The Avid Embroiderer Presents - Computers Go Wearable

Computers in your Clothes? A Wearable Electronics Milestone

Photo Courtesy of Jo McCulty, Ohio State University.


Ohio State University Researchers are working to develop wearable electronics have reached a milestone: They are able to embroider circuits into fabric with 0.1 mm precision — the perfect size to integrate electronic components, such as sensors and computer memory devices, into clothing.


These are clothes that gather, store or transmit digital information. With further development, the technology could lead to shirts that act as antennas for your smart phone or tablet, workout clothes that monitor your fitness level, sports equipment that monitors athletes’ performance, a bandage that tells your doctor how well the tissue beneath it is healing — or even a flexible fabric cap that senses activity in the brain.


In the lab, the functional textiles, also called “e-textiles,” are created in part on a typical tabletop sewing machine — the kind that fabric artisans and hobbyists might have at home. WOW! Like other modern sewing machines, it embroiders thread into fabric automatically based on a pattern loaded via a computer file. The researchers substitute the thread with fine silver metal wires that, once embroidered, feel the same as traditional thread to the touch.

“Shape determines function,” she said. “And you never really know what shape you will need from one application to the next. So, we wanted to have a technology that could embroider any shape for any application.”

The researchers’ initial goal was just to increase the precision of the embroidery as much as possible, which necessitated working with fine silver wire. But that created a problem, in that fine wires couldn’t provide as much surface conductivity as thick wires. So, they had to find a way to work the fine thread into embroidery densities and shapes that would boost the surface conductivity and, thus, the antenna/sensor performance.

Previously, the researchers had used silver-coated polymer thread with a 0.5-mm diameter, each thread made up of 600 even finer filaments twisted together. The new threads have a 0.1-mm diameter (1/250th of an inch), made with only seven filaments. Each filament is copper at the center, enameled with pure silver. And you thought you had thread breaking issues. . .

My original thinking for this app would be to have something that could have a GPS monitor for finding lost people and things. After all, when someone might be taken away from their environment unwillingly, finding them quickly is paramount.

I think this thread or wire could be in your shopping basket in less than 10 years. But, I am not an expert. I just think that the tech revolution and embroidery just may have a partnership to save lives in addition to being decorative and utilitarian.

We have been seeing these e-textiles around the Net. Here is one courtesy of, Denmark. Somehow, it looks familiar to me.


Photo Courtesy - Denmark

Washable fabric Circuit Board

In Ohio State University's shopping list for the next phase of the project. “We want a bigger sewing machine,” they indicated. Hmmm. . . .

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