Be safe, be seen on dark winter nights with the EL wire running jacket!
As winter approaches and the nights begin to draw in it's more important than ever to be visible when out running or cycling. Last winter I had several near misses when out running, despite wearing high visibility gear, this year I'm taking no chances!
EL wire or, electro luminescent wire, is a thin translucent wire which glows when an alternating current is applied to it. EL wire is widely available online, cheap, and is often supplied with pre soldered connections. I'll be the first to admit there are no shortage of wearable EL wire projects on instructables but I think mine is a little bit different.
As I wanted to run in the jacket I needed to be able to detach all of the electronic components so that I could wash the jacket (something that needs to happen VERY often for running gear) hence the need for semi permanent connections.
After a lot of thought I decided hook and loop (velcro) connections were the way to go, as one side of the hook and loop could be permanently attached to the jacket and survive the washing machine unscathed.
Read on to find out how to create your own ultra high visibility running jacket!
**DISCLAIMER** EL wire is quite bright, please make sure you turn the EL wire off when you are anywhere you are likely to cause excessive distraction to people (e.g. near busy traffic intersections) ***
Step 1: Materials / Tools Required
As always the first step it to gather all the tools and materials you require.
- Glue Gun
- Tap measure
- Blade (optional)
- Cutting Mat
- Needle and thread or Sewing Machine
- Running Jacket
- EL wire (See step two for selecting the correct length of EL wire)
- EL wire battery pack / inverter
Step 2: Measure Twice, Cut Once! EL Wire Selection
First things first, you need to plan the pattern of EL wire on your jacket. Generally speaking following the seams of a particular garment looks the best, but go crazy if you want! You'll want to make sure you have good coverage (front and back) to increase your visibility when out at night.
The EL wire needs to be connected to its battery pack at one end so plan for that too. I placed the battery pack in one of the pockets of the running jacket and used that as the starting point for my EL wire pattern.
EL wire is widely available on-line (eBay, Amazon, specialist on-line stores etc). Standard lengths of EL wire (as sold) are 1m, 3m and 5m, so obviously you'll want to order the correct length of EL wire.
To do this use the string to trace round your desired pattern (just hold or clip the string in place) then remove the string and measure its length. As EL wire is a lot stiffer than string it won't conform to the exact shape you want, so add 10% to the length to be sure.
Next you'll need to pick the colour of EL wire you want, while any EL wire is going to be better than none, some colours of EL wire are brighter than others. Really all EL wire glows the same colour (greenish / yellow) the different colours you can buy are achieved by covering the wire in a coloured coating which only allows a certain colour to pass through. So if you want the brightest EL wire choose either yellow or green, colours such as red and blue will not be as bright.
Once you have selected your length and colour you will need to select a power source for your wire. EL wire requires AC current to glow, luckily though EL wire is often sold with power packs. I selected and two AA battery pack which is sufficient to drive up to 5m of EL wire.
I also bought my EL wire and battery with pre-soldered connections, this means I just need to clip the battery to the wire and I'm ready to glow!
Step 3: Plan Attachment Points and Cut Velcro
OK, so you have your wire and you know what pattern you want. Now its time to think about attachment points, this will vary depending on the pattern you want. As a reference I used 12 attachment points for my pattern, in retrospect I think I only needed about 8.
Cut the required number of pieces of Velcro in pairs (hook and loop stuck together) each pair should be around 30mm long. Remove the adhesive backing and stick the Velcro onto the Jacket. I stuck all of my Velcro loop side down, this is so that if I use the jacket without the EL wire I don't have lots of scratchy pieces of Velcro that will annoy me.
I would advise you to split the jacket into 'sections' (front left, back left, back right, front right) and complete steps 3 to 5 for each section before moving onto the next section.
Step 4: Stick EL Wire in Place
Once you have the attachment points in place, peel of the remaining piece of adhesive backing from each pair of Velcro.
Starting from the battery connection end of the EL wire, stick the wire firmly to the exposed adhesive side of the Velcro pair. It's important to stick the wire down and to ensure there is no tension in the EL wire between each attachment point.
Step 5: Glue EL Wire in Place
Once you have stuck the wire down to the attachment points use the glue gun to cover the EL wire and make a solid joint between the wire the the hook side of the Velcro.
Remember its surface area not volume that counts when gluing with a glue gun so don't use too much glue.
Once all attachment points of a particular section have been glued down leave to cool for 10 minutes before moving onto the next section. Repeat the process for all sections of your jacket.
Once you have glue the EL wire for your entire jacket you may have some excess wire (this wasn't the case for me) you can simply cut the EL wire at the length you desire, no need for any further connections.
Step 6: Separate Velcro and Remove EL Wire
So by now you have your EL wire secured to the hook side of your Velcro attachment points in the pattern that you want. The loop side of the Velcro is only secured to the jacket by the self-adhesive backing however, this isn't going to last for long on a vigorous run!
Carefully peel the Velcro pair of each attachment point apart and remove the EL wire together with the hook side of the velcro which it's now glued to.
Step 7: Sew Velcro to Jacket
At this point you should have your EL wire, with lots of velcro glued to it, separated from the jacket and set to one side. You now need to permanently attach the remaining velcro pieces to the jacket.
Use a sewing machine or needle and thread to sew the loop side of each Velcro attachment point to the jacket. Be very careful while doing this as you don't want the velcro pieces to move or fall of the jacket.
For each velcro piece I completed a stitch down each of the long sides (I've really got no idea what sort or stitch, I'm not exactly a sewing whizz)
Step 8: Reattach EL Wire and Get Running
You're almost done!
Carefully line up each attachment point and press each side of Velcro onto one another, do this in order and ensure there is no tension in the EL wire between attachment points.
Clip your EL wire to your battery pack and place in your pocket / wherever you decided to hold the battery pack.
Switch on the battery pack and take it out for a spin!
Be warned you will get more than a few funny looks from people, but one thing's for sure - everyone will know you are there!
Step 9: (Optional) Spend Way Too Long 'light Painting' With Your New EL Wire Running Jacket
This part was so fun that I might have to do a separate instructable for it!