Introduction: EL Wire Fairy Wings

About: I'm studying to be a Mechanical Engineer at Cal Poly (going into year 3).
Fairy wings are totally awesome to begin with, especially at raves. What better way to make them more rave-appropriate than to make them light up? EL wire is awesome for this, as it keeps them light (tee hee) enough to dance in.

Some Back-Story:
A while ago I made a pair of fairy wings with the goal of attaching EL wire to them to make them more awesome. I used threadbanger's fairy wing tutorial for this. They were a huge hit at every rave went I to. Their success led me to upgrade them. They went from having one simple pass of purple around the edges to purple and blue around the edges with purple eye spots. This pair is made by following the easier route in this instructable.

At one rave, I got a request from a fellow raver named FireFly for a pair of wings. Since she gives away huge pieces of kandi and is all-around nice, I thought she deserved them. I drew out a concept sketch pretty soon after, but became lazy and didn't work on them for over a month.

Then I saw instructables was having an EL wire contest. Finally, something to get me to actually make FireFly's wings! Nothing like a deadline to get you going.

While this tutorial is primarily about how I made FireFly's wings (the harder method), I included how I made my first pair, so that anyone who wants to do this doesn't have to spend more time than they want to. If you are doing the easier method, ignore steps three through fourteen.

Here's a demo of the easier method:
(Sorry about the low picture quality, it was the best my camera could do.)

The threadbanger tutorial mentioned in the video:

Let's get this out in the open: This instructable is neither cheap, nor quick. The easier method took me about five hours and about $50 in its simplest form, $80 in its current state ($30 more EL wire was added to form a second color around the edge). The hard method cost about $80 and took about 20 hours to make.

More importantly, if want to make yourself some wings, disregard the previous paragraph and go for it!

Giving credit where credit is due:
Cool Neon Wire - awesome company. They includes heat shrink tubing and copper tape if you need to solder your wire for free with your order.
Threadbanger's Tutorial - the basis for the "easier method" and a great tutorial all together.
Soldering Instructable - I used cool neon's guide myself, but it's the same method.
General EL Wire Attaching Instructable - helped me make my first pair of wings.
SparkFun's Tutorial on Sequencing - great if you want to use a micro controller with your wire.
That's Cool Wire - the sponsor of this awesome competition.

Step 1: Choosing Your Path

So at this point, you have two choices. The hard way, or the easier way. Both will give you something totally awesome, but the hard way is much more open ended (and much trickier).

The easier method consists of following a laid out, fairly easy tutorial made by threadbanger for fairy wings, and adding EL wire to them. You can pretty much ignore steps three through fourteen.

The hard method consists of coming up with your own design and (depending on your design) can include a lot of sewing. While the picture is of my finished product, this method is very open ended and I encourage you to plan your own design. Go crazy!

Step 2: Tools and Stuff

If you are using either method, you will need:

EL Wire
An Inverter of EL Wire
A Soldering Iron (depending on where you get your wire, some comes prepared)
Invisible Thread

For the Easier Method:
15 Feet of Wire (This is only enough for one pass around the edges and one pair of circles if you don't waste your wire. The pair I am showing has two passes of different colors. If you want to do this, order 15 feet of two different colors).
4 Coat Hangers
2 Pairs of Tights

For the Harder Method:
Dust Mask (you will definitely want this)
Sand Paper
Flat Rubber Bands
Needle Nose Pliers
Stretchy Fabric (Swim liner at the fabric store)
A Sewing Machine (You can hand sew, I'd just recommend against it)
Fabric Pencil or Chalk
Thread (color matching fabric, usually black)
?? Feet of Wire
?? Coat hangers
Measuring Tape
Epoxy (Plastic Epoxy if your hangers are covered in plastic. Mine were.)
Duct Tape
A Method of Grinding (I used a Dremel)

Step 3: Plan Your Design

If you are embarking on the easier path, your design is pretty much decided for you. Effectively, follow this tutorial:

I suppose you can change up the design, but there is still not a lot of room for customization.

With the hard method, create your own design. I wanted them to look like fire, so I did a little research (see: Berial from Devil May Cry 4 for my inspiration) and came up with the image below.

Notes for designing:

Eventually ribbon will be attached to the wings. To do this as simply as possible, it's best if the middle is the thinnest part.

You will be sliding fabric onto the wings later. Don't draw any shapes that are extremely wide on the ends and thin as they get towards the middle. If you do this, you will have to hand sew more fabric.

