Motion Interactive LED Shawl




Introduction: Motion Interactive LED Shawl

It always feels extra hard in the wintertime to walk the dog before and after work because it is cold and dark outsides. This shawl is designed to provide both warmth and light for extra safety (and amusement).

The scarf lights up across its entire surface in response to how the person wearing it moves. My "fringe switches" are so sensitive that even a small breeze results in the visual effect of lights flickering and shimmering. Everything here is based on mechanical (loose) connections without any coding or computing.

There were two things that inspired this project: 1) My fascination with combining old (low tech) textile techniques with fun electronics, and 2) the idea of creating a wearable that is truly responsive to both the wearer and the environment without any computing. This means I wanted to create all the textiles "from scratch" and play with the materials in a more organic and less planned manner.

Step 1: Materials


  • Roving for felting
  • Cheese cloth for the base (I don't use silk for my nuno felting)
  • Roving to spin yarns to embellish
  • Some locks and Angelina Fiber for embellishment



  • Sewing needles
  • Spindle or spinning wheel
  • Felting needles

Step 2: Spinning Yarn and Thread

While I like the conductive heavy thread from Adafruit, for this project I wanted to use white thread. I took the very thin conductive thread I had and plied that first into two singles (2 ply) and than re-plied those again to get a heavier thread. The picture above shows the initial thread and the result after the plying - turns out this is great stuff and quite cheap by comparison. I used the spinning wheel for this and was surprised how quickly I had my conductive yarn.

I also spun some single yarns that I wanted to use in the scarf as accent lines.

Step 3: Felting the Scarf

This scarf is nuno felted and I used a cheese cloth instead of the traditional silk which actually worked out very well. I laid out the pattern I wanted with the roving on the cheese cloth, added my single yarns that I had spun for visual interest and some locks and Angelina fibers to make it all pretty and sparkling.

Once I was happy with the design I wet felted it all. If you are not sure how to wet felt (or nuno felt) for that matter, just Google it - lots of great tutorials out there.

Step 4: Adding the LED's

Next I sewed the LED's onto the scarf. I knew I wanted three independent circuits in the end to add more independent "motion" and flickering into the design so I simply ran three lines of parallel circuits in a wavy pattern on the length of the scarf. I also continuously checked with alligator clips to make sure the LED's were working and oriented correctly...just saying...wouldn't be the first time I messed that up...

Step 5: Motion Interactive Switches

To get the effect I wanted where the lights would blink/flicker on and off based on the motion of the wearer, I ran through several different ideas and trials. This is where things really go interesting and fun until I found the solution that I liked.

First I grounded all three circuits to the switch. I knew the motion sensitive parts would be in the "power lines". For the motion switches I then took the copper cable sleeves, expanded them some with knitting needles to get nice round tubes and ran my positive thread through the sleeve. By the way, I used copper patina first to darken them up so they work better with the colors of the scarf. Once the thread was passed through the tube I stitched the cooper sleeves (with regular thread) to the scarf and made them a part of the fringe.

During my experimentation I had found that it was very effective to have a fairly long (3-4 inches) tube/positive thread combination to allow for more connections on the inside. Once everything was together I squeezed the copper tubes into narrow cords and wrapped them around a single felt fringe where I secured them with a few stitches.

To finish the switch I used a conductive pendant (yup, I am the crazy lady in the bead section with a multi meter...) and conductive thread - this time I used the grey stuff from Adafruit. In the first picture above you can see the white positive thread that ends up in the copper tube and the gray thread that will connect to the pendant which moves across the copper tube.

This is done for all three lines of LED's.

Step 6: Wiring Diagram

Above is a simplified diagram of what is in the scarf. I only drew a single line of LED's and a single pendant/fringe switch to make things easier to figure out.

Step 7: Adding/Hiding the Battery and Switch Board

For this scarf I permanently installed/hid the battery. When the time comes to recharge I can just use one of the JST extension cords, unplug the battery from the switch board and connect the battery to the charger. To hide the batter I basically covered it with some roving and CAREFULLY needle felted it in place. This takes a little finesse to avoid stabbing the battery or cables with the felting needle but is actually quite easy.

The battery is under that little lump in the picture above just about invisible.

To finish the electronics I stitched down the board and needle felted a couple of locks over it to keep it out of sight but within reach (not seen here).

Step 8: Diffusing the Lights

Because I am after a somewhat "magical" vibe here I wanted to diffuse the lights and hide the LED's. Here too I chose to needle felt a little bit of roving over each one and was amazed at the effect. This diffusion method worked absolutely great!

In the picture on the left you see the light hidden and off, and on the right it is illuminated - though the picture is really not doing the effect justice as it looks so much nicer in person.

Step 9: Finishing Touches

Since I had all my "motion fringe" on the same side of the scarf I wanted to visually balance the other side by adding some hand spun dark yarn to the fringe and by stitching some accent lines into the scarf.

This was an incredibility satisfying project! I used techniques that are thousands of years old in my textiles and added 20th century magic to it. I loved how the motion/pendant switches truly make this scarf interactive and totally responsive to the environment.

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Sew Warm Challenge

Make It Glow! Contest

Participated in the
Make It Glow! Contest

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    4 Discussions


    3 years ago

    "yup, I am the crazy lady in the bead section with a multi meter..." ha! That line totally resonated with me. I love it--thanks for sharing!


    4 years ago

    Another super creative fiber project! My mom taught me how to do small scale wet felting --lots of fun!


    Reply 4 years ago

    Wet felting IS a lot of fun! There is something wonderfully messy about the process and you are never quite sure about the result until you unwrap it.

    I do love to augment my wet felting project with needle felting in a second step because that allows for more precise placing of color and texture accents.