Be still my beating Arduino heart!



My “Maker-Education Summer” is humming along well.  My kids and I have been busy Canadian beavers trying out the projects from Sew Electric.

Sew Electric book & kit

Sew Electric book & kit

Electric Sewing, or E-Textiles allows the embedding of technology with textiles using hardware that won’t be damaged by washing.

The basic resources are conductive thread, a battery holder, washable LEDs, and a micro-controller that can be washed or is removable.  The resources I used are Lilypad Arduino. Lilypad is what is suggested by the Sew Electric book.  (There is another E-Textiles microcontroller that I’ve heard of and that is Adafruit’s Floraboard.  I will save the Floraboard to explore next summer.)


Be still my beating heart!

The “vine” at the top of my blogpost is my “masterpiece” thus far, this summer.  I used the “LilyTiny” micro-controller that has a chip in it that is pre-programmed with the “heart-beat” blink.   The book & kit suggests making a stuffed toy, but I decided to try making a felted wool toy, instead.  A felted wool toy would come together much faster than a sewn project.

I first made a felted wool “cat”.  I took care to not felt the wool too tightly.  When it was done, I cut the cat’s tummy in half and opened him up to sew in the LilyTiny, the LED, and the battery holder with conductive thread. The conductive thread forms the electric circuit.  I then closed the cat back up.   Felted wool is a very nice medium for this.  You sew down the conductive thread to make the circuit but you can also use the stitches to shape the object (ex. the cat) at the same time.   You must take extra care to spread out the hardware and stitches as far apart as possible because if they touch when you sew the object (ex. the cat) back up, you will have a short-circuit.  You know something is going wrong if you feel the battery getting very hot! (Ask me how I know!)

open-heart surgery

open-heart surgery

Coding Programming is the next step  

Lilypad Arduino Simple Snap Microcontroller

Lilypad Arduino Simple Snap Microcontroller

The cat has a pre-programmed mico-controller to make it blink the heart-beat. My next step is to learn to program a controller, myself.   I’m going to try programming the Lilypad Simple Snap Arduino micro-controller (above) to blink whatever light sequence and effect I want.  I do this by attaching it to the computer via USB and programming it with the Arduino software.  The Arduino programming software is free (Arduino is an Open-Source platform).  I then can upload the code to the Simple Snap and the Simple Snap has built-in memory to store the program.  The “language” to program Arduino is the “C Language”. If I manage that, I will finally arrive at my goal, this summer, of integrating coding computer programming with fabric.   The Simple Snap is not a small controller.  It is about the size of the palm of my hand.  So, I will have to think carefully about what sort of textile project I want to create that will house the Simple Snap. This micro-controller is called the “Simple Snap” because it attaches to your project via metal snaps. The metal snaps make the micro-controller removable, prior to washing your textile item. More to come and I’ll keep you updated! It FELT so great! Below are the vines of the soft-circuit projects we did prior to the felted cat, that show the scaffolding of our learning: Step 1 Making a Closed Electrical Circuit: The vine below shows my first attempt at soft circuits.  It is a felt bookmark of a firefly (I tried to copy Eric Carle’s, “The Very Lonely Firefly”) I used conductive thread to make a closed circuit with a washable LED and a washable coin battery holder.  (There is no micro-controller needed as I am simply lighting up the LED. You need to remove the battery prior to washing the textile item.) Boy, was it exciting when it lit up for the first time!   (Notice that the stitching of my conductive thread that makes the electrical circuit becomes a decorative part of my bookmark.)   Step 2 Making a Parallel Circuit: A parallel circuit is one way to add more than one LED to your project.  Hover your mouse over the “vine” below and click the speaker icon to hear my son point out the parallel circuit  for the felt bookmark that he made.  

I heart soft-circuits!

I must confess that E-Textiles resonates FAR more with me than playing around with breadboards.

(See here for a vine of a blinking LED I made, using breadboards (the white rectangular thing.  The breadboard is used to avoid the need for soldering.)  The micro-controller (silver computer-looking thing) is the Raspberry Pi.  The program that makes it blink is coded in Python. )

The soft circuits in E-Textiles are small, hidden, and integrated in the object (unlike many circuits using the chunky breadboard).  I like my technology to integrate with the traditional arts quietly in the background.   In my heart, I am still very traditional when it comes to the Arts.  I prefer the tactile over the digital.  I prefer acoustic instruments over electronic music.  I suppose that is why it did not take me long to move from 2D coding programming on computer screens to coding programming the physical world.  In other words, #TECHxture! (Check out that hashtag on Twitter.)

Though I am amazed by modern technology and it definitely has its place, I prefer it to not to overwhelm or usurp what I enjoyed very much, prior to technology.



About Vivian

Vivian @ChezVivian is a Canadian-born Chinese, currently living in Switzerland. She has also lived in Hong Kong and Indonesia. She holds a M.S. (focus: Educational Technology Integration), B.Ed and a B.A. and graduate studies in Kodály and Orff music pedagogy. She is an elementary school classroom generalist, but has also taught as a music specialist, ESL/EAL and also in Learning Support. Most of her teaching career was in International Schools in Hong Kong. She is excited about the IBPYP and the possibilities of using technology to Inquire. Recently, she has been looking at the opportunities that computer programming gives to put #TECHXture back into the hands of children. In other words, technology need not be just about looking at screens. It can be about building things with our hands; and computer programming levels-up what children can do with the things they build---encouraging higher thinking skills. She is a Coetail Post-graduate Certificate grad ('13-'14), a former Coetail Coach and one of the co-founders of #CoetailChat. Her blog home curates her assignments for Coetail and her M.S. graduate studies about Educational Technology integration and anything else educationally-related that she feels inspired to write about. Her twitter tagline sums it up: "Mom to 4, Mentor, Educator, Musician (in that order)".
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