Review of LilyPad Sewable Electronics Kit

 

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This post is a long time coming! To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Lilypad Electronics (THANK YOU, Leah Buechley!!!), I’m reviewing SparkFun’s Lilypad Sewable Electronics Kit. This introductory kit came out last spring and SPOILER ALERT- it is a must-have for beginners interested in sewing circuits. (Educators and hobbyists alike!)

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What’s in it?

So what’s inside the Lilypad Sewable Electronics Kit ?

Picture from SparkFun

Inside the kit, is a full color glorious booklet with detailed drawings and instructions for four beginner projects. Beginners will learn to start sewing a simple circuit with a Glowing Pin, move to a light up mask made with a parallel circuit, then soldier on to sewing pre-programmed microcontrollers with the light-up plushie and night-sensing pennant.

The kit contains:

  • Full color instruction booklet- IT’s BEAUTIFUL!
  • Templates for all projects- compact and easy to follow/understand
  • Lilypad Coin Cell Battery Holder (switched)
  • E-sewing Protosnap- A rad connected, snappable board with LEDS connected to switches and battery holder.
  • LilyMini Protosnap  – The LilyMini microcontroller is connected to a button, a sensor, and two pairs of LEDs. Since it’s pre-wired and connected, users can see what the behavior is like before sewing to a project. (Without having to alligator clip components together.)
  • Sewable Lilypad LEDs
  • 2 glorious spools of Conductive Thread
  • Sewing needles, felt, stuffing, embroidery thread; basically everything you need to make the four projects in the kit!

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What can I make with it?

There are four projects outlined in the kit. My goal was to make each, but of course I cheated a bit. Above is a twinkling stuffie I designed to inspire my high school sewing circuit club. Below is a stuffie sewn with LilyMini when it was in the pre-production phase. (I followed the instructions for the light up pennant, but moved the circuit around a bit and decided to make a stuffie instead of a hanging pennant.) It utilizes the light sensor and glistens in like morning dew in the sunshine.

Two summers ago, I made this blinging badge to wear during my Maker Education panel at the Capitol Hill Maker Faire. It utilizes a pre-programmed LilyMini and was a super fun one hour project.

I dug the illuminated mask that came in the kit, but thought it would be fun to make a cosplay style LEGO mask. This LEGO Robin mask template can even double as a Minion mask!

4.jpgMy next project was to make some fan art in the form of an embroidered/illuminated Schwartz ring in honor of my favorite movie, SpaceBalls. I re-programmed the LilyMini, embroidered a Yogurt fist with ring, but stalled out in the final steps of the project because we were moving. So that project is still in progress, but I’ll share it when it’s finished.

All in all, a lot of learning is packed into this compact kit! One can learn to sew pre-programmed electronics and hopefully have enough experience at the end to start creating and programming their own e-textiles.

One of my favorite things about the kit are the inclusion of the pre-wired protosnaps.

Here’s a video of the pre-wired LilyMini Protosnap, so you can bask in it’s blinky glory:

Bottom Line

At around 100 bucks, it’s too much to buy a ton of these kits to run a class workshop, BUT it is a great kit for educators who want to start sewing circuits and aren’t sure where to start. It takes the guess work out of what materials and components to buy. The instructions are clear and easy to follow. If I could, I’d probably buy a class set of the instruction booklet because it is JUST SO RAD. Then buy components based on what my students wanted to make.

The introductory projects are fun, engaging, and inspiring. Plus, each project is open enough to function as inspiration for more difficult projects that you or your students can design and create if you don’t want to follow the templates.

I love the pre-wired protosnap concept. It allows makers to see the functioning circuit before sewing their own circuit traces. I think it’s helpful in allowing creators to come up with their own design, but it’s also helpful in teaching those to new to electronics the concept of wiring a circuit.

As an aside: For my own sewing circuit club, I bought the e-textiles lab pack. This pack holds enough resources for 10 makers to create LilyTwinkle projects. The only downside to the lab pack is that it doesn’t have a programmable board included.

