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Hardware Hump Day: LED Constellation Hoops

Check out these super cute DIY constellation embroidery hoops!

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Over the past few years I have noticed a resurgence of the New Age movement. Many of my friends (me) have begun collecting crystals, sage smudging and blaming bad days on Mercury in retrograde — although I admittedly don't understand what that even means.

A few months back, I was meeting with some of my team here at SparkFun, and our very creative Sr. Marketing Manager, Chelsea, came up with a brilliant project idea: embroidered constellations using LilyPad LEDs for the stars. Given people’s (my) recent obsession with all things space and astrology I decided to use the Zodiac constellation patterns and make one hoop for each sign.

Around the same time, I was experimenting with parts for the PomPom Headbands. I discovered that our LilyTiny — a tiny, sewable microcontroller from the LilyPad line — comes pre-programmed with really lovely LED animations. Each of the four digital pins has its own unique animation, such as pulsing, flickering, twinkling, etc.

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The necessary materials and build process are described in the video below.

We’ve also made a video diagram of how to connect this circuit.

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I am so happy with how these turned out, and they make an awesome gift for literally any occasion. These patterns are perfect for group crafting circles or workshops and look really wonderful hanging on a wall.

Which constellation would you want hanging on your wall? Any other ideas? Share with us in the comments below!


Comments 12 comments

  • Oh, something I didn’t notice in the blog or the video. Are the constellation patterns available for download somewhere?

  • This project reminds me of Shannon Henry’s Sewing Electrified Kits which used constellation patterns and 3mm LEDs (also an option if you like to add a 3D element to your embroidery) - http://www.polymathdesignlab.com/etextiles/sewing-electrified alt text

    Another option if you decide to display permanently is to swap out the LilyPad Coin Cell Holder for a LilyPad Simple Power attached to a Wall Adapter - this will provide constant power and avoid having to replace batteries when they run out.

    The sky’s the limit with celestial-inspired embroidery projects, I’d love to see some that everyone creates!

  • Nice video. Er, no, not nice. Super!

    Can you tell us who did the music? It was appropriate and nice also. It was so fantastic that I won’t even mention the old joke about “New Age - Rhymes with Sewage” ok? Oh, I’m sorry, it just slipped out.

    Totally seriously, great job, Feldi!

    • Sure! We get our music from a site called AudioBlocks www.audioblocks.com This track is called ‘Not A Cloud In The Sky’

      So glad you liked it!

  • Hi Feldi! Great project, and post!

    I do have a few constructive and/or amusing comments. First, for those of us who lived through the original incarnation of “New Age” (about 50 years ago), it sure seems more like “Old Age” today! :-)

    As for “Mercury in retrograde”, it’s technically “apparent motion retrograde” (as opposed to “proper motion retrograde”). This is when an object appears to be moving in a direction that is (approximately) opposite of normal. Experiment that you literally can NOT try at home (since you have to be in a car [or maybe on a bike]): Please, do NOT try this while you’re the driver - only while you’re a passenger! – when you come to a curve (I’ll assume that it’s a curve to the right) that has those arrowhead signs that are meant to alert you to a curve, notice that as you are entering the curve, the signs further down the curve, compared to the background, appears to be moving to the right, but as you further into the curve, they “reverse direction” and appear to be moving to your left. When they appear to be moving to the right, this is [apparent] retrograde motion. To tie up a loose end, proper retrograde motion is when an object is in an orbit that’s in the opposite direction from all others. (For instance, most Earth satellites, including the Moon, travel from west to east, but it is possible [though very hazardous] to launch one that travels from east to west, which would be referred to as a “retrograde orbit”.)

    Thanks for the neat video! (My only comment would be that if you do one like it again, you make it a bit more plain where you’re using conductive thread and when you’re using normal, non-conductive thread – to someone like myself who’s been “doing” electronics and textiles since “New Age” was indeed new, it’s pretty obvious, but for someone who is doing this as a “first project” of either electronics or sewing, they might get confused.) This week seems to be making up for my lament about the lack of a “New Product Friday” video…

    • Haha, I’m glad I could strike a note of nostalgia for you. Thanks for the input, amusing as always!

  • Minor correction to the write-up, above. Looking at the flashing pattern in the video, it seems that you are using the LilyTwinkle instead of the LilyTiny. Otherwise different parts of the constellation would be blinking differently.

    Other than that, really good project idea and good video documentation of all the steps.

    My thought on how to super-charge this project (and make it more complicated and expensive) is to have the µC (re-prgrammed LilyTiny/LilyTwinkle or other small, sewable board) drive programmable RBG LEDs. (Something like what Adafruit calls NeoPixel or DotStar, I forget their “correct” names). Have a flicker routine flickering an array of values that mimic the colors and relative brightness of the actual stars in the constellation. A bonus is this enhancement would probably generate several bald yaks. ;-)

    Even more complicated, expensive, and probably more bald yaks: Hide a small solar cell between the fabric layers that powers it’s own comparitor to switch a sleep interrupt pin of the µC to prolong the battery by turning it off when there is enough light.

    • FWIW, “NeoPixel” and “DotStar” are both “correct”. They’re actually two different things, mainly differing in how the data gets passed from the controller to the LED modules. Both will easily work with an “Arduino compatible” (using the right library) such as a Lily-family, but because of the very tight timing requirements of NeoPixels, DotStars are much easier to control from a Linux based board such as a Raspberry Pi or Beagle Board Black.

      • Well… the names “NeoPixel” and “DotStar” are names created by competing vendor, not SparkFun. I didn’t take the time earlier to try to find them while at work, but now that I’m home took the time to actually look them up.

        NeoPixels are known everywhere except that other vendor as WS2812, and DotStars are known everywhere except that other vendor as APA102. These are actually IMHO the more “correct” name because they reference the driver chip embedded in the LED package, but unfortunately aren’t as easy for me to remember.

        All that said, neither of these are the only addressable RGB LEDs on the market. It’s just that these are the ones with the best Arduino support. (Though I could be wrong…)

        Back to the project at hand, I would suspect that WS2812s would work better than APA102 because of simpler wiring. Sewable projects are really best suited to circuits that can be done as if they are single sided boards. You can cross nets, but that gets tricky and error prone.

    • Nope! I am using the LilyTiny. The LilyTwinkle also comes with animations pre-loaded but they were not the best ones for this design. The LilyTiny has more subtle animations that look like twinkling starts, while the LilyTwinkle has more of a pulsing firefly animation.

      Love your ideas for pushing this project further, thanks for sharing! :)

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