Basic Sewable Circuit

Combine a battery and LED light with conductive thread to make a basic sewable soft circuit on felt.

GATHER MATERIALS: (Vendors – Sparkfun, Adafruit, Amazon)

  • LED lights with resistors
  • battery (3 volt CR2032 coin size)
  • conductive thread (stainless steel thread)
  • scissors
  • round-nose pliers (to coil ends of LED resistors)
  • sewing needle (self-threading needles work best)
  • felt fabric
  • assorted sewing notions (fabric pencils, buttons, scrap fabric, sequins, regular sewing thread, etc.)

PART ONE – PLAN THE BASIC SOFT CIRCUIT:

  1. Draw on paper to plan your design. Indicate placement for the battery and LED light and where the conductive thread will connect the components.
    1. Remember you will use one piece of conductive thread to connect “+” sides and a separate piece to connect “-” sides.
    2. Do not cross the positive and negative lines of conductive thread.
    3. Consider how you can use regular thread to complete non-conductive aspects of your design.
  2. Lay out your materials.
  3. Test batteries and LED light to ensure they work.

THINK ABOUT: How can the design use as little conductive thread as possible and still maintain a balance of conductivity and aesthetics?

PART TWO – MAKE THE FABRIC BATTERY POUCH: (There are sewable battery holders that you can purchase, but they are often too expensive to use with large groups.)

  1. Cut two squares of fabric (slightly larger than battery).
  2. Sew a small circle of conductive thread in center of each square (about ¼ or ½ size of battery).
  3. Use regular thread to stitch three sides of squares into a pouch (leaving one side open for access).
  4. Test to make sure battery fits. Make sure battery is accessible for replacement. Used batteries cannot be thrown in regular trash and must be disposed of properly.

THINK ABOUT: How much conductive thread is needed to ensure maximum power from the battery pouch?

PART THREE – SEW THE BASIC CIRCUIT:

  1. Mark the longer “+” lead of the LED light(s) with Sharpie marker.
  2. Coil resistor ends of LED light(s) into sewable circles.
  3. Sew components onto fabric. Remember to use separate pieces of conductive thread for “+” and “-” connections.
  4. Secure ends with hot glue.

THINK ABOUT: How can you insulate the conductive thread without compromising the aesthetics of the design?

EXPERIMENT CONSIDERATIONS:

  • How can you create an on/off switch to save the battery power?
  • How many LEDs can you power with one battery? What other types of circuit designs can you use to power more than one component?
  • How can you use more fabric and conductive thread to create a switch that turns the circuit on and off?
  • What other conductive materials can you use to make the sewable circuit interactive?

MAKE Soft and Sewable Electrical Circuits

Sewable soft circuits are a unique way to explore electronics and fashion. Using conductive stainless steel thread, you can sew circuits that power LED lights and other outputs in unique ways. The possibilities are truly endless!

We’ve tried a lot of different tutorials online, but we’ve come to the conclusion that it is best for novices (especially young children) to begin by making a simple BASIC SEWABLE CIRCUIT first before trying more advanced concepts. Our tutorial provides step-by-step instructions for creating a simple circuit that powers one LED light. Once that simplicity is understood in a hands-on manner, we move on to understanding switches with the SEWABLE WRIST CUFF WITH METAL SNAP SWITCH. After these concepts are mastered, you can explore parallel circuit designs with multiple LED lights or digital microcontrollers and sensors for truly fascinating e-textile creations. There are many websites and books that provide great information about sewable circuits, which we’ve listed our favorites below.

OTHER ONLINE TUTORIALS:

BOOKS

  • Fashioning Technology: A DIY Intro to Smart Crafting by Syuzi Pakhchyan (2008)
    • This book is hands-down the best simple visual introduction to electronics. Provides a thorough introduction to conductive materials and alternative techniques plus has great activity ideas. It’s out-of-print, but can be bought “used” online.
  • Switch Craft  by Alison Lewis (2008)
    • Another great out-of-print book with good activity ideas and tutorials and can also bought “used” online.
  • Sew Electric by Leah Buechley & Kanjun Qiu:  http://sewelectric.org
    • Great book that transitions from non-digital electronics to digital electronics with affordable materials.
  • Textile Messages: Dispatches From the World of E-Textiles and Education by Leah Buechley, Kylie Peppler, Michael Eisenberg, and Yasmin Kafai (2010)
    • Wonderful look at how these types of activities can encourage diverse populations to engage in electronics.

