No matter what your background is – getting started is always the hardest part. Thankfully the Lilypad Arduino technology for apparel has been around since 2007 so there’s good supply, idea and support options.

Here’s the basics for getting started:

  1. Design a project. Keep in mind that heavier fabric that doesn’t stretch is easiest to work with. A jacket is ideal, but anything with fabric or paper is possible. Check out this video for inspiration.
  2. Knowing a little bit about the tech options will help. You can get certain electronics that allow you to make things that turn off and on with a button, light sensitivity or motion! Keep in mind a first project is always about learning. Doing a suggested project like the Bike Turn Signal Jacket means there’s lots of online documentation to make it easier.
  3. Diagram your project. (see below) Read through the basic project steps on Leah Buechley’s website so you understand the basic process universal to all projects. If you’ve forgotten anything in your (brilliant!) plans, you’ll probably discover it there. Otherwise don’t sweat! You’ve got time.
  4. Buy Stuff! It can get pretty expensive easily. Working with a partner means you not only have encouragement, but that you only need to get (or borrow) some basic stuff like a FTDI Basic Breakout & USB Cable or an Encapsulated FTDI cable, scissors, measuring tape, etc. The project resources I most recommend are: Sparkfun, Adafruit industries and your local craft store.


Here’s what the supplies for my project look like. (I haven’t received the FTDI cable yet)


Basic (Craft) Supplies:

  • scissors
  • fabric glue (puffy paint to cover threads is also recommended)
  • hand sewing needles
  • double sided tape (optional)
  • tailor’s chalk/pen
  • measuring tape (optional)
  • pins(optional)
  • seam ripper (optional)

For most projects a sewing machine isn’t needed.

Special Lilypad Apparel Project (LAP) Supplies:

  • A switch of some kind. There’s a few options to turn it ON.  –I’m using this.
  • Thread. Conductive thread isn’t cheap & a little bobbin of thin stuff or springing for the thicker stuff really depends on your project. If you’re sewing father from the board/power source, thicker thread can help.
  • LED’s. We are only using the LILYPAD versions because they can be sewn & washed.
  • (optional) wizardry: Want something to buzz? Or be temperature or light sensitive?
  • Power source. Again, a few options. If you want to do something big & complicated consider the beefier (more expensive) options. For my very simple project —I’m using this.
  • A Lilypad! There’s a few versions out there, but we’re using the standard. Keep in mind we can only help with tech support for the set up we’re describing.
  • Alligator Clips: these let you test how the connections are working (or not!) and are the nerd accessory you can also turn into a lovely desk paper clip if you don’t keep up the electronics hacking habit.
  • Something to help your computer “talk” to the Lilypad:FTDI Basic Breakout & USB Cable -OR- an Encapsulated FTDI cable. There are subtle differences we probably won’t run into for a simple learning project. The Lilypad supports 2v – 5v so you can get any of the basic breakout boards. I like the encapsulated FTDI cable because it’s more instant (lazy!) and because it works at both 3v & 5v levels. A breakout board will totally impress any nerd friends, however.
  • A GARMENT!! That’s right something to base your idea & efforts around. Leah’s already shown you how to do a turn signal hoodie and craftzine has their version. Jackets & biking just make sense because they’re easy to work with and the practical application is so direct. However some really beautiful tank tops, dresses, bags and paper art have also been good things to work with.



I’m going to be using one of my older jackets that I already own (and ride in). It’s ideal because the seams are all in good places & free because I don’t need to buy anything else! Hooray!






Draw it out! This will be your blueprint throughout the project and help you think of how the various parts will all come together and if you’re placing LEDs too far away from their power source.



Here’s what Leah’s looks like:




Here’s what mine looks like:

(Hey! the projects are different and I’m not a professor at M.I.T.)

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6 Responses to Lilypad Apparel Project : Getting Started

  1. Mia Mold says:

    Does your site have a contact page? I’m having trouble locating it but, I’d like to shoot you an e-mail. I’ve got some ideas for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great website and I look forward to seeing it improve over time.

    • admin says:

      email with any questions 🙂

    • Kenzo says:

      hum you wrote this twice :First some technical stuff. The Atmel chips insdie the Arduino boards come with a special bootloader firmware. That allows user to program the chip without needing of any other ICSP , JTAG , etc.. programmers. That bootloader firmware uses hardware UART module of the chip. So you can program the chip with a standart RS232 cable.And aren’t we talkin about a usb to serial and not a serial to usb ?(don’t take this in a bad way, i read the RSS and love ur blog ^^)

  2. This is a great share. Keep us posted with more details on this if you have some!

  3. Hello just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few of the pictures aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different internet browsers and both show the same outcome.

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