Introduction: How to Sew an LED Into Your Embroidery Project

About: I used to work for, now I just make stuff. // follow me to see what I'm up to:

This Instructable goes over how I made a gift for a special occasion. I chose this design because there is nothing sweeter than two hands forming a heart, and it was surprisingly easy to stitch!

Using some conductive thread with an itty-bitty sewable LED, I was able to whip up this cute light-up patch in just a few days. (Those who are faster/more patient with their embroidering skills will assuredly complete this project much faster.)

Step 1: Materials

Step 2: Tracing the Pattern and Circuit

I learned in jessyratfink's Embroidery Class that the best way to transfer patterns is to use a light box. Welp, I don't have a lightbox, so instead, I used my phone! A tablet would have been even easier.

I pulled up some clip art that I wanted to embroider on my phone and used a water soluble pencil to trace the design. Using a different color, I traced where I would place the LED and battery leads.

Step 3: Sew the Circuit

Using an embroidery needle with conductive thread, I sewed the LED into place. There is one stitch-line for each the positive and negative lead of the LED. I secured the conductive thread by backstitching and tying a tight knot with the needle. Trim the shorter thread tails.

I was left with a very secure LED and long leads of conductive thread coming out of the backside of the embroidery hoop. These leads will be used later to connect the positive and negative battery terminals.

Step 4: Diffusing the LED

The tiny surface-mount style LED is very bright, but also throws light in a way that, in my opinion, should be diffused. Hot glue to the rescue!

Once you coat an LED with some hot glue or epoxy, the light is able to refract to the edges of the glue, instead of just within the lens of the LED.

Be sure to check out my Glue Class for more great Hot Glue tips and tricks.

Step 5: Finishing the Embroidery

Using all the skills and stitch techniques I learned in jessyratfink's Embroidery Class, I completed filling in the design. Primarily, I used the satin stitch and chain stitch.

The two long tails of conductive thread are still accessible after the embroidery was completed. Those will get sewn into +/- battery snaps once the patch is backed.

Step 6: Backing the Patch

When I was done with stitching the design, I wanted to cover up the mess of my stitches with some felt. I began by removing the outer hoop and then tracing the inner diameter of the inside hoop.

When I had a circle traced on the felt, I cut out the shape and pinned it to my embroidery, close to the leads of the conductive thread.

I threaded the conductive thread back into an embroidery needle and pierced the thread through the felt so I could sew the conductive snaps on to the top of the felt.

Once the leads were free from the underside of the felt, I carefully glued the felt down onto the back side of the embroidery using repositionable spray adhesive.

There's a great Spray Adhesive lesson in my Glue Class that goes over best practices for using spray glue.

Step 7: Sewing in Conductive Snaps

I marked out where the battery clip would need to connect and spaced the snaps so that the battery clip would still have a low profile without buckling or bending the felt-backed patch.

Once I knew where to place the snaps, I sewed down the male end of each of the 2 conductive snaps.

Step 8: Sewing Snaps to the Battery Clip

Using a very small embroidery needle, since the holes on the battery clip are quite small, I sewed the female end of the snaps to each side of the clip. I did some gentle stress testing of my connections before inserting the battery and fitting the snaps to the male-end on the patch.

Step 9: Edging the Patch

I really wanted this little embroidery to be more mobile, so I cut it out and edged the outside with a deep maroon colored embroidery floss.

Step 10: Snap in the Battery

After the edging was complete, I reconnected the battery snaps and to make sure I didn't stretch it out while finished putting the border on.

If anything, after the edges had been added, it helped gently block the embroider and it was even flatter :D

Step 11: That's It!

This patch is ready to glow-in-the-dark! Below you'll see what it looks like with all the lights off.

That's a wrap!

After finishing this beginner's soft circuit project, be sure to check out the Wearable Electronics Class to step your skills up!

If you remix this project, you can totally just leave it in the hoop and not cut it out as a patch. Can't wait to see your version of this simple soft circuit!