Ester is a piece of transformative fashion; combining delicate handcrafting with cutting edge wearable technology. The skirt is sculpted from cane, creating a light but durable skeleton. Covering the skirt and the bodice are over 1000 hand-cut paper petals, and integrated into the edges of the dress are hundreds of addressable NeoPixel LEDs. An Arduino Lilypad controls the functions of the lights, allowing each individual LED to be programmed to any behaviour or RBG colour. These lights diffuse underneath the paper dress, allowing the garment to bloom and transforming it into a wearable light show. 
Ester is designed to be striking in light and darkness, and was a finalist in the Open Section of this year’s World of Wearable Art Show, recently winning the People’s Choice Award.


What have you made?

Ester is a wearable technology garment that combines over 1000 handcrafted paper petals with an Arduino Lilypad and hundreds of addressable NeoPixel LEDs, made by Ashleigh-Jean King and Flavia Rose.

What gave you the initial inspiration?

We were inspired by our experience as audience members of the World of Wearable Art, an international design competition that takes place here in Wellington. We wanted to be a part of the show by submitting a garment to the competition, and to differentiate ourselves by bringing an aspect of technology and light to our garment.

What is the original idea behind this project?

We made Ester for a project at the Victoria University of Wellington School of Design. Our brief was very broad - to create a garment that lit up. We knew from the start that we wanted to work with cane and paper, as these were Flavia's strengths, and light it up with Ash's electronics skills; but we iterated through dozens of concepts until we reached Ester's final form.

How does it work?

The Lilypad controls the 340 individual NeoPixel LEDs, and a switch runs through the different light behaviours, from a simple fading breathing pattern to a rainbow light chase. The Lilypad runs off an AAA battery, while three 3.7 LiPo batteries power all 340 LEDs, making a small but powerful battery pack that was about the size of a coaster. These would power the dress for around about an hour, and needed to be charged overnight for the next day's show.  We made use of 9V battery clips to connect these batteries into the circuit, as we had worn out many JST connectors during prototyping, and realised the sturdier 9V connectors were strong enough to withstand being disconnected for charging during the 20-30 showings on the World of Wearable Art stage. We controlled the light behaviour via just two pins on the Lilypad. The LEDs were in four groups, with two groups to a pin; this way opposing sides of the skirt would have the same behavior, reflecting the symmetry of the garment.

How long did it take to make it real?

Around 3 months part time. Six weeks for material exploration and designing, then another six weeks actually making the dress.

How did you build it?

First we sculpted a base structure from cane, a light flexible material that we built into a floral-inspired hoop skirt. Onto the bottom edge of the skirt we adhered the NeoPixel LED strips, where they would shine and softly diffuse through the dress. Over the cane structure we then glued hundreds of handmade paper petals, each one cut, scored and folded to diffuse the light in intriguing ways. We repeated a similar process for the bodice of the dress, first attaching NeoPixel strips and then covering them with paper petals, whilst ensuring that the two pieces flowed together into the appearance of one seamless garment. Ash then wired up the circuit and the Lilypad, coding in different behaviours for the lights to display.The cane skeleton gave us an easy frame to integrate our electronics, as we ran wires from the LEDs along the cane structure to the top of the skirt, where there was ample room to hide the battery pack and Lilypad controller.