Using conductive thread and LED lights, youth will create a wristband or armband to reflect their current mood. Inspired by mood rings, participants will choose an appropriate colour of LED lights and consider symbols that can be stitched onto their armband as another mode of communication. Basic sewing skills will be taught as well as the basics of electronic circuitry, and participants will consider the innovative ways that traditional sewing materials like safety pins and hooks and eyes can be used to create electrical switches in these very contemporary pieces.
— Battery holder for CR2032 3 Volt battery
— CR2032 3 Volt battery
— 3 LED lights 1.8V 5 mA
— Conductive Thread
Choose LED lights to reflect your mood. Red = excited, adventurous; orange = daring, stimulating; yellow = imaginative, mixed emotions; green = normal, average; blue = calm, loveable.
Other materials and tools:
— Sewing needle
— Sewing thread
1. Let’s take a close look at our materials, and how each component will contribute to the creation of a textile that lights up. For this project, we are creating a simple electric circuit: a circuit is a series of electronic components arranged in a closed loop, allowing electrons to flow through the various components. In our circuit, the battery provides a source of power. The conductive thread acts as a conductor, a material that allows for the easy flow of electrons. Because the electrons flow in a particular direction, we have to ensure that we arrange each component of our circuit to create this closed loop.
2. Let’s start with our LED lights. Pick up one of your LED lights and look at it closely. You will notice that one of the metal “legs” extending from the coloured bulb is longer than the other. When you look into bulb, you should see two chunks of metal inside the bulb: the larger chunk of metal will be attached to the shorter leg, and the smaller chunk of metal will be attached to the longer leg. You may also notice that there is a flat side at the base of the bulb, and this side of the bulb is where the shorter leg is attached. These are three clues to help us identify the positive and negative ends of the LED.
Positive = long leg; small piece of metal inside bulb; round side of bulb
Negative = short leg; large piece of metal inside bulb; flat side of bulb
When we assemble our circuit, we need to ensure that the positive ends of the LEDs are lined up, as are the negative ends of the LED.
3. Right now, we don’t have an easy way to attach our LEDs to our fabric. We need to create loops out of the metal legs so that we can sew the LED lights to our fabric. Let’s start making loops from the negative ends of the LED lights: lift up the shorter leg so that it is parallel to the base of the bulb.
Twist this leg around a pen or pencil to create a loop.
Once we make both legs into loops, it will be more difficult to identify the positive and negative ends of the LED, so one convention to make it easier to remember which end is which is to make the loops as far away from the bulb as you can. Once you’ve made each negative leg into a loop, repeat the process for the positive end; make the loops closer to the bulb so you can identify them as the positive end. (Remember: if you get confused as to which end is positive and which end is negative, there are two other clues to help identify the positive and negative ends.)
4. We’re ready to start sewing. Decide on the placement of your LED lights, laying them out on your fabric, making sure that all the negative loops are facing in the same direction. Sew the LED lights in place through the loops you created in step 3, using regular sewing thread. (It isn’t actually necessary to sew the LED lights in place before you start sewing with the conductive thread. However, if you’re doing this project with first time sewers, this step allows makers to become comfortable stitching with needle and thread before they start working with the conductive thread.)
5. Now you’re going to sew the battery holder in place. You’ll need to line up the positive and negative ends of the battery holder with the positive and negative ends of your LED lights. If you’re using a Lilypad battery holder, you’ll notice that the positive and negative ends are marked for you.
If you’re using a generic battery holder, the metal tab inside the holder is the negative end, and the metal piece at the top of the holder is the positive end.
The two images above illustrate how to orient both types of battery holders in relation to these LED lights.
6. Now we’re ready to connect the components of our circuit with conductive thread. Thread a needle with conductive thread that is long enough to sew a path through the fabric from the negative end of the battery holder to each of the negative ends of the LED lights. (Especially for participants new to sewing, it can be easier to work with the conductive thread if you’re working with a single thread.) If you’re using a Lilypad battery holder, start by sewing around one of the tabs marked (-). If you’re using a generic battery holder, wrap the end of the thread around the negative tab to start.
Continue stitching through the fabric in a straight path to the negative loop of the closest LED light. Make sure the conductive thread and metal loop make contact with each other; you may want to stitch around the metal loop a few times before you continue stitching, again in a straight path, to the negative loop of the next LED light.
Repeat until you’ve stitch a path through all the negative loops. Fasten off your thread. (This is an important step, as you want to avoid creating a short circuit.)
7. Now we’re going to complete our circuit by sewing back to the battery holder. Starting from the LED light furthest from the battery holder and using conductive thread, stitch around the metal loop at the positive end. Continue stitching with a running stitch to the next light, and repeat the process as you did with the negative side of your circuit.
When you reach the battery holder, stitch around the (+) tab (if you’re using the Lilypad battery holder) or (if you’re using the generic battery holder) stitch up into the top of the battery holder and pass your thread over the metal tab at the top of the battery holder and fasten off. Your circuit is complete! We just need to add a power source by popping a battery into the battery holder.
8. Now for the moment of truth: insert your battery into your battery pack. Is your textile glowing? No? Make sure there are no pieces of conductive thread or stitches that touch or overlap. Make sure the conductive thread is stitched tightly around each contact point of each component of the circuit. And make sure that all components have been arranged in such a way that the positive ends line up with each other and the negative ends line up with each other.
9. Embellish your armband with embroidery thread or other materials to personalize it. What do you want to communicate when you’re wearing your armband?