ExpressLet: An Interactive Wearable for Music Performance

We made a caplet for dance performance.

Final Project for Wearables by Lauren Busser and Linnette Martinez

Final Video


The original idea was to be inclusive to the hard of hearing, however since we were not able to consult someone with this condition, we decided to make it more personal to ourselves. Linnette has some background in social and freestyle dances, so she mentioned the possibility of having reactive LEDs based on input from the dancer. This would provide the freedom of controlling the lights sequence as an extension of the dance moves created, another form of expression. Staying within the realm of musical performance but adding a control mechanism for the user and how they react to the environment and music.

Initial Sketches

Final Materials

  • Circuit Playground Express
  • Conductive thread
  • Conductive tape/pad
  • RGBW NeoPixel LED strip
  • Lipo battery
  • Resistor
  • Fabric
  • Ribbon
  • Sewing Machine


We still wanted to keep the capelet idea since it was unique, however considering the aesthetic is flowy, we realize without a stable position (like secured on the arm), gesture capture would become inaccurate and almost useless. We decided to keep the aesthetic and instead use a switch in the form of a conductive touchpad to trigger the LEDs.

After going fabric shopping, Lauren layed out the fabric to shape the caplet while Linnette got to work on the electronics and code.

A dress form was used to shape the capelet. Lauren didn’t have a pattern to work from but knew that she could lean into the way a shawl or a scarf would sit on a person’s shoulders. Lauren sewed darts into the back of the garment to give it some drape and flow and basted it together before giving it a haircut and giving it a rounded shape.

Lauren and Linnette then decided on adding a second layer. This one would be somewhat longer to give it a tiered effect. This has the added benefit of being able to hide the electronics, stitching, and a pocket since Lauren would be able to sew the Circuit Playground between the layers.

The two layers are attached with another piece of fabric that serves as a belt. This holds the ribbon and gives it a slightly more finished look. Lauren also considered keeping the raw hem for now.

When it came to placement, Lauren suggested the board be placed closer to the wearer’s neck. While placing it towards the edges would mean running smaller lines this took into consideration the fact that when depending on the movement, we would be dealing with some physics and didn’t want the board to risk hitting the dancer in any way that would be uncomfortable.

Once the capelet was made the question became how we would put the electronics in. The Circuit Playground was easy to attach and we knew that the switch would sit at a shoulder. Lauren’s biggest concern when buying materials was how flexible the LED strip would be, and how it would attach to the fabric. So they bought three different kinds but found that one covered in a weatherproof coating from Adafruit was the best option.

Lauren was able to sew through the plastic coating and successfully attached the LED strip to the fabric. It was tricky to work with because if the plastic wasn’t pierced exactly right it would fold through. When the material was folded under to create a clean edge it also split and exposed the LEDs.

The benefit to this attachment though was that from what Lauren could tell, sewing the outer edge at a reasonable density meant the strip wouldn’t move very freely. For this prototype, Lauren didn’t worry about sewing down the other side but thinks it would be a good idea to attach it at least intermittently using regular thread.

With the LEDs in, Lauren started using conductive thread to run power, ground, and control lines to the strip using a handy schematic Linnette made.

This involved translating Linnette’s breadboard test to a garment. Knowing that the conductive thread had built-in resistance, they banked on not needing a resistor and hoped this would work.

Lauren then sewed in the switch and got the wiring working correctly but quickly realized that we had a complete circuit because when she shook the garment everything lit up regardless of the switch.

After talking to Kit, we realized we needed a resistor and were likely just creating a short with the way our circuit is laid out.

After some restructuring, Lauren made a button that had some thin cardboard between it, and then it started taking inputs correctly.

Once that was working we were able to refine the design a little bit.


Linnette tested each component individually, first being the LED strip with the circuit playground express, considering it was more compact than the arduino and better for wearable application to confirm the connections and code work.

Then testing how to trigger the LED strip using a push button.

After that, tested the capabilities of multiple presses on a single push button. This had multiple additional functions within the code yet works well.

Finally triggering various LED events using the multi-press functionality of the single push button.

Here’s an example of a high energy song choice for the dancer to use

Here’s a more ballad like, soothing sequence for the dancer to choose from. These colors were based on our color therapy research.


Here’s a breakdown to assist communication remotely:


Final Thoughts

In the end, this was a lesson in both how to get push buttons onto fabric and taking into considerations all the possible variations of movement with a piece of fabric. It would definitely have been easier if they were able to collaborate with a dancer who had a specific performance in mind or style like salsa vs hip-hop, softer tones vs wild tones.

If there was more time, then a mini-performance would have definitely been in order.

Despite difficulties, Lauren and Linnette had fun producing the Expresslet and are looking to collaborate more in the future, taking in everything they have learned throughout the Wearables course.

Future Iterations

  • Definitely soldering components would allow them to be more secure on the garment
  • We know that when it comes to actually making this for a performance, we would likely be working in collaboration with an artist that has a specific idea in mind. We were thinking over and over again about the possibilities of where we could go with color theory, and how the lights could move. The possibilities were expansive, and we really needed some constraint to allow us to pair it down.
  • We gave 2 possible styles with a variety of animations and color, this would need to be in collaboration with the style the dancer wants to express, and providing options is what freestyle dancing is all about.
  • We also thought of other motions that could be worked into this garment. We thought about one that uses a snap to make this a two-action prototype. The dancer would slip it on and close a snap and then a few lights would go on, while others would be used as an interaction.
  • We also thought about how this accessory would integrate into dancer’s costumes. We tried to imagine various styles of dance to see what the possibility would be for this cape to slip so we thought about maybe having some interface with the dancer’s costume where they could snap this in and have it be secure.



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Lauren Busser, M.S.

TV. Books. Navigating burnout. Holds an M.S. from NYU in Integrated Digital Media.