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Intro to Sewable Circuits: Teaching Electronics Through Arts and Crafts

Location: W196c

Explore and create
Pre-registration required

Explore and create : Workshop

Saturday, June 23, 8:30–11:30 am
Location: W196c

Angela Sheehan  
A hands-on exploration of three levels of engagement with sewable electronics. Learn simple circuit concepts through sewing with conductive thread, then try prototyping a project with pre-programmed modules. The session will finish with an introduction to programming using LilyPad Arduino and discussion of current e-textile education practices.

Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices required
Attendee device specification: Laptop: Mac, PC
Participant accounts, software and other materials: Please pre-install software support following these instructions ( before the session in order to fully participate in the programming part of the workshop. Windows 7 is not currently supported for this session, please email with any questions about software installation before the session.

Craft materials (fabric, scissors, thread) can be brought if desired, but some will be provided.

Focus: Digital age teaching & learning
Topic: Maker activities and programs
Grade level: 6-12
Subject area: STEM/STEAM, Computer science
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Collaborate and co-learn with students to discover and use new digital resources and diagnose and troubleshoot technology issues.
  • Create learning opportunities that challenge students to use a design process and computational thinking to innovate and solve problems.
For Students:
Innovative Designer
  • Students develop, test and refine prototypes as part of a cyclical design process.
Disclosure: The submitter of this session has been supported by a company whose product is being included in the session
Related exhibitors: SparkFun Electronics

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

Combining elements of crafting and fiber arts with introductory electronics activities and lessons can open up new creative engagement possibilities to students, inspiring iterative design explorations, agency, and investment in a finished project. Leveraging familiar skills from art and craft endeavors can help build confidence in prototyping with electronics and learning computer science concepts and attract a broader range of student audiences and interests.

This workshop will be broken down into three hands-on mini sessions focusing on different entry points into teaching with sewable electronics. Participants will leave with a range of new skills in both hardware (conductive thread circuit building) and software (introduction to programming in Arduino), along with troubleshooting advice and project prompts for their own classroom.

The beginning of the workshop will provide insight and advice about materials and tools commonly used in teaching with sewable electronics and highlight current educational research and initiatives focusing on these topics.

The first hands-on session will focus on exploring the properties of conductive thread and crafting through building a simple circuit - a glowing pin. Next, participants will learn to prototype and test a pre-programmed microcontroller project with LilyTiny and plan a light-up plush creature. The programming portion of the workshop will focus on core concepts with the Arduino programming environment: digital output (blinking an LED), digital input (reading a button press), and further concepts such as analog input (reading a light sensor) as time allows. The end of the workshop will include a discussion and brainstorming session for participants to share inspiration and ideas as they craft their projects.

Participants will leave the workshop with experience implementing circuits directly into fabric, as well as resources on how to successfully introduce e-textiles through small, beginner activities and how to scale up to more complex, programmed projects. Open source resources, including downloadable templates and presentations, will be provided for educators to use as they develop their own ideas around implementation of e-textiles in a classroom setting.


This workshop is divided into 3 hands-on sessions with an introduction presentation and follow-up discussion and open crafting time.

Introduction to sewable electronics and overview of wearable technologies (15 minutes): What are other educators doing with e-textiles? How e-textiles differ from traditional electronics education (breadboard and soldering). Examples of student projects and hardware materials options will be shown and discussed.

Session 1 - Introduction to Sewing with Conductive Thread (30 minutes): Build a glowing pin activity. Tips on working with conductive thread and best practices. Simple circuit concepts and exploration.

Session 2 - Exploring Pre-Programmed Microcontrollers (45 minutes): Build a LilyTiny plush activity. Explore using alligator clips to test and prototype. Learn tips for planning sewable electronics projects and explore parallel circuits.

Session 3 - Introduction to Programming with LilyPad Arduino (60 minutes): Blinking LEDs – customizing light patterns with code activity. Reading a button press – adding input to control LEDs activity. Tips for planning a programming lesson and building active exploration. Work in collaborative groups to prototype with code.

Project Brainstorming, Discussion, and Extensions (30 minutes):
We'll discuss project prompts and templates – designing for successful wearables. During this time we will reflect on and discuss the projects as we create them.

Supporting research

Buechley, L., and Eisenberg, M. (2008). The LilyPad Arduino: Toward Wearable Engineering for Everyone. Wearable Computing Column in IEEE Pervasive, 7(2), pp. 12-15. (Invited submission) Kanjun Qiu, Leah Buechley, Edward Baafi, and Wendy Dubow. 2013. A curriculum for teaching computer science through computational textiles. In Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children (IDC ’13). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 20-27. Mellis, D. and Buechley L. 2011. Scaffolding Creativity with Open-Source Hardware. In Creativity and Cognition 2011. Buechley, L. and Hill, B. M. 2010. LilyPad in the Wild: How Hardware’s Long Tail is Supporting New Engineering and Design Communities. In Proceedings of Designing Interactive Systems (DIS), Aarhus, Denmark, 199-207. Textile Messages: Dispatches From the World of E-Textiles and Education by Leah Buechley, Kylie Peppler, Michael Eisenberg & Yasmin Kafai Soft Circuits: Crafting e-Fashion with DIY Electronics by Kylie Peppler, Melissa Gresalfi, Katie Salen Tekinbas, & Rafi Santo Project STITCH: STEM Teaching Integrating Textiles and Computing Holistically, ( Sew Electric by Leah Buechley & Kanjun Qiu Make: Wearable Electronics: Design, prototype, and wear your own interactive garments by Kate Hartman The Art of Tinkering by Karen Wilkinson & Mike Petrich Invent to Learn by Sylvia Libow Martinez & Gary Stager, Ph.D.

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Angela Sheehan, Gellacraft

Angela is the education product manager and the e-textile education specialist at SparkFun Electronics, where she leads development on the LilyPad sewable electronics product line and creates supporting documentation and content for SparkFun's educational products. Angela is an artist and educator passionate about craft electronics, costuming, and combining arts and technology. She has been working with e-textiles and wearables since 2005 and has helped facilitate over 90 e-textile and e-craft workshops, including sessions at Fashion Institute of Technology, SparkFun National Tour, WEAR (Smart Fabrics), USASEF, NSTA, E21 conference, and ISTE.

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