How to Make an EL Wire Costume

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Electroluminescent wire, or EL wire, is the primary component for many illuminated costumes, toys and safety devices. As its name implies, EL wire is a strand of PVC-insulated, phosphorous-coated copper wire that glows when electrically charged. Unlike other light strands, EL circuits are made from a single length of flexible wire that glows as a solid, unbroken line. You can purchase prefabricated EL items or use an EL wire kit, which includes pre-soldered wire and a power supply, to make your own custom costumes.

Things You'll Need

  • Stock EL wire with pre-soldered connectors
  • Power supply with high power inverter
  • Dark clothing
  • Scissors
  • EL wire end caps
  • Silicon or PVC-specific glue
  • Needle
  • Thread
  • Plastic-specific glue
  • Tape
  • Test the EL wire to make sure it works. Use fresh batteries in the power supply. Plug the end of the wire with the plastic connector into the power supply and toggle the power switch "On."

  • Lay out a black T-shirt and pants on a table or flat work surface.

  • Place the illuminated lights on the fabric and position them for a rough idea of the costume design. Use tape to temporarily hold wires in place. Plan to store the EL wire power supply in a pocket, where it easily can be accessed during wear. Arrange the costume so that few or no wires must be cut.

  • Wrap sections of the wire with black electrical tape to create divisions without necessitating a cut to the wire.

  • Turn off the light and disconnect wires from the power supply. Wait one to three minutes if lights have been on for a while or are warm to the touch.

  • Cut EL wire to the desired lengths if they are too long for your costume. Sever wire with a sharp pair of scissors. Test the fit of an end cap to ensure that the cap is the correct size. Remove the cap and place a drop of silicon or PVC glue inside it. Fit the cap on the end of the wire. Cure for 24 to 48 hours.

  • Use safety pins or tape to hold wires in place on fabric.

  • Insert a sheet of cardboard into the clothing item to keep glue from seeping through the material. Glue the wire to the fabric. Cure for 24 to 72 hours according to glue manufacturer's directions. Tubes also can be sewn to the fabric by inserting a threaded needle through the fabric around the tubing and down into the fabric several times to create a staple-like, looped stitch.

  • Gently wiggle wires to make sure that they are securely attached. Repeat Step 8 as necessary.

  • Remove safety pins and tape.

  • Spot clean or remove wire to make the wire machine washable.

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References

  • "PC Chop Shop"; David Groth; 2004
  • "Lego Mindstorms NXT Hacker's Guide"; Dave Prochnow; 2006
  • "Cincinattie Magazine"; Costume Coutour; Linda Pender; 1986
  • Photo Credit Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images
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