LED Painting

This project could be completed with any kind of 2-D (more on that concept later) art work.  The basic idea is a flat piece of art with LEDs behind or on top of the work.

For the first one, I painted a simple watercolor which included white dots and tree trunks.  The white was preserved with masking fluid which was rubbed off after the paint had dried.  


Tracing paper was placed over the painting to mark where the LEDs would go.


The circuit was drawn on foam core, using the tracing paper as a guide for the placement of the LEDs.  


A parallel circuit made of copper tape was placed on the foam core the the LEDs were soldered onto the tape.  Note the break in the tape which will form the pressure switch.  


The tracing paper was used again to mark the placement of the switch on the back of the watercolor painting.


Foam dots with double-sided adhesive were placed around the LEDs and the switch to hold the watercolor painting away from the foam core. The dots were ¼” inch tall.

spacers     circuit-closeup

The original plan was for the battery to be between the two layers, but I realized this would make it difficult to change the battery when the power was depleted.  So I sliced through the foam care and threaded the tape through the slots to the back.

battery-cutthrough     battery

When the pressure is placed on the painting in the location of the switch, the circuit is completed and the LEDs light up.  When the pressure is released the LEDs go out.  The thickness of the watercolor paper and the layers of paint made it difficult to see the light unless the painting was viewed in a dimly lit room.  A friend suggested cutting tiny holes in the paper.  But I started to think about the quality of watercolor paper and how mistakes can be removed by scrubbing, sanding, or scraping.  So this 2D work of art really had a bit of 3D depth to it, which might allow me to remedy the light problem.  I took a little Exacto knife and scraped away layers of paint and paper until I was satisfied with the thickness of the paper over each LED.

scrape-paper     After doing this, the LEDs easily shone through the paper even in a well-lit room.  


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LED Felt Hat

LED Felt Hat

This hat is one of those wandering projects that starts out with one experiment and leads down a meandering lane called “What if I try this?”

After creating an LED eTextile card with one LED on it, I wondered how many LEDs I could actually add on a 2032 coin cell battery.  I texted my awesome colleague, Shane Diller, and asked him because he knows everything about electrical circuits.  He didn’t know.  But he did suggest using a parallel circuit if I was going to experiment.  So I decided I was willing to sacrifice some LEDs and a little time to finding out.  I soldered five white LEDs to some copper tape.  I tested them out with a 2032 battery and they worked just fine.


Next I taped five more lights to the circuit and tried again.  They all lit.  I found a two coin cell battery holder with an on/off switch and taped it to the end of the circuit.  I put two 2032 batteries in it and all the LEDs lit up very brightly.  


So I went ahead and soldered the LEDs and the battery holder to the copper tape.  



It looked great.  Now what?  


I took a nap, went for a walk, worked on a paper I’m writing for a class.  Then I thought about hats.  


I had some multi-colored felt that I had made last summer out of wool bats given to me by my friend Sonja.  I had added bits of turquoise silk that my friend Sidney had given me.  It has a wonderful soft texture but the shape and size had not suggested anything to me.  It would be perfect for a pill box hat.  And I just happened to have a pattern.


I pieced the top of the hat to take advantage of the embedded silk.  It made a nice contrast to the dull colors of the felt.


The hat has a stabilizing foundation of heavy weight Pellon interfacing.  This makes the hat keep its shape even when it is not being worn.  My original plan was to line the hat with some royal blue polyester fleece I had on hand.  But that idea changed later.

Constructing the the hat was a pretty quick process.  There are only two pieces and two seams.  I took the soldered circuit and pinned it to the outside of the hat.  


I decided it would be fun to use turquoise sparkly DMC embroidery floss to sew the copper tape to the hat.  I used a herringbone stitch.


Next I decided to add ceramic beads in between each LED.  I had made these beads last summer with clay and glaze Sonja gave me.  


At this point, I decided I didn’t like the royal blue lining idea.  We made a quick trip to JoAnn Fabrics where I found some turquoise satin.  Much better.


I used a scrap felt to make a pocket on the back for the battery holder.


And voila!  The finished hat!


