Sewn Circuits

Sewn Circuits
Sewn Circuits
A stuffed camera’s flash actually goes off when a button on the back is pressed!

During this activity, you’ll construct a working and wearable circuit. You’ll experiment with a battery, conductive thread, conductive tape and an LED to learn how to connect a circuit, and then design a way for it to work on a wrist cuff, a badge, or any other wearable item. Tools such as pliers, scissors and sewing needles will help you affix the necessary components together, and a metal snap will attach the cuff around your wrist while connecting the circuit, or turn your badge on. Watch your friends’ eyes light up, as you light up the LED on your clothing just by wearing it!

Sewing Circuits in the Tinkering Studio

What are the qualities we value in this activity?

Science and Art Connections

In this activity, you will experiment with building different kinds of circuits using a battery, LED, conductive tape and conductive thread. By testing and manipulating these components, you can develop a more intuitive sense of how electricity flows through a circuit. While you are designing your circuit for functionality, you are also thinking artistically about what you want your item to look like. The colors, lights, lines and shapes in this activity give it an artistic character as well as a scientific one.

Using Tools

To make your wearable circuit, you will need to use a few basic tools. This activity will give you the opportunity to practice using pliers and sewing needles. These small tools are important for making very fine adjustments, and knowing how to use them may come in handy in the future.

Connecting Old and New Technologies

The sewing needle was invented long before the LED, and this activity seeks to utilize both older and newer technologies. Understanding different types of technology can help you think about how they can combine to make something even better. For example, the ancient art of sewing is updated by using thread that conducts electricity.

Sewing Circuits materials
Sewing a pillow

Make Sewn Circuits @ home

Here is a list of useful parts if you want to experiment with paper circuits at home.

Essential materials

  • Conductive thread
    Thread that is made of either steel or silver will conduct electricity and allow you to complete circuits by sewing! We recommend getting this stainless steel type that won't tarnish over time.
  • LEDs
    We recommend our friends at evilmadscientist.com (whose owners are actually not evil, albeit a bit mad…) because they have built the friendliest place to order from. We suggest you get an “assortment pack” that will give you lots of variety in colors at a very affordable price.
  • Sewable coin cell battery holders
    These amazing products will allow you to easily sew onto your project, and still be able to swap out your battery once it runs out of juice. Get them here
  • Coin cell batteries
    These are easy to find at any electronics store, like RadioShack, but if you're shopping for parts online, you might as well order some here and save you a trip!

Other useful materials

  • Easy to cut and sew fabric, such as felt
  • Sewing needles
  • Round-nose pliers to bend the LED's legs into loops
  • Pins
  • Scissors
  • Non-conductive, regular thread, and embroidery floss
  • Sewable snaps
  • Pin backs to turn your creations into brooches
  • Tailors chalk to mark your design on the fabric before you cut or sew it

More inspirations and ideas

The High-Low Tech group at MIT Media Lab, formerly led by Leah Buechley, has a lot of interesting materials and projects to take your sewable circuits to the next level. If you want to start messing about with Arduino computation, the LilyPad is a toolkit that allows people to build soft, fabric-based computers! They have also published a great book, Sew Electric, which is all about integrating the LilyPad into your projects.

On the lower-tech end of the scale, Getting Hands-On with Soft Circuits is a set of instructional materials for soft circuits projects, free to download!

Try it!

We are passionate about sharing our work and developing a community of people interested in these activities, practices, and ideas. The guides below are free to download and use to help you get started with tinkering, whether it's at home, or in your school or educational institution.