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.