Monday, 29 April 2013

Poké Ball

I love fancy dress. I'll use almost any excuse to spend an excessive amount of time on a costume. I once built a giant cardboard shell for a snail costume which I took to Bestival. Not only was it vibrantly coloured, making it very easy for my friends to find me when we found ourselves separated, but it also provided a large amount of storage space for our group to sneak alcohol into the arenas.

A dear friend of mine named Rob recently had a great fancy dress birthday party - the theme: dress geeky. My kind of party. I had already decided that this would be a great excuse to put some miles on the Wearable Arc Reactor I made in February, however I took it upon myself to make something extra for Rob's Ash Ketchum costume. An item most critical to the quest of a budding Pokémon Trainer: The Poké Ball.

Some good designs already existed on Thingiverse, however I wanted mine to be big enough to hold in hand for the classic Ash Ketchum pose. SketchUp isn't the most ideal tool for playing with curved surfaces, but spheres are just about doable.

Rather than use a selection of filament colours, I chose to print the whole thing in white and paint it afterwards. A bit of internet research informed me that acrylic paints are the best bet for painting PLA. I picked up a set on Amazon for around £10. I painted each differently coloured part separately, and then glued the whole thing together.

Apparently it's the best birthday present Rob's ever received.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Electroluminescent Wire Jacket

Finally, it's time. I've been looking forward to writing this particular post since I started this blog. I hope you enjoy it.

A few years ago, I stumbled upon one of the coolest pieces of technology I had ever seen. Electroluminescent wire, or EL wire for short, is essentially wire covered in a thin layer of phosphor with a coloured or translucent PVC sleeve. Passing an alternating current through the wire causes it to glow. I immediately ordered some from a Chinese eBay seller (I forget the name), along with a driver, which takes DC power from batteries and converts it to AC power to illuminate the wire. I waited impatiently for it to arrive.

When it did arrive, I was thrilled, and plans for its use flew through my head like angry wasps. Unfortunately, I couldn't settle on one. I found an old tattered hat and set about attaching the wire to it, but it was messy, and the driver made the hat heavy, and I didn't have any real idea of what I wanted it to look like or do. When I had finished, I had an illuminated bird's-nest. It didn't look cool at all.

Fast forward to a few months ago, when I met someone in a club who had threaded some blue EL wire through a hoodie, along with the addition of some awesome Sonic the Hedgehog spikes up the back. He looked very cool. Thank-you, cool and friendly stranger, for pushing me to have a second attempt.

To begin with, I needed a more appropriate garment. An afternoon spent wandering the charity shops of Cotham Hill provided me with a nice looking leather jacket. It was a ladies large, but it seemed to fit me well enough, and it wasn't too inflexible or heavy to be uncomfortable to dance in. I'm sure the girl behind the counter enjoyed me testing that particular aspect of it. I also needed more EL-wire and drivers, which I bought from EL Wire Craft's eBay store.

First of all, I removed the front pockets by taking out the stitching to reveal the seams that ran from waist to shoulder. Some basic research had shown me that when adding EL wire to a garment, following pre-existing seams is a good way to ensure it looks good. If you'd like to make your own EL wire garment, I recommend you check out this excellent Instructable. I then began planning the routes of the wire.

I planned the routes such that the drivers could be stored inside the pockets, with the wire running inside the lining of the jacket when it wasn't visible. I used a pair of sewing scissors to make small cuts to allow the wire out or back into the interior of the jacket. To attach the wire to the jacket, I used 10 lb fishing line, ordered from Amazon. You'd be surprised at how much you get through, so be sure to order enough. All told, it took me a couple of afternoons of sewing to finish the jacket.

The finished jacket didn't disappoint. The wire was bright, and my tactic of following the seams seemed to have payed off. It was time for a dry run. That's my flatmate Ben laughing at me. I can't decide whether my dancing is improved or hampered by a lack of inebriation, but the addition of illuminated wire definitely helps.