Intro: Edwardian Constellation Skirt With Fairy Lights
For this year's Edwardian Ball, I wanted to create a dress reminiscent of a vintage night-sky globe. A hoop skirt creates the structure, fairy lights illuminate the constellations, and a purse (made from my practice piece) completes the outfit. I'm so happy with how it turned out. I've made things with LEDs before, but this was my first project using fairy lights for lighting, and they worked fantastically well!
Step 1: Tools and Materials
To make all the layers of the hoop skirt, I used:
- 11 yards Hoopsteel (Corsetmaking.com item # CMS-WSB2-CR)
- 5 hoopsteel connectors (Corsetmaking.com item # CMS-BN-HBWC)
- Standard sewing supplies (scissors, pins, sewing machine, etc)
- 1-1/3 yards navy blue lining
- 7 yards navy blue crinoline
- 6 yards of 1/2-inch wide satin ribbon
- 5 yards nylon webbing
- 40 or so Pop rivets
- Manual rivet tool
To make the main constellation skirt, I also used:
- 3 yards of navy blue bridal satin
- Various trims (gold fringe, gold cord, etc)
- 1-inch wide satin ribbon
- 2 strands of fairy lights, controller, remote, and AC wall-power supply
- Hot glue gun
- Soldering iron
- Fine-point soldering iron tip
- Soldering iron tip for plastic (more info later)
- Wire cutters
- Pattern for constellation layout
- Spare barrel jacks (male and female)
- Heat-shrink tubing
- 5V battery (2)
To make the accessories, you will need:
- More navy blue bridal satin
- More gold trims and notions
- A corset (I got mine from amazon.com)
- A practice piece of material with a constellation on it
Step 2: Hoop Skirts
To achieve the constellation-globe shape, I needed a hoop skirt for support. The Instructable "How to Draft a Custom Hoop Skirt Pattern With the Exact Shape You Want" was extremely helpful (thank you, TheLacedAngel_TSMP!). Following it, I drafted a full hoop skirt. Later during assembly I decided 5 hoops was enough for the shape I wanted, instead of the 9 I drafted.
Using my sketch, I cut the hoopsteel to length and drilled holes at intervals that were each 1/8 of the total length of the hoop. These are the attachment points for the nylon webbing. Then I sanded and plasti-dipped the bare ends (as suggested on corsetmaking.com). The connectors were attached using wide-nose pliers.
I decided to try a regular belt for the top of my hoop skirt, one that could buckle to about the size of my waist. (As it turns out, when I wore it I set it one hole looser so I could wear it a little closer to my hips.) Using 2 rivets and a washer on each side, I looped the top of each nylon strap over the belt.
Then the really "riveting" part, hehe! Rivet each hoop onto the nylon webbing at the appropriate height. Voila, hoop skirt!
Based on what I read on several more hoopskirt websites, petticoats are essential. They keep the hoops from showing through the topskirt. For mine, I made a fluffy layer using first a cylinder of lining fabric cinched with a ribbon at the top. To that, I attached a bunch of crinoline to make the petticoat (second picture). Later I realized that the fairy lights on the inside of the top skirt got caught in the crinoline, so I made one more lining skirt to go between the two (third picture).
Step 3: Star Layout With Pins
Adobe Illustrator and other drawing programs work great for creating a layout of where your constellations will go on the skirt. I thought for a long time about whether I wanted to make a realistic night sky, like in the beautiful skirt by BelleLindsay, or to play around with the constellations. I definitely wanted to include the ones most significant to me: my sign (Pisces), those of my family (Leo, Scorpio, and Virgo), some familiar ones (Orion, Hercules, Cygnus, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Ursa Major, Draco and Pegasus). In the end, I made an approximation of the northern night sky, plus a few constellations from the southern night sky, plus one that I created and added later -- see if you can spot it!
