An Intro to Sewing Circuits Affordably


Paper Circuits to Sewing Circuits

In our #bigmakerbook, I suggest crafting with paper circuits to learn about simple and parallel circuits before delving into sewing circuitry. Last year, my GirlsinTech campers had a great time with paper circuits, but when we began to explore sewing circuits, they ran into many roadblocks. Some had never sewn before, some couldn’t thread the needle, some had pre-conceived ideas about sewing that led to disastrous short circuits, etc. (Note: I did have great success with teaching a parallel circuit bracelet at the DPL, but I also had 3 extra helpers for that workshop!)  So I wanted to try something new this year to get students started sewing and creating circuitry knowledge, but still keep the project simple. I wanted to share that project with you, and give you a list of some of my favorite sewing electronics books that aided me in my own journey to learning about creating and debugging soft circuits.

Keeping it Simple

Last year my students learned about circuits with paper circuits and jumped right into sewing parallel circuit bracelets. Instead of sewing a parallel circuit first this year, I wanted my students to really learn and understand the concept behind sewing a circuit. (Plus, I really want students to be able to go further throughout this year with soft circuits and programming.) Lastly, I wanted their learning to be really visible AND I wanted to make it a really easy project if they had never hand sewn, but still appeal to an expert.

In talking with Josh Burker about some ideas for our workshop during the PineCrest Innovation Institute (info in upcoming post!), I’d thought about adding a sewing circuit element to a workshop. My idea was to share a simple circuit template in an embroidery hoop and let participants add their own artistic flair around the light with fabric paint, markers, embroidery floss, etc.

A few days after our conversation, I realized that this would be a great way to start my club that is focused on learning sewing AND learning about electronics. I wanted to keep it simple by just teaching them how to hand sew with conductive thread (on white fabric so they can see their stitches!) and then each tips on embroidery techniques so my students can design with thread.

I made my own example, but only created the circuit and left my embroidery half-baked. I did this because this summer when I was knee deep in LEGO tinkering, I was struck by a tweet from Ryan Jenkins of the Tinkering Studio. This tweet stressed the importance of creating a “half-baked” idea or prototype because this would “invite participation” more than a fully baked idea that might not “instigate” a learning experience. Ryan and I spoke at length about this concept when I interviewed him for Challenge-Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace.

I realized that up to this point, I had made some half- baked prototypes on the fly just trying to get my kids interested (and it worked so well!), but then I’d started fully baking some prototypes which did not always lead to student participation.

As Patrick Ferrell of Harris County Public Library added, these half-baked examples get our patrons thinking they can not only make their own, but make one even better!

Below is my simple circuit with a couple of embroidery stitch examples.  I’m hoping to turn it into a cute spidery monster head with a glowing eye.  I promoted the heck out of the club, added new students to my Remind and hoped they would show up Thursday after school! As I was gathering my supplies, I realized I needed more coin cell battery holders.


Affordable Battery Holder

Since the cheapest coin cell battery holder to buy is two dollars a unit, I decided I wanted to try and make my own battery holder to keep costs low for my club. I found this great tutorial on sewing your own battery holder , but I didn’t have any neoprene fabric, and I was unsure about the safety of creating a battery holder with a different material.

I looked on Thingiverse and found this battery holder then uploaded it to Tinkercad for hacking. If you know much about me, you’ll know that I’m not really that into 3D design. So I messed around and added some ends for conductive fabric tape, and attempted a sewable hole. The first one I made, the battery didn’t fit. So I did some measurements and tried again. I used my new favorite tool conductive fabric tape from the Makey Makey Inventor Booster Kit to function as the battery tabs. It worked! I fabricated my first useful 3d printed thing and I was ready to manufacture! 🙂

It worked well for my students, but I realized I really did need to make a better hole for sewing each tab to the fabric. I asked for expert help from one of my favorite makers….

Thanks to Aaron Graves for helping me make this file presentable! (He helped me adjust the “thing” to the workplane, re-taught me about aligning shapes, and helped make the holes sewable!) Feel free to hack, reuse, and make your own!

Screen Shot 2017-01-20 at 2.16.11 PM.png


Update 1/20: I’ve since updated this battery holder so that it can be sewn as part of the project and resemble a pirate eyepatch!
Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 7.12.08 AM.png

What Students Made

At our first meeting, we were a small, but mighty group! Which was a really good thing, because all of the girls were successful in sewing their first circuit!


