Constellation Clock by Sophie Adams
An experimental clock that merges both new and traditional fabrication techniques.
To get started on my final project, I first had to decide on a theme. My brother is getting married in September and I wanted to make his wedding gift from scratch, so I decided to make him and my soon to be sister in a law a clock for their future home. I knew I wanted to create this clock using embroidery framed in an embroidery hoop and sewable LEDs. I first had to decide what size hoop to use. I landed on using a 14 inch hoop because after research clock mechanisms, I felt the 14 inch hoop allowed for enough room between the edge of the second hand and the edge of the clock, while still keeping the clock from being too big. I knew I wanted to embroider a night scene that was meaningful to them and include the LEDs as stars in the background, so I first set out to find the perfect reference image. I decided on using the image you see below, which was taken on a camping trip Mark and Emily went on a few years ago to the Sand Dunes in Namibia. I had fabric I knew I wanted to use for this, but it was a neutral white-ish color, so I had to get black fabric dye to make sure I had the nighttime feel to my scene. First, I died my fabric. I had to die it a few times over to get the right black. Then, I added the fabric to the embroidery hoop. I then traced the reference image using tracing paper and transferred the outlines of the objects I wanted to include over to the fabric via transfer paper.
Once the tracing was done, I was able to embroiderer my scene! This took a few days to complete as I wanted to make sure it looked as accurate and professional as possible. The hole you see in my fabric below is where the clock mechanism will be located. Once I finished the embroidery, I began planning my electronic implementation. I decided against stitching the electronics directly into my fabric to avoid an unfinished feel. So instead, I sized and cut out two pieces of felt to back my fabric to attach my electronics.
I decided on using the Lilypad Lilymini to power and control my LEDs. The Lilymini is small, can control a few dozen LEDs, features a spot for a small CR battery, has an on/off switch and has a port to upload new code (which surprisingly not all Lilypad products have). I bought the Lilymini in a snap out kit, which included 4 sewable LEDs, a button to change the LED setting, and a light sensor. Using these products, I decided to code the light sensor to control the LEDs. When there is light in the room, the LEDs are off, and when the room is dark, the LEDs turn on. I also decided to code my LEDs flicker to make them look more accurately like stars. I also decided using the provided button was not necessary as my LEDs only have an on/off setting controlled by the light sensor. It took me a bit to get this code working on the board as the board is a bit finicky and would shut down and require a reset often when I was trying to load the code on. Once I got the code working correctly, I was able to start planning the placing of my LEDs.
Planning and Attaching LEDs
Next, I had to decide where I would put my LED stars in the sky. I decided against recreating the sky from the camping night and instead on recreating the night sky from the night and place when Mark and Emily first met: September 27, 2012, Lusaka, Zambia. I wasn't 100% sure what direction the image of the camping scene was facing, but I took my best-educated guess. I looked at the metadata of the photo and saw it was taken at around 5 am. You can see light appearing on the rocks behind the car, so I assumed this may be from the sun rising, which means the camera was pointed away from the rising sun, so I guessed we are looking west. I used this website to recreate the night sky on their first night and looked at the sky with west on the bottom. I picked four constellations that you would be able to see when looking west and drew these out on my baking sheet. I placed 17 LEDs on the spots where the most visible stars shine in each constellation and hot glued each LED in place. Each LED is white, except for one orange LED where the star Antares is located (as this star appears orange/red in the night sky).
I then moved onto soldering these LEDs to wires to connect them all to the microcontroller (Lilypad Mini). I first soldered wires to every power and ground of each LED (17 LEDs to be exact), but the wires I used and the way I soldered was so disorganized that I unsoldered everything and restarted. I color-coded and drew out what wires needed to go where and tried to group wires together so the wire was a bit neater. I also planned which LEDs would be connected to which pins and made sure there were no LEDs side by side connected to the same pin. I was conscious of this because the LEDs connected to the same pins would be identically flickering from being fed the exact same code. I wanted to break up the identical ones so the stars seemed a little more organic. I then attempted to make my microcontroller removable by soldering snaps to the wires and the controller. This proved to be very difficult and cause my microcontroller to no longer to accept batteries as I had so much solder buildup I couldn't remove from messing up and retrying to attach the snaps over and over again. I scratched this idea and once I received the new Lilypad in the mail, I decided to scrap the removable idea and just stick with soldering the wires straight to the Lilypad as not to mess this one up. I made sure the Lilypad was on the outside of the felt so it was easily accessible to turn the LEDs on and off and/or to reupload code easily if necessary. I also decided to scratch the light sensor idea as the light sensor would constantly drain the battery and cause it to die within a day. I figured for longevity's sake, it would be easiest to manually turn the LEDs on and off.
Connecting the Electronics to the Fabric
The last step included attaching the electronics behind the fabric and adding the clock mechanism to the center of the frame. I decided to extend my wires down the back of my felt to the Lilypad in the right side of the clock (or left side, depending on how you look at the clock). I chose this spot as the Lilypad's on/off switch is on the lower right side of the board, so the user can easily turn the clock on and off just by reaching a finger to the backside of the clock and clicking the button. I then attached my clock mechanism by burning a hole in the felt and fabric via a soldering iron and screwing the felt and fabric together, attaching the felt to the fabric in the process. I then added and the battery to the clock piece, stitched the pulled fabric behind the hoop, and voila, I was done!