Introduction: Super Magical Awesome Armbands of Light

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…

When you're creating illuminated costumes, there's no better diffuser for LEDs than faux fur. It really distributes light evenly and hides the hot spots from individual pixels. When used right it can really turn your costume project into something super magical and awesome. Kapow!

These armbands were created as part of a larger outfit I made for a client. He wanted a design that combined historical fantasy style with futuristic lighting, so I decided to use leather and fur to create armbands that look rugged and almost prehistoric in daylight but take on a whole new aesthetic in darkness with the LEDs turned on. I designed the bands to be wrapped in a sort of stylized lacing made of leather straps backed in fur with led strips sandwiched in-between. This allows the lights to be diffused through the fur, creating a fiery band of under-lit glow that silhouettes the leather bands like the corona of the sun. I also made the LEDs programmable so I could change the color or add patterns or fades to the lights.

I was really happy with the way this lighting effect turned out. The LEDs shining through the fur look like fiery snakes or bands of magic light coiling around your wrists. The design of the piece is comfortable and sturdy and it looks almost as good in daylight as in the dark. I think armbands like these would be a great addition to a lot of costume ensembles... and they will probably give you superpowers too.

*supermodeling by Jeff Hamm*

Step 1: What You Need

For the Armbands:

  • About half a yard of thick, sweatshirt fleece material
  • About half a yard of white or very light colored faux fur
  • About half a yard of a soft but strong leather
  • Two separating zippers cut to 8" (or if you want to cut them yourself, you'll need extra zipper stops)
  • 6 line 20 snaps and matching snap setter
  • 4 small quick set rivets
  • Thread to match your leather and fabric
  • Double sided tape
  • Pins
  • Fabric Scissors
  • Hole Punch
  • Hand Sewing Needles
  • X-acto knife
  • Awl
  • Plyers and a lighter or matches (if you need to shorten your zipper)
  • Hammer
  • Sewing Machine that can handle thick fabric and leather (preferable an industrial walking foot machine)

For the Electronics:

  • A strip of 92 addressable RGB leds (if you are using 60/meter leds, bout you could probably use 30/meter)
  • Two lengths of servo connector wire with connectors
  • Two small microcontrollers like Adafruit Gemmas, or DF Robot Beetles
  • Two switches
  • Two 1000mah lipo batteries (and a case to contain them if you are concerned about the risks of lipo batteries). Or you could use two cages of 3 double AAs.
  • Two charging circuits for the lipo batteries
  • Two battery connectors
  • Heat shrink tubing
  • Heat gun
  • Soldering iron
  • Wire stripper
  • Wire cutters
  • Solder
  • Hot glue gun

Step 2: Designing and Patterning the Armbands

I started this project like I start most of my designs, but doing a sketch of my idea.

To pattern the armbands, I used the wrist and forearm circumference measurements my client had given me to create a pattern for the fabric base of the bands that fit snuggly around the forearm and tapered up to a point at the elbow.

On top of this base pattern I drew the leather pieces that would go over the fabric to finish the edges and hold the batteries etc. I used the shape of my battery to create a pattern for a small rectangular pocket that would sit on top of the wrist.

I added seam allowances and marked snap and rivet positioning on all these pattern pieces and then cut them out.

Step 3: Cutting Out the Pieces

Once I had made all the pattern pieces, I cut them out in my various materials. (In these photos I am showing the construction of only one armband, but to make two you would need to cut out twice as many of each piece).

I pinned my base pattern onto the sweatshirt fleece and cut it out with scissors.

I traced the leather patterns onto my leather using an awl, and cut them out with scissors. I also cut out some strips of leather for the edging, the lining to go under the zipper, and the straps that would hold the lights. I made the edging strips and the strap pieces 1.25" wide, and the under-zipper piece 1.5" wide. The length of the straps and the edging really depends on the size of the armbands (mine were about 19"), and the length of the under-zipper piece should be about 7.5", slightly less than the zipper.

I cut out 2 strips of fur the same length as my leather straps, but only 1" wide. I oriented the strips so the direction of the hairs lay along the length of the strip. I used my xacto knife to cut the fur from the back side. This is the best way to cut faux fur because it prevents cutting off the hairs themselves, which can make it look choppy and uneven.