Plus, my half-baked prototype worked swimmingly! The girls did not even follow my pattern for sewing a simple circuit, they forged their own paths. Like any great maker project, some students created simple designs, and others who were already knowledgable with sewing, took it further. One even sewed a cat with her conductive thread! I had to teach her about insulating threads on the fly. Another student decided to try and hide most of her circuitry and is already skilled at embroidering and ready to create her own artistic monster/robot/idea.  Overall it took them about an hour to sew a simple circuit.

The girls happily displayed their projects on the project shelf and asked if we can meet every week! (I have students store projects like these at the library so I can help with debugging as needed.)


Embroidery Stitches

Now that they’ve sewn their first circuit, I’m going to teach club members different stitches so they can add their own creative ideas to their work using this great tutorial for learning different types of stitches. The circuit is important, but I’m excited to see how this gets them creatively stitching and inspires them to design art with thread.

Great Resources for Sewing Circuit/Soft Circuit/E-Textile

If you are new to sewing circuits and are looking for more resources, here are a lot of things that guided me along the way. Read my past post about teaching a sewing circuit class at the Denton Public Library.  Plus, our Big Book of Makerspace Projects has a full chapter of sewing circuits that range from very simple to very complex!

Community Driven Makerspaces and Persisting AFTER Failure- ISTE 2016 Takeaways

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 10.44.30 AM.png

ISTE 2016 was a whirlwind of crazy, awesome, edtech fun with amazing people! It was my first time at this international conference and I was excited to present on three different days! Thanks to Kristi Taylor for designing this awesome Scratch-inspired shirt based on my idea to have a coding shirt that would command a “program for life.” I’ll warn you now this post is tweet heavy because I’ve got to get back to writing book numero dos!

Getting Girls Involved in STEM

Diana Rendina, Bev Ball, and I did a super quick and information packed snapshot on getting girls involved in makerspaces and STEM on Monday. We feel that it is important to make space for girls and make sure they don’t get pushed out of our makerspaces by overly enthusiastic boys.

No offense guys- just think of it like ladies night- there is something empowering about getting a group of girls together. Without boys around, girls who normally experience “loss of voice” seem to gain confidence in finding their voice at school. At my own #GirlsinTech camp, most of the attendees were the perfect example of girls in high school who usually experience “loss of voice.” We identify these students as girls who get great grades, behave, and generally just sit quiet as a mouse in class. A lot of times, they get overlooked because they are so quiet.

One of the best things about holding a space for girls is that it is an awesome way to break some of them out of their shells and get them to stand out and shine! If you get 20 quiet girls together, you might think they’ll all be quiet…. but actually quite the opposite occurs! They find a solace in each other, an infectious energy will takeover the room, and pretty soon you’ll have a room of laughter, fun, and learning.


For our session, Diana, Bev, and I have very different methods for getting girls involved, so it was super cool to present with these awesome ladies. Diana and I are taking the conversation a little further by incorporating steps for getting girls involved in every chapter of our new book: Challenge Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace.

Takeaways from our Session:

  • Combine low tech and high tech
  • Incorporate free choice, craft, and experimentation
  • Set aside time for girls
  • Girls thrive on problem-solving combined with creativity
  • Create mentor partnerships so students can learn from mentors and students can become mentors!

Full slides of our presentation are available here.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Maker Challenge

The AmazonEdu Maker Challenge hosted by Nicholas Provenzano (aka The Nerdy Teacher) was AMAZING! Talk about a community-driven maker focused session! It was such a whirlwind experience and definitely replicable in your own makerspace. Nicholas and I co-wrote about the experience and you can read it here on the Follett Community blog.

What I loved about the experience was that it almost exactly replicated what happens in my library makerspace. We were issued a challenge: “Hack a classroom activity or procedure” and then given two hours to come up with a solution. My partner and I talked and laughed and came up with  quite a silly solution. We got into the fever of making and before I knew it, I looked up and our time was over! And I was ready to share and then make something new!

Takeaways from the Maker Challenge:

  • Go read about how the whole challenge went down on the Follett Community blog
  • Making is Messy
  • Let your community drive your makerspace
  • Include student voice and choice in all maker activities
  • Work together! Even during a Challenge!

Knights of Make-A-Lot

First, I have to tell you that I never met Nathan face to face until five minutes before our session. And I think he is one AWESOME DUDE!

This session was unlike anything I’ve ever done! While it was somewhat like a traditional panel, Nathan brought his own brand of awesomeness. I loved listening to what he said and piggybacking his thoughts. He called this, “Cliffnotes for Nathan.”

