Instructables

The inspiration for this dress followed the first time I saw this fiberoptic product in action. I was at a festival when I saw a bloom of fiber optic jellyfish approach, and they created such a beautiful effect that I knew I had to turn the concept into something wearable. I'd been wanting to incorporate fiber optics into fashion for a while, but this made it clear what I wanted to use and how.

The fiber optics are from Ants on a Melon, and the awesome photos were taken by audreyobsura. Many thanks to both of you for all the help along the way!

 
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Step 1: The Design

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The design of the dress followed the fiber optics that it needed to support. As there is one central light source, I designed the back to include a pouch for the handle, and the straps of the dress to bring the fiber optics from the center back to the front, and back around the body to an even distribution at the hips.

A big design challenge was how to give the filaments enough lift at the skirt, as I wanted the skirt to push them out at as near to a 90 degree angle as possible. I was considering things like a fully boned structure or 3D printing small pieces for each group of filaments to angle them out at a perfect right angle. However in the end I just went low tech and stuffed the skirt with tutus :) I'd still like to explore these other two options eventually.

Be warned that this Instructable includes a major fail at one point, so read the whole thing first if you intend to make this. I ended up designing the dress and fiber optic design in different parts of my mind, and put the zipper on the side not thinking about the fact that once the fiber optics were sewn down, I couldn't open it! What I was thinking, I have no idea (I wasn't). But as recovering from major errors is an integral part of making, I included this saga in the Instructable.

I chose to make this dress from scratch to dust off my fashion skills, but you could definitely make something very similar by buying a V-neck dress with a circle skirt and skipping to step 13.

Step 2: Supplies

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* Fiber optic whip. Due to the success of this dress, there is now a special fiber optic package which includes untrimmed fibers so you can do the trimming yourself (I had requested as a special order the first time around). It is an untrimmed 6' Space Lace Galaxy.

• Material for the dress. I wanted something that both had body and a little stretch so it would be comfortable, and settled on a stretch woven blend with a little heft to it. I used around 3 yards.

• Fusible interfacing, as much as your circle skirt. I used 1.5 yards of 45" wide.

• Lots of tulle, or at least one tutu already made (can be any color, since it is just adding body under the skirt)

• A pattern. I made mine on a dress form, learn how here. Alternatively, a v-neck circle skirt dress shouldn't be a difficult pattern to find. If you do buy a pattern, always make a muslin first before cutting into your final fabric!

• Basic sewing supplies (sewing machine, scissors, pins, hand needle...)

• Boning, if you choose to bone the garment. I wanted it to be structured and the boning helped a lot. Use spiral boning for any curved seams, and either spiral or flat for straight seams. You can read up on types of boning here.

• Invisible zipper

• Velcro

• Clear thread (for hand sewing down the fiberoptic filaments)

Step 3: More on the Fiber Optics

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The fiber optics are from Ants on a Melon, and Joel was super helpful and responsive along the way when I had questions. There are some other similar products out there (Flowtoys being the main one), but after doing a little research I settled on Ants on a Melon for durability and how awesome it looks in person. I'd love to be able to make something like this myself, but as an electronics novice I opted to go ready-made and focus my energy on the dress itself, which was no small task!

As it's an expensive product, I thought I'd go into a little more detail on my experience with it so far. As far as looks and programs, this thing is amazing. The main downside I've found to this product in a wearable application is that the battery life is short, and the battery changing process is cumbersome (you essentially take the product apart and put it back together). Of course this was designed as a whip that one uses as a rave toy, so in its intended application it's going to be right at hand for changing batteries, and you likely won't have it on all night as with something wearable. It runs on 3.7v rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, and the battery life in my experience has been around 45 minutes if using the fancy patterns, longer on say, solid red. My goal is to wire up the existing product to a hefty battery pack that I can strap under the skirt, so I'll share that in this step of the instructable once I've successfully found a good battery backup solution.

Overall I'm very happy with how it looks, and the majority of the cost is for the fiber optics themselves which have so far been very durable (I have yet to lose a filament, and I've already stepped on them a bunch :).

Step 4: Cut Out Pattern

Enough about design. Time to start sewing!

Cut out your pattern. The front and back pieces I cut out on the fold, and the rest I cut two layers, one for each side of the bodice. I planned on having two layers for the bodice, but to start I only cut one set in order to try it on first for fit.

