The Neopixel Process

So, with the vest finally complete, thought I would let you see it in action.  I know it’s a little creepy as everything is in shadow so the lights would show.  Actually, they show pretty well in daylight too.  Those little neopixels are quite bright!

You can see that I used the Adafruit book as a reference during every step.

adafruit book

After I had the lining of the vest created, I used an erasable sewing pencil to trace out the pattern of the pixels, making sure to keep power and ground from crossing.

power and ground designI numbered the pixels to keep track.  The next step was to handle all the wiring.

Problems encountered:

  1.  The conductive thread, while it did work, would have lost a lot of power by the time it went through 19 pixels.  So we switched to 22 gauge insulated wire for both power and ground.
  2. We use the thread to attach the accelerometer to the Flora and it did hold up, but did not like the silver solder at all.
  3. Working with wire and Neopixels is tiny, tiny work, much tinier than wool embroidery, or even working with embroidery thread.  Be prepared with a nice set of wire strippers.

power and groundHere is a pic showing power and ground and attached to each pixel with the 22 gauge wire.  White was power, black was ground. Each neopixel was at least temporarily held in place.

solderNext came the one thing I didn’t do.  My husband did all the soldering. Silver solder every place the wires touched the pads on the neopixels, the flora and the accelerometer.

vest sewnThen I brought the whole thing to the sewing machine, and zigzagged down power and ground.  I found that I needed to add a cutaway stabilizer behind all the wire and stitching to support the fabric.  When I finished all the stitching, I went back and trimmed the stabilizer as much as possible.  All of that added a lot of stiffness to the vest, but surprisingly, it still hung pretty well when I added the top layer of fabric.

We repeated the whole process with data in and data out: wire to the neopixels, pin down, solder, stitch.

vest lining1Finally, I created the top layer and attached it to the lining.  It was designed to have serged edges, one of the reasons I chose the pattern.  However, I think if I were to make it again (without any wiring,) I’d do a more traditional lining and finishing technique.

finished vestI’ll say this much about the project.  It’s a big hit at parties.

We worked together on the programming. Actually the Adafruit book is very helpful with that, as everything is done in software and transferred via USB to the Flora.  My vest is programmed to do a number of sequences, based on the movement of the accelerometer.  As you see in the video above, I just have to shake it, and it changes mode.

Actually, I learned a great deal about simple wiring, I am proud that I could get through something like this, even with expert advice!

My next LED project will likely be a bag that lights up.

For now, I need to get back to some simple quilting.  But I have lots of spare parts and I’m excited about the idea of another electronic project!

We’re lit! Neopixil go time!

IMG_4563This is a  shot before I added the outer part of the vest which covers the wires, and before I sewed on the data lines.  You can see they are held on by pins.  I’ll try to capture a video today to show you how we’ve programmed the lights to change, and I’ll do a follow up blog with the details of how we made decisions and problems we overcame.

But it’s working!!  Thankful today for a patient husband, willing to teach me about electronics starting with what is a circuit.  I did all the wiring and sewing but I could not have done it without his 35 years of expertise, guidance and humor. (not to mention his tools, like wire strippers, soldering gun, and stash of wire.)

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Don’t Cross Power and Ground!

My husband has said that to me now at least 100 times, even though we are not at the point of adding any electronics to our attempt at a twinkling holiday vest.  That said, we have progressed with nary an accusation by either one of us accusing the other of knowing nothing about each other’s field of expertise.

vest2The lining of the vest is ready.

We are getting ready to prep for wires, and so I thought I would share with you some of the baubles we brought in.

neopixel2This is a packet of 20 neopixels.  (A neopixel is a light). They snap apart like plastic toys.

And here is what my husband has been telling me.  As you can see, each neopixel has 4 places for wire.  Power and ground must be on opposite sides and they must never cross as they travel from one neopixel to the next.

neopixeladjusted

The other holes are for the software to speak to each pixel.  Input is info coming in, output is info being passed on to the next neopixel.  It’s all fascinating and new to me since I have never had any experience with electronics…not even the slightest bit.

flora1The “flora” is basically the brains of the operation.  It also has a neopixel in the center.  These things are bright!  However, they may lose some brightness as they move farther away from the power source (battery – which has a limited life).  This explains why my husband suggested using guage wire (covered in plastic) as power and ground, and conductive thread only as data in and out. Still to be determined there.

My next step is to draw up the layout on the vest with each neopixel in position.

I have requested non-leaded solder which for some reason makes my husband want to cry.  Apparently leaded solder melts like butter.  Silver solder requires much more heat and is more difficult to maneuver.

I leave you with this thought, today, which came on the packing slip from Adafruit.

science

 

LED DIY Wearables. Um, yeah.

Stop the presses. Hold your horses. Shut the door. Turn out the lights.

Because I’m starting a project I know so little about it’s scary.  And turning out the lights might actually be a good thing.

Luckily, I’m embarking on this project in partnership with a husband who happens to be an electrical engineer–a hardware guy. Someone who’s heard the term neopixel before.

And I, well, I know how to sew.

Together we’ve decided to create one of those DIY wearables the “kids” are building these days.

Go ahead.  Google DIY Wearables with LED.  It looks like fun, right?

I’m not starting totally clueless.  I purchased this book (Getting Started with Adafruit Flora by Becky Stern and Tyler Cooper) which, frankly, I only understand half the words on the cover.  However, diving into it is much easier with a handbook, and I do have someone to consult when I’m completely baffled.

wearables1

 

The first decision we had to make (as a couple) was what project to work on, and then how it would be lit.  After doing the research, I settled on a simple serged vest, to which I will add a lining.  The lighting would be sewn to the lining, and the lights will shine through the top layer.  That’s the plan.  For now.

vest1The pattern I’ve chosen is Modern Silhouette Vest from Amy Barickman.

The fabric is called Maker, from Art Gallery Fabrics.  Seemed appropriate.

Problems encountered so far:

–I wanted to run a string of lights from front to back on the vest in two places…not cheap to purchase those light strips by the way.  They come in meter long sizes. However, the strips are encased in hard plastic which is just not going to lend itself to the shape of a vest. Or a human being, for that matter.

–So I modified the design to have an all-over sprinkling of lights which I can program to patterns and colors.

–The battery is rather heavy for what I’m looking to do, so I might have to design a pocket in the lining to hold the battery, or we may actually need two batteries. This is something I’ll have to modify along the way.

Things to figure out next:

–How to attach all those lights. I think they must be hand sewn with conductive thread, and all connected to one another.  This is where my partner comes in.  He’s here to make sure I don’t electrocute myself or start the dang vest on fire.

–How to program and what sort of controller to use. I have to get into a few more chapters in the book for that.

Stay tuned.

This could get interesting.