Just winging it!

Dia Campbell, TechStyle specialist, SparkFun Electronics -October 16, 2012

Maybe you've been looking for a good excuse to try out an e-textiles project because you just can't see yourself wearing an illuminated business suit to work. I feel you. But it's time to put the tweed behind us; it's almost Halloween! What better time to try your hand at a twinkling, illuminated project? LED wings make an awesome accent to your costume or a fun project to share with your little fairy or dragon! (Just make sure you don't let your kids do the melty bits!)

Necessary supplies:
  • 2 LilyPad Tiny Twinkle boards
  • 2 LilyPad coin cell battery holders, switched
  • Conductive thread
  • 8 LilyPad LEDs
  • Cellophane−transparent, colored, or iridescent; it's up to you. I used iridescent and colored cellophane. This is commonly used in the making of gift baskets, so look for it near the giftwrap or the baskets.
  • Thick wire−I used 12-gauge aluminum floral wire. This was easy to bend into shape, but will also be easy to bend out of shape. If you expect to put your wings to heavy use, you might want to choose a wire made from a stiffer metal. I needed about 10 yards.
  • Floral tape−whatever color you'd like. This will show through the wings, so choose a color that coordinates. I used less than a full 60-foot roll.
  • Sewing machine−you can hand-sew these traces if you'd like, but if you have or can borrow one, machine sewing through vinyl is a bit more pleasant. It will make your traces very hearty, which is important, since this project is going to be sealed up, and it will be difficult to repair traces later on.
  • Spray adhesive
  • An iron or heat gun
Optional, if you're using the iron rather than the heat gun:
  • Thin fabric or tissue paper
  • A candle

If your eyes are particularly sharp, you might notice that the wire isn't really there. I used it all. There's a picture of the packaging, in case that makes it easier to find at the store, but you'll have to fill in the actual wire with your imagination. I believe in you, dear reader.

First, go ahead and draw out the shape of your wings. You can do anything here−fairy wings, bat wings, dragon wings. Just make sure that you factor in your need for support, because it's important that there be enough wire lines to keep your wings solid.

Here's my sketch:

The strong black lines are my wire frame, the areas with pencil lines will be covered with cellophane, and the dark-grey areas will be colored-cellophane accents.

Next, start cutting your wire and bending it into shape. Be careful to cut pieces together that are going to be symmetrically across from each other, so that you can cut them to the same length. That will help you to make sure your wings end up as even and symmetrical as possible. I recommend starting your longest wires first and building the smaller ones off of them. Furthermore, if you use one long piece of wire for both sides of your longest point and put a large loop in the middle, it will give you a center point to attach future pieces to, which is a handy place to work out from. You can build this center strut a little taller than the actual center of the wings, and it will give you a good place to attach straps. Anywhere that your wires join, wrap them around each other several times.

Here are a few wire joins:

You can see that they've been twisted around each other a few times, and you can also see the loops where they meet in the middle.

Here is my finished wire shape:

Here's a close-up of the stick at the bottom of mine:

This gives me a place to put a bottom strap, but it can also be slipped into a tight top or a corset to attach the wings without straps, which is nice!

My lines aren't perfectly smooth. There are areas where my symmetry is a little bit off, but that's okay. The floral wire is going to smooth out a lot of the imperfections from my bending, and some small differences between the two sides are unavoidable. As long as they're minimal, they'll just give the wings an organic look.
Next: The frame

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