Step 5: Initial Fitting

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Next I sewed the bodice together, and tried it on for fit.

ALWAYS TRY IT ON.

Every single thing you do to a garment changes it's fit a little, so if you care about having perfect fit, always take the time to try it on between stages of sewing. It takes less time to sew a seam than to rip it out. I've learned this lesson the hard way more often than I'd like to admit, even after 20 years of sewing!

In my case, I found that the back seams were too roomy in the middle, so I took them in as needed.

Step 6: Second Layer and Fitting

Taking into account the adjustment I made to the back seams, I cut out another set of bodice pieces and sewed the second layer of the bodice.

Once done, I laid them face sides together, and sewed the whole top line of the garment (including the straps), leaving a space open for where the straps would be sewn into the center back. After turning it right side out, I then understitched along the neckline to keep the edge looking clean in the front.

When finished, I tried it on again to make sure the fit was still as I intended. It still fit well, but had become quite a bit tighter than just the single layer, so I'm glad I didn't overdo it when I took in the back seams.

Step 7: Bodice Additions

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Next I topstitched along the straps up until the shoulder for a flat edge there, and inset the straps to the back after measuring the appropriate length in my last fitting. After sewing the straps into the bodice in the open area I left in the top seam, I reinforced them by stitching a row or two along the top of the right side out garment.

There also needs to be a pouch to hold the light source for the fiber optics (the handle), so I made a pocket for it and attached it to the center back. Measure first, as you want it to be a snug fit.

Remember that my zipper should be going in the back, not the side, and most of what I'm doing in this step I will end up redoing. Fun times!

Step 8: Add Boning

The last step for the bodice was to add boning. Very important - thoroughly clip and press your seams first, as you want everything to lay nice and flat. As I am only adding in one bone per seam vs two, I pressed the seams in the direction I would be putting the bones, so as to have extra fabric in the channel to protect it.

Once the seams were all well pressed, I sewed channels for the bones (more on that here), and measured each bone to the seam. You want about 1/2" of space for the bone to move around, so as not to create stress on the ends of the channel.

I then trimmed my bones to size, and because I didn't have any caps for the bones I went the extremely janky route and capped them with masking tape. This is not recommended, but it's better than nothing! You just don't want them poking through your garment.

Step 9: Make the Circle Skirt

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Now for the easier half of the dress, the circle skirt. First I made a paper pattern, using MATH. Wow, imagine getting to use pi in dressmaking. Take the total measurement around the bottom of your bodice (excluding seam allowance for where the zipper will go), and divide by pi to get your inner diameter. Divide by two for the radius, and from a central point use a ruler to dot that radius along a half circle for what will be your waist seam. Then dot along the outer circle for the desired length of skirt.

In my case I wanted to have a bubble skirt, and after playing around with some muslin settled on 20" as being about the right length.

To make the skirt, I cut two layers of final fabric, and one layer of fusible interfacing which I attached to the inside layer of fabric. I settled on this approach after some trial and error. I knew I wanted the skirt to have a little body in order to provide a good base for the fiber optics, but I couldn't get the layer with fusible interfacing to look clean no matter how much ironing I did, as you can see from the wrinkles in the third and fourth images. Hence cutting another layer to go on the outside of the interfaced layer, which solved the issue well.

Lastly I pinned all the layers together, and cut a small slit for the zipper to go, just far enough into the skirt so that I could pull it over my hips easily.

Step 10: Attach the Skirt and Zipper... oh wait... FAIL

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Next I attached the skirt, added the zipper, and voila, mostly finished dress! Until, wait, FAIL.

Only once I started laying down the fiber optics did I realize this was an impossible place for the zipper. I realized I'm going to have to take the whole thing apart and redo it... Breath. It's gonna be OK. What the %#!@ was I thinking!

Once I regained my composure, I considered my alternatives. I could:

A) change my plan for where the fiber optics were going to go (but I liked my plan for the fiber optics..)

B) take it apart and move the zipper to the front (pro: wouldn't have to work around the battery pack pouch in back, con: would ruin the clean look of the dress in front)

C) take it apart and move the zipper to the back (pro: keep front clean, con: have to do a weird work around for the battery pack pouch)

I opted for C.

Step 11: Fixing My Mistake

To fix my mistake, I first detached the zipper and skirt from the bodice, as well as one side of the battery pack pouch.

