E-Textiles Tutorial


E-textiles are an up-and-coming area of the embedded electronics world that invites people who may have never experimented with electronics to try their hand at incorporating physical computing into their projects. E-textiles is the art of infusing clothing, fabric, or other materials with electronic bits and pieces. We have blogged in the past about e-textiles and are excited to see where this relatively new branch of electronic gadgetry takes us. Recently, SparkFun hired what we call a Techstyles Specialist - her name is Dia.

You may recognize Dia as our former receptionist, but she has a special talent for e-textiles and SparkFun is excited to have her working full-time in this area. Dia has been working hard on creating new e-textiles projects and to get you going, she created the above video tutorial - Getting Started with E-Textiles. This video will guide you through the very basics of crafting your own e-textile projects.

In addition, she has created a tutorial that might help you along if you have some spare LEDs in your toolbox and you want to try your hand at e-textiles. Check out her new tutorial about Sewing with Non-LilyPad LEDs. We hope these tutorials help you get started and keep your eye out for future e-textiles projects.


Comments 32 comments

  • While e-textiles may not appeal to the average SparkFun customer, as long as some people are interested, and it’s not having a negative effect on SparkFun’s ability to remain a stable, profitable business, who cares if some people don’t like it.
    SparkFun is just expanding into a new area and attracting a different type of customer. Who knows what the e-textiles customers might come up with? They may create something incredibly useful and cool or give someone that isn’t interested in e-textiles an idea that might be really cool.
    Inventing things isn’t always about what the tech crowd is doing. Sometimes it takes someone with another perspective to “spark” and idea.
    Dia, you go girl! I have a feeling something great is going to come of your efforts.

  • E-textiles. I like it. The video is nicely done. This e-textile stuff is exciting and has lots of possibilities for those open to looking past the obvious. I am looking at this from an artist point of view. Keep the tutorials and info coming Dia.

  • Wow guys, thanks for all of the comments! I’m delighted to hear that there are people finding inspiration here, and for the people who DON’T get it, let me reassure you- Sparkfun will definitely keep cranking out the products and content that you’re accustomed to, in addition to my occasional offerings.
    The important thing here, I think, is that hobby electronics are fun because they’re infinitely customizable, but that also means that everyone is going to start somewhere different. For some people, it will be here. Personally, I don’t entirely get why anyone needs a robot to make a circle around SF headquarters, but I LOVE the AVC, and for some people, that’s where they find the inspiration to start making, and a larger community of makers benefits us all.
    PS- Paradoxial? Here’s your light up wedding dress, via the lovely and talented Alison Lewis

  • IMO this area is still very much in its infancy. There don’t seem to be a whole lot of “useful” things you can do with it yet. You could argue that a lot of the stuff here isn’t useful, but you get to do it in the privacy of your own home. Clothes are made to be worn, and you wouldn’t spend hours or days jazzing up an item of clothing just to wear it in your house. But then most people would feel self concious wearing it to the mall. So what do you do with it?
    I’m looking forward to when there become some genuine uses - perhaps some kind of smart fabric which changes its structure depending on your skin temperature, or some kind of stress sensor in a skintight gym top, which will be able to tell how much effort you’re putting in to your weights routine.
    And of course, the jacket from Back to the Future 2 which dries itself ;)

  • I wanted that to have so much better lighting! And where’s the soft sexy music ala Martha Stewart? Don’t get me wrong, project! But I expect more from SF in the video production dept. Dia deserves more!

  • LEDs is a good vehicle for a project I have been envisioning. Thanks for the video it helps to see the possibilities.

  • On the subject of fibre optics and flexible lighting, has anyone tried EL (electroluminescent) cable? It’s available in a bunch of colours, and would be almost bright enough to see in the daylight.
    While I haven’t had a chance to play with any myself, the only downside (apart from the 400 volts or so needed to light the suckers up!) is that the cables I’ve seen are pretty heavy - on the order of 1-2mm or so. So you’d have to be fairly creative to not make it look like Tron/Tronette…
    And 400V would sure sort out the customers with poor sewing skills… (Only kidding! Only kidding! Darwin would kill me!)
    But there’s no reason you couldn’t attach the wire to the backside of the fabric, or slip some clear polyethylene tubing over the wire. It’d make for some really cool gloves!

  • Are we really making the “I don’t like it so its obviously worthless” argument again? Perhaps we should talk about our musical tastes or our preferences in programming languages. Those arguments would be just as pointless.
    Clothes or robots, enjoy electronics in whatever manner you like.

  • Have you ever considered working with fiber optics?

    • I’ve played a little bit with fiber optic sparkle cable, but haven’t been able to get a brightness or visibility that I’m happy with yet. I haven’t gotten my hands on any of the fabric used to make Alison’s light up wedding dress project yet- it’s really expensive, but it does look promising.