Categories: Art, Circuits, eTextiles, Technology | Leave a comment

eTextile Holiday Card

LED Holiday Card

Here is the process I used to create an e-textile holiday card with LEDs sparkling in the winter sky.  I started with scraps of fabric left over from various projects.  This included several cotton prints, white felt, and some heavy interfacing.  The interfacing acted as a stabilizer for the card.


I sewed several pieces of fabric onto the interfacing to create a snowy landscape.



Using a decorative embroidery stitch, I sewed across the top of the white felt hills.



Then I glued on tiny little fabric triangles to represent evergreen trees.


To cover the raw edge, I sewed bias tape around the edges.



Then came my new adventure – soldering.  I didn’t even know we had a soldering iron until my husband brought it in from the garage and showed me how to use it.  To create the circuit for the LEDs, I used size 22 coated wire, solder, flux, a soldering iron, six white LEDs, and a 2032 coin cell battery.  I used a wire cutter/stripper to cut the wire and strip off the plastic coating and needle nose pliers to help bend the wire.



Here is my first attempt at soldering.  I am embarrassed at how messy it is, but it works.



Next I sewed the circuit on the back of the fabric card, cutting tiny holes for the LEDs.  I stitched around each one to secure it to the fabric. The little pentagon of white felt is insulating two wires that were crossing and creating a short circuit.  


I sewed the battery holder to the back of the card and slipped in the coin cell battery.  The battery holder has an on/off switch so that the lights are not always on.  The final card is shown below.  


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Ugly Arduino Doll

After building the LilyPad Arduino vest, I got to thinking that it didn’t have much purpose for students beyond demonstration and inspiration.  I wanted a project that students could actually use in some way, to learn and practice their skills in circuitry and coding.  Brainstorming with colleagues is always helpful in working out viable ideas and foreseeable problems.   I usually seek out people who can contribute to the how-to part of a project, as well as people who will pick apart my idea and reveal the problems I might encounter.  Thanks to some helpful ugly doll discussions, I decided to make a complete doll as a prototype and as a tool for learning and practicing programming in C.

The inspiration for this doll came from Leah Buechley’s project described in her book Sew Electric.  The materials needed are about a half yard of fleece (This will really make two dolls), regular sewing thread, conductive sewing thread, and sewing needles. For the electronic components you will need a LilyPad Arduino, a LilyPad power supply, one LED, one speaker, one accelerometer, and one light sensor.  All of the components were either made by LilyPad or were compatible with LilyPad.   (Although I love the clean look and low profile of the LilyPad products I have found that compatible products can be purchased on Ebay for about 25% of the cost.)

The shape of the doll was drawn on paper, showing both the front and the back.  The placement of these components was sketched in.  Keeping in mind that if positive and negative traces cross it will create a short circuit, the path of the traces was sketched using a red marker for positive and a black marker for negative.  The positive and negative pins on the LilyPad had to be connected to the positive and negative pins on the power supply.  The positive pins on each of the components had to be connected to the LilyPad as follows:

1. Outputs (the LED and speaker) were sewn to digital PWM pins on the LilyPad.

2. Inputs (accelerometer and light sensor) were sewn to analog pins.

The negative pins on each of the components had to be connected to the negative pin on either the LilyPad or the power supply (or to any part of a negative trace) without crossing any of the positive traces.  If crossing was unavoidable, insulation could be added by sewing a piece of fleece fabric between the two traces at the crossing point.

I wondered if an on/off switch could be added to the light sensor and the accelerometer to disable them when desired.  So I tested this before sewing by attaching them with alligator clips.  I later decided that since different programs could be uploaded to the LilyPad (some including those components and others not) it really didn’t matter.  If I didn’t want them to be active, I could just use a program that did not access them.

LilyPad Arduino – isn’t it beautiful? Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 5.38.38 AM


The circuitry was sketched on paper to act as a guide for sewing the traces with the conductive thread. (Lesson learned in the LilyPad Arduino Vest) The pink lines indicate the positive traces.

The materials used for the doll included fleece fabric, sewing thread, and conductive thread.


LilyPad Arduino and Power Supply – The power supply (battery holder) has one positive pin and three negative pins.  It also has an on/off switch.







LED sewn on with conductive thread.  Note that the positive pin is indicated with a +.










