Inspired by Mikaela's day to night-light skirt, I wanted to go for a similar effect but focus on negative space and use opaque black elements to create more of a lantern look. Initially this was an excuse to use some of adafruits new side glow led strips, however after battling with arduino for the afternoon I decided to go basic and challenge myself to how well I could get fairy lights to diffuse if paired with a tutu and white overskirt. As such this project is very accessible, and perfect for the holidays! The diffusion isn't perfect, but it's pretty good and I have some learnings in the last step which could alleviate some of the issues I encountered.
You could also fast track this project by buying a black and white skirt and skipping straight to lighting up a tutu, however in the coming steps I'll show you how I made my skirt. Let's go!
Step 1: Supplies + Pattern
Apologies, as I forgot to take a photo for this step :)
- Sewing machine
- Cutting and sewing basics: rotary cutter, ruler, scissors, pins, etc... I found my disappearing ink pen very useful for this project
- Iron and ironing board
- White and black fabric. I used spandex because I can't be bothered with zippers, but if you want to make this with a woven and integrate a zipper that would look quite classy :)
- Fusible interfacing to stabilize the spandex. Wouldn't need it with a woven.
- Tutu. Mine is from amazon and while too long it's a nice tutu with a lining layer which worked well for attaching the lights. A shorter tutu could have skipped the trimming step, but most of the shorter ones out there are super duper short, and this skirt required at least a 12" tutu.
- Battery powered fairy/xmas string lights. I had this one on hand which can cycle through multiple colors. Longer is better (this one is 100 leds), and the wire kind is nice for being low profile though they do bend out of shape. One pitfall I had with using one long string was that the beginning of a string is always brighter than the end which was noticeable. If you have some electronics comfort, I'd recommend getting two 50 led strips and running them both to a 9v battery, so you could add them symmetrically to either half of the skirt. More on that in the last step.
- I am at the point where I wing it on pattern making when using stretchy fabrics, but attached is a pattern of what I used for this skirt for reference on general shape.
Step 2: Cut Skirt Pieces
I started by roughing out my skirt pattern. As I mentioned in the last step, this is something I'm comfortable doing on the fly, but you can also reference the pattern in the last step for shape. To determine the waist length, I measured where I wanted the waist to sit and divided by two. I then roughly laid out a measuring tape of that length with a gentle arc, and sketched out a waist curve that looked appropriate. This comes with experience, but for a totally full circle skirt, this would be a perfect semi-circle. For this amount of A-line fullness, it's a squashed semi-circle (for reference this scoop was 11 3/4" wide by 2 1/8" deep). Once that was drawn, I used a ruler to measure out the hem. My finished skirt was 12", so an added inch is good here for wiggle room.
Next I cut the waist section which is a simple rectangle. I had a pattern on hand for this, but to create it wrap your stretch fabric around your waist and determine how long a snug fit is. Then cut two rectangles half this width by twice your desired waistband height, as it will be folded. You will end up with two rectangles, or one long rectangle if you prefer.
Last I cut all the strips for my stripes. You can have fun with this part and do any design you like! But after sketching a few ideas I liked the simple black vertical stripes for sort of a circus look. I cut enough 1" wide strips for 20 stripes, and enough 2" strips for the hem.
Step 3: Mark Stripe Placement
Next I marked my skirt for stripe placement. I did this by straightening out the curved waist and marking it into even 10th's, then doing the same for the hemline.
Step 4: Fuse and Sew Stripes
While I knew that sewing down a spandex stripe to spandex base was a recipe for buckling and un-prettiness, I tried anyways. And learned the lesson I knew I would learn, don't do that. To attach the stripes in a flat, polished manner, I used fusible interfacing and ironed them down first to act as stabilization before sewing. This worked great. You might be able to get good results with a roller foot and no interfacing, but I'd still recommend this technique. Just be careful to use a press cloth, as it's easy to get fusible interfacing all over your iron :)
After fusing and sewing down all the stripes, I sewed the skirt together, and attached the last two stripes along the seam lines. Stripes complete.
Step 5: Fuse and Sew Hem
I continued with a similar technique for the hem. If I didn't care about fabric waste, this strip of fabric would be curved to fit the pattern. However it's much more efficient to go with a straight strip, which meant I needed to adjust it as I worked my way around the hem to be flat. I did this by going straight for two stripes, then cutting it and overlapping for a flat edge. Once all fused down, I sewed it into place, and trimmed off the excess for a clean hem.
Step 6: Waistband
For the waistband, I started by sewing the two sides together. Then I pinned it to the skirt and waistband face sides together, and sewed the front side of the waistband to the skirt. Next I folded the waistband in half towards the inside of the skirt, pinned it into place with a slight overlap lower than the first waist seam line, and stitched along the topside of the waistband at the seam line to secure the back in place.
With that, the skirt portion was done!
Step 7: Battery Pack
Or, almost done that is. While the more elegant thing to do would be to hide the batteries in the tutu, I wanted to be able to change colors easily which meant easy access to the battery pack button. I created a compartment for the battery pack by sewing two lines perpendicular to the waistband in the back wide enough to fit the battery pack, and cut an opening on the inside just big enough to stretch over the battery pack.
NOW the skirt was done :)
Step 8: Prep Tutu
While I actually really liked the varied hemline of this tutu, it was sadly too short for this purpose. I trimmed off the tulle until I had a uniform 12" tutu, and shortened the inner lining to match.
Step 9: Add Lights to Tutu
Last step! I thought this would be a nice, relaxing, relatively short step. As it turned out this was the most time consuming step! However while not short, it was relaxing.
I started by planning out my light layout. I had 100 LEDs, and after laying them out found that alternating rows of 2 and 3 LEDs is what worked out as a loop from hem to waist and back again with the length of skirt I had. With some quick math that made 20 up and down pathways of lights, just like my stripes. I measured the hem of the tutu and divided by 20, then marked accordingly.
I put on some podcasts and got to work hand sewing. It took me around 4 hours. You could probably do so more quickly and sloppily, but this was only tacking them loosely down every couple inches. Make sure to have your string light tail start on the waist side of the skirt so the end with the battery pack easily reaches the waistband pocket for it. Also make sure to sew the LEDs facing outward for maximum light.
Step 10: Finished, and Learnings
Once you are done hand sewing, time for the moment of truth! Overall I was pretty happy with how it turned out, but there are some things I would do differently if I were to do it again.
Learning 1: Diffusion
Despite very evenly sewn on lights, the back showed a lot of points of light, whereas the front showed almost none. I think this is probably due to there being more diffusion room in the front and less in the back, since one's butt is kind of in the way :) As you can see the back is still well diffused below those few top lights, so next time I'd focus the lights on the bottom two thirds of the skirt. It would probably still diffused up nicely with the tulle.
Learning 2: Uneven Brightness
I hadn't thought about string lights being brighter at the beginning of a string than at the end when I started this project, and remembered this fact once I was done. The variation in brightness is hard to see in these photos, but it was pretty pronounced. Luckily the transition was in the back, but it's worth exploring solutions to this. As I mentioned in the supplies step, I might recommend buying two strings of 50, and running them together to a 9V battery to avoid the double bulky battery pack. This would allow one to work bright to dim then dim to bright for less of a jarring transition.
Learnings aside, it was a great experiment and I'm happy with how it turned out! There are a ton of variations on this effect possible with different overskirt designs or lighting methods. It also looks great without the tutu just as a normal everyday skirt. I'd love to see what you create in the I Made It section. Happy holidays and glow on!