I found an image for each constellation and dropped those into my Illustrator skirt layout. It worked well to have 1 constellation in each section of the skirt (between the pleats or on top of them) so nothing was on a fold line.
To transfer the layout to the skirt:
- Print 1 page for each section
- Cut an X on the paper at the location of each star using an exacto knife and block of foam. The X just has to be large enough for the pin head to fit through.
- Position the paper against the skirt and push one pin through each star
- Work the pin heads carefully through the paper to pull the paper off, leaving the pins.
- Use a fine-point gold marker to put a dot at the base of each pin
Step 4: Making Holes for the Lights
Depending on the type of fabric you're using, different methods work better than others for making the holes. Since the bridal satin I'm using is made of polyester, it melts quickly and easily near a heat source, such as the tip of a soldering iron***.
This step goes best if you have a small prop to lift the fabric away from your work surface (in this case, a small flat spool). Stretching the fabric over the top of the spool, use the tip of the soldering iron to gently poke through the fabric, then make a circular motion to widen the hole slightly****. The edges of the fabric are instantly melted (and sealed) so no finishing work is required to prevent fraying. I made these holes about 1/8" in diameter to fit the lights I had.
*** It's important to note here that once you use a soldering iron tip for plastic, it will require a lot of sanding, cleaning, and tinning to get it back to a point where it will solder metal again. If you're planning to do more projects with plastic, keep one tip separate from your others just for use with plastics.
**** Also important: do this in a ventilated area!
Step 5: Installing Fairy Lights With Hot Glue
Before gluing in the lights, decide how you want to decorate your fabric. I used a gold paint marker to draw the constellation lines and background stars onto the skirt. It's much easier while the skirt is still completely flat!
Fabric is amorphous, so it's important to include strain relief to prevent your wires from breaking as the fabric moves. I found it worked well to bend the fairy light strands into a serpentine before hot gluing them to the fabric. Try this on a test piece to make sure the hot glue sticks well to your fabric, without pulling off or melting it!
- Bend wire into serpentine and lay it on your work surface
- Place your skirt on your work surface over the wire, so you have one layer of fabric with the right side up.
- Line up the first light on your strand (at the end farthest from the connector) with the first star in your constellation, making sure the light faces exactly up
- Place a small blob of hot glue on top of the light, just large enough so it covers the edges of the hole. This locks the light in place
- Photo 3 shows the blob size I used.
- Working from bottom to top in your constellation, glue each of the lights in. It's ok to skip around to different parts of the constellation to prevent birds' nests of wire forming at the back of the fabric.
- After each light is glued in from the front, tack the wires on from the back with a small blob of glue on either side of every light. It also helps to add a blob of glue at other points along the wire, to make sure nothing gets snagged later.
To jump from one constellation to the next, I left a length of 3-4 lights between the constellations. Any flexing of the fabric would be absorbed by this length. I also tacked it in place with a few spots of hot glue.
Step 6: Battery Power and Finishing Touches
One of my favorite moments in this project was seeing the skirt completely lit up for the first time. It took so many hours, and so many steps going right, that it was a relief to see it was all worth it. At this point, step back and admire your work! Grab a friend, neighbor, or nearby cat and show them! Post a picture on the internet!
Now on to the last few steps....
Up to this point, I've been powering my lights with the AC plug they came with. But wearing a dress that has to be plugged into a wall isn't very interesting, so it's time to switch to battery power. I love these 5V batteries for charging cell phones because they're small but powerful. A 2200 mAh battery lasted about 4 hours on the skirt, I found.
The fairy lights I used have barrel jacks that connect the lights to the controller and the controller to the power cord. However, the 5V battery uses a USB, so I first had to splice a male USB cord to a male barrel jack cord to even connect the two. The internet helped with a wiring diagram for each.
Finally, I made use of my practice piece of fabric by making a purse to go with the skirt. The wonderful and talented Zach modified a tuxedo jacket to go with my constellation skirt. And off to the Edwardian Ball we go!