Introduction: Fire Skirt!

About: art! design!

Wear your own special effects! Learn a glow-in-the-dark clothing technique that mimics the look of fire, using electroluminescent (EL) wire and a combination of reflective and transparent fabrics.

The main function of this dress is for safety and visibility in dark environments, but also it is functional if you love fire and want to look like it. The fire skirt design functionality was inspired by the chaotic, beautiful, intense environment found at outdoor-night-time events: while wearing this skirt, my friends can find me, no one will run into me with a bike or art-vehicle, and it illuminates nearby objects as I walk, making it easy to avoid tent stakes, cacti, or who-knows-what. The dress is visible from all sides, the pattern affords the freedom of movement necessary for walking and dancing, and it has a fiery look that contributes to the party deco.

This demo is based on a presentation about the dress pattern and process from Maker Faire 2007. The presentation was recorded and posted by ArtFuture on the ArtFuture YouTube Group, in 9 segments: here are the videos, with notes, pictures and links... thanks to instructables for providing a good venue for making the presentation & videos complete.

Featured in ELLE Argentina - Agosto 2007,
and Elle Decor Italia - Novembre 2008.

Available through

Step 1: Part 1: Overview and Materials:

Materials: (approx. $70-80 cost... get the good fabric!)
2.5 yards satin fabric (gold)
2.5 yards chiffon fabric (maroon or wine-color)
20 feet electroluminescent wire (aka "EL wire" or "LYTEC")
EL wire power supply & driver
~12" x 1" Elastic
Electrical tape or heat shrink tubing
Soldering supplies

The dress is based on an A-line skirt pattern; a cone-shaped skirt that bunches with gravity and creates organic-looking folds. It has 2 layers: a shiny satin layer underneath, and a translucent chiffon layer on top. The shiny satin layer is adorned with decorative flames shaped in electroluminescent wire: a battery-powered, plastic-coated wire that emits light for a glow-in-the-dark effect.

The pattern and materials work together to soften the hard lines of the EL wire, and to create a fiery animated effect when the dress is "walked": the gold satin reflects the electroluminescence, and the contrasting maroon chiffon overlay creates a range of light intensity as it floats closer and further away from the satin and EL wire.

This A-line skirt pattern is very simple: a cone-shaped floor-length skirt that flares out from the waist at about a 25-30 degree angle. For this dress, I make two layers with the same pattern. The inner satin layer is floor-length, and the outer chiffon layer is about 5" above the floor.
(* i make my own pattern, according to my measurements - the top of this pattern is an empire-waisted halter, but any top can work - it's the skirt shape that is important).

Here are a couple of patterns that could work:
(lengthen inner layer to floor length. heels not recommended.)
Vogue V7857
Simplicity 4087

see larger video

Step 2: Shaping the Wire

Make sure the wire is not on any areas of the garment that will receive a lot of friction or action, such as the seat or joints.

The wire cannot be bent at sharp angles, so your design needs to be based on curves and loops.
The smallest curve it affords is that of a pencil circumference.

For this design, I used small loops for the "points" of the flames.

see larger video

Step 3: Sewing the Wire to the Fabric

Place the wire on the shiny satin fabric, and tape it down with masking tape into the shape that you want. Stitch the wire to the satin loosely, leaving about a centimeter in between each stitch. The loose stitching will protect the wire as you move around, leaving some room so the wire doesn't get forced into any sharp angles.

see larger video

Step 4: Supporting the Power Supply, Making Electrical Connections

The power supply is attached to an elastic garter that is worn below the knee, allowing for freedom of movement and support for the power supply and batteries. Make sure to leave a short length of cord between the garter and the skirt so that it won't pull the wire when you walk.

Strip away the plastic coating at the end of the EL wire, and you will see one main thick wire that runs down the center, and two very thin wires that stick out around the side. The thin wires are fragile, so it is recommended to anchor them to a small piece of copper tape wrapped around the coated part of the wire.

Tutorials for preparing & connecting EL wire:
EL wire soldering tutorial from Cool Light West
MakeZine: Glowing Wearable Blinky-Light

see larger video

Step 5: Preparing and Connecting the Wires

The center wire has a phosphor coating around it; strip off the coating with wire strippers or scrape it off with a blade.

Attach the stripped center wire to one of the power supply leads (it doesn't matter which one).

Attach the other wire to the copper tape and thin wires.

Tutorials for preparing & connecting EL wire:
EL wire soldering tutorial from Cool Light West
MakeZine: Glowing Wearable Blinky-Light

see larger video

Solder the wires together, making sure that the two connections don't touch; (you can put a piece of electrical tape between the two if necessary).

Put a piece of heat-shrink tubing over it to keep the connections together and keep the wires from catching on the inside of the dress. Shrink the tubing with a heat gun, a hair dryer, or a flame.

Seal the other end of the wire too - you can use more heat-shrink tubing, or a drop of glue.

see larger video

Step 6: Questions: EL Wire Safety, Dress Seams, Other Glow Artworks

Safety concerns:
the wire is electrical but not strong enough to damage you if it shocks you. Keep the connections sealed and dry. This is an electrical device, so I don't recommend wearing it all the time: use common sense.

I recommend designing your garment such that the EL wire ends near a seam - seams are a natural place for transitions in garments, and don't require any special sewing. Keep the stitches loose near the seams so that the EL wire can naturally change directions.

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Step 7: Questions: More About EL Wire & Other Glow Artworks

Where do you get the wire?
I get my wire and power supplies from You can order any length of electroluminescent wire.

How many feet of wire will I need?
This dress is made with approximately 20 feet of wire.

If I am designing a pattern beforehand, how do I measure it?
Draw your pattern on paper "actual size" and measure it with a string - place the string along the line and then measure the string with a measuring tape or ruler.

Is the wire available in diffrerent thicknesses?
Wire is available in different gauges ranging from 1.2mm to 5mm.
ELAM: manufacturer's specs

How much power does it need? What are the electronic specifications?
You will need a different power supply for different lengths of wire.
ELAM: manufacturer's specs
CoolNeon Drivers

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What is the history of the Fire Skirt?
I started making luminous artwork in 1997, studying Neon and Glassblowing arts.
I wanted to make a neon dress, but while I love the glow of neon, its fragile glass tubes would make the dress completely non-functional, so I looked into other alternatives, and found EL wire.

What other projects have you done?
One of my art missions is to create magic-realist objects: I've noticed that people respond in a particularly fond and comfortable way to art objects that belong in everyday life = clothing, furniture, cars, and software applications don't seem to intimidate people as easily as gallery art can.

Everyone loves the artwork that glows - there is something
very poetic and inspirational about the idea of illuminating the darkness.

See below for images of my other glow artwork,
or visit my website:
or my etsy shop:

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