One of the major obstacles when working with textile/conductive fabric electronics is connecting them to traditional electronic hardware and other elements. The following Instructable illustrates one way to overcome this drawback of such a fascinating emerging technology.
After reading this Instructable, you will be able to build your own male header connector that is ideal for integrating conductive fabric sensors and other textile electronics with traditional electronics and wire.
These male headers can be used with conductive fabric/thread sensors such as these, as well as a great multitude of other applications:
-- Knit Stretch Sensor
-- Knit Touchpad
-- Conductive Thread Pressure Sensor
-- Conductive Fabric Bend Sensor
**Conductive thread male connectors can also be purchased pre-assembled or as a DIY kit.**
-- Pre-assembled Male Connector
-- DIY Male Connector Kit
Step 1: Materials and Tools
-- Single Row Header Pins --> Can be purchased at Digikey
-- Solid Core Wire (~20-28AWG)
-- Conductive Thread --> Can be purchased at Sparkfun or Lame LIfesaver
-- Fabric (aka what you want to sew conductive thread onto)
-- Male Connector Kit --> Can be purchased at Esty
-- Pre-assembled Male Connector - 5 pack --> Can be purchased at Esty
-- Soldering Iron
-- Wire stripper or scissors
-- Needle nose pliers
Step 2: Prepare Wire
First, we are going to want to start by making a wire loop at one end of our wire. This loop will be used to sew the connector to the fabric using conductive thread.
Strip and bend the solid core wire into a loop/question mark shape. The stripped section should be around 1/4" long but don't be too concerned about it at this point; it can be fixed later.
Now use the needle nose pliers and bend the exposed wire into a loop.
Tip: If you plan on using more than one header pin in your connector, you'll want to make this loop as small as possible yet still be able to easily get a needle through the loop. If you make the loop too big, when you attach them all to the header pins you might find that they overlap or come in contact with each other. Definitely something you want to avoid!
Step 3: Solder Wire Loop
Using solder and the soldering iron, solder the gap between the end of the wire and the base of the loop. Clip the completed wire loop from the rest of the wire leaving about 1/8th to 1/4th of an inch of bare wire.
Tip: You don't want to use a whole lot of solder to do this. Too much solder could obstruct the needle from threading through the loop.
Step 4: Solder Wire Loop to the Header Pins.
Now, cut the desired number of header pins from the row of header pins. In this example, I've used two header pins. Like I mentioned earlier, if you are going to use more than two header pins, you are going to have to work with the sizing of the loop in order to get them to all fit.
Use the solder and soldering iron to tin the base end of the headers and the end of the wire loop. (Tinning is when you apply a thin coat of solder to the object. This helps when attaching them to one another)
Next, solder the wire loop to the base of the header pin. This part can get a little tricky and frustrating. A vice or helping hand will definitely make things easier on you.
**If you are only using one header pin, you can move on to the next step. If you are using more than one header pin, then repeat steps 2 and 3 for each header pin.**
Step 5: Application - Sewing the Connector
By this time, you've (hopefully) completed your male connector. Now you just have to learn how to integrate it into a soft circuit!
Using the conductive thread and needle, stitch the wire loop to the fabric starting from the top of the loop and working your way counter-clockwise around. When you reach the bottom of the loop, continue stitching leading away from the loop creating a trace. Continue stitching and leaving a trace as determined by your application (e.g. sensor, female header, etc.).
**Note: Using neoprene has an advantage over other fabrics because you are able to thread the needle into the fabric without having the thread exposed on the other side. This will insulate the thread.**
Again repeat for each header pin and loop.