Textile Messages

Dispatches From the World of E-Textiles and Education

by Leah Buechley (Volume editor) Kylie Peppler (Volume editor) Michael Eisenberg (Volume editor) Yasmin Kafai (Volume editor)
©2013 Textbook XIV, 248 Pages


Textile Messages focuses on the emerging field of electronic textiles, or e-textiles – computers that can be soft, colorful, approachable, and beautiful. E-textiles are articles of clothing, home furnishings, or architectures that include embedded computational and electronic elements. This book introduces a collection of tools that enable novices – including educators, hobbyists, and youth designers – to create and learn with e-textiles. It then examines how these tools are reshaping technology education – and DIY practices – across the K-16 spectrum, presenting examples of the ways educators, researchers, designers, and young people are employing them to build new technology, new curricula, and new creative communities.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Book
  • Advance Praise
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Dedication
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • A Brief History
  • Book Overview
  • Vignette: LilyPad Arduino Embroidery
  • An Electronic Sampler
  • Vignette: The Climate Dress
  • Haute Couture Meets High Tech
  • How Haute Couture and Interaction Design Blend
  • A Unique Collaboration
  • Vignette: Know-It-All Knitting Bag
  • Embedding Knitting Patterns in Knitted Objects
  • Knitting as Engineering
  • Community Adoption
  • 1. E-Textile Construction Kits
  • 1 LilyPad Arduino: E-Textiles for Everyone
  • Introduction
  • The LilyPad Arduino Kit
  • Discovering E-Textiles
  • Developing LilyPad
  • Early Educational Experiences with LilyPad
  • Personally Meaningful Technology
  • Diversity
  • Developing LilyPad Part 2
  • A Look Towards the Future
  • Vignette: FabricKit & Masai Dress
  • FabricKit
  • Masai dress
  • 2 i*CATch: A Plug-n-Play Kit for Wearable Computing
  • Introduction
  • The i*CATch Toolkit
  • Evolution and History
  • First Iteration: The TeeBoard
  • Generation Two: i*CATch
  • Textile Components
  • Electronic Components
  • Programming the Wearable Computer
  • Educational Approaches
  • Looking to the Future
  • 3 Traveling Light: Making Textiles Programmable “Through the Air”
  • Introduction
  • Web-Based Development Environment
  • Programming with Barcoded Cards
  • Programming with Color and Melody
  • Programming with Physical Sliders and Buttons
  • Final Thoughts and Future Directions
  • Vignette: Mrs. Mary Atkins-Holl
  • A Marriage of the 19th and 21st Centuries
  • 4 Handcrafting Textile Sensors
  • Introduction: A “Kit of No Parts”
  • A Library of Textile Sensors
  • Tilt Sensors
  • Tilt Sensor Applications and Examples
  • Stroke Sensors
  • Stroke Sensor Examples and Applications
  • Stretch Sensors
  • Stretch Sensor Examples
  • Pressure and Bend Sensors
  • Pressure and Bend Sensor Applications and Examples
  • Conclusion and Future Work
  • Endnote
  • 2. Learning and Designing with E-Textiles
  • 5 Learning about Circuitry with E-textiles in After-school Settings
  • Workshop Description
  • Learning about Simple Circuits: Simple Circuit Quilt Square
  • Learning about Series and Parallel Circuits: Persistence-of-Vision (POV) Wristband
  • Moving Beyond the Club
  • Discussion
  • Endnote
  • 6 Making Connections Across Disciplines in High School E-Textile Workshops
  • Introduction
  • The Design of E-Textile Workshops for High School Students
  • Connections Between Crafting & Circuitry
  • Sewing for Conductivity
  • Tying Knots to End Electrical Connections
  • Connections Between Circuitry and Coding
  • Problem Solving: Is it the Code, the Circuits, or the Crafting?
  • Making Connections Visible: Lessons Learned
  • 7 EduWear: E-Textiles in Youth Sports and Theater
  • Introduction
  • The EduWear Project—Overview
