Illuminate - a Social Garment




Introduction: Illuminate - a Social Garment

About: Hi, I'm Yuchen, a designer who works across interaction, branding, and wearable design. She is currently one of the co-founders of Wearable Media and part-time lecturer at the Parsons School of Design.

In my fashion tech projects, I am always inspired by social interaction with a strong visual impact. Since my background was in visual design, I enjoy bringing a strong visual impact into the interaction designs of my garments. This garment highlights a physical interaction by illuminating the area when touched.

This instructable walks you through my process of creating this garment from concept mood board to creating the circuit design. You can also see the garment on my website here.

Step 1: Create a Vision of the Garment

When I propose to any organization about what I want to create, a mood board made of sketches, inspiration images, and any quick prototype images. This helps me to visualize my design concept

Step 2: Components and Testing

When you are ready to tackle the code that drives the interaction. Download my sample code here on GitHub. Then put the electronic components together like this. You will need the following components:

1. Adafruit Flora $14.95 X1 ( This is the micro controller that will be acting as the brain of the garment. This controller tells the LEDs when to turn on and off. See a tutorial here about how to set up the micro controller by codebender_cc. )

2. Adafruit 12-Key capacitive Touch Sensor Breakout $7.95 X1 ( This is the nerve endings of the garment. These capacitive touch sensor breakout boards can tell when you touch the pins with your fingers and then send that information to the micro controller. See a tutorial about the capacitive touch sensor here on Adafruit learn.)

3. Adafruit LED Sequins - Warm White - Pack of 5 $3.95 X 8 (LEDs are light emitting diodes. They will light up your garment. See the spec sheet of these LEDs here.)

4. 74HC595 Shift Register - Pack of 3 $2.75 X1 ( Even though we only need one shift register in the garment. It is nice to have two extra ones in case anything happens)

5. Lithium Ion Battery - 3.7v 2000mAh $12.50 ( Without the battery, nothing will happen to the garment. These lithium batteries are fairly light for your garment. They are great and rechargeable without adding too much weight. )

Connecting wires with jumper wires to test out if they are working. Here is my code:

Step 3: Solder the Core Components Together

Once you are done testing the micro controller, shift register and capacitive touch sensor on the breadboard and you know its working. You can solder them together with wires and solder led. You can see a comprehensive solder tutorial here by noahw.

Step 4: Plan Where Your Components Are Going to Be on the Garment

You can see on the diagram, there is the back side of my garment design pattern. I have decided that my circuits live on the inside of this pattern so that the circuits doesn't interfere with the capacitive touch on the outside of the garment.

Please note that the connection pins are marked on the previous step for Flora.

Step 5: Cut Out the Patterns of the Garment

You can follow a similar design as my garment or you can create your own! I sometimes wear gloves to cut my patterns when the fabrics I uses are white. However this is not something you have to you.

Step 6: Sew the LED Onto the Individual Trims

My LED trimmings are made of three layers.

1. The reflective nylon trimming you can purchase in fashion supply stores.

2. Conductive fabric tape sold by Tinker Sphere in New York City. You can also find other suppliers online.

3. Lastly the sewable LEDs in white sold by Adafruit.

I have included 5 strips of LED trimming onto my garment. You can add as many as the amount of capacitive touch sensor pins you have.

Step 7: Sew the Touch Points Onto the Pattern

I have added an extra layer of neon fabric between my conductive fabric tape and my garment to create a visual cure for people to know where to touch.

You can do the same or directly peel the back of the conductive fabric tape and tape the ideal length onto your garment.

Step 8: Sew the LED Trim Onto the Pannels

Before you sew all the LED trimming onto the individual touch panels, make sure to test if all of your LEDs are working. It would be harder to take LEDs off once you have sewed the trimming onto the garment panels. You can use your zipper footer so that you don't get stuck by the LEDs.

Step 9: Sew All the Components Together

Since this is a general description of making an interactive garment. I am not going to list all the steps of constructing a garment. This also entirely depends on your own design.

Step 10: Hand Sew the Core Circuits Onto the Back Pattern and Connect All the Pieces

Once you have tested your circuit that you have solder together, hand sew the circuit onto the back pattern of your garment to make sure that they are secure and won't fall off. Make sure to test the circuit again after you have sewed the core components onto the back pattern.

Make sure to add a layer between the circuit and the wearer's back so that the wearer's back doesn't accidentally turn on all the lights. This also helps to protect your circuit.

Step 11: Connect All the Wires and Test!


Hopefully, your design is working the first time when you connect everything together. If it is not, don't worry, you can test all the connections with a multimeter and debug step by step.

Lamps and Lighting Contest 2016

Participated in the
Lamps and Lighting Contest 2016

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    6 years ago


    Jodie B
    Jodie B

    6 years ago


    That is so NICE! Wish we had an example on how it looks on the body. Really liked the project and the results!


    Reply 6 years ago

    Hi Leonor, I agree i wish I had an example with a person wearing this too!


    6 years ago

    Great idea! Thank you for the inspiration. :)


    6 years ago

    Cool concept, nice effect!


    Reply 6 years ago

    Thank you, Becky! It's amazing to get a comment from you!