Lasercut Stretchy Conductive Fabric Traces




About: I dropped out of art school to study artificial intelligence, but I still like making things a lot!

Intro: Lasercut Stretchy Conductive Fabric Traces

How to make conductive fabric traces from non-stretchy fabric and attach them to stretchy fabric.

You will need:

  • Conductive fabric. I used Cobaltex from Less EMF
  • Wonder Under or some other iron-on adhesive sheeting (you can get it at fabric stores)
  • Laser cutter
  • Clothing iron
  • Flux
  • Soldering iron
  • Stuff you want to solder
  • rhinestone glue (like Gemtac) for gluing your components to the fabric.

I used these conductive fabric traces in my Caché dress, which is made out of cotton jersey. You can read more about that here: or see more of these pictures here:

Step 1: Ironing on the Wonder Under

First you need to iron the wonder under onto your piece of conductive fabric. Put the glue side down and iron on low until the glue melts enough to stick to the fabric. If you iron it too long or too high, the glue will disappear into the fabric, and that's not so great.

Leave the paper on, that is the side that you will be lasercutting.

Step 2: Laser Cut the Fabric

You want to laser cut the fabric with a pattern so that even though the fabric itself doesn't stretch, the structure will. I included some samples in the .dxf file below, copy them to the sizes of your fabric.

The laser cutter settings that you use should cut through the paper and fabric without burning away too much excess fabric. For our lasercutter (a really old Universal) that means the following settings:
  • Vector cut
  • 1000 PPI
  • 45% power
  • 40% speed

Cut away!

Step 3: Ironing on the Traces

I use a mini iron (a quilter's iron for patches and applique stuff) to iron on the traces because I'm clumsy. But you can use a regular clothing iron too.

Mark where you want your traces beforehand (with tape or pencil) so that you can be sure you don't have any overlap. If you need to cross traces, iron on one trace first, and sandwich with a small piece of heavy non-conductive fabric so that the fabric doesn't touch.

Peel the paper backing off the traces and iron them on. Keep at least 1.5 cm of spacing between ground and signal traces.

Step 4: Snaps As Connectors for Non-washable Components.

LEDs, piezo transducers, small buttons and the like are generally washable. Some more expensive components however you might not want to just stick in the washing machine. In the dress I used a bluetooth module and some speaker drivers I decided I wanted to remove when washing, so I used snaps to make the connections.

Sew the snaps onto the ends of the traces with conductive thread, making it plenty tight. For good measure you can make sure it doesn't fray with a dab of thread end glue. Solder the other end of the snaps onto the end of your signal wires. To make sure that I don't get ground and signal wires mixed up, I used differently sized snaps for the two.

Step 5: Soldering on the Washable Components

The fabric is metal coated polyester, so if we heat it for too long, the polyester part will burn. To avoid this, try to get an adjustable soldering iron and use low-temperature solder, and solder the components as quickly as possible. Brush flux onto the places where you are going to solder. Pre-tin the components by adding solder to them before you connect them to the trace. Then touch the soldering iron to the component and the trace on the fabric as quickly as possible.

After you solder the component onto the end, it is best to reinforce the mechanical connection by ironing on another heavy piece of fabric with some wonder under. Then you can glue the component down with some rhinestone glue (like Gem-tac).

Another way to do this is to create rings at the ends of the lead of your components and to sew them in with conductive thread. This is more laborious, and with my sewing skills less durable.

Step 6: Care and Repairs

In my experience what is the most fragile is the traces getting unglued. You can generally fix this by ironing over them again, but if the iron on glue has soaked into the fabric beneath you might need to add some extra (heat setting) fabric glue. My dress was OK in the washing machine on the woollen cycle, but it would probably last longer if you hand wash.



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    13 Discussions


    4 years ago on Step 2

    I'm looking to do this. Did you do only one layer at a time? Do you think it could to a stack? And would I need to change the settings?


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I am really taken with this idea.

    I'd like to use it in a conductive shirt I'm making, but was wondering whether you've had any issues with shorts from the positive and negative conductive traces crossing? I will have quite a few close together so I'm worried they may cross since the shirt is flexible and short out.

    2 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

     My signal traces are close to my ground traces, but none of the power traces could touch the ground traces.  If you have them all close together, I would recommend shielding the traces with another layer of non fabric, or using fabric glue to shield the traces.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction


    One other question...I found someone who has a Universal machine but newer than the one you most likely used. Do you remember the wattage of the machine or the setting that you used to cut the traces? We were also interested in whether or not it was a CO2 laser.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I get an idea from your website about the purpose of this project, but could you speak more here as to what this dress does and how and why? Looks great! Thanks

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Hey Scoochmaroo, Each time a user clicks on any part of my body online, a signal is sent to my dress via bluetooth which then causes that body part to make a clicking noise. It gives me a better sense of where someone is looking at what, when. I have a pretty good sense of gaze in real life, but not so much in virtual worlds where photographs of me and other parts of my online identity are conflated. I was trying to fatten the connection between my online and offline identities. Nadya


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Pretty awesome. I'm going to try this out soon. I have a few wearable projects I've been wanting to do. I was looking at the project page and was wondering how viewing those images exactly translated into what you were wearing? Does your shirt have a node for each image? What kind of sound does it make? How is it channeling the internet of the aether?

    3 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Hey Randofo, The golden circle things are piezo transducers which I'm driving with an astable oscillator circuit (a 555). Basically it is a PWM signal that you create in hardware. The bigger picture is: clicks on webserver are counted by a python script, sent to python script running on my laptop, which accounts for which body part the clicks correspond to and then sends a signal over bluetooth to the dress. In the pocket you see there is a bluetooth arduino with a breakout board with all the 555s on it. I'm using 555s so I can have more speakers than the atmega has PWM outputs for. That still means that not every image has its own speaker, so the images are grouped according to speaker-nodes. This is not really an optimal solution because of course 1: more speakers is always better .) and 2: although I'm almost always near my computer sometimes I am out of bluetooth range. I can run the second script on a nokia with python interpreter too, except I don't really use a nokia .). Maybe I will put up another instructable about how to design a arduino breakout board in eagle... Then I can explain more about my 555 circuitry. But I should really redesign that too, and use a multiplexer. Hmmmmmm... Nadya


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Friggin' Arduinos. They make some things so easy and some things so needlessly hard. You can probably get more PWM outputs from a PIC 16F876 chip. If you're just sending basic numbers, you might be able to work something out with text messages to your phone and then serially to a connected bluetooth module. Been thinking about figuring out the text message to bluetooth module thing myself for some time (that is why I was curious how you were doing it). An Arduino breakout board Instructable would be great. I could use one of those.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Mmm, pics. There aren't a whole lot of people here I can ask questions about pics to. Multiplexers though, I hope are my future. I've also been working on this major hack for adding gpio to my phone, and my idea is to basically do a phototransistor matrix in a light sealed case and an iphone app. Drawback is paying money just to share the app :(.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for sharing the 'making-off' the Caché dress, like, love the concept and the brilliant idea for making stretchy traces - just brilliant :)