  • Technology
  • Goals: More Than a Toolkit
  • Workshop Concept
  • Wear & Move—Workshops Involving Body and Mind
  • Dance
  • Conclusion
  • Vignette: The Space Between Us: Electronic Music + Modern Dance + E-Textiles
  • The Nexus of Multiple Disciplines
  • Costume-as-Instrument
  • 8 E-Textiles and the New Fundamentals of Fine Arts
  • Introduction
  • Introducing E-Textiles to Fine Arts Students
  • Overview of the (New) Domain
  • Creative Coding
  • Material Science
  • Electronics
  • Temperature-Sensing Dance Gloves
  • Ruby Slippers Reinvented
  • New Costumes for Performance Art
  • Lessons Learned for Introducing E-textiles in Fine Arts
  • Vignette: FairyTale Fashion
  • FairytaleFashion.org
  • Electroluminescent Garments
  • Twinkle Garments
  • 9 Bringing E-Textiles into Engineering Education
  • Introduction: A Statement of Goals
  • Pushing the “Difficulty Envelope”
  • Popularizing Engineering and Computing in Higher Education
  • Integrating E-Textiles with the Wider Realm of Engineering Disciplines
  • Intermission: A Bit of Lore from Our Own E-Textile Teaching Experience
  • Higher Engineering Education and E-Textiles: A Sampler of Ideas, Predictions, Research Projects, and Themes for Discussion
  • The Power Problem
  • More Actuators, Please!
  • Higher-Level Sensors, Please!
  • Designing the E-Textile Laboratory
  • Futuristic E-Textile Engineering Projects
  • Vignette: Amirobo: Crocheted Robot
  • Crocheted Robot
  • 10 E-Textiles for Educators: Participatory Simulations with e-Puppetry
  • Introduction
  • Why Honeybees?
  • BeeSim
  • The BeeSim Design
  • Future Possibilities
  • 3. E-Textile Cultures and Communities
  • 11 LilyPad in the Wild: Technology DIY, E-Textiles, and Gender
  • Textiles and Electronics DIY
  • Arduino
  • LilyPad and Arduino Communities in the Wild
  • Study 1: Customers
  • Study 2: Builders
  • Study 3: Comments on E-Textile Posts
  • Future Research
  • Conclusion
  • Endnotes
  • Vignette: Tendrils: Sensing & Sharing Touch
  • Sensing & Sharing Touch
  • 12 Mediated Craft: Digital Practices around Creative Handwork
  • Introduction
  • Embedded Design Practices
  • Exploring the Processional: Four Case Studies
  • Flexible Inscriptions: The Case of Jane
  • Stabilizing Ephemera: The Case of Katie
  • Marking Ends: The Case of Irene
  • Conflicting Ideologies: The Case of the Knitting Guild
  • Entanglements between Craft and Computing
  • Endnotes
  • 13 E-Textile Technologies in Design, Research and Pedagogy
  • XS Labs, Concordia University
  • Art, Design, and Performance
  • Design, Research, and Pedagogy
  • Fiber-Based Functionality
  • New Materials, Structure, and Restrictions
  • Conclusion
  • Vignette: Muttering Hat
  • Voices on Your Head
  • 14 E-Textiles and the Body: Feminist Technologies and Design Research
  • Theorizing E-Textiles: Feminism and Body Theory
  • Sparsh as Research through Design
  • Designing Sparsh
  • A Mixed Method Study for the Sparsh Experience
  • Sparsh and the Body
  • The Performing Body
  • The Extended Body
  • The Inscribed Body
  • Conclusion
  • 15 Adventures in Electronic Textiles
  • Enticed by Electronic Textiles
  • Media Lab 1996, Before “Things”
  • Early Wearables at the Media Lab
  • Cultural Meaning in Electronic Textiles
  • The Constraints of Electronic Textiles
  • IFM and the PomPom Dimmer
  • Touch Sensing and Art
  • Color-Change Textiles
  • Color-Change Textiles in Commercial Applications
  • Color-Change Textiles in Art
  • Color-Change Textile Process
  • Artistic Reflections on Color-Change Textiles
  • Time and Interaction in Color-Change Textiles
  • The Lifetime of Color-Change Textiles
  • All Technology Fails, all Art Fails, and All Life Fails. Early Adventures in Electronic Fashion
  • Electronic Fashion and the NorthFace
  • A Problem of Technology and Economics
  • An Opportunity for Designers
  • Contributors
  • References
  • Index


