Fiber Optic Dress




About: I'm a designer at Instructables. I have a degree in fashion design and like to sew, get crafty, and attempt to use power tools.

The inspiration for this dress followed the first time I saw this fiberoptic product in action. I was at a festival when I saw a bloom of fiber optic jellyfish approach, and they created such a beautiful effect that I knew I had to turn the concept into something wearable. I'd been wanting to incorporate fiber optics into fashion for a while, but this made it clear what I wanted to use and how.

The fiber optics are from Ants on a Melon, and the awesome photos were taken by audreyobsura. Many thanks to both of you for all the help along the way!

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Step 1: The Design

The design of the dress followed the fiber optics that it needed to support. As there is one central light source, I designed the back to include a pouch for the handle, and the straps of the dress to bring the fiber optics from the center back to the front, and back around the body to an even distribution at the hips.

A big design challenge was how to give the filaments enough lift at the skirt, as I wanted the skirt to push them out at as near to a 90 degree angle as possible. I was considering things like a fully boned structure or 3D printing small pieces for each group of filaments to angle them out at a perfect right angle. However in the end I just went low tech and stuffed the skirt with tutus :) I'd still like to explore these other two options eventually.

Be warned that this Instructable includes a major failat one point, so read the whole thing first if you intend to make this. I ended up designing the dress and fiber optic design in different parts of my mind, and put the zipper on the side not thinking about the fact that once the fiber optics were sewn down, I couldn't open it! What I was thinking, I have no idea (I wasn't). But as recovering from major errors is an integral part of making, I included this saga in the Instructable.

I chose to make this dress from scratch to dust off my fashion skills, but you could definitely make something very similar by buying a V-neck dress with a circle skirt and skipping to step 13.

Step 2: Supplies

* Fiber optic whip. Due to the success of this dress, there is now a special fiber optic package which includes untrimmed fibers so you can do the trimming yourself (I had requested as a special order the first time around).

• Material for the dress. I wanted something that both had body and a little stretch so it would be comfortable, and settled on a stretch woven blend with a little heft to it. I used around 3 yards.

• Fusible interfacing, as much as your circle skirt. I used 1.5 yards of 45" wide.

• Lots of tulle, or at least one tutu already made (can be any color, since it is just adding body under the skirt)

• A pattern. I made mine on a dress form, learn how here. Alternatively, a v-neck circle skirt dress shouldn't be a difficult pattern to find. If you do buy a pattern, always make a muslin first before cutting into your final fabric!

• Basic sewing supplies (sewing machine, scissors, pins, hand needle...)

• Boning, if you choose to bone the garment. I wanted it to be structured and the boning helped a lot. Use spiral boning for any curved seams, and either spiral or flat for straight seams. You can read up on types of boning here.

• Invisible zipper

• Velcro

• Clear thread (for hand sewing down the fiberoptic filaments)

Step 3: More on the Fiber Optics

The fiber optics are from Ants on a Melon, and Joel was super helpful and responsive along the way when I had questions. There are some other similar products out there (Flowtoys being the main one), but after doing a little research I settled on Ants on a Melon for durability and how awesome it looks in person. I'd love to be able to make something like this myself, but as an electronics novice I opted to go ready-made and focus my energy on the dress itself, which was no small task!

As it's an expensive product, I thought I'd go into a little more detail on my experience with it so far. As far as looks and programs, this thing is amazing. The main downside I've found to this product in a wearable application is that the battery life is short, and the battery changing process is cumbersome (you essentially take the product apart and put it back together). Of course this was designed as a whip that one uses as a rave toy, so in its intended application it's going to be right at hand for changing batteries, and you likely won't have it on all night as with something wearable. It runs on 3.7v rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, and the battery life in my experience has been around 45 minutes if using the fancy patterns, longer on say, solid red. My goal is to wire up the existing product to a hefty battery pack that I can strap under the skirt, so I'll share that in this step of the instructable once I've successfully found a good battery backup solution.

