Enginursday: Light-Up Fur Vest

Sew LED strips into a fur vest for Halloween, Burning Man or any event that calls for furry lights.

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Halloween may be over, but it’s never too early to start thinking about costumes for the coming year. For frequenters of Burning Man, costuming is not restricted to one or two months a year, but rather is built into every opportunity possible. This year for TTITD, I tried my hand at sewing my first big fur project: a light-up fur vest.

vest in action

SparkFun carries a few varieties of sewable LED ribbons. Each ribbon consists of a strip of LEDs inside a sheath with an extra tab of cloth to easily pin and sew into your garment.

Sewable LED Ribbon - 1m, 25 LEDs (Red)

COM-14140
$9.95
Sewable LED Ribbon - 1m, 25 LEDs (Green)

COM-14141
$9.95
Sewable LED Ribbon - 1m, 25 LEDs (Blue)

COM-14142
$9.95
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Sewable LED Ribbon - 1m, 25 LEDs (White)

COM-14143
$9.95
Sewable LED Ribbon - 1m, 50 LEDs (Red)

COM-14136
$14.95
Sewable LED Ribbon - 1m, 50 LEDs (Green)

COM-14137
$14.95
Sewable LED Ribbon - 1m, 50 LEDs (Blue)

COM-14138
$14.95
1
Sewable LED Ribbon - 1m, 50 LEDs (White)

COM-14139
$14.95

Using three of the blue 50-LED ribbons, I was able to light most of the edges of the vest while still making it easy to power with batteries. Two of the ribbons were wired in series, and then the third was wired in parallel with the longer ribbon.

Making a fur vest requires a lot of forethought, and adding LEDs into the mix requires even more forethought. Using different material, I made a practice vest to ensure that all the pieces would fit together and that all the wires would run where I wanted them to for the final version. After a mostly successful first attempt, it was time to make the real deal. I found some blue “Monsters, Inc.”-esque fur for the outside. LEDs tend to shine through lighter fur better than darker fur. And for the inside, I found some Dr. Seuss cotton lining that was absolutely perfect.

With the plan mapped out and the pieces cut, it was time to start pinning. This vest was to be seamless, so extra thought had to be put into how and where to pin the LEDs.

pinning

The LEDs ended up facing more inward than outward, because the seam prevents them from shining through both sides equally. To make the LEDs show through the fur more, pin them on the opposite side of the seam, the furry side.

more pinning

One side was pinned and sewn, followed by the other. It’s wise to continually test the LED strip as you go not only to see how they look but also to make sure you have not somehow damaged them with the sewing needle. The sewing tab makes this part much easier than sewing criss-cross over a strand of LEDs.


For the back of the vest, the longer of the two ribbons wired in series was extended down the middle of the back from the neck and was sewn directly to the liner.

finished

To make the battery pack, I used an existing 4xAA battery holder with a switch. I then added a large-wattage, low-resistance resistor for maximum brightness. Power requirements and current-limiting resistances will vary from project to project. A decade box is a great tool for seeing what value of resistor will provide the brightness you desire.

Heat Shrink Kit

PRT-09353
$7.95
4
Hook-Up Wire - Assortment (Stranded, 22 AWG)

PRT-11375
$16.95
15
Battery Holder 4xAA with Cover and Switch

PRT-12083
$1.95
2
Power Resistor Kit - 10W (25 pack)

KIT-13053
$5.95
2

Polarized connectors were added to allow the battery pack to disconnect for cleaning and storing the vest.

Polarized Connectors - Housing (2-Pin)

PRT-08095
$0.45
Polarized Connectors - Crimp Pins

PRT-08100
$1.95
Polarized Connectors - Header (2-Pin)

PRT-08233
$0.45
Crimping Pliers - 28-20 AWG

TOL-13193
$29.95
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Several Seuss-style pockets were added to the lining, including one sized for the battery pack. Velcro was sewn onto the bottom seam of the vest to allow for repair and upgrades in the future.

battery pack

The final result looks great during the day and the night!

fur vest

To complete the ensemble, I used extra material to make an accompanying flag to fly behind my tricycle, which also got a light-up fur makeover of its own!

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Comments 7 comments

  • I knew there had to be some of you who also did Burning Man :)

  • Neat project! BTW, I also like the trike!

    If you’d rather use standard 5mm LEDs, and have access to a 3D printer (and don’t mind doing a bit more soldering), check out this Sewable 5mm LED mount.

    BTW, the mounts work great with SparkFun’s 5mm Addressable LEDS if you’d like to do more on the computer side.

    • Thanks! Those LED sew tabs are a great idea. Thanks for sharing!

      • Also, be very careful if your cloth is part or all polyester and you solder the LED leads, as the melting point of polyester is well below that of solder. (Same goes for any man-made fibers. Natural fibers, such as cotton, wool, or [flax] linen are safer in this regard.)

        • For soldering close to polyester I typically use a barrier material (currently a stainless steel spatula) between the fabric and the parts to be soldered while I’m working and it protects the fabric from any mistakes with the iron or heat transfer. It’s a good idea to put something between any fabric and your parts while soldering to avoid accidental burn marks in addition to melting.

          • Great tip! Thanks! (I’ve got a couple of stainless steel spatulas for getting SMD circuits off the griddle – I’ll use one next time I solder “wearables”. BTW, IM[NS]HO, it’s best to NOT use utensils for food once they’ve been used for soldering.)

      • Just make sure to use a flexible plastic, such as NinjaFlex.

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