Over the past couple of days we've started working with sewn circuits in the tinkering studio. In the past, we've made light-up cuffs with visitors but after our experiments with paper circuits it seemed like it would be nice to work on more free form circuits that could explore different switches, stitches, and stories.
A couple other new changes to the activity is the addition of a sewing machines (so far loaded with non-conductive thread) and batting so that people can make little electronic stuffed animals. So far we've seen some really amazing creations and more importantly have seen people really engage in the process of learning sewing techniques, figuring out how to connect complex circuits, and turning their ideas into reality.
It's also been quite challenging to facilitate. More than many other activities it's hard to test out the design during the process of building. Many times people can sew in a light or battery pack backwards, accidentally create a short circuit or have more complicated circuits not work as intended. At this point it's sometimes impossible to fix the design without going back and cutting out pieces or thread that took a long time to sew in.
One way that we're working on this is by encouraging everyone at the table to test their creations, help out others around them and work together to trouble shoot problems. We also brought out alligator clips so that people could test out the configuration of LEDs before sewing them in. Another thing that seems to help is making one side of the battery pack and the corresponding legs of the lights with a sharpie so that they don't get mixed up. Finally, we're working on making some really clear examples so that people can check them out and notice how they are connected before starting their own project.
I especially like Luigi's example of a sewn circuit trace that participants can experiment with by placing LEDs on the two contacts. This was something that we tried first with paper circuits and found that it was really helpful for people to spend time just messing with the materials as part of their process.
And of course no sewn circuit workshop would be complete without a representative sample of adorable robots. This one had a great switch in the back and nice decoration made with the sharpies that we were using to mark the LEDs.
We'll keep experimenting with this activity leading up to the art of tinkering after dark and book launch where we'll be using soft circuits to make the most amazing fashion accessories. Stay tuned for more tips, tricks and examples as we continue to learn about this activity.