Overall I'm very happy with how it looks, and the majority of the cost is for the fiber optics themselves which have so far been very durable (I have yet to lose a filament, and I've already stepped on them a bunch :).

Step 4: Cut Out Pattern

Enough about design. Time to start sewing!

Cut out your pattern. The front and back pieces I cut out on the fold, and the rest I cut two layers, one for each side of the bodice. I planned on having two layers for the bodice, but to start I only cut one set in order to try it on first for fit.

Step 5: Initial Fitting

Next I sewed the bodice together, and tried it on for fit.


Every single thing you do to a garment changes it's fit a little, so if you care about having perfect fit, always take the time to try it on between stages of sewing. It takes less time to sew a seam than to rip it out. I've learned this lesson the hard way more often than I'd like to admit, even after 20 years of sewing!

In my case, I found that the back seams were too roomy in the middle, so I took them in as needed.

Step 6: Second Layer and Fitting

Taking into account the adjustment I made to the back seams, I cut out another set of bodice pieces and sewed the second layer of the bodice.

Once done, I laid them face sides together, and sewed the whole top line of the garment (including the straps), leaving a space open for where the straps would be sewn into the center back. After turning it right side out, I then understitched along the neckline to keep the edge looking clean in the front.

When finished, I tried it on again to make sure the fit was still as I intended. It still fit well, but had become quite a bit tighter than just the single layer, so I'm glad I didn't overdo it when I took in the back seams.

Step 7: Bodice Additions

Next I topstitched along the straps up until the shoulder for a flat edge there, and inset the straps to the back after measuring the appropriate length in my last fitting. After sewing the straps into the bodice in the open area I left in the top seam, I reinforced them by stitching a row or two along the top of the right side out garment.

There also needs to be a pouch to hold the light source for the fiber optics (the handle), so I made a pocket for it and attached it to the center back. Measure first, as you want it to be a snug fit.

Remember that my zipper should be going in the back, not the side, and most of what I'm doing in this step I will end up redoing. Fun times!

Step 8: Add Boning

The last step for the bodice was to add boning. Very important - thoroughly clip and press your seams first, as you want everything to lay nice and flat. As I am only adding in one bone per seam vs two, I pressed the seams in the direction I would be putting the bones, so as to have extra fabric in the channel to protect it.

Once the seams were all well pressed, I sewed channels for the bones (more on that here), and measured each bone to the seam. You want about 1/2" of space for the bone to move around, so as not to create stress on the ends of the channel.

I then trimmed my bones to size, and because I didn't have any caps for the bones I went the extremely janky route and capped them with masking tape. This is not recommended, but it's better than nothing! You just don't want them poking through your garment.

Step 9: Make the Circle Skirt

Now for the easier half of the dress, the circle skirt. First I made a paper pattern, using MATH. Wow, imagine getting to use pi in dressmaking. Take the total measurement around the bottom of your bodice (excluding seam allowance for where the zipper will go), and divide by pi to get your inner diameter. Divide by two for the radius, and from a central point use a ruler to dot that radius along a half circle for what will be your waist seam. Then dot along the outer circle for the desired length of skirt.

In my case I wanted to have a bubble skirt, and after playing around with some muslin settled on 20" as being about the right length.

To make the skirt, I cut two layers of final fabric, and one layer of fusible interfacing which I attached to the inside layer of fabric. I settled on this approach after some trial and error. I knew I wanted the skirt to have a little body in order to provide a good base for the fiber optics, but I couldn't get the layer with fusible interfacing to look clean no matter how much ironing I did, as you can see from the wrinkles in the third and fourth images. Hence cutting another layer to go on the outside of the interfaced layer, which solved the issue well.

Lastly I pinned all the layers together, and cut a small slit for the zipper to go, just far enough into the skirt so that I could pull it over my hips easily.

Step 10: Attach the Skirt and Zipper... Oh Wait... FAIL

Next I attached the skirt, added the zipper, and voila, mostly finished dress! Until, wait, FAIL.

