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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The Importance of Sharing Mistakes- Reflecting on #SXSWedu – Post One

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Maker Confessions

#SXSWedu is a great convening of minds, life changing sessions, and amazing conversations in hallways, over coffee, and between sessions. It is those moments and casual conversations between that can have the biggest impact. On the first day I arrived at the conference, I found myself at the convention center with hours to go before any sessions started. I messaged Sam Patterson and Krissy Venosdale to see if they wanted to meet up and chat about maker education.

Podcast

After chatting with Sam about writing, teaching, and making mistakes… he decided we needed to make a quick podcast with Krissy. The next thing I know, we were huddled in Krissy’s hotel room and recording our “Maker Confessions” for a podcast episode. We discussed how it is just as important as maker educators for us to share our “anti-Instagram” moments and celebrate our failures as loudly as we celebrate successes. You need to listen to this conversation about failing, making mistakes, and how difficult it feel to share these moments via our positive social media accounts.

“Because we teach in a process-focused approach, we have to subvert the “product- focused” nature of social media and find safe ways to share our daily struggles. If this resonates with you, share your struggles with us and let’s all work together to keep the process visible.” – Sam Patterson

Listen to the full  podcast here.  

Twinkling Stuffies

During our conversation, I talked about the saga of George. At the beginning of the semester I challenged my sewing circuit club to design and make their own twinkling stuffies. I put together this example stuffie sewn with a Lilytwinkle controller and Lilypad LEDS.  I documented the process so I’d have picture tutorials to aide my students if they needed it.

Here is my final example:

Workshopping Stuffies

On the first day that students began designing stuffies, it became evident that a 1 to 15 teacher/ student ratio for designing and making stuffies was not going to work! I needed another sewing circuit expert (and plushie designer) to make it through! Luckily, one of the girls in my club is already an excellent plushie maker, and she helped a table of students design and make their own ideas.  (I also had an aide that quickly adapted to sewing with conductive thread and was able to help those that needed it.)

It was a loud and rambunctious hour with many students designing and cutting fabric and only a few kids made it to actually sewing on the battery holder. It quickly became evident to me that this workshop that I thought might take two hours, could possibly end up taking the whole semester. (And I’m not sure I can sustain interest in making a stuffie for an entire semester!)

The Working and Not Working

Seymour

After our second session, one student had a complete and working stuffie! His name is Seymour and I love the way his expression seems to change as different LEDs light up.

The Saga of George

On the opposite extreme of Seymour is George. The student sewing George moved quickly and had great success sewing the battery holder to the Lilytwinkle controller. I thought it meant she’d do well sewing the rest of her circuitry. I walked away to help others and came back to discover she’d sewn every pin of the controller together with her conductive thread. Curious as to what this would do, we alligator clipped from one pin to an LED. We were both surprised to learn that it still actually twinkled a bit, but as brightly as it should.

(Teaching note: If I had this to do over again, I’d have all kids sew their battery holder to the controller and then alligator clip LEDS before sewing to experience that each pin would sew only one conductive trace. This is the way I really learned how to sew circuits, but I didn’t think about it as being a necessary visual step that our learners might need! Lesson learned! )

For the next time we met, I told her to go ahead and sew from one pin to one LED and follow the suggested circuit paths.

Well…during that fated club meeting she sewed all of her positive traces and things were looking great. I told her, “Next time you come in, it will only take about five minutes to sew your negative trace and ground all of your LEDS.”

So… the next club meeting rolls around. The other students have moved on to making Makey Makey fabric switches and George is about to BE FINISHED! I see that the student has sewn the negative trace OVER the positive trace and I was like … oh boy… now what. More troubleshooting and problem solving led to me showing her how to insulate the circuit trace and for a moment… George lit up!

But it was short lived.

The way the circuits were sewn, it was just not going to work. At this point, we both admit defeat. It’s time to let go of the circuitry. I tell her, “You have two options. One, you can take the components out and resew now that you understand how to sew the circuits. Or you can take out the components and just finish George.” She didn’t want to sew the circuits again.She didn’t want to take the components out either. She just wanted George to be finished. It took some hemming and hawing, but we finally freed the components and another student helped her finish sewing George together. She came back the next morning to make George a cape and finish him completely. And you know what? George is cute even though he doesn’t light up. And the student still learned about sewing microcontrollers and LEDS with conductive thread. Yes, she’d really have the knowledge cemented in her head if she’d chosen to resew the circuit traces, but that’s for next time, right?

Moving Beyond Failures

Maybe saying we should “celebrate” our failures is too extreme. It isn’t that we should celebrate these moments as great things. BUT since our students see us failing and persevering everyday, we as maker educators should share and inform those around us that we often have things go wrong. We teach lessons that totally flop. We have projects that don’t work. We don’t label things and kids break components, or tear up rulers. It’s important to share when things go wrong. It helps us all teach just a little bit better everyday. So what’s your maker confession?