Introduction: Lilypad Arduino Spider Costume

This semester I am taking a class on children and technology as part of my degree in Library Science. One of my assignments includes crafting a wearable and programmable item using a LilyPad Arduino development board. I have three children who are always needing costumes for various holidays, celebrations, and school activities. Since I do not have a sewing machine, but love doing no-sew crafts, I decided to create a spider costume that required minimal sewing. The LilyPad is sewn into it and connected to white LEDs sewn into the eyes that light up in various patterns when it is turned on. To see the eyes blinking, you can view a short YouTube video here.

I explored several tutorials and examined the work of many other programmers to figure out how to even get started. I appreciate the guidance of Casey Rawson, who gave our class a tutorial, and shared her own creation that can be found here. I also got initial help on how to get started from Leah Buechley's tutorials online. While I did not use her code, her tutorials helped me see exactly what was possible. I got my idea for how the spider should look from Heather Mann's No Sew Spider Costume on I adapted the instructions pretty significantly, but was inspired by the general design.

Step 1: Step 1: Materials

Crafting Materials:

  • Black Zip Up Hoodie
  • Felt or Fleece (or other material that doesn't fray)
    • Black
    • Green
    • Orange
    • White
  • Thread to match the fleece
    • Black
    • Green
    • Orange
    • White
  • Needles
  • Safety Pins
  • 2 Pairs black tights or panty hose
  • Fishing wire
  • Scissors
  • Fiberfill, such as you would use to stuff a pillow
  • Iron-on velcro squares
  • White chalk
  • Iron

Electronic Materials:

Step 2: Step 2: Plan

The sewing of the electronic piece is fairly simple. The white LEDs are sewn to the front two spider eyes and the LilyPad board is sewn on the underside of the hood to the side so that it will not rest on the wearer's head. Because the eyes are sewn to the top of the board, and the LilyPad board is sewn to the bottom of the hood, I sketched it out to make sure the negative and positive wires did not cross, and they were connected to the correct ports on the board.

Step 3: Step 3: Sewing the Eyes

Spiders have eight eyes, including two main eyes. As the eyes are on the top of the hood, I decided to only have the front two eyes light up, as they are the most visible. Attaching the eyes to the hood was necessary before I could attach the LEDs and LilyPad board.

1. First, cut out all of the pieces of felt you will need to construct the eyes. Cut two white circles (2 inch diameter) for the two main eyes (I traced the bottom of a juice glass for the circles). Then cut two two slightly smaller green circles (1.5 inch diameter) for the main eyes, and six orange circles (1.5 inch diameter) for the secondary eyes. Finally, cut two small orange triangles for the main eyes, and six small green triangles for the secondary eyes.

2. Sew the pieces together, using matching thread. Sew the green triangles to the orange circles, and the orange triangles to the green circles. Alternately, you could glue the pieces on using fabric glue.

3. Attach the LEDs to the green circles using green thread. You do not use conductive thread for this step, as it is just to keep the LEDs in place.

4. Sew the circles to the hood in the pattern from the plan. I used white chalk to map out the eye placement on the hood, as the photo above shows.

Step 4: Step 4: Sewing the Electronic Pieces

The next thing I did was attach the LilyPad board to the side of the hood on the inside. I did not want the board to rest on the head of the wearer as that could be uncomfortable. I placed in on the side close to the front of the hood so the on/off switch would be easily accessible.

1. First attach the LilyPad board to the hood using non-conductive black thread. I simply ran the thread through the pins twice to attach it securely.

2. Use white chalk to draw the connections between the port you are using for the side of the LEDs and the pin you are using for the positive side. I did this to ensure I would not cross my wires at any point, and it was helpful in keeping my lines straight.

3. Use the connective thread to connect the LilyPad board to the LEDs. Because the lights always run in unison, I was able to attach both positives connections to one pin as well as both negatives to one pin. Run the conductive thread from pin 6 along the seam to the first LED negative connection, and then on to the second LED negative connection. I wrapped the thread around the pins several times, until each pin was covered to maximize the strength. Do the same thing to connect the positive connections on the LEDs to the LilyPad pin number 9.

4. Once the pieces were all sewn on, I attached a piece of black felt to the inside of the hood in order to cover the LilyPad board. I ironed the velcro on to the felt and the hood. I did the for two reasons. One, I wanted to keep the LilyPad board from bothering the child wearing the hood, and two, since skin is conductive, I wanted to keep the board away from the skin.

Step 5: Step 5: Program the LilyPad

I have done very little programming in my life, and I decided to keep it simple. I like the idea of having a few different patterns of blinking lights, alternating with lights staying on for several seconds. I first examined some of the patterns that come as examples in the Arduino program. You can create whatever light pattern you want, just by changing the amount of time the lights stays on, and the amount of time they are off. Remember that because the lights are both on the same pin, they have to work together. You cannot program them to do different things. My code is attached below.

Step 6: Step 6: Upload Your Program to the LilyPad Board

1. Plug your battery into the LilyPad board. When your board is attached to your computer, your battery will charge.

2. Plug your FTDI driver into the LilyPad and use the mini-USB port to attach the driver to your computer.

3. From the Arduino application, upload your program to the LilyPad board. It should start running your light sequence immediately, whether the board is on or off. Once you disconnect your LilyPad from the computer, your board will have to be on for the light sequence to run.

Step 7: Step 7: Attaching the Arms and Finishing Touches

What is a spider without eight legs? To finish the costume, you need four additional legs (the childs' arms count as the next two, and the legs count as the final two)

1. Cut the legs from the two pairs of black tights, and fill with fiberfill. You can make the legs as long as you want, and as thick as you want. I made them slightly longer than my child's arm so they would dangle down a small amount once they were attached.

2. Once the four pieces are filled, I tied the open end of the tights closed. That is the side that I attached to the side of the sweatshirt with a safety pin. I could have sewn it on as well, but I wanted to make sure I had flexibility in case I needed to change it for a different sized child.

3. When the four arms are attached to the sweatshirt (one right under the underarm on each side, and one at the bottom of the sweatshirt as the photo shows), attach the other end to the end of the arm of the sweatshirt using fishing wire. Put a safety pin through the cuff of the sweatshirt, and tie two pieces of fishing wire to it, one that hangs down about eight inches, and one about 16 inches. Next tie the bottom of the fishing wire to the end of the spider leg. Repeat for the legs on the other side.

To complete the look, the child should wear black pants, black gloves, and black socks and shoes.