To Sew Electric and the marvelous world of electronic textiles! This website and its companion book will show you how to make your own soft, colorful, and wearable electronics. You’ll play with fabric, light, and sound to build a glowing bracelet, a singing stuffed monster, a fabric bookmark, and a fuzzy cloth piano. Along the way, you’ll learn how to sew, design electronics, and write computer programs.
The cutting edge field of electronic textiles or e-textiles is a recent development in both design and engineering. E-textiles are fabrics with embedded electronics, including sensors, lights, motors, and small computers. Designers of e-textiles keep things soft by employing new materials like conductive thread, conductive fabric, and flexible circuit boards. E-textiles are used in many different domains and settings including astronaut space suits, wearable medical devices, and haute couture fashions. You’ll find them in Lady Gaga costumes that change shape, high-tech military tents, and jackets that keep you warm while you snowboard.
This book is designed to provide a creative, hands-on introduction to this fascinating new field. In it, you’ll learn how to use the LilyPad Arduino toolkit to design and build your own e-textile projects.
Getting the Materials
You can purchase LilyPad kits, which include all the electronics to accompany the book, from SparkFun. The Beginner’s Kit, with supplies for the first two projects, is a great place to start. If you want to make all of the projects in the book, try the Deluxe Kit. Check out your local craft store to purchase felt and embroidery thread for the projects.
This website contains step-by-step instructions for making two projects: a cloth bookmark and a sparkling bracelet. The Sew Electric book has instructions for two additional projects: an interactive stuffed monster and a soft fabric piano. You can preview these projects on the website. The site also includes a detailed introduction to programming LilyPad Arduinos. Each of these tutorials can be found under the DIY Projects menu at the top of the site. You may want to do just one of the projects, or all four. Each lesson builds on the previous ones though, so it’s a good idea to review the early tutorials before you start on one of the more advanced projects.
The first tutorial, the bookmark tutorial, describes how to build a cloth bookmark with a stitched-in LED light that you can use to read after dark. This tutorial introduces basic sewing and circuit design techniques and explores some fundamental ideas in electronics. You can build and decorate a bookmark in about 2-4 hours.
In the sparkling bracelet tutorial, you’ll make a glowing bracelet with an LED that flickers, fades, or blinks—your choice. You’ll experiment with a small sewable computer chip called the LilyTiny and learn how programmable components like the LilyTiny let you create more interesting and complex behaviors in e-textiles. This project should take you 3-5 hours to complete—a full afternoon.
The programming tutorial explains how to create your own blinking and flickering patterns for LEDs by writing Arduino programs for the LilyPad Arduino, another small computer chip. This section introduces the Arduino programming software and provides step-by-step instructions for writing Arduino programs and then loading them onto the LilyPad Arduino. This tutorial sets the foundation for Sew Electric’s final two projects and will take you around 3-5 hours to work through.
In the monster tutorial, available in full in the Sew Electric book, you’ll build a cute and cuddly monster (or a fierce and ferocious one depending on your taste) who sings and twinkles when you squeeze its paws. This project brings together everything you’ve learned in the previous tutorials—programming, sewing, electronics, and design. Since this is an in-depth craft and engineering project, it will take longer to build. Budget 4-10 days to design, sew, and program your monster.
The fabric piano tutorial, the last project in the book, guides you through the process of making a musical instrument from cloth. The piano will play one kind of sound when it’s connected to a computer and another when it’s unplugged. This project dives into programming more deeply. It focuses especially on how e-textiles can communicate with and control your computer in different ways. This project should also take 4-10 days to build.
Troubleshooting Guides, Material References, and Glossary
You’ll probably make a few mistakes as you build your projects—everyone does! The troubleshooting flow charts in each section will help you find and fix these problems. The charts are organized into electrical problems and programming (or “code”) problems. They are designed to help you identify the sources of errors. Techniques for fixing these errors are described in detail in the Troubleshooting Solutions section. Once you identify the cause of an issue with a flow chart, follow its links to the Troubleshooting Solutions section for detailed information on how to fix the problem.
The Materials Reference section provides detailed descriptions of each material, tool, and component used in the projects. The descriptions include information on where to purchase supplies and how much they’re likely to cost. Where it is possible to use an alternative part or material, the Materials Reference also describes these options.
The Glossary contains definitions for the uncommon and technical terms used on the site. As you are reading, you will encounter words that are bold hyperlinks. Definitions for these words can be found in the Glossary. If you encounter one of these words and you’re not sure what it means or have never seen it before, click on it to open its definition.
Have fun designing building your e-textile projects!
If you have any feedback about the book or the website, send us a note.