Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab
Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab

Soft Circuits

This week we covered some of my favorite topics: sewing and e-textiles! I’ve had some experience hand embroidering with LEDs and a Gemma, so I was excited to see this project come up in class. 

Each of the three methods we used — machine sewing, embroidery, and e-textiles — has pitfalls that should be emphasized before beginning. A common misconception with machine sewing is that the backstitch button actually undoes previous stitches. Some of my classmates had to take a seam ripper to a doubly-stitched line after attempting this. For e-textile hand sewing, it’s important to note that the positive and negative threads should never touch, or else they will cause a short circuit. This means all stray threads should be tied down, clipped, and even insulated if possible. Finally, as I learned with embroidery, it’s best to avoid very small or very isolated designs, especially tiny dots. The machine cannot achieve very clean edges on such a small scale, and clipping the threads may leave the design slightly messy. 

An unexpected feature of PEDesign 10 is that you get wildly specific color names. The instruction for me to load the “carmine” colored thread caused some confusion, and I ended up with the wrong color for my second flower (below). Fortunately, I was able to use this scrapped piece as a template patch for placing my LEDs, so it ended up working out. 

Sewing down the switch and LEDS was the most frustrating part of this project. You can’t pin down the elements, and they dangle everywhere while you’re sewing them down. It was extremely helpful to have the failed first embroidery as a placement guide, otherwise it would’ve been very difficult to get the LEDs exactly where I wanted them. 

My original intention was to have the LEDs shine through the centers of the flowers, but I didn’t realize how well the dense fill stitch would block light, so I moved the lights up to create the illusion of another group of flowers. 

One I reached this point, I was happy with the design and decided I would stick with this iteration, so I went ahead and sewed the bag. This was my first time using a zipper foot, and it was so much easier than using a regular foot and just sewing as close to the zipper as possible. 

If I were to redo this project, I’d redesign the fabric template so that it produces a nice horizontal rectangular shape, rather than the square/tall rectangle shape. Other than that, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the embroidery turned out, and how well the machine captured the intricate leaves and tulips. This was a fun project, and I really enjoyed working with textiles this week!