Fiber Optic Coat Instructions


Click here to view the Fiber Optic Costume Kit product page.


Instructions by Natalie Walsh of www.NatalieWalsh.com and www.Instructables.com.


A year ago I made a fiber optic dress, using Ants on a Melon's fiber optics for the illumination. Due to the success of the dress online it was only fitting that Joel from Ants on a Melon should have a garment he could wear too while selling his wares! This is the coat I made for him, and the fiber optics to make your own are available as a kit on his website. Compared to making a garment from scratch, this is a much less time consuming and accessible project for anyone who wants to illuminate something they already have with fiber optics.

Many thanks to audreyobscura for the amazing photos and video, and to GordonKirkwood for modeling!

Ready to make your own? Let's go!


Fiber Optic Coat from Natalie Walsh on Vimeo.


Step 1: Design Considerations

Why a tailcoat? A lot of thought went into deciding what would make most sense for menswear. The design of the dress was ideal for showing off the fibers as they had a 360 degree spread around the skirt, and lots of lift to enable them hang loosely to show off the lighting patterns best. I could have used the same idea for a coat and had them hang loosely around from front to back, but without the lift and shape that the skirt provides I think the effect would be too uniform. However with a tailcoat the fibers could still hang loosely in the back for movement, while having nice design lines in the front to show off the shape of the jacket.

Next was coat selection. There are a lot of tailcoats out there, but we settled on this one, and it turned out great. It is a regency style, and is designed to be worn open which worked very well for this design. Some tailcoats overlap in the front and are intended to be worn closed, and that wouldn't have allowed nearly as much design freedom for laying out the fibers.


Step 2: What you need

Supplies for this are pretty simple!

An awesome coat

A fiber optic costume kit from Ants on a Melon

Fabric to match your coat (for enclosing the battery/handle) and matching zipper

Clear thread and a needle. I used lightweight fishing line. You want it to be thin enough to tie off easily, but strong enough that you can't break it easily under tension.


Step 3: Make Pouch for Handle

To hide the handle I made a zip up pouch on the back of the jacket. The ability to zip is important, as the handle needs to be easily accessed for changing the battery. You can see in the photos how I made the pattern from two pieces with a curve at the bottom to accommodate the cylindrical shape. I used an invisible zipper, but for heavier fabrics regular zippers might be a better choice in terms of durability.

To inset the zipper, first sew a half inch or so at the bottom of the pouch. Use that as a guide to inset the zipper, and shorten it as needed.


Step 4: Attach Pouch to Coat

I could have sewn the pouch through both the lining and outer layer of fabric, but that can cause some awkward pulling for the wearer if not done perfectly. The better way is to sew only to the outer layer, so I ripped open the lining in order to do so. Pin carefully, with the handle in place for a good fit! When done, I carefully folded under the lining and sewed it back together.


Step 5: Separate Fibers

Now for the fun part, laying out the fibers! This can also be incredibly frustrating, as they tend to get tangled. What I have found is not to even try to comb them out, instead separate out a bundle at a time. I used around 12 fibers per bundle for this coat, and ended up with a total of 30 bundles, 15 per side.

To keep them organized, I used string to tie each one off both at the beginning and end of where I would be sewing them down. This provides a very helpful loose layout to begin sewing. 

One thing to note is that sometimes the fibers within the handle have a twist to them. I found that despite dividing the fibers such that the button would be facing the outside, the handle wanted to twist. Work with that rather than trying to fight it, as you won't win. I ended up flipping one half of my fibers because of this natural twist.


Step 6: Hand Sewing

While this is by far the most time consuming step, I find that it is also the easiest and can be quite relaxing much like knitting or other handwork. Get your podcasts and tv shows queued up and get ready for a solid weekend of sewing!

I started in the back, and used lines of stitching across all 15 bundles for as long as they are tightly clustered. There are two lines of sewing along the back, one at the top of the shoulder, and another few lines on the front of the coat before the bundles start to separate. Once they spread out, I sewed each bundle individually. The best technique I found for even spacing was to sew the outermost and innermost bundle first, then measure to lay out one in the middle, and continue with that process until all the lines are filled in.


Step 7: Almost Done!

Here is the coat with the hand sewing finished!

To complete the sewing process, I made sure all my ends were tied down well, and ran the loose ends through the coat.


Step 8: Trim Fibers

Final step - give the coat a haircut! As the most light is released in the ends, the fibers look best when they are layered for maximum spread of tiny trails of light. Cut them to suit your preferences.


Step 9: Finished!

Here's the final product! I delivered the coat to Joel at Maker Faire earlier this month - here we are wearing our fiber optic gear!

I hope this Instructable results in many more coats like it, be sure to post in the comments if you make one yourself. Party on everyone!


Click here to view the Fiber Optic Costume Kit product page.