OTHER E-TEXTILES MATERIALS:

AET Makerspace at NAEA 2016

We had an amazing time presenting an interactive makerspace at NAEA! Participants got a chance to discover 8 engaging makerspace activity stations that explored new media, engineering, and computer science. They got to learn to create with arduinos, 3D printers, sewable circuits, free design software, etc. Here is the list of all 8 presenters’ resources. We hope that everyone enjoyed it as much as we did and that it provided inspiration to take back to your own art classrooms! Thanks to the ArtEdTech (AET) group for sponsoring the session!

soft_circuit sewncircuits3  snapcircuits

MAKE things move with simple motorized circuits

Using inexpensive materials, you can MAKE things move by creating a simple motorized circuit. When you attach the motorized circuit to a base (a toothbrush head, plastic cup, etc.) you can make an analog ArtBot that is capable of creating a variety of randomized art. With endless possibilities, what will you design your ArtBot to do?

EDUCATIONAL EXTENSIONS
With all the digital technology around us, why would we want to make analog robots? Using inexpensive materials these little bots are a great introduction to circuits and allow for great engineering explorations involving simple design changes to experiment with cause and effect. There are even science competitions for these little bots: BrushBot Olympics, BristleBot Educational Robotics Competition, and many more. Even if you can’t physically compete in one of these competitions, try out some of their ideas and start your own competition with friends in your neighborhood or at your school.

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DIY BRUSHBOTS

GATHER MATERIALS:

  • toothbrush head (flat head works best)
  • scissors or pliers (have an adult help)
  • vibrating motor (tiny pager motor)
  • 3v battery (CR2032 coin size)
  • twist tie or rubberband
  • craft materials (pipe cleaners, foam strips, paper, etc.)

MAKE IT:

  1. Cut the toothbrush head with scissors or pliers.
  2. Attach the motor to the battery (align + and – sides).
  3. Attach motor/battery combo to brush with twist tie.
  4. Decorate the BrushBot.

ACTIVITIES WITH BRUSHBOTS:
Watch the Brushbots race.
Dip them in paint and watch BrushBots create art.
Tie a leash on them and take them for a walk.
Imagine where they would “live” and create them a habitat.

EXPERIMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
What happens if you add “legs?”
How can you control the path of the BrushBot?
Can you create an on/off switch to save the battery?
What happens when you use a different type of brush?

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DRAWINGBOTS

Using the same simple motorized circuit, you can make an ArtBot that can draw.

GATHER MATERIALS:

  • plastic base (cups and/or plastic containers)
  • scissors
  • vibrating motor (tiny pager motor)
  • 3v battery (CR2032 coin size)
  • drawing tools: pens, pencils, and/or markers
  • rubberband
  • tape
  • craft materials (pipe cleaners, foam strips, paper, etc.)

 MAKE IT:

  1. Attach the motor to the battery (align + and – sides).
  2. Attach motor/battery combo to plastic base with rubberband.
  3. Attach drawing tools to make the base “stand up” on its own.
  4. Decorate the DrawingBot.

ACTIVITIES WITH DRAWINGBOTS:
Watch the Drawingbots race inside a box.
Watch DrawingBots create art together.

EXPERIMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
What happens when you use a different type of base?
What other recyclable materials could you use for the base?
Can you create an on/off switch to save the battery?
What happens when you move the placement of the motor/battery?
How does the placement of the drawing tools impact its drawing?
How can you adjust the DrawingBot to draw circles? dots? straight lines? curves? dashes?

Share a photo of what your ArtBot can do!

MAKE things light up with simple circuits!

Circuits are all around us but we normally don’t pay much attention to how they work. A circuit is a loop that connects volts from a power source (such as a battery) to an output (such as a light or motor). Learn more about the technical aspects of circuits from this tutorial on SparkFun.

In addition to traditional electronic components, circuits can be made out of a variety of conductive materials, such as conductive thread, conductive tape, or even conductive ink.