Also, watch the tutorial even if you are doing the hard method. The video is great and includes a bunch of good information.

Step 4: Print Out Your Design

If your image is on your computer, convert it to black and white, and cut it to one side (like the one below), then print it out in the method of your choice.

Here's a neat trick: you can use Excel to print out large images. Copy and paste your picture into cell A1 (I had to copy from MS Paint to do this). Then go into print preview. Next, zoom out a large amount. After doing this, you should see rectangles, designating paper edges. You can use this to size the picture up before printing. I wanted mine to be about three pages high.

After printing, arrange the pictures to form the image. Cut them and tape them together.

Step 5: Take Measurements

Using the twine, measure the edges of your design. To do this, I taped it down as I went and unwrapped more from the spool as I needed it.

I did this twice for my design: once for the absolute outer edge (so I would know how many coat hangers I would need) and once for where the wire would go.

Now that you have your measurements, order the EL wire you will need. Be sure to double the number you got (for two wings, not just the one you measured) and add a few extra feet. You do not want to run out of wire halfway through a design. Also use the outer edge measurement to buy your coat hangers.

The pictures for this step used a sketch instead of a print-out. I thought I was better at drawing than I really am. It didn't work out too well. Regardless, the method of measuring is the same.

Step 6: Bend Your Hangers

Get out your needle nose pliers and get to it! This step is fair(l)y tedious. Using the pliers and your hands, bend the hangers to the shape of the wings. Make sure that you frequently compare the hangers to your picture.

Some points to note:

I started at the bottom middle of the wings. As such, I started from the middle of a hanger. My thinking was that the middle of the wings would be a pressure point, and I would not want to rely on a joint there.

When you have to move on to the next hanger, make sure you bend it to overlap with the previous hanger by at least a few inches (2-3).

When you need a sharp point, as my design did, put a sharp 180 degree bend in the hanger (see the picture below).

Step 7: Attach Your Hangers

The time has come to epoxy the hangers together.

First, sand down the areas where the hangers will be attached. This helps the epoxy create a strong bond with the plastic.

Next, attach the hangers together using the rubber bands. The series of pictures below shows how to do this.

After that, mix up your epoxy and spread it on the joints (I liked Devcon Plastic Welder best for this. If your hangers aren't covered in plastic, I suggest you use a different epoxy). Let it go through its working time (15 minutes for me) and then remove the rubber bands. Then, put epoxy where the rubber bands were.

Step 8: Strengthen Your Skeleton

After Step 7, your design may require some strengthening. My design would get bent very easily if I didn't add support (in this case, more hangers). I added one vertical piece of hanger, and one horizontal one. Shape these over the print out (see the picture below).

Attach the strengtheners with the rubber bands and epoxy them the same way (making sure that you sand them ahead of time).

A picture of the finalized skeleton can be seen in the next step.

Step 9: Grind and Tape the Epoxy

Dust mask. You have one?


Go get one. This is serious, there is going to be epoxy dust going around here.

Now, using some method of grinding, grind off the larger globules of epoxy. No need to get it to a mirror sheen, just make sure it's fairly even.

After that, cover the epoxy with duct tape. This serves to further strengthen the joints as well as provide an easier method of smoothing out the joints. It's important that the joints don't have any sharp edges so they don't catch the fabric later.

Step 10: Cutting the Fabric

Now take your print-out, and cut out the fabric for the wings. Lay the paper cut out on top of your fabric and draw the edge onto the fabric with chalk or a fabric pencil. Then, cut out the design. Make sure that you err on the side of excess material. You can always cut material off, but you can't put it back on.

Leave extra material coming off the middle of the wings (this is clarified in a picture below). They kind of look like tabs. These will be used to attach the two sides together later.

Repeat this four times. Of course, you could do this only once, with all four layers of fabric at the same time.

Step 11: Pin It Down and Sew

This is by far the most time consuming step. At least it was for me. Maybe you're better at sewing than I am.

Lay one cutout on the floor. Place your hanger skeleton over that. Then lay another cutout on top of the skeleton (sandwich the skeleton between two cut-outs). Pin the two pieces of fabric together outside of the edge of the skeleton. To make sure this was done evenly, I first pinned all of the places that were closest to the middle.

After the pinning is done, slip your design off of the skeleton and sew it up. Since I was limited on pins, I had to pin select regions at a time.