AnneMarie Thomas


I clearly remember the first time I encountered e-textiles. At the time, I was a high school student who was passionate about the arts and liked math and science classes. Nearing the end of my senior year, I was trying hard to find a way to combine these interests and also figure out where to go for college. While touring MIT, I serendipitously ended up on a tour of the Media Lab. To a teenager who desperately wanted to find a way to be both artistic and scientific, walking into this lab was life-changing. Of all the wonders I saw that day, I can clearly remember the one that had the biggest impact: It was a denim jacket. A jacket with an embroidered interface that allowed the wearer to play music. (This jacket is discussed in Chapter 16.) At the time, I had not heard of e-textiles. All I knew was that I desperately wanted to create things like that. I wanted to know how it worked. There was something delightfully magical, and inviting about this combination of technology and craft, even to a teenager who had never touched a soldering iron or programmed a computer.

I attended MIT, in part because of the above visit, but worked with propellers and underwater robots rather than e-textiles. Nearly a decade later, as an engineering professor trying to find an engaging project that would give students hands-on experience with basic electronics, I came across Leah Buechley’s LED tank top (shown in Figure 11 of this book) in CRAFT magazine. It was just the sort of project that I thought my students would find exciting and challenging. Shortly thereafter, I attended my first Maker Faire, and saw a wide variety of e-textile projects and the interest that they were attracting. At a time when I was becoming convinced of the importance of youth having the experience of being creators rather than just consumers, seeing the growing excitement for making was refreshing. It was also career changing for me, as I went on leave academia to become the first leader of the Maker Education Initiative, which has as its mission creating more opportunities for young people to make, and by making, build confidence, foster creativity, and spark interest in science, technology, engineering, math, the arts—and learning as a whole. ← xi | x →

Over the past few years, the maker movement has grown and flourished. The inclusiveness of this community—open to anyone who makes something, anything–has allowed for the gathering, both online and in person, of individuals with a diversity of interests and skills who are brought together by their common passion for creating, and sharing their processes and results. At the heart of making are the ideas of play, collaboration, personalization, and learning from each other, which have led to unexpected technologies and applications that cross disciplinary boundaries. The e-textile community, with its incredible diversity of participants and ideas, is a thriving component of the maker movement.

One of the truly exciting aspects of the momentum around e-textiles is their appeal to individuals, particularly children and youth who have little to no prior background, or interest, in electronics. Electronic technology plays a large role in our day-to-day lives, but few people understand how their devices and gadgets work or have tried to create their own. As a society that depends on, and is proud of, innovation and the creation of new things, it is essential that we work to instill in children the idea that they can be creators, not just consumers. As is evidenced by many of the stories that follow, e-textiles are proving to be effective at accomplishing this goal. Interestingly, while there is much discussion of how e-textiles are a way of introducing children to electronics, these materials are simultaneously a way of introducing them to the older craft of sewing.

So what is it about e-textiles that makes them so appealing to such a wide variety of people? Well, I challenge you to try to read this book without smiling. I can’t imagine that that’s possible. The spirit of playfulness and whimsy that is central to so many of the workshops, projects, and designs presented in this book is evident. This sense of play and the merging of the familiar (fabric) and less familiar (circuitry) serve as powerful invitations for many people who would typically not consider themselves interested in computer programming and circuit design.

Another compelling aspect of e-textiles is the wide spectrum of applications and complexities that falls under the discipline. While it is becoming quite easy to get started with e-textiles work, the applications of this technology reach far beyond basic projects, touching fields such as medicine and space exploration. By introducing someone to even the simplest e-textile project, you are opening the door to a vast number of fields and disciplines.

