Sunday, October 6, 2013

Boston (s)Tron(g) 2.0

Electric Run came to Gillette stadium, and I knew I had to do something special.  So I started drafting Boston (s)Tron(g) 2.0.  This project took about a month, and really came down to the wire (pun intended) the night before for the finishing touches.

As with most of my projects I start sketching what I intend the final outcome to be.  This design does evolve over time, and is really only meant to be a guideline (rather than an absolute plan) for how I'd like piece to appear.

1st and 2nd draft with chicken scratch notes

At some point in the design process I knew I wanted to incorporate three things:  
  • The blue and yellow ribbon on the front lower section just below the ribs
  • A blue and yellow Boston Strong EL Panel placed high up on the chest
  • A huge fricking unicorn on my back...
Obviously the unicorn was the most difficult design challenge so I started with it first.  This is usually how I work.  Whenever possible I start with the most difficult aspect of a piece.  If I can't nail it...absolutely nail it.  Then I know I can't continue on.  I wasn't going to settle for some misshapen "bluricorn".  I needed people to look at and  recognize it instantly with out a doubt.

The unicorn has been the symbol of the Boston Athletic Association since 1890, and this rare mythological beast has come to represent everything that is truly remarkable about the Boston Marathon.


Unfortunately the cardboard cut out I use in place of my own physique when
designing these things is far more impressive...

I estimated using about 40 feet of electroluminecent wire.  In reality I only needed a little over 38 or so.  I get a lot of my supplies from  They offer a lot of pre-built kits.  So even if you're not great at soldering electronics many of their product offerings are ready to light up and go.
That eight pack of AA's is a beast to conceal and carry
around but it's really the only thing that can provide enough
juice for this much light

I start by outlining my waistline, and key points of the design in chalk (blue and yellow in this case). Again these are only guidelines.  As I start putting wire to shirt the bends and curves may alter things.

Oh sure it looks great in theory, but in reality at this point I 
have no idea if I can actually make this work.

Tips on how to work with EL wire:  
  • EL wire is very flexible but doesn't like sharp corners or 90 degree angles.  Sharply bending the wire could damage it, and break the flow of the current often creating dim or dead sections.  There are ways around mimicking acute angles by looping the wire gently (we'll cover this later).  Think of EL wire as a wearable neon sign.  A continuous filament of light that somehow must to curve and shape to your body.
  • Common electric tape can create safe breaks in the wire.  This will be useful when we need to "black out" sections so we can run them underneath the shirt rather than on top of it.  This way the light won't shine through.
  • Clear fishing line works great for attaching wire to clothing and providing the translucency to appear as if nothing is holding the wire to the cloth.  I'm using 12lb test fishing line for this project (which is overkill but it's all that I could find on short notice).  It might as well be piano wire in this case as I've completed other projects using 3 - 5lb test fishing line just fine.  I also hear clear thread you can get at craft stores works well too, but because I'm running/moving around a lot in these outfits I like the security of the fishing line.
  • Keep the wire off most of the time, but turn it on every now and then to sanity check your work.  Also make sure you haven't broken anything.
Hiding wire:

You need to keep the current flowing through the wire in one continuous length, but your design may call for sections of empty space, or you may need the wire to transition to a different part of the shirt so it can start a new design.

  • Use a seam ripper to poke two holes in the shirt.  Where the wire should disappear then reappear.
  • Wrap that length of section with electrical tape.
  • Feed the wire through the holes and continue to stitch the wire under the shirt.
Not bad
Faking sharp angles:
No one has ever heard of a "safety" unicorn.  So no blunt end at the end of the spire of the horn.  But bending the wire risks breaking it.  So we loop or gently cross sections of wire over itself and hide the loop under the shirt covered in electrical tape.

This is actually the chin section but we're going to: 
  • Cover the rest of that loop in tape.  
  • Cut a small hole in the shirt with the seam ripper and push the loop through
  • Sew the hole shut and sew the loop under the shirt to the fabric as well so it stays in place

Now we're actually getting somewhere

 This is two lengths of EL wire about 10ft each.
There's a lot of looping around going on under there with the yellow.

After that the front of the shirt seems easy by comparison:

Scotch tape is your friend

Working with EL Panels:

EL Panels are made out of the same material as EL Wire just flattened out.  They usually come in a 4"X4" square, and are available in various colors.  They require more power than EL Wire so I usually run a panel like this on it's own battery source.

To make this particular panel work I:
  • Purchased a white EL Panel from
  • Printed the image of "Boston Strong" I made (above) on a piece of acetate (one of those old projector transparencies) 
  • Purchased a pack of DJ light gels that included blue and yellow.  Gels are pieces of film that theaters and DJs put in front of lights to give them color.
  • Cut out a rectangle of blue from a gel and a rectangle of yellow
  • Glued the gel pieces to the panel
  • Glued the print out of the transparency to the panel
  • Trimmed the excess gel and transparency material 
  • Adhered the panel to the shirt using glue on Velcro squares
Pro Tip: Do not use a cyanoacrylate based glue aka most "super" or "krazy" glues.  It'll eat through the color in the gel, and cause it to bleed.  Found this one out the hard way...  A normal white glue that dries clear should work just fine.

Other notes about this project:
  • I still don't trust my stitching... even if the strength of the fishing line is more than enough to keep something in place using poor stitches.  So I reinforce key areas of the shirt with a seam glue made specifically for clothing.  It dries clear, but I don't like how shiny it is.   So I then coat the same places in a matte finish black cloth paint.  The process makes these sections a bit stiffer, but that wire's not going anywhere.
  • After the race I loved hearing from people: "Where did you get that?" as in it didn't look like I was up at 2AM the night before cobbling this together.
  • I am a runner.  My legs aren't ready for the Boston Marathon at this time yet.  But so help me they will be.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Some light adjustments

I'm doing some night/glow runs in the Boston area and thought I should make some additions to my running shirt using an EL Panel.

An EL panel is a flat piece of luminescent material about 4"X4". If you print a negative image on a sheet of acetate (basically one of those old transparency sheets they used to use for overhead projectors) and glue it to the panel you can block out sections of the light to make a design.  The panel is then attached to the shirt using Velcro.

Still running. Even if times seem dark.