Introduction: Athena the Owl Pillow Nightlight-Lilypad Arduino

About: Studying Library and Information Science at UNC Chapel Hill.


For my technology for youth in libraries class, I got to experiment with a cool piece of technology called a Lilypad Arduino. This type of Arduino board is specifically for e-textiles. The main board of the Arduino can be programmed, then components like LED lights, sensors, or beepers are connected by sewing with conductive thread, creating a circuit. For this project, I decided to make an owl pillow nightlight by programming the Lilypad to turn on two LED lights when a room gets dark.

Step 1: Materials

I'm not much of a sewer, so I found a Sew Your Own Owl Pillow kit. Lucky, right? You can buy onehere.

Crafting Materials

If you want to craft your own owl from scratch, you'll need materials similar to the following:

  • 2 felt owl-shaped pieces for the body (blue)
  • 1 felt oval piece for the tummy (orange)
  • 2 felt circle pieces for the eyes (pink)
  • 2 felt circle pieces for the whites of the eyes (white)
  • 2 felt circle piece for the pupils (black)
  • 1 felt triangle piece for the beak (yellow)
  • 1 small rectangle of any color fabric (2inx1in)
  • blue, orange, white, pink, and black embroidery thread (or complementary colors if you are making your own)
  • Sewing needle
  • Polyester stuffing
  • Scissors

Arduino Materials

For the Lilypad Arduino bit, I used various bits from the Protosnap Lilypad Development Board. You'll need the following parts (click on each part to see them individually):

Step 2: Set Up

If you haven't already, download and install the Arduino Software. The software is free, and is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux. There is a wealth of tutorials and explanations on this website.

This webpage will walk you through configuring your downloaded software to your Lilypad.

Step 3: Plan Your Project

The first thing I did was write my program. What did I want my program to do? I'm new to programming, so my program is rather simple. Basically, I want to owl to light up when it is in a dark room. This means two LED lights must turn on when a light sensor fails to get a certain amount of light.

Click on the text file to view my program. It includes notes that show what each line does in the program.

Next, we need to think about how the Lilypad components will run through the pillow. I drew a diagram to plan out my conductive thread lines. After drawing this, I had to change some of the pin numbers in my program around so that my conductive threads didn't cross.

It is very important that your positive and negative lines do not cross. This can cause a short, which means your Lilypad won't work. Plan carefully!

You can look at the PDF to see the diagram I made for my pillow.

Step 4: Begin Crafting! Preparing the Eyes

The next few steps blend crafting the pillow itself and arranging the Lilypad components. I wanted to make the electronics as invisible as possible, so most of the conductive thread stitches, the main board, and the battery are hidden under the orange tummy. Before we get to the body, we need to prepare the eyes.

I followed the instructions given on the owl kit, but I'll summarize them here if you're making the owl from scratch.

  1. Using black thread, cross-stitch the black pupils onto the whites of the eyes.
  2. Using white thread, use a double running stitch to attach the whites of the eyes to the pink part of the eyes. This video is a good reference if you don't know how to perform this stitch.
  3. Using black embroidery thread, loosely attach one LED to each pupil. Leave as much of the silver as possible visible so that the conductive thread, which is added later, can come in contact with it.

Step 5: Arrange Your Lilypad Components

Next, we will place the Lilypad Main Board and the Light Sensor on the body of the owl. Use the piece of felt that you want to be the front of the owl. Set the other piece aside for now.

  1. Using any color of embroidery thread, loosely attach the Main Board in the belly area of the owl to hold it in place. I only threaded my thread through pins that aren't in use for my program (11, A2, A3, and +).
  2. Using any color of embroidery thread, loosely attach the light sensor on the right side of the owl. I only thread my thread to one of the pins, using one pass to make sure that the conductive thread will have enough surface area to make contact with.
  3. Using pink thread, using a double running stitch to attach the eyes to the body.

Step 6: Sew Your Conductive Lines-The Negative and Sensor Lines

Now, we will form our circuits so that the Lilypad can provide power to our light sensor and LEDs. In order to sew with conductive thread, cut a piece from the bobbin and thread it through the needle. Tie a large knot in the end to keep it from completely passing through your felt piece. Beginning at the main board, threat your conductive thread around the correct pin, circling around the opening several times to ensure a good connection. Then, perform a running stitch to the correct opening on the correct component. Make sure your stitches hug the fabric closely.

  • Sew your negative lines first.
    • For the left eye, begin at Pin 10 on the Main Board, circling the opening several times, then move along the fabric on the planned line to the negative opening on the left LED. When you reach the pink fabric of the eye, work only in the blue layer until you reach the LED pin before threading the conducive thread straight up through all three layers of felt. Circle the LED opening several times, then return the thread to the back of the work, tie a knot, and trim the end of the conductive thread short.
    • Repeat for the right eye, but start at Pin 5 and travel toward the right LED. Be sure to leave room for the light sensor's negative line.
    • Beginning at the Negative(-) Pin on the Main Board, sew your conductive thread as described above to the negative opening on the light sensor. I had to go up and around to leave room for the other two lines that will run to the sensor.
  • Sew your sensor line.
    • Beginning at A4 on the Main Board, sew the conductive thread as described above to the opening labeled "S" on the light sensor.

Step 7: Sew the Positive Lines, Make a Pocket

Use the same technique to connect your positive lines. I'll say it again, do not allow your conductive thread lines to cross.

  • Connect Pin 9 on the Main Board to the positive opening on the left LED
  • Connect Pin 6 on the Main Board to the positive opening on the right LED
  • Connect Pin A5 on the Main Board to the positive opening on the light sensor.

To keep the battery safely tucked away in the finished project, I sewed a small piece of fabric on the belly of the owl to make a little pocket. I used the double running stitch to attach the fabric to the felt body.

Test it Out!

Make sure everything works before you finish crafting. If you haven't already, connect your Main Board to your computer with the USB cable and upload your program. Make sure the LEDs come on when you cover the light sensor.

Step 8: Finishing Touches

The electronic part of the project is done! Now, you just need to finish putting your owl together and making her pretty.

The Belly

  • Using white embroidery thread, sew little V's to create feathers on the orange felt of the belly. I entered the fabric from the bottom where the point of the V would be, entered through the top, then entered from the bottom again in the same place to make the second side of the V. Enter the fabric one more time from the top and tie of the end on the back of the fabric. I made a row of two V's, a row of three V's, then another row of two V's.
  • Using orange embroidery thread, sew the belly to the body using a double running stitch. This piece of felt will cover the Main Board and most of the conductive thread lines, I only threaded the embroidery thread through the orange felt to leave an opening in order to reach the battery and the on/off switch.
  • Using pink embroidery thread, use a running stitch to attach the beak to the body.

The Body

  • Now it's time to form the pillow. Line up the front of the owl with the back. Using a blanket stitch, travel around the outline of the owl's body, including the wings, to form the pillow. Use this video as a reference if you don't know how to do a blanket stitch.
  • Keep stitching until you have about a three inch opening.
  • Before you completely close your owl, gently push the polyester stuffing through this opening. Make sure to get enough stuffing into each wing, and straighten any bunches.
  • Continue sewing in the blanket stitch until the owl is completely closed.

The Wings

  • To add shape to the wings, perform a running stitch right where the wings meet the body. Make sure the stuffing is making the wings soft and fluffy!

Now, Athena is ready to light your bedroom at night!