Felt + Code = Mushroom Nightlight
The story behind this little nightlight is as heartwarming as the warm glow it provides. It began with the addition of a talented new member to the Brilliant Labs team. Mary Webber is our Artist in Residence. She is used to working with a number of materials, however really enjoys using felt to express her creative ideas. Fast forward to New York Maker Faire 2018, we were completely enamoured with Jackie Huang's booth of his expertly crafted and ultra adorable Woolbuddies. If you haven't seen his work, you should definitely check it out here, and maybe even pick up a copy of his recently released book.
Knowing Mary's talent for roving wool, and our proclivity to add a dimension of electronic expression to traditional materials, we asked if she could design a "fanciful figure" inspired by the local New Brunswick landscape that incorporated felt, code, habitats and of course creativity. What appears in the video above is an expert conceptualization of this goal. We love how the boundaries between each discipline fade away and you are left with such a cute and functional art piece.
What's more is that this nature inspired, electronically enabled, soft material is very easy to put together. Like many maker projects, it will take time, but it is so rewarding when you are able to bask in the ambient glow of your nightlight.
When possible, it is always best to source local wool for your roving projects.
16 x Neopixel Ring
2 x AA Battery Holder
3 Ply Conductive Thread
Project Title Goes Here
Adafruit Gemma M0
Neopixel Ring (we used the one with 16 neopixels)
AA Battery Pack
Felting Sponge (for a cheaper alternative a car wash sponge works well too)
Regular Cleaning Sponge
Selection of Roving Wool Felt (we chose colours that best reflected the NB landscape)
Small Terracotta Planter
Illuminating the Mushroom with Code
It's amazing to watch these raw materials turn into a finished product. We have listed all of our product sources on the right sidebar, but you can feel free to use this as an idea and curate your own materials.
Many of the electronic materials below can be substituted for your own preferences. For instance, we originally chose the Gemma M0 from Adafruit both because of its low-footprint and ease of fit inside the terracotta pot, as well as the fact that we could use the beta version of Microsoft's MakeCode for maker style micro controllers located at: https://maker.makecode.com. We could have easily used a micro:bit or CPX, however there we had to work with the size pot we could find.
Creating code for a project like this certainly doesn't have to be daunting. In fact this project is a great example of the MIT Media Lab motto of "low floor; high ceiling." While Dr. Mitchel Resnick explains this concept much better than we can, it essentially means in the context of the mushroom nightlight, your code can be as complex as what you determine it needs to be. Perhaps your code will even change based on your needs. Maybe you will decide you want to add a sensor in the future to make your nightlight even more responsive.
For us, we simply wanted the Neopixel ring to fade through a set of colours when the Gemma M0 powered on. Mary had a great idea in choosing colours that complemented the natural habitat of a mushroom: yellows, oranges, and whites. Of course if your mushroom is a whimsical abstraction from nature, then we encourage you to be a little more adventurous.
Here is what we put together for code. Please feel free to let us know what you have come up with.
Some Code + Assembly Considerations
Code on microbit can not be altered without the code being saved to the computer as well.
When coding it is important to remember that the code you create is downloaded on to your computer as soon as you press the download button. Remember to save your files under a name that you can easily identify. This way, if you chose to alter the code on the Gemma M0, your code can be easily found. Otherwise the code that is initially made in MakeCode, stays in an unchangeable format on the Gemma M0 or other micro controller.
Important to name your code and save it to a USB / shared drive.
As mentioned above, when you save your code you are working on it is saved on to the computer you are using. It is a good idea if you are using multiple or shared computers to save your code on an USB drive. Make sure you name your saved code file to something that you can easily recognise. This way you can pick right up where you left off. Otherwise your Gemma M0 only contains the code that you initially saved and can not be altered.
Conductive thread is not without its issues.
Conductive thread can be tricky. It does as advertised and conducts power easily - too easily! Conductive thread is like using bare wire. Anything it touches that is also conductive can short circuit your project. Considering there are three circuits of conductive thread in this project, and they are going through a small malleable space, there are many opportunities for crossed wires and short circuits. Using conductive thread in soft objects can be challenging as when the object is manipulated or compressed the thread moves as well and can cause shorts in your circuit. However, if you are up for the challenge, conductive thread may be the solution for you. For some help with using conductive thread, check out the experts over at Adafruit's Learning resource.
Use silicone-insulated, stranded wire if you can.
The silicone wire can be soldered for a secure connection. It also comes in many colours and can be helpful when identifying your power, ground and data lines. More felting may be required to cover the bright colours of the wire, but it will save you trouble in the long run.
Photo courtesy of
Felt a flat mushroom top, separately from the stem. Have some fun with these. While we were inspired by our local environment here in New Brunswick, your students may wish to be fanciful in their creations.
Felt the stem to the orange mushroom top. Watch your fingers, those felting needles are sharp.
Slide neopixel down over the stem. Pay attention to where the GND, PWR and DIN copper pads are located. They are soon going to be covered by nice felt.
Use conductive thread to wire neopixel. Refer to the Adafruit tutorial above for more hints on using conductive thread. Power, Data In and Ground. Make sure your connections are secure. Use clear nail polish for added security.
Thread wires down through stem. It would be helpful if you keep these as straight as possible. Remember, those conductive thread strands are not insulated so they will short circuit as soon as they touch each other. Do this one at a time and label each wire as you go. This will allow you to identify the wires when hooking them up to the Gemma M0.
Cover neopixel with roving. I wonder if the underside of your Mushroom needs to be a different colour? This will diffuse the light from the neopixel giving the mushroom a soft glow.
Code Gemma M0 similarly to the code above to mimic natural glowing light.Using the white, yellow and orange colour options will give your mushroom a warm glow. Having the code pause or pulse gives the colour change a relaxing glowing vibe.
Thread the conductive thread through the sponge. This keeps the conductive thread separate, and functions as support and filler for the pot. Keep labeling your threads as you go!
Attach conductive thread to Gemma (D0, GND, Vout)
Make sure all connections are secure and the thread is not touching anything conductive to avoid circuit shorts.
Attach power switch, install in pot and bask in the soft, beautiful light that you have created.
We can't decide if we prefer the subject-specific curriculum connections in this project or the ones that simply address great classroom environments. One of our favourite, unplanned student interactions was the number of times students mentioned tidbits of knowledge while persevering though a design element or coding mishap. This is something that we have been noticing more and more with maker-centered learning: students demonstrate sophisticated subject-specific knowledge while simply engaging in conversation as they felt.
You may find more specific subject-area connections in the following:
Late Elementary / Early Middle Science: Biomes and Ecosystems
Grade 9 Science: Diversity of Life
Grade 8 Science: Optics
K-12: Computational Thinking
We are here to help with your planning and evaluation. Let us know if you have any questions. Plus, we'd like to share your project work so please keep us updated.
Mary Webber & Jacob Lingley
Mary is our Artist in Residence at Brilliant Labs. Since joining our team this year she has introduced students to an incredibly diverse array of materials. Having little experience with integrated technology, she enjoys discovering new potentialities along with the students.
Jacob is a self-proclaimed geek and the New Brunswick Program Director for Brilliant Labs. A long time middle-level mathematics teacher, Jacob travels throughout Atlantic Canada hoping to inspire the geeks of tomorrow with tales from 3D Printers to interactive clothing. Joined Brilliant Labs in 2015.