In every example in this book, it is easy to see that the creators infused the work with their creativity and personality. Something magical happens when a person realizes that they can make something of his or her own, something that is unique to them. The smiles and obvious pride on the faces of the children, and the adults, in this book are telling. Creating the projects that they are showing off was likely a process that took a lot of effort and the learning of new skills. The technical knowledge gained in these undertakings is often quite significant. However, based on workshops that I’ve been at, there is also a lot of laughter and a lot of joy in the process. Joy that comes from seeing your ideas turned into reality and from contemplating what it is that you’ll make next. ← x | xi →



This book grew out of a series of workshop conversations and advisory board meetings that took place in Cambridge, San Diego, Bloomington, and Philadelphia with a diverse and insightful group of people from education, arts, DIY, computer science, and design, to examine digital media beyond the screen. We would like to thank all of our workshop participants who gave time and thought for lively exchanges on the topics of electronic textiles, learning, and design: Edith Ackermann, Jeffrey Bardzell, Shaowen Bardzell, Joanna Berzowska, Dale Dougherty, Barbara Guzzetti, Kate Hartman, Allison Lewis, Marjorie Manifold, Maggie Orth, Daniela Rosner, Leslie Sharpe, Rebecca Stern, Heidi Schelhowe, Cristen Torrey, and Karen Wohlwend. We also had a terrific group of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who were part of these conversations and helped organize the meetings: Ed Baafi, William Burke, Deborah Fields, Diane Glosson, Emily Lovell, David Mellis, Hannah Perner-Wilson, Kristin Searle, Jie Qi, KanJun Qiu, and Benjamin Zaitlen, among others. In particular, we would like to thank Kate Shively and William Burke for editing and preparing the final draft of this manuscript.

Funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative made the initial discussions for this book possible. Many thanks also go to the National Science Foundation that has supported this work quite generously with several grants to the book’s editors (NSF #0855886, 0855868, 0855773, 0940484, 1053235) to research e-textile design, learning, and communities. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are ← xi | xii → those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Several chapters (1, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, and 11) showcase findings from these grants. In addition, we acknowledge the support by the MIT Media Lab consortium, and the ongoing support of many collaborators and colleagues, especially at SparkFun Electronics, the Arduino team, and the Modkit development team.

Finally, we are indebted to all of our educational partners, teachers and students in workshops and courses we taught over the years including the University of Colorado’s Science Discovery program, the Denver School of Science and Technology, D’Jeuns2, the Boys and Girls Club of Bloomington, the Indiana University Fine Arts Department, Rogers Elementary in Bloomington, IN, and the Science Leadership Academy and the Penn Alexander School in Philadelphia, PA.

The following acknowledgments are specific to individual chapters and illustrative vignettes found across this volume. The design and development of i*CATch presented in Chapter 2 was funded by the Educational Development Committee and the Department of Computing at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Many thanks to Joey Cheung, Sam Choy, Cat Lai, Winnie Lau and Jason Tse for their help during the design and development of this kit. Thanks must also go to the students who participated in our workshops and classes, and provided us with useful feedback and comments.

The work described in Chapter 9 was supported in part by grant (#094048) from the National Science Foundation. The heating and cooling jacket was designed and constructed by Diana George, Jenna Sobieray, Alex Cossoff, and Chris Francklyn. The musical T-shirt was designed and constructed by Daniel Allen, Zack Stein, and Jacqueline Teele. Many thanks to Leah Buechley, Yasmin Kafai, Kylie Peppler, Nwanua Elumeze, Jane Meyers, and Lynne Bruning for support and helpful conversations.

For Chapter 14, many thanks to the women in Mumbai, India who welcomed us into their lives and homes in 2008 as well as the students who contributed to this research: Rajasee Rege, Shruti Bhandari, Sindhia Thirumaran, Chung-Ching Huang, and Beenish Chaudry. Many thanks also to Jeffrey Bardzell for the thoughtful conversations.

The vignette Space was performed twice at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater in Bloomington, IN, in April 2010 to sold-out audiences. The piece was supported by Professor Kylie Peppler at Indiana University and is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0855886. Special thanks to all the people who were more than happy to embrace the spirit of cross-disciplinary collaboration: Ben Zaitlen and Alexander Jacobs for their deft and versatile programming, Jay Garst and Amy Burrell for their stunning costume and visual designs, and Utam Moses for weaving a sound tapestry through her dancers’ rich movements.