Next was to prepare the center back for a zipper. To stabilize the seam, I added fusible seam tape along the center, and reinforced it with a zig zag stitch on either side in order to keep both layers of fabric together (very helpful when adding zippers). I made the cut, committing myself to this new plan C.

The other repair was to sew together the side seam. Luckily I had enough room to sew it together the proper way, as in sewing the front and back side panels to each other on both the inner and outer layer of the bodice, vs, just sewing all four layers together at once with the seam allowance facing inwards (this would be the hack job approach). I then sewed my channels and added boning. With that, the major bodice alterations were complete.

From there I sewed the circle skirt back to the bodice. Make sure you pin this seam thoroughly first, as it will save you lots of time and headache to have it all lined up well before sewing.

Step 12: Add the Zipper

I glossed over the zipper addition the first time around, so here are a few more photos on adding a zipper.

Now that I have my nice new opening ready and waiting for a zipper again, the first step is to lay down my zipper and see how long it should be. Measure from the top down, and add a bar tack where the zipper should end. Trim the excess. Although not entirely necessary, it is also helpful with invisible zippers to iron them flat(er) first, so it's easier to sew.

I already reinforced our seam with seam tape, this is very helpful to keep the fabric from stretching, which can create all kinds of bubbles and wrinkles in a zipper.

I changed to a zipper foot, and laid my zipper face side down, as in the fourth picture. Now time to start sewing! Sew very close to the teeth, but not so close as to sew over them, or the zipper pull will get stuck.

Step 13: Add Pouch

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The only downside to having the zipper in the back, was that I'd have to finagle the back pouch over the zipper. I ended up going a simple route with a thin line of velcro to secure the one side, so I could still easily access the zipper. It wasn't the cleanest solution, but it worked out OK.

With that, I'd officially caught up to where I was before the zipper fiasco.

Step 14: Bubble the Skirt

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I debated a lot about what style to make the skirt, but I ended up settling on a bubble skirt because of its jellyfish-like shape, and as a way to add lift and shape.

I measured out a piece of elastic with a snug fit my waist, and realized that even if I stretched it to it's max, I could not match it up to the circumference of the circle skirt. So, I pleated the entire circle skirt with pins, using notches at each quarter point to match up with the quarter points along the elastic. Once everything was thoroughly pinned into place, I sewed down the elastic, and had my bubble skirt.

Step 15: Make a Tutu

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Next I made a tutu to give some lift to the skirt. I focused on making the short layers dense, and the longer layers more sparse, to focus most of the lift right at the waist.

You could definitely buy a tutu as well to save time, although they are pretty quick to make. In order to give the skirt maximum lift I ended up wearing the dress with two more tutus layered on top of this one anyways :P More lift equals more dramatic swing of the fiber optics!

As I mentioned in the design step, I'd like to try a structured dome at some point, but went this route for now in the interest of time and comfort.

Step 16: Finished Dress, Before Fiber Optics

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At this point the dress itself is done and ready for the addition of the fiber optics. I was pretty happy with how the skirt turned out in terms of shape, and the fit of the bodice turned out well too.

Step 17: Add the Fiber Optics

Now for the fun/extremely tedious part! Because I am a perfectionist at times, I wanted all of the fiber optics to be sewn down to the bodice for a clean, orderly look. But there was no way I was going to sew down 360 individual filaments, so instead I divided them into groups which I evenly aligned along the bodice.

To make this process manageable, I first combed out and divided the whip into groups of 10 filaments each, which I kept them separate with knots of yarn. From there I sewed the filaments down along the back straps and top shoulder in groups of 30, as at this point they were very dense. They started to spread out from one another at the bust line, so from that point I sewed each line down individually. In order to make it easier to distribute them evenly, I measured and tacked them down along the waist line first to use as a general guide.

This whole process was slow going, but it was great mindless work to do with a movie on, and it really made it look polished. It's all in the details!

Step 18: Trim the Fiber Optics

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The last step was to trim the fiber optics to the desired length. As the light emanates from wherever the filament is cut, I wanted to spread out the points of light like a layered haircut. Luckily the whip was just long enough for me to have some extra to work with, and Joel from Ants on a Melon also did me a favor and sent me a whip that had not been pre-layered, so I could do the layering myself.

