Interactive traditional felt

Interactive traditional felt

The participants explored how to create sensors based on the Mongolian cultural heritage by felt making. While manipulating the felted wool included in the garments, we collected data with Arduino and used them to control programmable LEDs thanks to a micro-controller.

Felt making and felt embroidery is one of the greatest achievements of Mongolian nomadic civilisation and played an important role in the nomadic way of life for producing domestic products. One the most well known being the felt covering the ger. Indeed, the weather in Mongolia is sometimes really tricky, the natives use to say « in one day, you experience the four seasons ». It is not unusual to begin the day with 20 degrees sun shining and later on, having -4 degrees with a strong snow. For this reason, the felt is very welcoming, especially in the countryside were the temperatures in winter can turned bellow -30 degrees. It is a perfect insulated material: waterproof and heat regulator.

What if we could use the ancestral material to create a sensor able to control light?

  • The different steps of the traditional mongolian felt making by Ragcha Media

The goal of this second workshop, was to control light thanks to a micro controller and a sensor.

We used the FLORA board as micro controller, whereas we learned how to create our own felt sensor.

1 — Make conductive felt

We made the sensors, by merging raw wool with conductive fibers (inox is recommended), both was given by our sponsors Uujin and Imattec, based on this tutorial →.

Yak, cashmere and camel wool from Uujin.

Card the wool and the conductive fibers together:

You can also directly use felting needles to felt the materials together with another substrate. 

Use a multimeter to ensure the wool is getting conductive.

Now plug together the felted wool with a LED, observe what is happening:

With the sensor, you can notice that regarding the pressure the light reacts differently. These differencies can be translated in numbers called datas. The goal is to mesure those datas, and use them to control precisely the light in a variety of state: more or less bright, more or less fading, changing colors, etc… To do so, we will use a micro-controller working together with the Arduino software.

2 — The micro-controller

In 2007 Leah Buechley created the first flexible micro-controller, easy to be embedded called Lilypad. Lately Adafruit created a range of weareable / Arduino compatible inspired it.

We choose to work with the FLORA a small round board with few ports which is great to play with light. 

The FLORA board from Adafruit.

Follow this tutorial to install the last Arduino software and Flora boards:

For Windows users install this Adafruit Driver.

We will discover step by step the FLORA controlled by the Arduino software, with basic examples.

3 — How to blink LEDs

We will start to control the LED already embarked in the FLORA board, assigned to the port 7.

Connect the board with an USB cable to your computer, open the Arduino software and create a new file.
To make it work, you need to indicate which LED you want to play with, in our case the port 7. 

Write in the very beginning int led = 7; then press enterEvery time you will write « led » it will call the port number 7.

The following function is called when the sketch starts. It set up the initial values.

void setup() {

Write: pinMode (led, OUTPUT); 

The next function will loop continuously, and will control the board repeatedly:

void loop() {

Our goal is to turn on the LED 7. To do so, we order to the board to provide high voltage level to the pin.

Write: digitalWrite(led, HIGH); and press enter.

We now need to decide about the duration with the Delay value: 1000=1 seconde, 500=1/2 secondes…
Write: Delay(1000); and press enter.

Then, we turn off the LED to make it blink. We oder to the pin to give a lower voltage.

Write: digitalWrite(led, LOW); and press enter.

Again, we have to decide about the duration of this action.

Write: Delay(1000); and add } to close the loop.

You can check your sketch by clicking on the button Verify, it will show you if something is wrong.
Now select the right board with the right port.

Tools > Board > Adafruit Flora

Tools > port > usb

To finish click on Upload: the code is now hosted inside the board. You can play with the Delay value to see what is happening.
If you want to use more LED, plug the new one carefully from the + to the – thanks to alligator clip on another port, for instance the #6.
Then duplicate next to it the previous steps in the same file by assigning the new LED with a new name: int led2 = 6;

4 — How to fade LEDs

Another possibility with the Arduino software is to use the already existing files.

Go to Files > Examples > Basics > Fade

As written in the code, we need a PWM pin, you can use the #6, rename int led = 6; and Upload the code. As previously you can add LEDs and play with the values in the code.

5 — The neopixel

Onboard, the FLORA has a Neopixel, to know what is it made for, we will download the library dedicated to it.

Go to Sketch > Include library > Manage libraries > Adafruit_neopixel > install

Go to Files > Examples > Adafruit Neopixel > Simple

You have to define the right port, and the right numbers of LED, change the value and play with the code.

6 — How to control light with the sensor and the micro-controller

The ultimate goal now is to use our felt sensor to control the LEDs.

Go to File > Examples > Basics > AnalogReadSerial

PIN A0 is not existing in our FLORA, in our case we will use as analog reader the pin #9.

You first need to know which data is circulating while you are pressing on the sensor.
Open the serial monitor: press the loup in the left up corner. You will see the variation of the datas, determine which are the smallest and biggest one.

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