Some things to watch out for:

Sew further in when sewing in and further out when sewing out. Sewing further in makes sure that the thread goes all the way to the hanger. Sewing further out makes sure that each point has enough fabric. See the second picture for clarification.

In general, make it larger than necessary if you plan on inverting the fabric (more on this in the next step). 

If your design has any areas where you can't sew it and then slide it on, leave these un-sewn for now. You will take care of these in the next step.

After you are done with one wing, repeat for the other wing.

Step 12: Final Fabric Fixes

Clean up the edges of the fabric by cutting more excess material off.

This step is not required, but if you want very sharp, distinct edges, invert your fabric. This will keep all of your excess fabric on the inside, leaving very precise edges. I did not do this for two reasons:
I could not have as I sewed mine too small.
I liked the look of the excess material.

After this, slip the material onto the hangers.

If you had any un-sewn areas, hand sew those now.

Step 13: Hanger Adjustment

After wrestling fabric onto the skeleton, I noticed the shape had become distorted. So, I did a little bit of fixing.

Step 14: Join the Fabric

Hand sew the two wings together on what will become the side in contact with the wearer's back. Repeat for the other side. You can also finish the outer side by keeping the tabs long and tucking them inside the wings.

To do this, simply sew together those tabs mentioned earlier.

Step 15: Solder EL Wire

This step may or may not be required. If your EL wire came soldered, awesome. If it didn't, refer to this instructable:

If you have several strands connect them in parallel. Before doing this, you should have two wires coming from each strand of EL wire. Let's call them "Wire 1" and "Wire 2." Every strand has a Wire 1 and a Wire 2. Solder all of the Wire 1s together and all of the Wire 2s together. Then, attach all of the Wire 1s to one output wire on your inverter and all of the Wire 2s to the output wire.

By the way: Cool Neon (where I ordered my wire) will often include copper tape and heat shrink tubing with your order.

Step 16: Attach EL Wire

This step will apply to both versions.

Using the clear thread, attach the wire to the wings. Heres how I did it:

Thread your needle, double over the thread and tie an overhand knot.
Thread into the fabric, but do not thread all the way through.
Stitch back out of the fabric and pass through the loop by the knot in the thread. This serves as a starting knot (See the second picture).
Continue stitching, attaching the wire to the wings.
When you start running out of thread, do two stitches in the same area.
Here's where it gets tricky, cut the thread by the needle, creating two threads out of the doubled over thread.
Un-thread one stitch on one of the threads (See the third picture).
Tie the two threads with a square knot.

To go around the outside of the easy pair, start at the middle and go out to the top left section. Come around and cross over the middle and go to the bottom right section. Then over to the bottom left and then up to the top right. You can see the cross over in the last picture.

Some cool ideas:

Cover the wire in electrical tape anywhere you don't want wire. While this does seem a little wasteful, trust me, it's a lot easier than using separate pieces. 

The pair on the main page has two wires going around the edge, an outer purple and an inner blue. To do this, sew down the two lengths of wire at once, as if they were a single, very fat wire.

That same pair also has an isolated circle. To do this, cover the wire (this is normal wire, not EL wire) leading to the power source in electrical tape if it's not already black. Sew down the normal wire leading to where the circle will be, then sew down a circle of EL wire.

Step 17: Attach Ribbon

If you are doing the easy method, this is well explained in the video.

For those attempting the hard way:

Flip the wings over so the side that will be in contact with the wearer's back is up. Then slide ribbon underneath this in the middle (the thinnest part). Tie off with a square knot. If your ribbon slides around, sew a region of it to your wings.

Repeat with a second ribbon for two arm loops. Watch the video and this will make more sense.

Step 18: Wear Your Wings and Expansions

Wear your creation to any gathering! They're a huge hit at raves.

Some ways to add more:

Feel free to design in 3-D. My easier wings curve away from my body.

Go crazy with your design! The more creative the better, and the more likely you are to blow people's minds. For example, I just found this awesome instructable for crocheted fairy wings. It would be awesome to make and then add wire all over the design.

If you have more circuit skills, don't let them go to waste and don't settle for a simple "On" and "Off." There are two different ways to do make it more interesting. You can use triacs and a 555 timer to make it strobe. You could also use triacs, a  microcontroller and several different strands of color for a light show! In my case, I could use some PWM (the analog pins for the Arduino fans out there) to add a flicker or a pulse for better looking fire. (see:

EL wire contest

Finalist in the
EL wire contest