makes more sense in the long run. You will use these down the road if you build more circuits. If you want to purchase them individually, you can do so here.
[x1] resistor kit
An essential tool for circuit building! It can read how much power a battery has left if, you have made good electrical connections, and more.
[x1] LilyPad USB microcontroller
The LilyPad USB is sewable and great for beginners. Take a look at the Introducing the Microcontroller lesson if you would like to learn more about this board and what else is available before purchasing one.
[1x] vibe board
These LEDs come in several colors: Pink, Yellow, Blue, Green, White, Red and Purple.
[x1] needle-nose plier
Rounded nose pliers are preferred but any small plier will do the trick, this is for bending small gauges of wire.
You will be writing programs and uploading them to the microcontroller via a computer's USB port. If you don't already have one, find a computer that you can download software onto and can have access to for the duration of the class.
Light Diffusing Materials
These can be thought of as optional right now since I go over techniques that use either hot glue and parchment or polyester filling to diffuse an LED with. Feel free to hold off on these until you get to the lesson where you can choose or stock up on them now.
[small] piece of parchment paper
[small] piece of poly-fil
Cond. + Resistive Fabrics
Cond. + Resistive Thread and Yarn
Sold by Plusea (Hannah Perner Wilson)
Cond. + Resistive Trims, Ribbons, and Elastic
Prefab Sensors, Buttons, and Interfaces
Electronic Components and DIY Kits
Adafruit - great tutorials
Sparkfun - great tutorials
Pololu - particularly good for servos and robotics
ServoCity - everything servo + gearmotors and stepper motors
Miga Motors - muscle wire actuators
Cool Neon - EL wire and accessories
Fabric Paints and Pigments
Copper CuPro-Cote Paint (scroll down)
Y-Shield - carbon-based resistive paint
Hardware That is Small, Powerful and/or Designed for Wearables
eTextile and Wearable Tech Tutorial/Project Websites
Kobakant - the ultimate DIY eTextile and wearable electronics source
Fashioning Technology - get lots of inspiration from checking out projects
Share a photo of your finished project with the class!
Nice work! You've completed the class project