Introduction: Light Up Costume

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This brief tutorial will walk you through how to make a light up costume using electroluminescent wire (el wire).  This costume in particular was custom made for DJ performing around the world. I worked closely with the designer and the el wire supplier to produce this piece in about two weeks' time.  With these simple steps, you too can customize your costume with el wire to light up the night!  Built in 2007 (my first el wire project ever!) , it's still in use today.

Step 1: Planning

Since this was my first foray into the world of el wire, I had no supplies in stock, and no idea what exactly I would need.  I did extensive research to determine the most cost-effective way to achieve the design, and decided to go with, whose products were both affordable and well-reviewed.

After securing a supplier, I needed to determine just what and how much el wire I would need.  I went with 4.0mm el wire for the main body and 2.2mm el wire for the glove details, both in 'Power Green'.  You'll find that different suppliers stock different weights and colors of el wire, so it's worth doing the research to find exactly what you need.

This design required too much wire to be lit by a single battery pack that the performer could wear, which meant that I needed to cleverly design a lay out that would neither exceed the capacity of each battery pack, nor be disruptive to the designer's vision or the DJ's performance.

I started by roughly pinning out the design with yarn onto my old beat-up male dress form.  By no means accurate, it was a good way for me to figure out which wires would connect, where to place battery packs, and how many I would need.  Talking with the el wire supplier on the phone about the capacity of the different battery packs apropos the lengths of wire I would need was extremely helpful.

Step 2: Mock-Up

To get a more accurate idea of what supplies I would need, I applied the layout I'd created to the actual garments.

I chose a black jumpsuit (which had to be significantly modified*) , black carpenter kneepads, a helmet with face cage which I covered in black stretch fabric, large headphones, and gloves to act as the base of the costume. 

With the help of my trusty assistant, I was able to put the base garments on a body and mark out a second rough draft of where the wires would go.  After doing this to each piece of the costume, I was able to call my supplier back and let him know exactly what I would need.

He was able to work with his team to put together a package of el wire cut to the lengths I needed and attached to the connectors for the battery packs, saving me the precious time it would take to learn how to customize them myself (which I later learned with the help of this diagram) .  

*modifications included sewing the front of the suit closed, sewing the collar closed in a standing position, adding a full length zipper to the back, adding spats to cover the shoes, and attaching the kneepads

Step 3: Layout

After the wire configuration was mocked-up with rope, I used chalk to outline the traces.

Next, I put it back on the form and began laying on the el wire and taping it in place.  This allowed me plenty of wiggle room to change my layout or tweak the design.

Once I was pleased with it all, I was ready to sew it down.

Step 4: Securing the El Wire

I used a variety of things to secure the el wire to the different elements of the costume.

For the main body (jumpsuit and gloves), I hand-sewed the wire (way too thick to go under my machine!) using a whipstitch with quadrupled thread (meaning it ran through the eye of the needle four times instead of just one) in a light color so that the weight of the thread would not interfere with the line when the wire was lit.  It's essential when doing a project as large as this to knot off the thread every few inches.  The reason for this is that if one area breaks or snags, you don't want it to affect the rest of the costume!

For the helmet, I sewed the wire onto the black stretch knit fabric which I used to cover it.  Since the fabric was a sports mesh, it was easy to see through, but impossible to see into.

The headphones were glued onto the helmet, and the wire glued to the headphones with Krazy Glue.  I tried several different epoxies and adhesives, and Krazy Glue came out to be the clear winner.

Step 5: Details

I blacked out certain areas of the wire with matte black tape, since that provided less interference than running the wire inside the costume.  I needed to make this suit as user-friendly as possible.

The helmet was set up to have its own battery pack.

The gloves were laid out so that the wires would run off the edge of the gloves and join to connector wires on the sleeves.

The battery packs were secured to the back of the suit in a surprisingly easy manner - I simple cut slits in the fabric and hooked the clips of the battery packs into the slits.

It was essential that the battery packs be on the outside of the costume for a few reasons.  They needed to be hidden from the front view, they needed to be accessible by the techs who would turn them all on before the show, and to facilitate the necessary battery changes between shows. 

Of course, I finished it off with a custom label I made with an iron-on printer transfer.

Step 6: Turn Me On

The only thing left is to connect all the wires, turn it on, and hope it works!

Oh yeah, and dance.