Basic Guide To EL Wire Usage On Clothing
EL Wire or Electro Luminescent Wire is a great product that will allow you to add a neon look to clothing and other things. It is available in a wide variety of colors and diameters. Lighting up your clothing will help keep you from getting run over on the playa and making it a part of your clothing means that there is nothing to lose, misplace, or turn into moop.
EL Wire Basics
Every EL wire installation consists of two basic components - the EL wire itself and a driver. The driver for our purposes is a battery pack, although in larger installations they may run off house current. Most drivers contain an on / off switch and usually one or two blink modes as well. Some drivers are also available with a sound driver that will make your EL wire blink in time to music.
IMPORTANT - Without getting too technical, the driver must be matched to the length of EL wire you plan to use. A driver that is too small will cause the EL wire to be dim and drain batteries very fast. A driver that is too large will cause the EL wire to be brighter, but will decrease the life span of the wire.
When shopping for EL wire and drivers most suppliers indicate how many feet of EL wire each driver is suitable for. Keep in mind that the more powerful the driver, the heavier its batteries will be. If you plan to mount a lot of EL wire on a garment it is usually more comfortable to use several smaller drivers than one large one.
EL Wire Shopping
EL wire is available as components and as kits. If you are handy and have decent soldering skills you may opt to buy the components and assemble them yourself. If you are lazy or lack the basic skills, you may wish to purchase a pre wired kit.
My personal preference was the kits offered by Bike Glow, however these appear to no longer be in production. You may still find some around on ebay, REI, bike shops, etc...
Otherwise you will need to shop around for EL wire and driver. There are many sources for them selling through Ebay, however I would encourage you to buy local if you can find a source.
The best material for attaching EL wire is 10 pound test clear fishing line. It has a decent breaking strength, yet is thin enough to sew with easily. You will also need a needle with an eye large enough to pass the fishing line - some form of embroidery needle should work.
It will be necessary to have a suitably sized pocket in the general area where you wish to position your driver. If your garment does not have one, you will need materials to sew one in. It should be made slightly snug to prevent the driver bouncing out during activity, yet not so snug that it is difficult to manipulate the switch.
Essentially the EL wire may be positioned anywhere on the garment. If you have the skill, elaborate designs may be incorporated. For most of us just outlining part (or all) of the garments edges will suffice. By edges I am referring to hems mostly such as where the center overlaps, along the lapels, collar edge, or cuffs.
My personal preference is to sew the wire right along the hem that divides the inside from the outside. If the garment has fur, this will also cause somewhat of a glow effect in the fur as well.
- Determine where you wish to start the EL wire.
- Place the driver in its pocket and make sure the lead wires will reach your starting point. If not you may wish to move the pocket or choose a different starting point.
- Thread your fishing line onto a needle. Generally it is easier to work with shorter lengths so start with approximately 4 feet of line.
- Knot one end of the line and push the needle through from one side of the hem.
- Position the EL wire and take a loop around it and back through the fabric. The starting point will get some stress during usage so repeat this every 1/4 inch for two more stitches.
- Continue sewing following the tips below.
- If you have a small excess of EL wire at the end you can either cut it and put a new cap on it or open a stitch in the seam and insert the excess between the outside and the lining.
- Avoid kinking the EL wire as that may cause it to break or have dead spots.
- Try to sew the EL wire on with no twists in it or it may distort the garment.
- EL wire tends to retain a coil for several days after opening so unpackage it and stretch it out a few days before sewing.
- Working with short lengths of fishing line is much easier.
- When sewing along straight edges one stitch every 3/4 inch will suffice.
- When sewing around curves stitches should be closer together to prevent distortion.
- Use a driver suitable for the length of EL wire.
- A tape measure may be used to calculate the approximate length of EL wire needed for your design.
EL wire has a limited lifespan and although it should last for numerous burns if well cared for, eventually it will need to be replaced. Soldered connections and the non el connecting wires can also degrade over time.
The good news is I have a much easier fix than sewing on a new one. Use small clear zip ties (wire ties) to attach the new EL wire to the sewn on one. This is so easy it can be done on the playa if you have a spare EL wire set. I wish I had thought of this in 2012 when my son tossed me my coat and sheared off the battery pack wires, also breaking the soldered connections. This method also allows you to easily add multiple EL wires to get a multicolor blinky effect.
I have written this page primarily for my Etsy customers, however anyone is free to use these instructions.