Introduction: FurSwarm Vest Construction

This is a step by step process for building a vest for the furSwarm project.  You'll end up with a garment that will be ready to plug into the network.  I'll create a follow on Instructable on how to install the computer, radio and battery.

As for materials, you'll need the following:
 - Fur:  1 yard of 60" fabric.  We've used this -  We tried a fair number of fur styles and learned a couple of things.  You want some depth to the shag so that the LEDs diffuse a bit.  You also want to use white.  Anything else makes it difficult to control the color of the LEDs.
 - Lining material:  A light, ribbed, t-shirt material works well
 - Pattern: The vest pattern can be found at  You can use anything you want but this worked for us.  The only requirement is that you can fit 30 LEDs on the back (more on that later).  
 - Sewing tools: Sewing machine, scissors, thread...
 - Safety pins:  A lot of these.  You need these to attach the LED strand to the vest.
 - LED strand: This design uses 50 LED's from  Link to the item is: (use square form factor)

Step 1: Fabric Cut-out

Pretty standard pattern.  We don't need to modify it at all.  Pick your size, cut out the pattern and lay it out onto the wrong side of the fur.  People have various ways of doing this but we decided to outline the pattern and then cut it out later.

There is a trick here.  When you're cutting out the fur, keep the tip of the scissors close to the fur's backing.  The reason for this is to keep that nice shag hanging over the edges of the cut.  If you just cut straight through you'll end up with a more block'y looking vest.  It takes a little practice.  One thing that helps is to keep the cuts small.  The larger the cut the more difficult it is to not cut the full depth of the fur.

One other option is to use a razor.  The last photo in this step shows Emil cutting out the pattern with one.  It's a nice option.  Just score the backing of the fabric and pull it apart.  The nice thing about this is that you really reduce the risk of cutting through.

Have fun with the pattern.  Sometimes what you get out of the box isn't the look you're going for (but it provides a good foundation).  Some people in the group wanted a less block-like vest look and extended the length by 6".   Just be sure to make the same modifications to the lining.

Another modification we made was to put darts in on the front.  Without them it was a little droopy.  The darts help bring the sides in to give you a more fitted look.  Mark the point on the front where your lower chest is.  Place the top of the dart about 1" below that point down to the bottom.  Cut and sew it like the rest.

As for the lining, you may as well cut it out now.  It's an easy cut and sew (compared to the fur).  One thing we found wasn't necessary was the front darts.  Because of the bulk of the LED strands we didn't see the need to keep it so tight underneath.

Step 2: The Shave

Ok, this is another trick for sewing deep fur like this.  The seams are a bit difficult to sew together with the fur left like it is.  The technique here is to take some smaller scissors and cut off about 1/4" of the fur.  This leaves behind just the backing which makes it much easier to sew the seams together.  It also keeps the seams from bunching up too much.  It's a bit of a pain (for me at least, others seem to like it) but it really makes a difference.

Step 3: Sew It Up

Pretty standard step.  Everyone has their preferred way of sewing things up.  We pinned it all together and ran it through the machine.  Straight stitch (~4mm), standard weight thread.  There may be some fur poking through to the wrong side.  Press it back out as you go through the machine so that you don't have any stragglers.

Step 4: Mark Your Territory

Ok, now we get to the fun part.  

The 50 LEDs need to be placed onto the inside of the outfit.  There is a specific pattern to the layout.  It's critical to get it right because many of the patterns rely on that particular order.

The pattern consists of 3 panels:
 - Left front: 10 LEDs in no particular order
 - Back: 30 LEDs in a 5x6 ordered pattern
 - Right front: 10 LEDs in no particular order

For the men's large using the suggested pattern, the 5x6 pattern needs a 4" grid.  You'll have to adjust accordingly for other sizes.  I laid out the pattern on some poster board (kids drew a little on it).  Each vertex of the grid is an LED location.  I cut out a little hole at each and pressed a marker through it to lay out the grid on the wrong side of the back of the vest.  One thing to keep in mind is that the upper 2 rows can sometimes be too close to the edge of the material on the arm holes.  If that happens, move them in slightly (1/2" - 1").  If you move them in, make sure to move the rest of the LEDs on that row to keep the spacing proportional.  This will make it much easier when it's time to sew in the liner.

As for the pattern, you can look at the 2 drawings in this step.  The male connector is the starting point and should dangling under your left hand side as you're wearing the vest.  LED 11 is the starting LED on the back panel and you should start there.  You can wire up the front panels after the back is wired in.  

Step 5: Mount the Lamps

Each LED needs 2 safety pins, one on each side of the rubber housing.  The LED will be laying down.  The important thing is to keep the tip of the LED on the dot (couple of pictures show what I mean).  Otherwise you can attach it in anyway that makes it easy to get the safety pins in.  The order is on the diagram from the previous step.

Once you have the back LEDs pinned in, go ahead and attach the front panel LEDs.  The order isn't particularly important on the front panels but you want to arrange them to get the most coverage.  Again, the important thing is to keep the male connector (the one with the pins visible) hanging off your left hand as you're wearing the vest.

Step 6: Testing

If you have a computer / radio unit, plug it in!  Make sure that the distribution of the lamps is even.  Make any small adjustments.

It's not critical if you don't have a computer.  We'll test you soon.  It will be easy to make the adjustments out on the playa given how we're mounting the liner.

Step 7: Testing

This is the more technical part of the construction.  Take your lining and place it inside your vest wrong side to wrong side.  Pin the front edges and the neck area.  Leave the bottom open and the arm holes un-pinned for now.

Use a zigzag stitch (1.6-2.0mm length and ~4.5mm width).  Start with lower right side and sew right around to the lower left side.  Be careful to not let the fur come through the stitch.  Keep folding it underneath as the material is fed through.  The zigzag is pretty forgiving but straggling fur can really stand out.  If any does come out just trim it away.

Now for the arm holes.  Pin the seams for the fur and for the lining together, then halfway between and then halfway between.  Try not to have to stretch the liner too much, get it to be evenly distributed.  At this point you'll probably see that some of your pixels are too close to the edge.  Move them in 1/2" to get the out of the way.

Use the same zigzag stitch.  You'll have to figure out how best to sew it up given your machine.  If your machine has an arm, take advantage of that.  Just make sure to keep rotating the vest as a whole and not get too wound up as that can stress the seam.

A few safety pins along the bottom to keep it closed up.

Try it on!

Accessorize if you want at this point.  A few of us put some clasps on the front (3-4) to keep it from hanging open.  It's up to you!