Posts Tagged With: Arduino

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

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