Speaker (Also referred to as a buzzer) Note that the positive pin is indicated with a +.








Accelerometer – Note that there are pins for X, Y, and Z axes.  Note that the positive pin is indicated with a + and negative indicated by a -.







Light Sensor – Note that the positive pin is indicated with a + and negative indicated by a -.







Here you can see a video of the LilyPad Arduino Ugly Doll in action.



I left the doll sewn on only one side so that it can be opened like a book to reveal the traces. After constructing the doll and making sure all the components worked, I sewed an extra piece of doll shaped fleece on the inside, kind of like a page in a book.  This serves to prevent short circuits when the doll is “closed.”

My next step is to learn how to write the code for the two inputs (light sensor and accelerometer).  Stay tuned.




Categories: Arduino, Innovation | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

LilyPad Arduino Vest – An Electrifying Journey

I am a lifelong fiber artist.  I have fond memories of sewing doll clothes and knitting tiny blankets when I was a small child.  That love for the feel of cloth and yarn in my hands has never left me and has been a source of joy to me over the years.  So it was with great excitement that I discovered the work of  Leah Buechley.  I was lucky enough to visit her space in the MIT Media Lab about six years ago.  She was not there that day, but there were all the familiar tools that had beckoned to me through the years: fabric, yarn, knitting machines, looms, embroidery hoops.  And something else: little circuit boards and wires that, at that time, puzzled me.

Earlier this year  a colleague in the Bryan Innovation Lab at the Steward School handed me a small package and said, “See what you can do with this.”  Inside the package was one of those circuit boards, the latest iteration of Leah’s circuit board, called the LilyPad Arduino, and a cone of conductive thread.

Fellow fiber artists will understand the thrill of that moment: raw fabric or yarn, waiting to be born into a form created by my imagination and skill.

I turned to Leah Buechley’s book, Sew Electric, and to several websites including the LilyPad Arduino website and the Sparkfun site.  Leah’s Turn Signal Biking Jacket also gave me clear instruction on the process I needed to follow to constuct my project.

The materials I used were medium weight linen, medium fusible interfacing, sewing thread, conductive thread, and embroidery thread.

IMG_4285  IMG_4207

The tools used were an iron (to fuse interfacing), scissors, sewing needles, a needle threader, and a sewing machine.

The hardware needed for the project included a LilyPad Arduino, a power source (battery holder), LilyPad LED‘s, an on/off switch, and a LilyPad speaker.  You will also need a FTDI board and a USB to mini USB cable (to connect the LilyPad to the FTDI board and  your computer.)  This enables you to upload code to the LilyPad.  Once uploaded, you can detach the FTDI board and your LilyPad will run the code.


I should mention here that although I love the elegant look of all the LilyPad products, I have started ordering the components for sewable projects from Hong Kong-based companies listed on Ebay.  These parts cost about a fourth of the price and shipping takes about four times as long.  They are not as pretty, but I have found them to be reliable.

This was my first sewable electronics project and it took me on a journey that was both informative and humbling.  Constructing the vest was easy.  Adding the electronic components and making them work, not so much.  I started by machine sewing embellishments that I thought would augment the electronics I attached by hand.  But I soon discovered that things would not work out as I initially planned.


I sewed on the electronic parts using conductive thread and connecting them with chain stitch.  I stopped after each addition to run a test to make sure everything was working. The plan was all in my head, despite the fact that every resource I had consulted had stressed the importance of sketching out your circuit traces before beginning construction.


I hit a point where the LED’s were no longer lighting and I hadn’t even gotten to the speaker.  Time to ask for help.  I walked over the Bryan Lab and consulted my colleague, Shane Diller.  He got out a multimeter – oh, yes, that was kind of mentioned in the resources I had consulted.

He patiently explaining Ohm’s law to me and showed me how to test the conductive thread in my project to see how much current was flowing at different points.  We concluded that the chain stitch was creating too much resistance to allow sufficient current to light the LED’s.

IMG_4328 IMG_4329 IMG_4327 IMG_4330

Many picked-out stitches and much simple straight stitching later, everything was back in order.  Time to add the speaker.  Two of the LED’s on the front of the vest were removed and the speaker was put in their place.



Finished vest with FTDI board uploading code.

