Sew Electric with LilyPad Arduino

The Arduino LillyPad – designed by Leah Buechley and SparkFun Electronics – is powered by an Atmel ATmega168 microcontroller or ATmega328V MCU. The board is primarily targeted at wearables and e-textiles, as it can be easily sewn onto various fabrics.

Buechley, along with Kanjun Qiu and Sonja de Boer, recently published a book about the popular LilyPad titled “Sew Electric.” Featured projects include a sparkling bracelet, a singing monster, a light-up bookmark and a fabric piano. Perhaps most importantly, the book introduces readers to the fundamentals of electronics and programming as well as craft and design practices.

“We want the book to get people excited about electronics and programming. We hope it will help people play, tinker, hack and learn,” Buechley told the official Arduino blog in an interview published earlier this week. 

”There are very few engineering resources that are appealing to young women and girls. We wanted to create an electronics introduction that looks and feels different from anything else that’s out there.”

According to Buechley, the Atmel-powered LilyPad has been used in haute couture fashion, sculpture, dog shows, dance costumes and even fabric robots.

“It’s also been fascinating to research and begin to understand who is using LilyPad. A study I did in 2010 found that while only about 2% of people who build Arduino projects are women, about 65% of LilyPad builders are female. [This is] a spectacular discrepancy,” said Buechley. “I think this shows that the Arduino community can benefit tremendously from tools that connect to different materials, communities and creative traditions.”

The LilyPad creator also noted that wearables and e-textiles offer many admirable qualities, giving new expressive tools to fashion designers, industrial designers and artists.

“They embody appealing juxtapositions–of male and female, soft and hard, new and old,” she explained. “And they’re fantastic vehicles for technological fantasies–bringing to mind the magic cloaks and carpets from fairy tales, the flashy costumes of comic book superheros, and countless sci-fi utopias/dystopias.”

However, Buechley emphasized that companies trying to bring wearables to market are likely to face significant hurdles, at least in the immediate future.

“The timescales of the fashion and electronics worlds are out of sync–though we think of technology as fast moving, clothing styles change much faster, every couple of months,” she concluded. “[Thus far], the most compelling e-textiles work has taken place on smaller scales in the art and design worlds.”

Interested in learning more? You can check out the Atmel-powered Arduino LilyPad here and “Sew Electronics” here.

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