Somewhere among you are the grown-ups traumatized by homemade Halloween costumes. All the other kids on the block had the store-bought Ninja Turtle suits while you were wearing a green sweatsuit. Kids of the 21st century have the opposite problem — who wants a thin piece of printed polyester when next door there’s a mom building a Bumblebee costume that actually transforms?
Of course, cardboard Transformers are so 2009. (If you haven’t seen any, search YouTube for “transformers costume,” and you’ll find a bounty.) Here in the future, we add electronics, and a few new products are making it even easier for those of you don’t know how or don’t want to program an Arduino. Here’s how to make sure your costume is the best on the block — and then how to win a little reward for having done it.
Make it twinkle
SparkFun is carrying two new boards, the LilyTiny and LilyTwinkle (each $6.95). They’re smaller than Arduinos and other breakout boards, and they’re already coded, so you don’t have to do any programming yourself. For the LilyTwinkle, you just sew on four LEDs and connect the battery. The LEDs will automatically twinkle. The LilyTiny gives you a few more options. Each LED acts differently, blinking, flashing like a heartbeat, fading in and out, or randomly fading. They are also both re-programmable. If you’re not ready to code or need something with a small profile, you’re spending a lot less money for these, and they’re a lot simpler. They’re also a good introduction to this type of microcontroller that will have you wanting more.
The next step up is the LilyPad Arduino, which has been available for several years. If you do program, these offer you a wealth of costuming options with conductive thread and a wealth of options.
Dia Campbell of SparkFun recently posted a tutorial using the LilyTiny and extra LilyPad LEDs to make the pair of twinkling fairy wings pictured above. Of course, they could also be dragon wings or any other sort of wings, or you can just use the tutorial as guidelines to put twinkle where you want twinkle!
Use unusual prints
For a costume that calls for a very specific fabric, Spoonflower is your answer. For example, if you want to authentically look like Heath Ledger’s Joker, you’ll need a shirt that uses this purple hexagon pattern. Dia points out that there are also a lot of fabrics already waiting for you to order from Spoonflower that would look great lit up. Imagine this shuttle launch border print illuminated!
SparkFun offers an assortment of conductive fabrics for your e-textile projects. Dia offers a few tips for using them:
- It’s great for some projects, but not all. It’s perfect for things with low resistance or if you need a wide surface that will react to touch.
- Handle the fabric with gloves to keep from getting fingerprints on it.
- The fabric does tarnish. On the down side, it won’t stay shiny and pretty. On the up side (depending on what you want to use it for), it does distress really easily and beautifully.
- Try using it inside a build where you don’t have to worry about tarnishing.
- When you cut it, it will curl up. Think of this as a feature to use, for example, to make flowers. If you want to minimize curling, you should use interfacing
If fabric and thread won’t do what you want, you might try conductive paint. Its flexibility depends on the thickness you paint on, which also impacts resistance. It moves similarly to the puff paint you spackled on everything in the 80s and can crack over time if you put down a thick layer.
Later this year, SparkFun will also be carrying thermachromic ink. It has a color, and then the color disappears when heated, which you can do with wire or conductive thread.
One simple tip for those in cold Halloween climates. Sew an X with conductive thread into your costume’s gloves (or your own gloves)! Now you’ve got your own custom e-tip gloves and can keep using your cell phone to find your Halloween friends without taking the gloves off.
Reuse that costume
I asked Dia what her favorite personal creation was, outside of these great wings, of course. “My very first e-textile was a Cylon costume,” she said. “We just glued some circuit boards to the back. People really loved it.” But it didn’t work quite like she’d intended (“or as safely,” she added), so she ended up sewing that Cylon’s circuit into a hoodie. (Even if your own costume turns out exactly how you want, reusing the electronics is a great way to keep enjoying it year-round… unless you’re the sort of person whose significant other wouldn’t mind when you show up for your Valentine’s date dressed as a Cylon.)
SparkFun’s first costume contest
And now that you’re full of ideas for this year’s masterpiece costume, you have another reason to get started! SparkFun is holding their first costume contest to reward all the hard work that goes into the amazing costumes that incorporate e-textiles, LEDs, sounds, and other effects.
To enter, send a photo or video of your costume in action by October 31 along with a description of how it works to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Halloween Costume Contest” as the subject line. Winners will receive $50, $100, or $200 in SparkFun bucks and will be announced November 7.