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How to sew a light-up plush Tux penguin with EL wire and LEDs

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Need a way to one-up your co-worker's awesome Tux desk pal? Or need a sledding buddy who won't get lost in the snow at night? This tutorial will show you how to sew a light-up Tux penguin (or any penguin, really). The example was made for a Gentoo Linux fan, but can be modified for your favorite distro (or even just as a plain penguin).

This project uses electroluminescent (EL) wire sewn into the seams of the stuffed penguin and a LilyTwinkle microcontroller to power 6 LEDs sewn onto the front. The batteries are stored in a compartment beneath the penguin, closed with a zipper.

I became interested in sewing light-up, wearable circuits around Halloween, the most obvious time of year to make clothing glow. After the holiday, I needed a non-Halloween project to work on. Eventually, I settled on a light-up stuffed Gentoo Tux penguin as a gift for a Gentoo Linux fan.

 
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Step 1: Materials

Below is a list of the supplies I used. I chose a felt-like fleece fabric because it was soft, affordable., and resistant to fraying. Pick your own fabric based on your budget and what you feel comfortable sewing. Your fabric size needs will vary based on the pattern you use. My (very) approximate fabric usage is based on the pattern below in roughly the default size. I already had most basic sewing supplies, and I picked up the rest (mainly fabric and stuffing) at JoAnn Fabric. It cost roughly $20-30 for the basic sewing supplies, with plenty of leftovers.

Supplies:

  • Tux/penguin fabric pattern - free-penguin project $0
  • Sewing needle (need a wide hole for conductive thread)
  • Sewing machine (optional)
  • Thread (black and white, orange optional)
  • Black fleece (~ 22" x 27")
  • White fleece (~ 10" x 10")
  • Orange fleece (~ 15" x 21")
  • Stuffing
  • Black zipper (or velcro), long enough to go most of the way around the derrier fabric piece
  • Sewable (welted) EL wire & Inverter - Adafruit $28
  • LilyTwinkle microcontroller - Sparkfun $7
  • Coin cell battery holder - Sparkfun $5
  • 6 Lilypad LEDs (purple for Gentoo logo, change for other logos) - Sparkfun $5 for 5
  • Conductive thread - Sparkfun $3 for 30'
  • CR2032 Battery - Sparkfun $2
  • 2 AA batteries

You can choose a non-welted version of the EL wire if you prefer other colors, but keep in mind that it is MUCH easier to be able to sew the wire with welting. Otherwise, you will have to sew loops around the wire to hold it in place, and it may move and slip in the loops.

I made something like this a long time ago but mine is a steampunk penguins and the whole belly glows. Also it's eyes
abatula (author)  Bassguitargirl7 months ago

Do you have a picture? Because that sounds awesome.

my phone went bizerk I'm sorry about that comment I didn't mean to leave one.
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Victor8o57 months ago

I'd just like to interject for a moment, your project is awesome, also Gentoo with GNU plus Linux. :P