Edwardian-inspired LED Dress

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School is great and all but what really lights me up are personal projects. During my freshman year, which was 2020, I heard about an event that usually happens in my dorm called 'The Time Travelers Ball.' It's a dance/social but the catch is you have to dress from a different era. I, of course, got excited about it and started thinking about possible outfits.

I'm not a huge entertainment person but I love watching YouTube videos of people doing cool projects. Somewhere along the line I stumbled across a maker who had created a motion-sensing LED skirt and that got me excited. I also got into historical fashion and watched far too many videos of cool, history-inspired outfits. In the fall of 2021, those two ideas came together as I started dreaming up this outfit for the Ball.

I knew this was going to be a big project from the outset but it was a fantastic combination of many of my interests and skills: sewing, electronics, coding, design and more. Plus, it was a great way to apply some of the skills I was learning in class to something more real! 

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The Creation Process

I started by finding a pattern for the kind of style I liked as a starting point. I was going for a 'confused time traveler' so I decided that I wanted the shape to be Edwardian, the construction and materials modern and the LED futuristic. Using the pattern as a rough starting point, I started designing.

Then it was time to shop. I did my best to buy any materials that I could second hand. Most of the fabric was bought at art thrift stores and the base shirt, lace and buttons where also found in thrift stores.

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The pattern for the jacket ended up not fitting well so I drafted a similar pattern from scratch. Most of the sewing was done over winter break. Quite refreshing after staring at screens for a semester. Then I began on the LEDs.

I used a QT Py RP2040 from adafruit as the brains of the outfit. It has a tiny footprint and was surprisingly powerful for what I needed. The code was written in micro-python using basic NEO-pixel libraries and manipulating matrices of RGB values.

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What's Next?

What good project is ever really finished? I have already started improving the control system by building out a circuit board for the system to bundle the micro controller and 4 buttons together. Then I designed and 3D printed a case for it. There will always been more to be done with the code as the possibilities are nearly infinite for adding more patterns and improving the architecture. I would love to add some interactive elements to it with potential motion sensors or a microphone as well.

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