Only once I started laying down the fiber optics did I realize this was an impossible place for the zipper. I realized I'm going to have to take the whole thing apart and redo it... Breath. It's gonna be OK. What the %#!@ was I thinking!

Once I regained my composure, I considered my alternatives. I could:

A) change my plan for where the fiber optics were going to go (but I liked my plan for the fiber optics..)

B) take it apart and move the zipper to the front (pro: wouldn't have to work around the battery pack pouch in back, con: would ruin the clean look of the dress in front)

C) take it apart and move the zipper to the back (pro: keep front clean, con: have to do a weird work around for the battery pack pouch)

I opted for C.

Step 11: Fixing My Mistake

To fix my mistake, I first detached the zipper and skirt from the bodice, as well as one side of the battery pack pouch.

Next was to prepare the center back for a zipper. To stabilize the seam, I added fusible seam tape along the center, and reinforced it with a zig zag stitch on either side in order to keep both layers of fabric together (very helpful when adding zippers). I made the cut, committing myself to this new plan C.

The other repair was to sew together the side seam. Luckily I had enough room to sew it together the proper way, as in sewing the front and back side panels to each other on both the inner and outer layer of the bodice, vs, just sewing all four layers together at once with the seam allowance facing inwards (this would be the hack job approach). I then sewed my channels and added boning. With that, the major bodice alterations were complete.

From there I sewed the circle skirt back to the bodice. Make sure you pin this seam thoroughly first, as it will save you lots of time and headache to have it all lined up well before sewing.

Step 12: Add the Zipper

I glossed over the zipper addition the first time around, so here are a few more photos on adding a zipper.

Now that I have my nice new opening ready and waiting for a zipper again, the first step is to lay down my zipper and see how long it should be. Measure from the top down, and add a bar tack where the zipper should end. Trim the excess. Although not entirely necessary, it is also helpful with invisible zippers to iron them flat(er) first, so it's easier to sew.

I already reinforced our seam with seam tape, this is very helpful to keep the fabric from stretching, which can create all kinds of bubbles and wrinkles in a zipper.

I changed to a zipper foot, and laid my zipper face side down, as in the fourth picture. Now time to start sewing! Sew very close to the teeth, but not so close as to sew over them, or the zipper pull will get stuck.

Step 13: Add Pouch

The only downside to having the zipper in the back, was that I'd have to finagle the back pouch over the zipper. I ended up going a simple route with a thin line of velcro to secure the one side, so I could still easily access the zipper. It wasn't the cleanest solution, but it worked out OK.

With that, I'd officially caught up to where I was before the zipper fiasco.

Step 14: Bubble the Skirt

I debated a lot about what style to make the skirt, but I ended up settling on a bubble skirt because of its jellyfish-like shape, and as a way to add lift and shape.

I measured out a piece of elastic with a snug fit my waist, and realized that even if I stretched it to it's max, I could not match it up to the circumference of the circle skirt. So, I pleated the entire circle skirt with pins, using notches at each quarter point to match up with the quarter points along the elastic. Once everything was thoroughly pinned into place, I sewed down the elastic, and had my bubble skirt.

Step 15: Make a Tutu

Next I made a tutu to give some lift to the skirt. I focused on making the short layers dense, and the longer layers more sparse, to focus most of the lift right at the waist.

You could definitely buy a tutu as well to save time, although they are pretty quick to make. In order to give the skirt maximum lift I ended up wearing the dress with two more tutus layered on top of this one anyways :P More lift equals more dramatic swing of the fiber optics!

As I mentioned in the design step, I'd like to try a structured dome at some point, but went this route for now in the interest of time and comfort.

Step 16: Finished Dress, Before Fiber Optics

At this point the dress itself is done and ready for the addition of the fiber optics. I was pretty happy with how the skirt turned out in terms of shape, and the fit of the bodice turned out well too.

Step 17: Add the Fiber Optics

Now for the fun/extremely tedious part! Because I am a perfectionist at times, I wanted all of the fiber optics to be sewn down to the bodice for a clean, orderly look. But there was no way I was going to sew down 360 individual filaments, so instead I divided them into groups which I evenly aligned along the bodice.

