Introduction: LEDs for Kids!

About: A mechanical engineer, instructor at Thaddeus Stevens College, and lifelong maker. Thanks Dad! A founding member of make717. Check them out at

No soldering required for this cool introduction project to the world of LED's, electronics, e-textiles, etc.

This project was refined over the course of 4 summer camps with TechGyrls (approximately 35 middle school girls). I learned a few things along the way, and got lots of great help from many people (my daughter, summer camp counselors, some maker pro women exhibiting at the National Makers Faire, etc.)

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Let the LED's blink away!

Step 1: What You Will Need:

  1. In the ubiquitous red box from Sparkfun is an e-textile basic lab pack. LAB-13165, $200 for 10 kits.
  2. Waste Canvas from a craft store (used for cross stitching, my daughters ninja skill).
  3. A stuffed animal that needs some LED effects! Go Champ the bulldog!
  4. Scissors
  5. Helping hands. Optional, I figured this one out on the last camp :-), but :-( it wasn't earlier.

Step 2: Make a Pattern to Follow.

My hope was that the students would learn the circuit and then do their own thing. I wanted to keep it simple and not have to worry about insulating the thread if possible.

I originally tried regular cross stitch fabric or index cards...none of these worked nearly as well as my daughters suggestion of using Waste Canvas.

I cut waste canvas into pieces roughly 3" high by 2.5" wide.

I then cut out an index card as a pattern to trace with a sharpie onto the waste canvas (this idea came from Mary, our Woman's center director at Stevens College).

Step 3: Hints...

I "kitted" the parts in a ziploc to prevent losing the small LED's or damaging electronics.

The camp counselors had the girls put their name on the tag of the stuffed animal...small things like this can prevent major headaches of ownership claims!

Step 4: A Stitch in Time...

Full disclosure: I am not a sewer. I got lots of help in this area from Sparkfun (Joelle), (Sally), and (Alessandra) and my daughter.

This thread IS NOT EASY to work with. Its twisty and wants to knot up. I tried a bit of wax, but just generally try to untwist it before threading the needle. My daughter holds the 2 ends and rubs it across her knee, that seems to make it more cooperative.

  1. Thread needle, about arms length. The Sparkfun kit has a bobbin that would provide enough thread to do this small project many times over. Don't skimp, but don't make it too long.
  2. Tie an anchor knot to the battery + terminal that is on the "top" (the other + terminal is on the bottom left side). Trim tail of thread.
  3. Wrap 3 tight loops around the board. I noticed that the PCB material has some sharp edges that can catch the thread and keep it from contacting the silver conductive pad area. I instructed them to cover as much of this silver area as possible, 3 to 6 loops.
  4. Tie another knot to keep these loops in close contact with the silver conductive pad. This is one of the challenges with this project. Keeping stuff anchored. The maker pro's (Threadwitch and Alevasi) suggested things like hot glue, nail polish, etc. I did use tape a few times and avoided using hot glue after seeing how hard it was to remove...but after you are happy with the circuit this is probably the way to go. Mechanical anchoring and insulation!
  5. Now hold the board against the pattern following the sharpie marker guide. Tack the board to the waste canvas by going down thru the waste canvas then coming up through the hole of the board.
  6. Tie a knot in the second board (initially the + side of the Lilypad Twinkle).
  7. Repeat steps 3 thru 6 and then trim excess thread.
  8. I found that often the thread would have excessively high resistance and caused intermittent problems. So I suggest doubling up thread for each connection.

Step 5: Repeat Many Times...

By the 4th time doing this project I realized that many problems were not being discovered until we tested the circuit at the end. So IMHO, the best process to follow is:

  1. connect plus on battery pad to + on Lilypad Twinkle (round board).
  2. connect - on battery pad to - on Lilypad Twinkle.
  3. Connect 0 to + on LED.
  4. Connect minus on battery board to minus on LED.
  5. Insert battery and test!
  6. Complete remaining connections if it works.
  7. If it doesn't, the learning that occurs. Get out a basic meter and show the students how to measure resistance, voltage, etc.

They could see the immediate effect of shorts caused by thread getting underneath the battery, frays, etc. What a great non threatening way to learn electronics!

Step 6: Make Something Today Before Summer Ends!

And while you are at it, please support make717!

Thanks to everyone that made this project go from frustrating to doable.

I hope that some women will pursue STEAM related jobs because of this camp!

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