Introduction: Light-Up Felt Menorah With Chibitronics Circuit Sticker (Proof of Concept)

About: I'm a STEAM educator and homeschooling expert who creates hands-on learning projects that teach science, tech, history, and art! In addition to books for Make and Nomad Press, I contribute learning guides to A…

Updated! See the pillow version of this felt menorah I wrote for the Make magazine website.

Every year in late fall, during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah (or Chanukah), families gather around the menorah to light the holiday candles. I decided to see if I could create a Light-Up Felt Menorah with LEDs that flickered just like real candles using the Chibitronics Circuit Stickers from an Instructables Build Night at my local makerspace, the Tech Valley Center of Gravity in Troy, NY. This prototype showed that my design is workable and can hopefully be improved to create a version that can be hung on a wall during the eight nights of the holiday.

By tradition, a Hanukkah menorah holds nine candles. One candle, the shamash, or helper candle, is used to light all the others. It must be set apart from the others, usually by making it a little higher. Hanukkah is usually celebrated at home, and children often create home-made menorahs of their own to light with a parent's help. But in places like preschools, nursing homes and dorm rooms, where real candles are not allowed, this Light-Up Felt Menorah with removable candles could be a fun substitute.

Circuit Stickers are adhesive-backed electronic components that are small and light enough to fit on a piece of paper or fabric. Connect the LEDs to an electric circuit with a 3V battery and they will light up. Insert the effects stickers into the circuit and the LEDs will blink in pre-programmed patterns. The circuit itself can be made out of anything conductive, from standard wire to aluminum foil to graphite pencil lines. The components also have tiny holes that allow you to sew them into a circuit with conductive thread. In this project, I use narrow adhesive-backed copper foil tape to make the traces along which the electricity will flow.

The inspiration for the menorah and removable candles was the kind of felt boards used in primary schools. Friction holds the fuzzy removable felt shapes to the felt background. Although my prototype lit up and flickered when the circuit was closed, it was not reliable. The felt did not grip tightly enough to make a good electrical connection. I decided to go ahead and post my in-progress Instructable in the hope that someone can come up with a simple and good-looking solution to this problem. I will also suggest possible fixes along the way.

Step 1: Materials and Template for Felt Pieces

Here are the materials I used for my Light-Up Felt Menorah prototype:

      Use the template pdf as a guide for cutting out the felt menorah and candles. Vary the flame shapes as desired.

      I designed the menorah template to fit on a letter-sized piece of paper. The entire design fits on a single 9 X 12 inch sheet of felt. That made for a tight fit with the copper foil traces, which may be part of the reason the connections are not reliable. One possible fix is to use a larger sheet of felt as a background, enlarge the menorah and candles, and use wider (1/4 inch) copper tape.

      I also used inexpensive acrylic felt in this version. Because the felt pieces did not stick very tightly to the background, I used Glue Dots to attach the menorah to the background, the flame to the candles, and the candles to the candleholders. Using thicker, premium wool felt may improve the grip of the felt pieces to the background.

        Step 2: Attach the Menorah to the Background and Wire Up the Shamash

        Attach the menorah and the shamash to the background, using the Glue Dots if needed. Except for the shamash, leave the top of each candle holder loose, so the candles can slip in behind them.

        Next, following the guidelines on the template, lay the copper tape traces along the circuit lines. For the shamash only, the tape goes right onto the candle. In general, try to use one piece of copper tape for each segment. If you have to use more than one, the ends of each piece must overlap the next to avoid a break in the circuit. Although the adhesive on the tape should be conductive, it helps to fold under the end to make the best connection possible. Also note that there should be a gap for the twinkle effects sticker.

        Step 3: Connect the Components to the Circuit and Test It

        You have laid out two parallel strips of copper tape. One will be connected to the negative side of the battery, and the other to the positive side. Because LEDs only work in one direction, you must attach the LEDs in the right orientation. The pointy end of the LED is the negative side and should be at the bottom. Attach an LED sticker to the top of the candle as shown. Press firmly to be sure it is connected. You can reinforce the connection by covering the copper pads on the front of the sticker with extra little pieces of copper foil.

        Now add a flame right over the LED. A Glue Dot will hold it in place. Then attach the effects sticker in the gap. You can add more tape across the front if needed.

        To test the circuit, place a battery in the bottom right corner of the felt background, as shown. Be sure the positive side of the battery is facing up. It is the smoother side, and should be marked with a "+" sign. Fold up the corner (along the dotted line on the template) and hold in place with the binder clip.

        Make sure the candle lights up before going on. If it doesn't, check for any breaks in the electrical circuit and patch them with more copper tape. Also be sure the stickers are connected securely to the tape.

        Step 4: Wire Up the Remaining Candles and Menorah

        Wire up the rest of the candles and the menorah as shown on the template. Because the removable candles were not staying lit, I added little tabs of extra foil on the bottom of the candle and the backside of each candleholder. This is not shown on the template!

        Test each candle as you add it. When you insert a candle into the candle holder, you must line up the lines of copper tape with those on the menorah very carefully. Don't let the positive and negative lines to touch each other or you will create a short, and the LED won't light.

        You can see that three candles worked well. Getting all eight candles to stay lit at the same time was a problem, however. Let me know in the comments if you try this project and come up with any fixes!