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For this first part of the project, the dress travelled with me from my dad's home in Florida to a work trip in Barcelona and then home to Jerusalem.

While I was still in Florida and waiting for the dress and electronics to arrive in the mail, I started by sketching some patterns of where I wanted the lights and the diffusers.

sketch of where the lights and diffusers would go

Then, once the dress arrived in the mail, I tested what those patterns would look like by cutting out pieces of paper and pinning those to the dress.

Test patterns pinned to dress

I received the 3D printed diffusers from my project partner, Yuki, and checked out how those looked. We decided to go with the circular "bubble" shape since we both decided we liked it more, and it made the positioning less finicky (which, given I was going to be sewing this while travelling, was important).

Diffused LED - Connected to Adafruit Flora

Bubble & Geometric Diffusers

I used an iron-on backing (interfacing) on the inside of the dress to stiffen the fabric where the electronics and diffusers would be attached. Then, I used the position of the safety pins (with the paper pattern pinned to the front) to map out where to sew the neopixels. With the LEDs mapped out, the dress was ready to come with me on my trip to Spain!

Mapping out where the neopixels would sit

Continuing my journey, I flew from Florida to Barcelona for a work trip. I had some spare time in my hotel, so I pulled out my materials and started sewing...

Started sewing on the dress

I started by sewing the traces first because I wanted them hidden underneath a layer of fabric, while the neopixels would be on top. In hindsight, I wish I’d left the traces visible because they looked really cool.

I also made some fun discoveries about trying to work on this project while travelling. For instance — I didn't bring any scissors because I wasn't checking a bag for my flight and found out the nail clippers I brought couldn't cut through the steel conductive thread. Whoops.

It also turned out to be difficult to sew while on the go, as I discovered by bringing the dress on the train with me. The layered fabric of the dress made it confusing to keep track of what I was sewing, and the conductive thread didn't hold knots very well (I only discovered after sewing the traces the dress had three layers not two). Another challenge was that I didn't have a multimeter with me, or any way to ensure that everything was connected correctly as I was sewing... that would have to wait until I was back home.

hot glued the traces in place

The next leg of my travels was from Barcelona back home to Jerusalem. I finished sewing the traces there, and because the knots kept coming undone, added hot glue to keep them in place. I then sewed on neopixels. I was initially planning to put them on the top layer, but it was such a lightweight, sheer fabric that it was hard to keep it from wrinkling while positioning the neopixels. In the end, I decided to put the neopixels underneath the sheer layer. It also meant if Yuki and I didn’t have time for the diffusers (which was looking like a possibility given the estimated print and clean up times) the sheer fabric would help diffuse the lights.

neopixels positioned under sheer fabric

neopixels positioned on top layer

With all the LEDs and traces in place, it was time to test! While I wasn't able to test on the go in Spain, I did have a multimeter at home in Jerusalem that I could check everything with. According to the multimeter, it all looked good... but when I actually ran a test program with the Adafruit Flora, it didn't work quite as well.

The biggest issue seems to be that the trace connections aren't really stable, especially when the dress moves. My guess is there's some connection issues happening where I’ve had to knot the thread to attach new pieces.

Given that I was about to start my travels again, Yuki and I decided I would ship the in-progress dress to him in Cambridge, where he'd be able to stabilize the connections with solder (remember I mentioned I travel a lot? One of the many things I don't own is a soldering iron, since I had to get rid of mine when we moved from Ireland to Israel a few months ago). Once that's done, he'll continue with the next steps of the project: attaching the air quality sensor and programming the LEDs to respond to it.

neopixels illuminated - effect 1

neopixels illuminated - effect 2

neopixels illuminated - effect 3

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