I made this small embroidered ornament for a Taurus crush of mine as a birthday present. It’s the Pleiades constellation, a cluster of stars that is pretty visible in the night sky if you know where to look. It’s in the constellation Taurus and is also known as the Seven Sisters (it is usually depicted with nine stars; the two leftmost stars, Pleione and Atlas, are the parents). I made each of the stars using star stitch (go figure) with three strands of embroidery floss, but didn’t really create eyelets because the LEDs underneath are so small it seemed like overkill. This battery holder on the back is from Chibitronics, a site created by Jie Qi (a graduate of the MIT Media Lab)–I highly recommend her tutorials! It’s super useful for powering paper circuits, making it easy to slide batteries in and out of projects. It’s held in place with some hot glue as well as the copper tape that creates the circuit.
I completed this project in an evening, and I think a version of it could probably be adapted for a day-long or half-day workshop given the right amount of prep time. It could also be easily put into a kit because the materials are self-contained and simple: an ornament frame, fabric, floss, glue, LEDs, scotch tape, copper tape, and a coin cell battery. This could be a cool way to learn about constellations, the colors and ages of stars, and basic embroidery stitches as well as electronics! Using a small ornament frame from Etsy, my first step was to figure out whether a circuit of LEDs would actually fit in the ornament, and how many LEDs I could power with one battery. Because I didn’t have a lot of room for mistakes, I made sure to take a lot of time plotting out the constellation and the path of the circuit.
First I traced the constellation from my computer screen. Using pins, I created small holes in the page so that I could easily transfer the pattern multiple times onto paper. In the images above you’re seeing the cutout I taped into my notebook so that I could plot out the circuit (below).
Surface mount LEDs can be a little obnoxious to work with–they’re SO tiny and they don’t adhere by themselves (unless you have ones with sticker backing). They can be secured with scotch tape, which makes them easier to keep track of in your work space and also conveniently amplifies the light with a shiny glow. Keeping your scotch tape clean of hair, lint, and oil from skin is a bit difficult though, so washing hands and making sure your space is organized is important. One 3V coin cell battery was sufficient to power five white LEDs, but I wanted to capture the Pleiades’ bluish glow, so I tested out three white LEDs and two blue ones (above, right). I was a little surprised they all shone as brightly as they did–I’m not sure how long they’ll stay lit on one battery! Really handy for the process of testing out the LEDs on pieces of paper was the CircuitScribe, a pen with conductive ink for drawing circuits. This saved me a lot of copper tape!
After plotting out my circuit path, I had to actually affix it to the ornament backing. This required running two strips of copper tape (one positive lead, one negative lead) to each of the LEDs arranged in parallel (this means even if one LED goes out, the others will keep working, unlike in a simple circuit). This was probably the most difficult aspect of the project because on such a small space the copper tape is very finnicky. It wrinkles easily, and because I purchased tape whose adhesive side was NOT conductive, I had to make sure all of my connections were properly reinforced. The LEDs are minute, so I also had to check that the positive and negative leads weren’t touching. The scotch tape holds the LEDs in place and helps them make contact with the copper, without affecting the conductivity of the copper tape. Chibitronics has a REALLY helpful tutorial on working with copper tape using paper craft techniques!
Simpler than all the circuitry, for me anyway, was the actual stitching. I framed out a small piece of black Aida cloth with masking tape to keep it from fraying and marked the nine stars with pins, roughly gauging how big they are in relationship to one another. Lined up with the stitches, the LEDs create the nebulous effects of the stars through the openings in the Aida. Look for them in the night sky–they’re pretty clear even in places with a lot of light pollution, like Washington, DC.
Finally, I made a backstitch border around design and cut the Aida to size so it fit snugly in the ornament frame. The flimsy plastic backing made the final steps of the process difficult–anytime I tried to press the backing in, some of the LEDs would flicker or go out. The copper tape turned out to be more forgiving than I initially thought, and with some delicate maneuvering I was finally able to evenly apply pressure to the LEDs and position them under the stars. Besides, a little flicker is realistic!
(I treated myself to this cutting mat cuz it looks real legit.)
Happy Taurus new moon!!