Introduction: Bionic El Wire Mask

About: Costume and experimental fashion designer and artist. Maker of clothing and accessories for time traveling cyborg superheroes, and lucid dreamers. Interested in fusing couture design and leatherwork with weara…

Ok, so I wouldn't actually call this a mask... I am personally not a huge fan of wearing traditional masks. I find them a bit isolating. When I dress up, I want to feel transformed not hidden. I do love interesting face decorations though, and I've been looking for a good way to bring illumination onto facial ornamentation for a while. By creating this simple wire headpiece that comfortably wraps around my head and sits above my face, I found a way to transform myself into a bionic creature in a way that feels more like augmentation than disguise. I chose to use el wire on the underside of the piece so that instead of just creating isolated lines of light, the wire illuminates parts of my own face, which I think gives the whole look more depth and makes it a lot more sinister.

It's never too early to start planning your halloween costume for next year, or, if you're like me, you probably find reasons to wear ridiculous costumes all the time. This is a surprisingly simple project, that only requires a few supplies, and I think it has a very interesting futuristic effect that could be adapted to go with a lot of costumes from Terminator to Star Wars to an alien creature of your own invention that no one else could ever dream of. However you choose to style your version, this is a great piece to have in your costume collection.

Step 1: What I Used

  • Stiff but still bendable wire about 2mm in diameter - I found this galvanized wire at the hardware store
  • Very thin flexible wire about 28 gauge - also available at most hardware stores
  • A very small piece of black 1/4" craft foam, thick soft leather or felt
  • About 15ft of 1.2mm angel hair el wire in the color of your choice - I used red
  • An el wire driver that drives at least 20 ft of el wire
  • A few 9 Volt batteries or a cage with 8 AA batteries
  • An el wire wire side connector
  • About 4ft of double stranded connection wire or thin speaker wire
  • Heat shrink tubing
  • Soldering iron
  • Solder
  • Pliers
  • Wire cutters
  • Wire strippers
  • Hot glue gun
  • Heat gun blow dryer or lighter
  • Super glue
  • A mannequin head (optional)

Step 2: Making the Wire Base

First I sketched an idea of what I wanted my bionic face to look like.

Then I cut about 8 feet of the thick wire and started bending it with my pliers to create the shape I wanted.

I started by creating a section that came from behind my head and went over my right ear, then jutted out about half an inch to sit off my face. I measured the against my face to get the right lengths and proportions. I bent the wire at right angles with my pliers, and looped it back around onto itself to create a circuit like pattern that covered the cheek and skirted around the edges of my eye.

I secured the folded joints by tightly wrapping pieces of the thin wire around the thick wire.

Over the forehead I created three longer sections of wire that I bent in at the ends so they would contact my head and hold the whole thing a little off my face. I also thought it would look creepy (in a good way) if it seemed like these pieces were going into holes in my head.

I extended a long looped piece of wire over the top of my head and attached it in back to the beginning of the wire.

Eventually I made it all the way back to wrap around the side of the head over the ear and back to the back of the head where I had started. I tired the piece on and fiddled with it until it fit well.

Step 3: Soldering the EL Wire

Normally I like to make sure the batteries that power my wearable devices are contained in the device itself, but this headpiece is so small that there is really nowhere to hide the batteries, so I decided to have them connected to a long wire that can run down to a pocket somewhere else in your outfit.

I took the strand of el wire and stripped about 1/2” off one end using the automatic wire stripper. You can adjust how deeply the stripper cuts by turning the little wheel on the front. The goal is to expose the phosphor covered core wire, without breaking the two tiny hair wires next to it. It sometimes takes a few tries to get this right.

Next I shaved the phosphor coating off the end of the core wire with an exacto knife. I took my black lead wire and trimmed and stripped the ends of the two wires so they lined up with the hair wires and core wires of the el wire respectively. I carefully wrapped the hair wires of the el wire around the exposed end of the lead wire and soldered them together, then I soldered the other lead wire to the core wire of the el wire.

Once everything was soldered, I took a hot glue gun and covered the solder joints with glue to give them stability. Then I used a heat gun to shrink heatshrink the tubing over the connections.

On the other end of the long lead wire, I soldered a wire side el wire connector, then plugged the wire into my driver and battery to check that it was working.

For more tips on el wire soldering, follow this great Cool Neon tutorial.

Step 4: Attaching the EL Wire

Starting at the back of the head, I ran the lead wire along the structural wire of the headpiece behind the ear, attaching it with thin wire along the way. I positioned it so the el wire itself started just where the structural wire turns away from the head at a 90 degree angle.

From there I worked my way around the structure, following the path of the wire I had already created. In some places I unwrapped my previous wire wraps so I could wrap around both the structural wire and el wire at once for a cleaner connection.

I was careful not to bend the el wire to sharply because that can crimp it and cause it to short out.

Once I had worked my way all the way around with the el wire, I went back and used superglue to make sure the el wire was laying flat against the structural wire.

Step 5: Adding the Pads

Where the three pieces of wire bent down to meet my head in the front, I attached little pads to the ends to make it more comfortable. I did this by cutting little 1/2" wide circles out of black craft foam and supergluing them to the ends of my wires.

Step 6: Augmentation

It was time now to merge with my new cyborg enhancement. I secured it around my head and tucked the wire down my back and into a pocket. The whole thing was really quite light and comfortable, and it didn't obscure my vision or make me feel separated from my surroundings... but it definitely made me feel like a slightly different kind of being, like all good costumes should.

When the computers take over, we'll all be wearing things that look like this, right? So we might at well stay ahead of the curve :)

Halloween Costume Contest 2016

Participated in the
Halloween Costume Contest 2016

Make It Glow! Contest

Participated in the
Make It Glow! Contest

Wearable Tech Contest

Participated in the
Wearable Tech Contest