Dr. Will Byrd demos soft circuits

Dr. Will Byrd demos soft circuits.

This post goes along with my series about my recent classes at the Chicago Public Library Maker Lab, where I’ve made laser cut earrings and cut out T-shirt transfers with the vinyl cutter.

While a post about the class I took where we made Caribean folk dolls with light up eyes, in fact the theme of the Zoom Symposium (where I took the workshop) was the Future of Craft and to ignore electronics in that discussion seems remiss. Besides, it’s a clever little project.

Catarina Mota was to have done the workshop originally, but for reasons I missed, she wasn’t able to make it here from Portugal. She sent her presentation in the form of a video and Dr. Will Byrd stepped in to teach us all about soft circuits, as people call this kind of thing.

Soft Circuits Doll Supplies

Soft Circuits Doll Supplies

Here are the supplies: a store bought doll form, two pieces of conductive fabric, conductive thread, battery, battery holder with snaps soldered on the back, snaps, regular thread and felt.

Whenever you work with electronics, such as LED lights, you create a circuit and you have something that closes that circuit. Normally, it’s a switch, in regular life. You turn on the light switch and that closes a circuit and the electricity flows and the light comes on.

In soft circuits, one way to close the circuit is to connect the metal snaps with conductive thread and then when the snaps are connected (such as in a bracelet closure) the LED lights come on.

(That’s my super simple explanation for folks who, like me until recently, don’t know much about how electronics work.)

Here’s how the circuit is closed in this project: you jab a steel pin into the doll, through both layers of the conductive fabric and ta da! the LED eyes turn on! Super cool!

Most participants in class were able to complete their dolls successfully. Some of us, including me, had a short circuit, meaning the eyes are lit all the time, without jabbing the pin.

Here’s more of the how-to for you.

Doll instructions

Doll instructions.

This diagram shows the stitching lines for the conductive thread and the layers on the front of the conductive fabric, topped with felt (insulating) and then more conductive fabric.

Doll instructions

Doll instructions.

There’s the step by step. I believe the Zoom folks will be posting this online, if they do, I’ll post the link. And Will recorded the session, if he posts that, I’ll post it here as well.

Want to know more about soft circuits? Classes at your local Hacker Space may be available. Conductive thread can be purchased from Spark Fun and Adafruit.

Want step by step directions for an LED bracelet? The TV show SciGirls has terrific project instructions, go here, and click High Tech Fashion.

At the same link on SciGirls, click Dough Creatures if you’d like to play with conductive Play-Dough and insulating Play-Dough in order to learn about how circuits work in general, in a squishy way.

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