Step 4: Sewing the LED Tubes

To sew the tubes for my LED strips, I took my leather straps and stuck a length of double sided tape down the middle on the flesh (back) side of the leather. Then I stuck my fur strips down to the tape with the furry side up, centering them on the leather. You could also do this with pins, but the thickness of the leather makes pinning a bit annoying.

Then I took the straps to my sewing machine and sewed the fur down to the leather on one edge, making my stitch line very close to the edge of the fur. I made sure I was sewing in the direction that the hairs of the fur are lying (like petting a cat the right way) and I pushed the hairs off to the side as I sewed. I used in industrial walking foot machine which can easily sew through thick layers, but a home machine with a leather sewing needle will work too.

Once I had sewn down one edge of the fur, I made sure to REMOVE MY DOUBLE SIDED TAPE! (Actually I forgot to do this... twice!... which is why I'm yelling about it here ;) If you don't take it off before sewing down the second edge, you won't be able to get your led strip between the two layers, and you'll have to start all over.

Once the fur was sewn to the leather, I trimmed the edges of the leather to create nice straight lines evenly spaced away from my stitches.

Step 5: Attaching the Battery Pocket

To make the pockets, I taped the rectangular side piece of my pocket to the top piece with double sided tape and then carefully sewed around the edge. Then I taped the two ends of my led tubes down to the bottom piece of the pocket and taped the top pieces of the pocket on top. I sewed around this bottom edge of the pocket, making sure to only sew one or two stitched into the leather of the straps on each side, leaving a gap for the LEDs to slide in.

Step 6: Cutting Holes for the Electronics

To enable the LEDs to be slid into their tubes from below, I cut slits in the bottom layer of leather, just inside the gaps in my stitching line.

I also cut a slit in this layer right at the top of the pocket. This is where the microcontroller will hide.

I also cut a small hole on one of the vertical sides of the pocket above the straps for the switch to emerge.

Step 7: Wiring the LEDs

I cut two strips of 23 LEDs and soldered a 2 inch length of wire in between them.

On the input end, I soldered a length of wire about 2 inches longer than the led strip itself, with a battery connector on the end.

I covered the joints with hot glue and heat shrink tubing.

Step 8: Wiring the Battery

I use lipo batteries in a lot of my designs, but there are risks with these kind of batteries. They can catch fire if they are bent or punctured or charged improperly. It is good to keep them in a hard case, and I also like to wire a charging board directly to the battery. This lets you charge each battery by just plugging it into a normal mini usb wall charger with no risk.

To do this, I soldered my charging board to the battery connection wires, with red wires to Bat+ pin, and black wires to Bat- pin. Then I inserted the whole thing into a case I had 3D modeled and printed just for this purpose which allows access to the usb charging port and the battery connector wires. Otherwise you could use 3 AA batteries in a battery cage, but they are a bit bigger and heavier.

Step 9: Wiring the Microcontroller

I wired my switch, LED connector, and battery connector to my microcontroller as shown above, making the components the right distance apart to fit inside the little pouch on the armband.

Step 10: Programming

To load a program onto your microcontroller and test that all the lights are working properly, open Arduino and plug a usb into the controller and your computer's usb port. If you already have a battery hooked up, it's a good idea to unplug your external battery from the controller before you do this.

I'm no programmer, not at all. But it is fairly simple to load LED programs from the Adafruit library or some other arduino library onto your microcontroller and alter them to your liking. You can follow the instructions in the Adafruit learning center to help you understand how basic arduino programming works. You will ned to download the Adafruit Neopixel library from Github to use the Adafruit programs.

