Electronic Quilts

A Project-Based S.T.E.A.M. Curriculum

-- Updated January 2017

My colleague Rachel and I are running a hands-on session at the 2017 South by Southwest EDU conference, where we'll talk about developing an integrated science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) curriculum that focuses on designing and building electronic quilts. It's based on what I've learned in making a few "e-quilts" myself (see below), and what we've both learned developing engineering curricula professionally. Come check it out if you're around.


SXSW Edu graphic

Blanket Fort Sheet

After several different people expressed their interest to me in an LED blanket fort, I prototyped one to see how much work it would take. Videos of the results are shown below, lighting up with ambient light and in the dark. It uses a similar multiplexing algorithm that the previous quilts used.

Even though there were a lot more LEDs to deal with here than in previous electronic quilts that I made, there also was no messing with multiple layers of fabric.


  1. Vimeo video: Blanket Fort Sheet, in the light
  2. Vimeo video: Blanket Fort Sheet, in the dark

Electronic Quilt No. 2: Leo Constellation

Image of Leo Constellation quilt hanging

This is the first constellation quilt that I planned to design, based on the Western zodiac constellations. I started with my own sign, Leo. All the conductors are on the quilt top, which light up LEDs corresponding to the real stars of the constellation. A light sensor modulates the rate of twinkling. The quilting lines radiate from the brightest star Regulus. The microcontroller and power are on a removable patch, so that the blanket can be more easily cleaned as needed.

In reality the flicker is not noticeable to the human eye (at least for most humans today!), but the LEDs flicker in the videos because of the mismatched frame rates between the camera and the PWM output. It's like filming a computer screen.

On exhibit in ArtSpace gallery in Round Rock, TX, throughout June 2016, courtesy of Round Rock Arts.


  1. Vimeo video: Leo Constellation Electronic Quilt
  2. Imgur gallery: Step-by-step image gallery of construction

Electronic Quilt No. 1: White-on-White Grid

Image of White-on-White Grid quilt on bed

The purpose of this design was to gently fade in and out. I didn’t like the flashing LED aesthetic of other etextiles that were out there; I wanted to be relaxed instead of reminded of city clubs and neon lights. Why not make a softly glowing blanket to do it?

The conductors in this are on the top and bottom, with the middle batting as insulation. If you touch the steel thread near the edge, the blanket senses that and makes all the lights pulse in unison before going back to rolling on and off in waves. It is powered by one removable AAA battery, or standard USB input.


  1. Instagram video: Quilt in action, ruffled
  2. Vimeo video: Quilt in action, flat