Actually, most things are easier than making shirts. Shirts are seriously annoying creatures. However, the point of this little demo is that every sewing room needs good lighting, and good lighting is something you can make with far less skill than you need for most of sew-land. Curious yet?
Great. You’re going to need to order a couple of things from Amazon.com – a reel of LED lights, a 120V to 12V power transformer, and a pack or two of these neato connector-doosies. (Assuming you do not solder, which, indeed, I don’t. Yet. But I might try to learn on the next batch.) I was ordering enough to make two LED panels at once, so I got two reels of LEDs, two transformers, and three packs of the connectors.
Oh, yes, we’re going to be making a cheap-o version of those stupidly expensive, low power usage, never-burn-out-on-you LED panel lights.
Let me back up a second: I didn’t set out to be all, “Hey, wow! Look at me! I’m so down with my inner geek!” Through the mysterious workings of Murphy and his gosh-darned law, the second I finished a new worktable for the garage three of four florescent tubes that lit the garage died, rendering the workspace unworkable. Again. So what I set out to do was replace the florescents (which I hate) with some decent track lighting. But I ran into a helpful fellow at my local DIY (the one that starts with an L, not to point fingers or anything), and made the mistake of saying “yes” when he asked if he could help. He felt very strongly that I did not want track lighting, I wanted new florescent fixtures, I just didn’t know it yet. After 20 minuts of “help” I said something along the lines of, “You win. You’re right, my plans will never work. I can’t do it. I’m going to go home and slit my wrists now.” and he said, “Is there anything else I can help you with?” I’m not even kidding.
But I was hanging out with an old friend the other day whose old friend made a ridiculously cool LED thing, so I did a little googling for LED panels and found out the were crazy expensive, but then I did a little more googling to figure out just how much of an electronics wizard one needs to be to handle the basics.
Not much, it turns out. If you have the basic skills to make a shirt (able to use measuring tape, able to use scissors, able to follow destructions, able to do fiddly small-muscle activity like ripping seams), you should be fine. ;)
You’ll need a few more things that you can pick up at an art store. Here’s the full spread of supplies and tools for the basic panel:
According to the directions on the outside of the static-safe bad the LEDs came in, the first step is to test them and make sure they work. This seems pretty sane to me. (Incidentally, that is the sum total of direction that came with the parts.)
I prefer to do this in the traditional delicate and careful “mating crickets” sort of manner. I know just enough about electronics to not want to touch the bare wires with my fingers or anything metal. (Side note: since then a 3 LED set in to my library-boss, who was far too enthused and has taken far too many years of electrical engineering – he promptly pulled out a 9 volt battery and two paper-clips, and MacGyvered the lights into glow-i-rific glory in a shockingly hands on sort of way. 12 volts apparently can’t hurt you too badly. But, seriously, I fear it when electrons all work together. They can’t be up to anything good…)
If the lights glow, everything is awesome. If they don’t, make sure you matched the wire colors and the copper parts are making fill contact. (Also, I found that jiggling the plug was a necessary step. Go figs.) If things will not glow, contact the seller – something is defective.
Ok, got light? Awesome! Let’s make an LED panel.
Oddly, I will be wearing gloves for most of the rest of the demo due to the adhesive on the LED strips – it seems to leave little welts where I come in contact with it. Ain’t that a hoot? I work in theater and fashion, and I can’t touch tape… Oh, painful irony.
Anyhoo, the first thing to make the electric work is to free up the wire end of the LED strip. I have mine here.
I have the good-luck of having inherited dad’s much-used wire stripers, with grease smudges on the handle and everything. They make it look like I know what I’m doing. Har!
In a slightly more perfect world, these wires would be of comparable size and we would twist them together. Als and alack, the LED wire is thinner and easier to twist.
Repeat with the other wire. I plugged the whole thing back in to make sure it worked. It did, so I continued…
Next you will want to loosen the end of the connector-doosey. I tried to take a picture, but it is a two-handed process. On the side that is not smooth, you need to wrestle the over-bit-with-square-hole off of the square peg. You can use your thumbnail (though I ended up bleeding under my the nail within 5 connectors, and life was all suck after that), a thin screwdriver to pry up the overbit (good option), or, according to the online destructions, you can push in the central square and it will all work out. I had no luck with this….
At this point, you can close the connector. I left them all open until the end, in case anything needed a little more persuasion. ;)
At this juncture, the process becomes lather-rinse-repeat: keep measuring strips and joining connectors onto the ends, then sticking them down. When you hit the end of the last strip, simply trim it at the most convenient “cut here” line, and you’re done.
I had originally intended to join everything and test it before sticking things down, but I found that the little connectors aren’t intended for a huge amount of jostling in their open state. *shrug*
Whoa! Hold up, there, cowgirl! You’re GLUEING the top thing on? Isn’t that kind of permanent?!
Yep. It is. The LED strip should last a good decade, and frankly, if something goes wrong I don’t really have the skills to fix it. The only skill I have that will possibly help me is the ability to wiggle the connectors, and the sides of the panels are open for that reason. Well, ok, the sides of the panels are open because I am too lazy to make a real box. I told mom it was to throw more light across the ceiling. I’m telling you it’s so I can jiggle connectors. I am just full of excuses, aren’t I? Tee hee…
There seems to be a 4 second delay between when I flip the switch in the garage and when the light gets around to happening. I’m not sure exactly what’s going on there – could be the transformers take a second (though they didn’t inside), could be the impossibly goofy wiring in the garage. The old florescents used to come up in a second, but flicker for 5-20 minutes before coming up to full brightness. I am not sure I am more annoyed by the four-cound before full light.
The final cost per panel worked out around 35$, including the shipping costs that I couldn’t get out of. (What do you mean, no free super-saver shipping on the LED strips? Boo!)
I will be making more. Mom and I agreed that while we have more light than we had before, would would really like the work area to be BRIGHTER THAN THE SURFACE OF THE SUN. (Note to anyone under 30: feel all superior about your ability to see black stitches on black cloth without extra light while you still can… Because you will wake up on day, and it will just be gone. And you’ll think it’s a fluke, like maybe you just got the perfect thread match this once. But no, sweetie, it’s your eyes. It is completely unfair that around the time you’re gaining the experience to sew really well, you’re losing the basic physical facilities to do what you do. Meh. More light! More light will save us!)