For the DF Robot Beetle controller that I use, choose "arduino leonardo" as the board type in your Arduino menu under Tools > Board. I've tried a few different lighting set ups on these armbands, but I usually like simple color fades. You can extract fades and color wipes from the basic Adafruit Strandtest, or write your own if your know how. I often use the simple two color fade I've included that friend wrote for me, and change the colors to match whatever outfit I'm wearing at the time :)

-Set the pin# to the digital pin you've soldered to on your microcontroller, I used pin 11

-Change the number of LEDs to the number you are using in the armbands

-Change the "holdcount" number to make each color appear for a longer or shorter amount of time

-Change the colors by entering different RGB values for "Color 1" and "Color 2"

Step 11: Inserting the LEDs

To get my LEDs inside my fur and leather tubes, I tied a long length of stiff wire to them using embroidery thread, and used the stiff wire like a needle to guide the strip through the tube. I made sure the LEDs were facing the fur side of the tube so they would shine through. On one side I inserted the strip with the long length of wire which loops back down and attaches to the other strip so they are both being powered by the same wire.

The two strips should lay flat with the connector sticking out between them.

Step 12: Shortening the Zipper

Some fabric or sewing supply stores will shorten separating zippers to the length you need, or you can order specific lengths online. But it is actually fairly easy to shorten your own zipper if you need to, especially if you have extra zipper stops.

First mark where you want your zipper to end. Then cut the zipper about an inch above your mark, making sure to your zipper pull is few inches BELOW where you are cutting.

Carefully cut away the teeth on both sides of the zipper above your mark, cutting as close to the teeth as possible. Then use your plyers to remove one more of the teeth from each side.

Take a lighter and melt the cut edges of the zipper to seal them.

Then take your extra zipper pulls and crimp them down very hard with your plyers where these last teeth would have gone.

Voila! You have a zipper that is just the right length.

Step 13: Basting the Zipper

Don't panic, this is easy!

To attach my zipper I first took the top to tabs of my zipper folded them down and held them in place with double sided tape.

Then I took the fabric piece of my armband and folded under and pinned the seam allowances where the zipper will attach.

Then I unzipped the two sides of my zipper and pinned them to the folded edges of my fabric.

To make the final sewing of the zipper as easy as possible, I based the zipper to the fabric with a hand sewing needle. This only takes about a minute because you can take big stitches, and it it definitely worth your time.

Step 14: Sewing the Zipper

Next I lay my leather strip under one side of the zipper so it just overlapped where the sewing line will be. I added this piece under the zipper to protect the skin of your arm from getting caught in the zipper when you are putting on the armbands.

Step 15: Attaching the Edging

Now I took my two piece of leather edging folded them in half and pounded them a little with a hammer to make a crease.

Then I slipped them over the top edges of my armband fabric so they stipped just before the zipper and met at the point. I secured them with a little double sided tape, and then sewed them down.

Step 16: Attaching the Pocket and Straps

To attach the whole pocket/straps assembly to the fabric, I first stitched the under-layer of leather onto the pocket assembly along the bottom edge.

Then I opened these two layers and put double sided tape between them as close as possible to the bottom seam. I then sandwiched the bottom edge of the fabric between the two layers of leather, sticking it to the double sided tape.

I pinned the leather down to the fabric in a few more places and then stitched all around the upper edge of the leather with my walking foot machine being sure to sew through both layers of leather and the fabric.

Step 17: Rivets and Snaps

I adde a rivet at the top point to help keep all the leather pieces in place, and riveted down the little tap at the base of the battery pocket for purely aesthetic reasons.

Then I added snaps to the ends of the fur/leather/led straps, and corresponding snaps along the top edges of the armband, about 2 inches from the central pint on each side. This is where the straps will attach after wrapping around the arm.

Finally I added a snap to close the top flap of the battery pocket.

Step 18: Finishing

Now you can slip your microcontroller into the space beneath the battery, attaching it to the LED connector and letting the little switch stick out through the hole in the side and the battery controller emerge through the top of the pocket. You could stitch your switch to the leather to hold it on place, but I found it stayed put fairly well.

Insert your battery into the pocket and hook it up to the controller. Now your swith should turn your LEDs on and off!

To put on the armbands, unsnap the straps and unzip the zipper. Then zip them over your arms (you might need a friend to help you) and wrap the fur straps around, criss crossing them over your arm. Snap them in place and you're ready to glow!

Halloween Costume Contest 2015

Participated in the
Halloween Costume Contest 2015