To make this process manageable, I first combed out and divided the whip into groups of 10 filaments each, which I kept them separate with knots of yarn. From there I sewed the filaments down along the back straps and top shoulder in groups of 30, as at this point they were very dense. They started to spread out from one another at the bust line, so from that point I sewed each line down individually. In order to make it easier to distribute them evenly, I measured and tacked them down along the waist line first to use as a general guide.

This whole process was slow going, but it was great mindless work to do with a movie on, and it really made it look polished. It's all in the details!

Step 18: Trim the Fiber Optics

The last step was to trim the fiber optics to the desired length. As the light emanates from wherever the filament is cut, I wanted to spread out the points of light like a layered haircut. Luckily the whip was just long enough for me to have some extra to work with, and Joel from Ants on a Melon also did me a favor and sent me a whip that had not been pre-layered, so I could do the layering myself.

Aside from just cutting the filaments, there are lots of options for making your fiber optics shine. As the light will escape wherever there is a cut or nick in the filament, distressing them with sandpaper, scissors, or simply natural wear and tear creates very cool effects. For this project I wanted to keep the light focused at the bottom, however depending on the look you are going for, it's something fun to keep in mind!

Step 19: Finished!

After all that work, get ready to be the life of the party! Thank you for reading :)

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140 Discussions


Question 8 months ago

This might be a silly question, how to wash the dress after having applied fiber optics?


Question 10 months ago on Step 19

Hi there! I'm am amateur costumer. Our high school is doing Cinderella and I'd love to incorporate this kind of lighting into the fairy godmother dress. Does it show up under stage lighting? I was going to do EL wire but then read that LED is brighter. Thanks so much! p.s. my husband is an electronics guy so all of the technical stuff isn't a problem thank goodness.

1 answer

Answer 10 months ago

Hello! I'm not sure how well the fiber optics would show up under stage light, it really depends on how strong the lighting is. However I agree that el wire would be a waste of time, way too dim. The fiber optic product I used is brighter than el wire especially at the ends, and you can see it in a lit room but it still looks best in dim light. That said I know a few people who perform in versions of this dress, so really depends on your lighting in the play. Multiple LEDs would be the brightest, you could check out some of the neopixel led strip projects on the site for ideas too.


3 years ago

This is an amazing dress and is perfect for the event I will be attending but I'm sure I can dry to make it myself and see how it turns out.


3 years ago

This is the perfect dress for the big event I will be attending this year coming do you make for others.

1 reply

Reply 3 years ago

Unfortunately I do not make commissions, but thanks for checking it out!


3 years ago

I am getting ready to make this as a real life interpritation of some art a friend of mine drew. I am very excited to do this!

1 reply

Reply 3 years ago

Glad you are excited! What kind of art did your friend draw? I'd love to see your real life interpretation when you're done. Enjoy!


3 years ago

Gives me an idea to light up my motorcycle


3 years ago

Hi! I seem to recall you had a link to a dress one could buy and then add the fiber optics to. Do you recall where that dress was? Thanks!

2 replies

Reply 3 years ago

I do remember sharing a link in a comment from long ago, but can't seem to find it. If you search for "white skater dress" you should be able to find a dress of a pretty similar style. Add a tutu underneath and you'll be all set!


Reply 3 years ago

Hi Natalina, In a previous post, you wrote about getting a much larger lipo battery and introduced us the following link

You further wrote, "soldered wires directly to the battery holder inside the handle and ran them out through the hole that already existed in the bottom, and then attached a jst to those to connect to the battery pack. I made a pouch in my tutu for the battery to live, and kept the wires long so nothing would tug. . Because of the hidden placement I connect that jst every time I put on the dress, so I would recommend using something easier to connect than a jst."

Here's my question: Can you explain what a "jst" is? Also, can you show how you did this if possible "visually" as you did on your instruction so that I can

hook up a longer lasting battery?