If you are wanting to try sewing circuits, you can buy yourself most of this Lilypad swag from Sparkfun with their Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale that has almost everything at 20% off.

More Sewing Circuit Resources:

Here’s a running list of my sewing circuit resources.

Awesome Sewing Circuit Resources from others:

Plus, some more rad e-textile resources from my favorite makers.

Want More?

I’ve got a few projects in my head and am considering writing an introductory sewing circuit book, would you be interested in such a resource, dear readers?

 

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Chibitronics Strawberry Stuffie

After many iterations……

If you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit of a Chibitronics fan. So when I saw an adorable strawberry stuffie project on their site, I knew I wanted to make my own version. These adorable chibi stickers are great for paper circuits, but I wasn’t sure how they would hold up in a sewing project. I ended up failing a lot and making about four different versions before I was able to get the really cute strawberry pictured above.

Effect Sticker

I decided I wanted to use the new tropical stickers and attempt to use an effect sticker to have some control over my pulsing LED stickers. So I busted out my Effects pack  , mapped out my circuitry and used a Lilypad battery holder to power my project. Sewing the effect stickers worked brilliantly! It worked great and withheld being punctured by my sewing needle.

However, in my first stuffie iteration I used too many chibi LEDS. Initially, I really wanted to try switching the polarity to see how the different colored LEDS would pulse in opposite rotation. (See Jie’s tutorial here.)  You can see this effect in the Instagram below. I thought it looked super cute, but when it was time to sew my stuffie together, my circuits started shorting.  I thought I’d maybe overloaded the battery attempting to use so many LEDs.

Plus, the material I used for the body of the strawberry was too stretchy and the topside of the fabric was too fluffy. Either my threads were shorting in the stretchy fabric, or the LEDs were losing connectivity because of the surface of the fabric, or I had too many LEDs for my battery. I wasn’t sure. Chibitronics are made for paper, so I suspected the fabric was the real problem. Rather than ditching the fabric my daughter chose for her strawberry, I started thinking about ways I could ensure connectivity. How could I debug and get all the elements I wanted?

Short Circuits

First off, I had to realize that blushing cheeks would be more adorable without all the other blinkiness going on above, so I cut back on my amount of LEDs. My second debugging idea was to sew conductive fabric tape on my stuffie for the copper pads of my Chibi stickers to stick to. This worked at first, but then when I attempted flipping my stuffie inside out to sew together, one of my LEDs went out again. At this point, I had one LED working well, but the other just kept shorting. For my third debugging trick, I fused interfacing to the inside of the strawberry fabric so I could see my lines of circuitry more clearly. This helped ensure that my sewn circuits didn’t cross, but it also helped sturdy up my fabric.

I sewed my circuits a third time, but still had one Chibi sticker that wouldn’t stay lit. So I added a Lily LED to the inside of my fabric to check my sewn circuits, it lit up!  I’d sewn everything correctly. The culprit in my short circuit was not my circuitry, but actually the way I was attempting to sew the stickers to the strawberry. I was busting the chibi LED the way I’d sewn it making it work only intermittently. I looked at my functioning chibi LED to determine what I’d done right. I’d sewn up from the edge of the sticker AND down into the pre-existing holes on the Chibitronics stickers. I’d looped multiple times and used a very skinny sewing needle.

Success!

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Fourth time is a charm! I re-sewed my last chibi sticker with my debugged ideas and finally…. got this little plushie just right!

Next Chibi Project?

I’m so stoked to play around with Jie’s new board for Chibitronics that can clip right to a paper circuit! Right out of the box, I modified one of our projects from the book Aaron and I wrote together. I quickly uploaded a blink sketch FROM MY PHONE! The video below is my first sketch that I’ve already changed a few times. Now, I’m excited to play around and mash some Lilypad components with paper circuits.  More tinkering to come!