Some final hand stitched embroidery was added and it was time for the light and sound show.  See a future blog post to learn about the coding involved in making this vest “perform.”


Categories: Arduino, Art, Innovation, Technology | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Flipped Classroom

There’s a lot of conversation going on about the “flipped classroom model.”  The idea is that students use their “homework” time to watch video lessons created or assigned by their teacher and then use classroom time to work on assignments or projects related to that assignment.  This was made popular by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams and is described in the book, Flip Your Classroom.  Students listen to lectures or watch demonstrations outside of the classroom and work on “homework” in the classroom.  The main advantage is that students will have access to the teacher while they do their work.   If they have problems, there is time for the teacher to help them. They can also work with other students on projects without having to make arrangements for after school get-togethers.  Ideally, this is a great idea.  But there are many factors to consider in order to achieve a successful flipped classroom.

1. Teachers must feel comfortable  recording videos of their lessons.  Working with students in real time is different from reading a script in front of a camera or microphone.  If well planned, the video lesson has the potential to be better than a classroom lesson.  There will be no distractions, the lesson can be delivered in a logical sequence, and the teacher can answer anticipated questions.  The downside is that the teacher might not anticipate all the questions.  If the lesson isn’t clear or the students have questions, the teacher won’t know until the next day.  I think the best approach is to let go of any notion that the video is going to win an Academy Award.  In the classroom, teachers make mistakes and fill sentences with “Uh, you know, I mean…”  You can take hours re-taping or editing your recording, but is it worth it? Just go for it.

2. Teachers must have the tools to create the tutorials and know how to use them.  There are several ways to create a tutorial.  The simplest is a screen capture of a presentation of some sort (PowerPoint, Google Presentation, Prezi, etc.) along with a voice recording.  The teacher can appear on screen before, after, or during the presentation, or not at all. Another version is a video which shows the teacher (or others) demonstrating something that could not be demonstrated in the classroom.    Some tools allow you to embed quizzes or note-taking while watching the video.  TechSmith offers some great tools for screen-casting.  Here’s a blog post from Douchy’s Blog about these and other screen-casting tools.

3. There must be a site where teachers can post the tutorials.  Wikis, blogs, Edmodo, Google Classroom, and YouTube are places to post tutorials, whether it’s an audio or video recording.  Tutorials can also be uploaded to podcast hosting sites, such as iTunes.  The teacher will need to understand the correct format needed for each of these options and know the method of posting to them.

4. Remember that the resources on your flipped classroom site don’t have to be limited to recordings.  You can also share documents, presentations, and links to websites, articles, and blog posts that support your class.  When you start thinking about what you want your students to have access to, the sky is the limit.  You may also want to consider asking students to contribute to the resources.  There are multiple ways for students to add their own work or links to resources they have discovered.  Giving them shared editing access to Diigo, a Google website, spreadsheet, or document, etc. opens the door to a wealth of resources that you might not have the time to discover.


5. Keep it short.  Videos and presentations are great, but unless they are full of bells and whistles, they need to be short.  Your productions are competing with all the shiny videos available on television and the Internet.  Their production budgets were way higher than yours, so don’t kid yourself: keep it short!

6. Check out what others have done.  Here is short list of some flipped classroom resources that other teachers have shared.


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Blendspace – Build a Canvas of Resources to Share

BlendSpace is a tool which enables you to gather and curate resources and assessments to share with students and/or colleagues. It should be created on a computer, but it can be shared to either a computer or mobile device.
BlendSpace.com Instructions
o Create a BlendSpace account at BlendSpace.com. Teacher and student accounts are available.
o Log in to your account.
o Click on + New Lesson button
o Give your canvas a title. Click OK.
Search for content within the web tools on the far right. Click on each icon and enter a search term. When you find what you want, simply drag it to one of the tiles on your Blendspace canvas. When you finish one row of tiles, click on “+ Add row” to increase the size of your canvas.
For any of the web based resources, you can also open another tab in your browser and perform a search. Copy the url of the resource you want to use and paste it into the search bar. You can rearrange the tiles at any time. If you have a wiki, blog, or Google doc you would like to include, paste that url into the search bar.
The source options are:
1. YouTube videos –click on the YouTube icon on the far right and enter a search term in the YouTube Search box.
2. Websites and web images – Click on the on the far right and enter a search term.
3. Vimeo videos – Click on the on the far right and enter a search term.
4. Flickr images – Click on the on the far right and enter a search term.
5. Educreation videos — Click on the on the far right and enter a search term.
6. Gooru – Click on the on the far right and enter a search term.
7. Web pages – Click on the on the far right and enter a search term.
8. Media or files – Click on the on the far right and enter a search term.