The vignette tendrils was premiered during the Vancouver Cultural Olympiad in February 2010, in the CODE LIVE international exhibition (tendrils 1.0), was exhibited at ACM Multimedia 2010 Interactive Art Exhibition in Firenze Italy at the ← xii | xiii → Palazzo Medici-Riccardi from 25 October through 6 November, 2010, and was selected for Art Explorations at TEI 2011 in Funchal Madeira, Portugal, January 23-26 2011. Thanks to the tendrils design mentors Norm Jaffe and Sang Mah and SFU SIAT students: (tendrils 1.0) Meta Vaughan, Michael Chang, Lisa Guo, Kyle Jung, “Matt” Karakilic, Kyle Sakai, Moein Sabouhiyan, and (tendrils 2.0) Jack Chen, Mark (Lu) Cheng, Stephanie Guzman, Maxine Kim, Justin Sy, Gareth (CJ) Wee.

The chapter, Traveling Light, wishes to thank Leah Buechley, Michael Eisenberg, J.B. Labrune, NiltonLessa, Osamu Iwasaki, Yingdan Huang, Jane Meyers, Lynne Bruning, and Brad Cooper for their support and collaboration. It would also like to extend these thanks to the hobbyists, teachers, parents, and children whose work, ideas, and critiques have left their indelible marks on ambient programming. This work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation under grants EIA-0326054 and REC-0125363. ← xiii | xiv →


← xiv | 1 →


Leah Buechley, Kylie Peppler, Mike Eisenberg, and Yasmin Kafai

Computers are central to the infrastructure that underlies almost every aspect of modern life from transportation to medicine, entertainment to economics, and of course, communication. Yet there are curious gaps in the use of computers. Why don’t we find them in our walls, clothing, and furniture, despite repeated predictions that such a reality is just around the corner? Why don’t more people learn how to build and program computers? Why are computing-related professions among the least diverse in society?


XIV, 248
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (December)
home furnishings architectures electronic elements clothing
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2013. 262 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Leah Buechley (Volume editor) Kylie Peppler (Volume editor) Michael Eisenberg (Volume editor) Yasmin Kafai (Volume editor)

Leah Buechley is an Associate Professor at the MIT Media Lab where she directs the High-Low Tech research group, exploring the integration of high and low technology from cultural, material, and practical perspectives. She is a well-known expert in the field of electronic textiles (e-textiles), and her work in this area includes developing the LilyPad Arduino toolkit. Her research was the recipient of a 2011 NSF CAREER award and has been featured in numerous articles in publications including the New York Times, Boston Globe, Popular Science, and the Taipei Times. She received PhD and MS degrees in computer science from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a BA in physics from Skidmore College. Kylie Peppler is an Assistant Professor of Learning Sciences at Indiana University, Bloomington. An artist by training, Peppler engages in research that focuses on interest-driven arts learning at the intersection of the arts, computation, and new media. Peppler completed her PhD at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), studying the media arts practices of urban youth at a Computer Clubhouse in South Los Angeles. During this time, Peppler was involved in the early study and development of Scratch (scratch.mit.edu), a media-rich programming environment, which resulted in numerous journal articles as well as a co-edited book titled, The Computer Clubhouse: Constructionism and Creativity in Youth Communities (Teachers College Press, 2009). The National Science Foundation, the Wallace Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative have supported Peppler’s research. Most recently, Peppler has been developing and studying educational applications of e-textiles across formal and informal learning environments. Michael Eisenberg and his wife Ann Eisenberg co-direct the Craft Technology Laboratory at the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU). The focus of the lab’s research is in blending novel technologies with educational craft activities for children. Mike Eisenberg is a President’s Teaching Scholar at CU, and in 2010 received the University’s prestigious Thomas Jefferson Award. He holds MS and PhD degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Find out more at http://l3d.cs.colorado.edu/~ctg/Craft_Tech.html. Yasmin Kafai is Professor of Learning Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on the design and study of new learning and gaming technologies in schools, community centers, and virtual worlds. Book publications include Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspective on Gender and Gaming (MIT Press) and The Computer Clubhouse: Constructionism and Creativity in Youth Communities (Teachers College Press). Recent collaborations with MIT researchers have resulted in the development of Scratch, a media-rich programming environment for designers of all ages, to create and share games, art, and stories. Current projects examine creativity in the design of computational textiles with urban youth. Kafai earned a doctorate from Harvard University while working at the MIT Media Lab.


Title: Textile Messages
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263 pages