  • How long until someone sews a bunch of UV LEDs into the inside of a shirt so you can get a tan without taking off your clothes?

  • My girlfriend loved this! Glad to see she now has a reason to shop at sparkfun too ~

  • Withing minutes of seeing this post my daughter will be rummaging through the part bins yet again thanks to sparkfun. She gets it. The lily pad parts from Christmas are mostly gone.
    Reminds me 12 years ago when I made a line following robot from some CdS cells, a flashlight bulb soldered and melted into a remote controlled toy tank. Controlled by a handwired pic microcontroller programmed from a homebuilt programmer hanging off the parallel port of my computer. It wasn’t pretty but it was fun.
    Now there is pages of breakout boards for all those fun gizmos to wire into robots. Sparkfun gets it!

  • This I think is great, I’m not huge on the E-Textiles Idea, but my gf loves it, it has given us something to work on together since I know next to nothing of sewing and she knows nothing of electronics…

  • E-textiles aren’t high on my personal list of things to try out, but they’re very intriguing. There’s bound to be a lot of things to come from the concept, and I’ll be interested in seeing how e-textiles and their applications evolve.

  • Now that was excellent on several levels at once. Informative, entertaining, and clever. I don’t think I could take an 11 minute video if it was Robert or Pete, but I could listen to Dia all day long. And whoever thought up the wordplay of a techstyles specialist giving a presentation on textiles is a genius. I look forward to more from Dia; how about a regular Techstyles Tuesday video to help us make it through the week to the New Product Friday video?

  • Why does it say “Techstyles Specialist” in this post, but says “Textiles” in the products list?

  • Think about it. This might be the next big fashion trend.
    Imagine a light-up wedding dress.

  • I sincerely apologize for raining on the parade, but this all seems like a huge yawn to me. LED’s in your tennis shoes is so grade school, and so last century. It is novel and entertaining, but I really don’t see the point in having my personal electronics woven into my t-shirt, Japanese infidelity detecting undershorts notwithstanding.
    I fully realize that the converted and convicted will now fervently denounce me as a clueless heretic, so I think I’ll hop in my personal flying car and depart the scene ;-) .

    • I’m not converted either, but I see the potential. I think that this is a starting point; The eTextile industry is burgeoning. I think it really comes down to the creativity of the community. This is bridging the gap (if there is a gap) between fashion and function. The Maker Faire fashion show is a good indicator of some interesting things you can do once you start incorporating sensors and microcontrollers.
      For example, a T-shirt or jacket for cyclists that has built-in turn signals. A wearable heart-rate monitor. Using the galvanic skin response to make a “mood-shirt”.
      Yes, it is novel and entertaining, but practical applications are there for those with the imagination to see them.

    • I’m not “converted” per se, but I can see a million practical uses, especially for those inclined to adventuring or even just living in extreme conditions - or how about the military? The LED’s are just the simple beginnings for those trying the technology out.

    • Perhaps you would be interested in reading the comments from a previous (related) blog post. I’m sure you can imagine which side of the fence I am on, but I found all of the commentary interesting. You are certainly not alone in your reaction to eTextiles, but my hope is that as the field develops and more people are exposed, the projects will be truly amazing.
      http://www.sparkfun.com/news/567

    • “LED’s in your tennis shoes is so grade school”. Many of my projects are inspired by my kids such as a sonic screwdriver and a personal karaoke machine. Indeed, all my projects are really just for fun. Something being “practical” is just another excuse to play with electronics.

    • To all of the kind folks who have replied to my comment, thanks. Yes, I can see a few applications, some of which have nothing to do with electronics being “wearable”. (Wrap around sensor sheets?)
      Yes, the military might find uses, as might healthcare and certain industries (Dosimeter shirts? Maybe not, but they could give a whole new meaning to “red shirts” outside of Star Trek.) A big part of the potential viability in these areas comes from the fact that you can get everyone to wear the same “special shirt” every time it is needed. So, yes, maybe this will mature to fill certain niches.
      But so far, most of what I see seems to be things like my son’s light up wi-fi finder t-shirt from Thinkgeek. Amusing, but once you’ve seen it, the joke is over and it just hangs in the closet. Even a lot of the “serious” suggested uses seem just as gimmicky.
      Anyway, as long as Sparkfun doesn’t let it get in the way of the things we have come to rely on them for, I suppose it is fine.

  • Guys! I know this is not related to the post. But @ google I/O : android is officially supporting open hardware!! :)
    http://developer.android.com/guide/topics/usb/adk.html
    :)
    android + sparkfun stuff = total awesomeness :)

  • Awesome tutorial, Dia! I look forward to seeing more in the future.


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