For the next two sources you will need to link these accounts so they will be accessible from BlendSpace. To do this: Click on the icon for DropBox or Google Drive and click “Connect.” Enter your login credentials. The content in these accounts will appear and be ready to drag onto your canvas.
9. DropBox – Click on the on the far right and enter a search term.
10. Google Drive – Click on the on the far right and enter a search term.
11. Settings – Click on the to access your settings. This will allow you to enable or disable comments and track the use of your Blendspace canvas (number of views, length of views, likes, dislikes, comments, help requests, and quizzes).
12. Files from your DropBox or Google Drive When you link these accounts they will be accessible from BlendSpace. To do this Click on the icon for DropBox or Google Drive and click “Connect.” Enter your login credentials. The content in these accounts will appear and be ready to drag onto your canvas.
Test and Quizzes
1. Double click on any tile to add text.
2. Hover over a tile and click on Add Quiz to add a quiz. Create a multiple choice question. Designate the correct answer. Click on “+Add question” to add more questions.
Content is automatically saved.
To share your BlendSpace, click on the Share button. You will have three options :
1. A link to share- When you share the link, it can be typed into the browser or a mobile device or computer or email it to the recipients (this includes an iPad cart email address).
2. An embed code to add your Blendspace to a blog or wiki
3. A QR code to share – This can be scanned by a mobile device with a QR reader.

When the Blendspace canvas is opened on a computer or mobile device, click on one of the tiles to begin. Then use the arrows on the right and left to navigate through the tiles. The user will have access to the content placed on each of the tiles.
Some tile content can be opened on an iPad in Pages and Keynote. If so, they are now offline and can be viewed without Internet connection. If opened in Explain Everything the content could be transformed into a screencast.

Categories: 21st Century Skills, Technology | Tags: , , | Leave a comment


Padlet is a virtual bulletin board which allows multiple users to contribute notes, documents, videos, images, and links. What are some ways that teachers and students can use Padlet to facilitate collaboration and the sharing of ideas and resources?

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Lino – A We-Based Bulletin Board

Have you ever wanted an easy way to collaborate with your colleagues (or your family)? Here is my test of Lino, a collaborative bulletin board tool. There is also an app called Lino created by the same company.

After creating an account, I made a “board” and posted a sticky note with instructions. The settings I chose for the board allow visitors to post stickies as well. Please post a sticky on the board by clicking on this link.

Think of the ways teachers could use a collaborative bulletin board to collect ideas and resources. Think of how a group of students or class could work together on a project using a colleaborative board. Class rules, vocabulary, reflections on experiences or videos, short book reviews, suggestions, catagory sorts, possible solutions to a problem, alternate story endings, to do lists, to bring lists, details about a painting, a calendar, etc. Can you think of more ideas?
By the way, the background of the board is a picture I uploaded. It is my beautiful Buster Boy, the most precious cat of all.

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For our first T21 module (EdTech Teacher) we are exploring LiveBinders. This is a web tool which allows you to organize, curate, and share digital resources. A user creates a virtual binder and fills it with links to websites, text documents, PDF files, digital images, and videos. The binder can then be shared with colleagues or students. The creation of a binder can also be a collaborative process wherein two or more people build a binder.

Think of the ways you and your students can use LiveBinders. It could be the “parking place” for all the resources you want your students to use for a unit of study. It could be how you and your department collect and organize resources you will all use. Students could use LiveBinders as a tool for developing and presenting a project. A LiveBinder could include all the resources used in creating a project as well as the project itself. How else do you think it could be used? Please post your comments below.

Here is a short introduction showing how to create a binder. There are many other tutorials on the LiveBinders site itself as well as on YouTube.

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