Aside from just cutting the filaments, there are lots of options for making your fiber optics shine. As the light will escape wherever there is a cut or nick in the filament, distressing them with sandpaper, scissors, or simply natural wear and tear creates very cool effects. For this project I wanted to keep the light focused at the bottom, however depending on the look you are going for, it's something fun to keep in mind!

Step 19: Finished!

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After all that work, get ready to be the life of the party! Thank you for reading :)

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PHIVO9 days ago

Wauw, this is what future clothing looks like. So nice that you are willing to share this amazing concept. Thanks!

SimpleAsPi1 month ago

Thank you so much for making this Instructable! Your descriptions and photos are spot-on and helped me get over my fear of making my first dress - from scratch! I can't wait to add fiber optics and awesome lights. I don't have a fiber optic flashlight, so I was going to make a DIY version. I was wondering, if you were making another dress, would you use the same number of strands again, or more or fewer?

Natalina (author)  SimpleAsPi1 month ago

Horray for making your first dress from scratch! As for strands, I am quite happy with how many there were (360). Any more and they would have barely fit over my shoulders in any elegant fashion. Fewer would have looked thin by the bottom. Take care with choosing the thickness of the fibers. The product I used has a great weight, it is thick enough that it has some body to it and isn't very fragile, but isn't so thick that it is difficult to work with. Good luck, and I'd love to see what you come up with!

SimpleAsPi made it! Natalina25 days ago

Using 360 strands worked just perfectly! Also, I have a newfound respect for your patience now after sewing on ALL those fibers. I can't express enough gratitude for your Instructable's guidance (especially detailed photos like where to place the pins and stitches to hold the fibers for sewing).

After all that work, the end results are totally worth it. I couldn't be happier with how my dress turned out. In my DIY lighting version, I ended up using NeoPixels to illuminate the fibers, with two laser-cut acrylic holders securing all the bundles. I have an Adafruit Gemma controlling the LEDs so I can program different lighting patterns, and a 12V battery powering it all. The skirt makes a perfect hiding spot for the electronics.

I'm totally excited to wear mine at Burning Man next week! Will you be there with yours?

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Natalina (author)  SimpleAsPi25 days ago

That turned out so awesome!! I'm new to electronics, but using neopixels is the next thing I wanted to try, but was struggling with how to attach the fibers to the strip. Thanks for sharing photos of the back, I'm excited to explore this method! I may pick your brain more when I get to the next iteration :)

I'm taking this year off of burning man, but you can rock the dress in my stead! Have a great time!

Raquelgal1 month ago

Hi Natalina! Beautiful dress! When you were sewing the fibre optics to the dress how often did you stitch them down? Did you have a continual running stitch down the length of the fibre optic or did you tie each stitch off?

Natalina (author)  Raquelgal1 month ago

I had a combination of both. I started with a line of stitching at the top and front shoulder a few inches apart that held all the fibers down, and once they started to separate I used a continual running stitch from the front shoulder to the waist on each bundle of fibers. I think things would have still looked good if I only stitched them down every few inches, but I wanted to keep the inside clean.

Awesome! Thank you Natalina!

snowjill1 month ago

This tutorial is amazing and I'm currently in the process of making this dress for a costume party. I did want to ask though how important the boning is to the garment because this is the step I appear to have glossed over. The bodice is double layered and form fitted so I'm hoping it will still be ok but definitely wanted to reach out for your opinion and what the boning did for your garment once completed.

Thanks again for making this tutorial! So helpful.

Natalina (author)  snowjill1 month ago

I don't think the boning is a must, but I preferred it for this application as it gave some additional structure so the fibers could be sewn down to something that was more static in shape. Without it the fabric will bunch and move more while it's on, which can make the fibers pull and push out of their channel more. As it is, I still need to tug the fibers back down periodically, as depending on how I'm moving certain areas of fibers will want to move upwards and will stick up a little at the shoulder. Hope that makes sense, it's a somewhat difficult phenomena to explain.

I'm excited you are making the dress! Be sure to post some photos when you are finished, I look forward to seeing the finished product!

hot cat1 month ago

WOW!!!

tatartt2 months ago

This is wonderful idea.The fiber optic system is very fantastic and useful, if you want to meet the eye.Congralutions :)

callmebessy2 months ago
Hi, i love the dress and I was thinking about making a dress like this for prom (I'll have to figure something different out with the battery issue) but I was wondering if you knew how I could make a fiber optic tie for my date or where I could find something along those same lines? Thanks :)
Natalina (author)  callmebessy2 months ago

A few ideas would be an led tie like this instructable, or you could just get a glowby and sew the strands down to a tie for a super cheap and easy touch of fiberoptics. Good luck!

fairysaddle3 months ago

also, are the fibers comfortable to wear? The kidlets won't tolerate them if they are pokey.