Our favorite introduction to circuits is to make things light up. Combining an LED light and a coin-size battery (3 volt CR2032 batteries are our favorite) you can make a simple circuit connection that has a lot of creative potential. Simply attach tape or a binder clip to keep the circuit connected and consider what you can turn it into…a ring, a pendant, a bow tie, a hair bow? The possibilities are endless! Follow these simple steps to create your own: LED bling tutorial

Advanced electrical concepts can be explored by extending this same concept of simple circuits into soldering electrical components to a printed computer board. We like to start to learn how to solder with this tutorial that creates a blinking LED badge.

Soldering is serious business and needs to have a lot of safety considerations, but with the proper precautions we believe that children of all ages can successfully and safely learn to solder as long as they have appropriate adult supervision. Learn more about soldering basics here and be sure to check out our favorite one-page soldering guide here designed by Super Awesome Sylvia.

LED Binder Clip Bling

LED binder clip bling-ringBecause we just LOVE creating simple LED circuits, so we couldn’t help ourselves when we stumbled upon the idea of the LED Binder Clip Bling tutorial created by Jessica Henricks on the MAKE: magazine website (view her original tutorial here). Using simple materials, you can create an LED circuit with an easy on/off switch (the binder clip) to conserve the battery and transform it into wearable art.

Here is our modified one-page tutorial handout: http://tinyurl.com/LEDbling (shared GoogleDoc)

Consider adding a magnet and turning it into electronic graffiti (Make Your Own LED Throwie).

DrawingBot

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Just like the BrushBot, this DrawingBot can alternate between stippling and beautiful thick strokes of lines to create fantastic drawings. Just let it rest against your hand and watch it create!

 

 

 

 

GATHER MATERIALS:

  • plastic base (cups and/or plastic containers)
  • scissors
  • vibrating motor (tiny pager motor)
  • 3v battery (CR2032 coin size)
  • drawing tools: pens, pencils, and/or markers
  • rubberband
  • tape
  • craft materials (pipe cleaners, foam strips, paper, etc.)

MAKE IT:

  1. Attach the motor to the battery (align + and – sides).
  2. Attach motor/battery combo to plastic base with rubberband.
  3. Attach drawing tools to make the base “stand up” on its own.
  4. Decorate the DrawingBot.

ACTIVITIES WITH DRAWINGBOTS:

  • Observe the Drawingbots race inside a box.
  • Watch DrawingBots create art together.

EXPERIMENT CONSIDERATIONS:

  • What happens when you use a different type of base?
  • What other recyclable materials could you use for the base?
  • Can you create an on/off switch to save the battery?
  • What happens when you move the placement of the motor/battery?
  • How does the placement of the drawing tools impact its drawing?
  • How can you adjust the DrawingBot to draw circles? dots? straight lines? curves? dashes?

BrushBot

phil4

What do you get when you tape together a toothbrush head, a watch battery, and a cell phone motor? You get a brushbot that paints with a mind of it’s own. BrushBots are easy  and fun way to introduce kids of all ages to the fundamentals of simple electronics using inexpensive materials. With endless possibilities, what will you design your BrushBot to do?

GATHER MATERIALS:

  • toothbrush head (flat head works best)
  • scissors or pliers (have an adult help)
  • vibrating motor (tiny pager motor)
  • 3v battery (CR2032 coin size)
  • twist tie or rubberband
  • craft materials (pipe cleaners, foam strips, paper, etc.)

MAKE IT:

  1. Cut the toothbrush head with scissors or pliers.
  2. Attach the motor to the battery (align + and – sides).
  3. Attach motor/battery combo to brush with twist tie.
  4. Decorate the BrushBot.

ACTIVITIES WITH BRUSHBOTS:

  • Observe the Brushbots race.
  • Dip them in paint and watch BrushBots create art.
  • Tie a leash on them and take them for a walk.
  • Imagine where they would “live” and create them a habitat.

DESIGN EXPERIMENT CONSIDERATIONS:

  • What happens if you add “legs?”
  • How can you control the path of the BrushBot?
  • Can you create an on/off switch to save the battery?
  • What happens when you use a different type of brush?

WANT TO LEARN MORE? CHECK OUT THESE RESOURCES:

Family Engineering resources:
family-engineering-artistic-robots (PDF file in English and Spanish)