Introduction: LED Formal Dress

About: ITLS student at Utah State University

Hi my name is Sarah Rasmussen and I am a Junior attending Utah State University! This is a project that I am making in my design thinking course! I decided to DYI a LED Dress. This is an older dress that I have had since my senior year of high school. I am participating in my universities beauty pageant and I wanted to give my old dress some extra flair instead of buying a new one! As you can see above my dress is black and lacy. My plan is to use conductive wire, sewable Adafruit NeoPixels and the circuit playground express. I was given $50 from the school and this is my budget and step by step instructions on how to make the LED twinkle dress! This dress was a very big time commitment. I would recommend doing the prototypes if you have not used LED's or the circuit playground before.

The first three steps were pretty spread out I worked on them about an hour a day for 2 and a half weeks.

During the prototyping step I spent a total of 6 hours on it

In the practicing and prototyping phase I spend about 10 hours on it. Looking up videos about soldering. I also did a lot of coding during that phase.

In the final phase was a big stage, I spent 12 hours soldering and about 3-4 hours doing the sewing and placing on the mannequin.

My supplies included:

Circuit Playground Express
40 Neopixels

Lithium ion battery

Dress form

Black Lacy Dress

Black Thread

Soldering Iron kit with flux and wire cutters

Fabric Glue / Hot glue gun

Tweezers and alligator clips


Step 1: Research

The First thing I did when I started this project was brain storming and research about the project. My project was very vague because and we were allowed to do whatever we wanted to do. I knew I wanted to use the Circuit Playground Express because I previously used it in an earlier project. These videos inspired my project. The plan is to connect all the pixels using conductive wire. The LED's on my dress will be on the inside layer of my dress then be covered with lace. When I turn on the Circuit Playground I want all NeoPixels to preform a rainbow pattern. As I walk I want the NeoPixels to twinkle white.

Step 2: Layout Plan

After the research, I laid out a plan. I measured my dress, bust, height, chest and figured out how many NeoPixels I wanted on my dress. I also created a 3D model of what I wanted my dress to look like with paper, tape and play dough.

Step 3: 3D Test

After I laid out my plan I took about 40 pieces of tape that acted as the "Neopixels" and had my boyfriend help me place them on my dress in random places. In class I had some friends mention that I probably would not want my hair to cover up a lot of the pixels so I refrained from putting many around my hair line. I did leave one or two however because if I decided to wear my hair up with this dress (highly unlikely) there would be no dark spots on my dress. I also avoided placing neopixels anywhere that would be uncomfortable AKA my buttocks. I decided to do a sit test and see how close I could put them so there was not a blank spot or I was sitting on them.

Step 4: Gather Materials

After I had finished my 3D test I decided to order the materials so they would get to Logan on time. I was allowed to spend $50 from Utah State's budget but the rest would have to come out of my pocket. My materials I needed to purchase included:

Circuit Playground Express 24.95

40 Neopixels 80.00

27ish Feet of wire. 5.00

Lithium ion battery 12.50

Dress form 39.99

These are some of the materials I already had but you would need to buy:

Black Lacy Dress which I bought at Ross five years prior, but I imagine you can find a cute dress on amazon

Black Thread

Soldering Iron kit with flux and wire cutters

Fabric Glue / Hot glue gun

Tweezers and alligator clips

I am currently about 162.44 in total. 112.44 out of pocket. It will definitely worth it. I ordered almost everything from

Step 5: Started to Make a Prototype

I WOULD RECOMMEND DOING THIS STEP IF YOU HAVE NEVER USED THE PLAYGROUND EXPRESS OR NEOPIXELS BEFORE, IF YOU HAVE THEN SKIP THIS STEP. After my materials arrived I decided I wanted to make a mini prototype. I started off by doing my make code code and testing my code on my circuit playground. I also sewed 3 LED lights onto a piece of felt. I glued each neopixel and the circuit playground with glue before sewing so there was no movement, I sewed data connections to each of the pads. I used pin A1 and sewed that to the data pin, ground to the negative pin, and vout to the positive pin. Check out this video on how to do that. ( I added the circuit playground and some clips. I added clips so people can clip the fabric wherever they wanted on their body. I did user testing with this prototype. I also worked on my code for a little bit. pause the video at anytime to see the code in progress.

Step 6: User Testing / Brain Storming

During class Liam and Jeremy were very helpful. They looked over my prototype and we discussed the pro’s and con’s of my viable project. We discussed placement of the circuit playground and we came up with some really good ideas. We talked about programing the board so I can use the buttons to have different colored patterns on them. We also discussed placing the circuit playground on the hip. Placing the circuit in a hidden pocket to put your finger in to push a button would be a really good option. I was planning on making a garder on my thigh or ankle. Liam said to do the garder but then mentioned the pocket later. The next user test I plan on doing is placing the playground in a pocket and pinning the fabric on the hip programing the LED’s to do different things to see if they like what I come with.

Step 7: Practice Code and Making Lights Work

In this step I practiced hooking up the LEDs with wire. I plugged my circuit playground into my computer and I used alligator clips to conduct power to the little LED strips I was making. I just tied the wire to each of the LED's so it would conduct and light up but I did not solder it. I practiced my code and check it to see if it worked. I also measured the distance between the LEDs and labeled all of my LEDs from 1-40 on my dress so I know where to place them. I also cut and stripped the ends of my wires. I cut them into about 5inch pieces so I could solder them in the next step.

Step 8: Finishing the Job

In this step I finished putting my project together! In my final steps, I finished soldering all of the LEDS together. You solder the negative wires to the negative pad, the positive wires to the positive pad and the a7 pin I used to the data connection pad. For more detail on how to hook the LEDS up check this out ( Then I did some more tests on the light. After I knew my light strip worked with the playground express I soldered the light strip to the Playground. I sewed a little pocket for my battery and sewed it on the dress. I pinned the light strip to the inside of the dress using safety pins every few inches. Then I turned the dress back out and now the LED are on the inside of the dress! I decided to pin the strip because I did not want to make the project permanent. I want to be able to take the LEDS out and use them somewhere else. If I were to make the project more permanent I would have used the fabric glue to glue each of the pixels to the dress and I would have used three to hold the wires to the dress!

Thats it! Thanks for checking it out, and if you make something like this tag me on IG @rassyrasmussen

Remember the video provides even more detail and shows everything step by step, so make sure to watch those! Thanks!

Step 9: If You Want You Can Watch My Documentary About My Process