Natalina (author)  fairysaddle3 months ago

The fibers aren't pokey. If you attached the fibers to a comfortable garment to start with, it would be fine.

Thank you for the replies. You rock! :)
fairysaddle3 months ago

Stunning! How durable are the fibers? I'm kind of fed up with making my kids awesome light-up Halloween costumes only to have them destroyed in one day. Usually by kinking the el wire/led strands/wires when sitting at school on costume day. Can you sit in it without breaking the fibers?

Natalina (author)  fairysaddle3 months ago

Pretty durable, I've stepped on the fibers going up the stairs which yanks them really hard and only one has come lose so far, and none have kinked or broken from sitting. That said nothing is indestructible, and I wear it with care as I don't want to damage it.

aallison23 months ago
This is the most stunning article of clothing I've ever seen. I know this is a place to help people make their own things, but is there any way you'd consider making another to sell based on someone's measurements?
Feynmaniac4 months ago

This is awesome ! Thank you for this great 'ible :)

psavas4 months ago

Natalia,

This is wonderful and beautiful!

A couple thoughts crossed my mind as I read through the 'ible and the comments:

* Regarding the battery problem, have you looked into converting the kinetic energy from body movement into electrical energy to recharge the battery? My old brain remembers reading somewhere it was possible...

* How 'bout integrating a Raspberry Pi or Arduino into the mix so the fiber optics could be programmed to respond to music like the light-up electronic t-shirts do? You could have certain colors correspond to certain frequencies, have the color changes follow the tempo of the music, etc...

This has got me thinking about making a vest of some-sort, possibly out of silver lame to heighten the reflectivity of the optics... hmmmm....

Awesome job!

StarwarsChick4 months ago

that dress is beautiful!

Ajriam4 months ago

wow it's very Nice thanks :)

drowe20114 months ago

i want this dresss but its so complicated to make but i love it

Natalina (author)  drowe20114 months ago

You can definitely make the same type of thing without making the dress itself, which cuts out 80% of the work! Start with something simple like this from american apparel and mod it from there.

Gemini19705 months ago

Hello Natalina, this is really a great and fantastic piece of art. Who would have thought of what is possible with a dress and some "plastic". I regularly have a look here just to see what is possible with some imagination (and lots of skills).

Can you perhaps tell us some of your experience when you were wearing it?

Natalina (author)  Gemini19705 months ago

Wearing it is a ton of fun! The fiber optic whip I used comes with tons of different colors/programs that are highlighted by movement (for example rainbow trails created by a subtle multicolor strobe), which make it really fun to spin around and dance with it.

sitearm5 months ago

@Natalina; Hi! Nice work, I've shared your video on Twitter; Cheers! : ) Sitearm

Natalina (author)  sitearm5 months ago

Thanks!

solpredator5 months ago

I liked this very much and shared it with my teen daughter. She asked the most obvious question (which is why I didn't think of it!) "So, how does she wash it?"

Great Ible!!!

tovey solpredator5 months ago

The safest way is to hand wash this dress.

In a machine with an agitator, the fiber optics could get caught in the agitator and break.

In a barrel machine, they could get tangled up with each other.

One could of course, use something to tie the optics together in a single strand so that they are not uncontrolled.

Either way, one would need to remove the battery pack. The piece that holds the fiber optics to the light may rust if it is made from metal, but that is likely the only other issue in washing this dress.

solpredator tovey5 months ago

:) Thank you!

Natalina (author)  tovey5 months ago

Yep, hand wash. The electronics detach and the fiberoptic cables are just plastic, so there's no worry of corrosion like with soft circuits.

Zanaji tovey5 months ago

definitely hand wash and line dry.

Gorgeous.
Lovely.

Illuminating.

Fun.

Fabulous.

And in person, probably hilarious.

Thank you.

I forgot flattering.

this is aweosme! what an idea to make a wonderful dress :)
msweigart5 months ago

I will be making a similar dress this week for my daughter for the Father/Daughter Dance!

Natalina (author)  msweigart5 months ago

Awesome! Share it in the comments when you're done, would love to see it!

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