Guillermo from Tinkercad actually broadcast half of our session live here.

Takeaways from this panel:

  • Cliff Notes for Nathan: “Embrace the mess”
  • Fail Forward aka learn from mistakes and perservere through failures.
  • The key to a successful makerspace is building a maker community. It is not about the STUFF, it is about the PEOPLE!

Sparkfun Tour

On Sunday, Jeff Branson picked up me and other awesome tech educators and drove us to Boulder for a tour of BLDG61 at Boulder Public Library and then to Niwot for a tour of Sparkfun! One of my favorite things about touring Sparkun (other than that it felt like I was going to float down the chocolate river like Augustus Gloop and get lost in a sea of awesomeness) was seeing all of the cool stuff from my favorite Sparkfun tutorials! Like the actual monstie stuffie from Sew Electric, and the giant Bare Conductive Wall. The work environment was a mashup of fun, college dormroom, and well- a ton of PERSONALITY.

Boulder Public Library is one of the most beautiful and relaxing libraries I’ve ever seen! Wowza! Finding the makerspace was a bit of a scavenger hunt, but man, what a cool place! I’m so glad Janet invited us to visit! Upon arrival I found a group of people fixing a chandelier, a retired gentleman firing up the laser cutter to put his design on wooden cups he’d crafted, and was surrounded by cool stuff that the Creative Technologist had made to personalize the space. In short- it was PERFECT! BPL, converted an old workshop into a makerspace which I think is a pretty perfect way to add creativity and self-reliance to library programming.


After 4 days of meeting people I knew from social media face to face, Diana and I ran into  Carrie Baughcum (aka rad sketchnoter Heck Awesome) and we all decided that we needed a word or hashtag to describe meeting your social media friends. Because there is a very interesting moment that happens when you meet someone after a session, then read their nametag and realize they are one of your favorite Twitter/Instagram/etc peeps. Read Carrie’s post about how #F2FOMG was born because it perfectly describes this energetic experience and the best thing about going to an edtech conference….. people!

And I met so many amazing people at ISTE that I have been friends with for the last year! It’s so great to finally meet and hang out in person with educators: Diana Rendina, David Saunders, Kristina Holzweiss, Nicholas Provenzano, Elissa Malespina, Sherry Gick, Kathy Schmidt, and Donna Macdonald. Super cool to meet makers: Andrew Miller from; Jie Qi and Patricia from Chibitronics; and the whole gang from littleBits– Ayah, Nick, Ted, and Christina! Plus, it’s always awesome to see Coloradans: Jeff Branson, Bev Ball, Shannon Miller, and Ashley Kazyaka!

I was so excited to meet Ayah Bdeir the founder of littleBits! She thanked me for writing the Librarian’s Guide to littleBits and everything I’ve done to promote hands-on learning and the maker movement. (That was pretty dang cool. 🙂

Other Session Highlights

I went to some amazing workshops and sessions- here are just a few highlights to entice you to go to ISTE 2017 in San Antonio!

Processing workshop and Art-Duino with Sparkfun

What a most excellent way to download a new skill- a workshop with Sparkfun educators Derek Runberg and Jeff Branson!  I loved having the time set aside to learn with these experts! One of the most important things I learned during this workshop was to comment back to myself when writing code because it helps DEBUG when you run into problems! Thank you, Jeff! This has already helped me in a few projects since I got back from ISTE!

The Art-duino workshop with Brian Huang was pretty rad too. I was able to hack the blink code for a fading effect, but I still wanna tinker with this code and make even cooler art projects with Arduino.

Pernille Rip

If you ever get the chance to hear this awesome reading educator in person…. GO GO GO! I loved every single thing she said! I can’t stress the importance enough of listening to students about reading choices, independent reading, and giving them TIME IN YOUR CLASSROOM to read, reflect, and write.

Two Guys with an Ipad

These two guys tried to make me cry a lot with the videos they showed, but they just did a phenomenal job of talking about the importance of being an educator and putting children first.  Plus, they hit on one of the themes I’m noticing pop-up over and over in sessions, conferences, and education panels. We do not want to encourage our students to fail, but rather, we have to teach them that the key to success is persisting through failure. When you fall, get up and try again!

ISTE 2017?

ISTE is in my home state next year! San Antonio! I hope you’ll come, you’ll present, you’ll learn from other awesome educators, and most importantly, you’ll say “howdy” and make some awesome life-long connections.