Chapter 1 What Are E-Textiles? 4
Chapter 2 Sewing with Electronics 9
Chapter 3 Beginning Projects
with Soft Circuits 19
Chapter 4 Microcontrollers 23
Chapter 5 Light It Up! 26
Find Out More 31
A bout the Author 32
What Are E-Textiles?
Can you imagine making a phone call from your T-shirt? Would you like to have a scarf that gets tighter as the wind kicks up? These are not quite reality yet, but fashion designers, artists, and scientists are working together to combine textiles and technology. The future of your clothing could be electronic.
E-textile is short for electronic or electro-textile. E-textiles are also called conductive clothing, electronic clothing, and soft circuits. Electronics, small computers, or other digital devices are built into in them. Special conductive thread or paints can be sewn or applied to the fabric as well.
Smart fabrics do not only sense the environment but also react to it. One example might be a shirt that warms you when it’s cold outside, cleans itself when it’s dirty, lights up when it gets dark, or protects the wearer from a fall. Smart clothes could monitor your workout and give you advice on how to train. A shirt with a pocket that charges mobile phones would be convenient. Smart fabrics are part of a larger category called digital wearables. The field of building advanced technology into textile fibers is sometimes called fibertronics.
Smart clothes and e-textiles can act like a second skin to help monitor what goes on under real skin. Electronic or digital sensors woven into or painted onto the clothes can track people’s body changes and surrounding environmental conditions. Some researchers are hopeful that they will be able to use the body’s natural energy to power smart clothes. Because the sensors are part of the clothing, they can be placed in direct contact with a person’s skin and can detect an amazing range of information about the wearer.
Sharing the information gathered from these clothes has the potential to change the way online communities work. Athletes might compare their data with that of their friends or professional athletes. Information during sporting events could be shared with viewers as it happens. Video games could get more personal.
What happens when fabric becomes programmable? Furniture manufacturers in Sweden are interested in fabrics that can change pattern and color. This could help people who can’t make up their minds about which sofa they want. Researchers are also experimenting with furniture that can heat up. This would help people who live in cold places save energy because they could run their furnaces less in the winter. The E-Textile Laboratory at Virginia Tech move across it. This has the potential to help track people in low-visibility situations. It could also help guide traffic during evacuations in large buildings. E-textiles and smart fabrics are becoming important for improving health and safety. Shirts that relieve back pain and remind patients to take their medications might soon become common. Boaters are testing life jackets that have sensors to help rescuers find them. Cyclists are wearing shirts with turn signals and lights built in to prevent traffic accidents. Firefighters may eventually enter a burning building in uniforms that collect information and map directions for safe return routes. Each year almost 50,000 Americans become disabled because of swelling associated with the disease diabetes. Socks with conductive threads and pressure sensors could monitor and prevent swelling to avoid this.
Medical data gathered from these wearables can also be shared online with health care providers. This could allow patients to leave hospitals early and still be carefully monitored by their doctors.
The fashion industry is equally excited about wearable electronics. While one-of-a-kind designs University in Blacksburg, Virginia, is embedding electronics into rugs. The rug lights up as people have often sported electronic accessories, designers are now producing electronic clothing that is within the budget of many Americans. Conductive thread, flexible wire, lights, and computers are frequently being built into T-shirts, gloves, and other wearables.
What smart item would you most like to have hanging in your closet? By learning a few sewing techniques and understanding a few basic principles of electricity, you could produce some unique wearables. The following chapters can help you get started working on your own projects that combine technology and fashion.
Sewing with Electronics
When assembling electronic circuits on fabrics, it helps to have a sewing machine. It is not necessary, however. The projects in this book can be created without one. A lot of tools and techniques are the same for hand sewing and machine sewing. If you have a machine, go ahead and use it. It’s a lot faster than sewing by hand.
Here are a few supplies you will need to work on your own e-textile projects:
• Embroidery hoop: This keeps your fabric pulled tight as you work.
• Fabric scissors: These are long scissors with extra-sharp metal blades. Don’t cut paper with them because that will make them dull.
• Needle threader: Conductive thread frays easily. Using one of these will help.
• Notions: These are buttons, sequins, snaps, and fabric for decorating your projects.
• Polyester thread: This is stronger than cotton thread and won’t shrink when you wash it. Embroidery thread for decorative stitches is also handy.
• Seam ripper: This is used to rip out mistakes in your sewing. It is also helpful for taking apart clothing to use in new projects.
• Sewing needle: These come in different sizes. A number 7 needle is best for sewing with conductive thread.
• Straight pins: These hold layers of materials together. Thin ones work best.
Stitches to Learn
There are four different stitches to master for hand sewing your projects: a running stitch, a whipstitch, a topstitch, and a backstitch.
Running stitch. This stitch is used to sew two pieces of fabric together and to create a circuit with conductive thread. Tie a knot at the end of your thread. Hold the two layers of fabric together. Push your needle up through both layers and pull gently until the knot stops you from pulling any farther. Now point the sharp end of your needle downward, piercing the fabric about 1∕8 inch (3 millimeters) away. Repeat again and again. Don’t tug too hard, or the fabric will pucker and wrinkle. When you become more experienced, you’ll be able to move your needle up and down, above and below the fabric several times before pulling the thread through. This creates stitches about 1∕8 to ¼ inch (3 to 6 mm) apart.
Whipstitch. This basic stitch wraps around the edges of fabric to keep it from unraveling. Start on the underside of the fabric. Push the needle to the top near the edge of the fabric. Wrap the thread around the edge of the fabric and push the needle up from underneath again. Continue until you reach the end.
Topstitch. This is a running stitch to sew one fabric on top of another (like a patch). Push the needle from under the bottom fabric through to the top fabric. Use short running stitches to keep the fabrics together.
Backstitch. Instead of tying a knot when you are finishing stitching, try a backstitch to secure the stitches. Just stitch backwards three or four times. This will be important when sewing complete circuits.