Soft Circuit

I’m starting to explore the world of soft circuits – the fusion of electronics and fabrics. The other day I got a Lilypad Protosnap development board. The Lilypad Arduino is a microcontroller designed to be sewn into clothing. I’d seen quite a few things done with the Lilypad Arduino before, but as I don’t have any real background in electronics, the Protosnap board is, apparently, a good place to start. It comes pre-‘wired’ so that you don’t have to worry about the hardware whilst you are able to experiment with coding it. So far I’ve got it to blink an LED light, ‘pulse’ an LED, flash all of the LEDs in sequence and, most excitingly, play ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’. I’m having fun.

Along with the Protosnap, I also got a few Lilypad components- a coin cell battery holder, some LED ‘petals’ (I also got some “normal” LEDs), a button board to turn things on and some conductive thread.

Orignally, I discovered all of this because I was interested in the idea of making a finger on my winter gloves conductive so I don’t have to take them off when using my iPhone this winter. I started looking into where I could get conductive thread and stumbled upon this amazing world of geeky crafts.

About a month ago, I got very excited about Becky Stern’s LED shoe clips. I knew then than my sights were set far too low with the iPhone gloves. I wanted clothing that lights up…

So I found all the stuff, ordered it… and here I am…

I’ve done my very first soft circuit project. It does not involve the Lilypad Arduino. I’m still experimenting with that.

I was in M&S the other day and passed by this jumper. I was very excited because of the metal zippers. I thought I could use them as a switch. (Click to embiggen)

I’ve got a necklace I bought in Tokyo that I’ve never worn. I thought I might be able to use it somehow.

I sewed on a string of the small pearls and the small chain.

On one side, I sewed two little pads on either side of the zipper at the very top. When the zipper is fully closed, the circuit will be closed when the zip mechanism itself touches them.

I sewed the battery pack on the front. If you look at the big picture, you can see that I’ve sewn one of the positive connections down with conductive thread and run it to one of the pads next to the zipper. I’ve taken some conductive thread from one of the negative connections all the way round the back of the neck of the jumper to the other side to join up with the negative connections on the LEDs. I sewed the remaining two connectors down with normal thread.

I sewed on 5 white LED ‘petals’ in between the pearls and the chain. You can see the conductive thread- the top line is the negative connection, the bottom is the positive. I needed to keep it on top of the fabric because my skin is conductive (I am sewing on small bits of fabric over the zipper pads and anywhere else the conductive thread goes all the way through the jumper).

Notice the lights are off when the zipper is undone.

And on when it is zipped up.

I might be addicted to this already.

NOTE: If you are in North America, Lilypad stuff can be bought directly from Sparkfun and conductive thread is at Lamé Lifesaver.

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