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Plastic Jellyfish Dress – Recycled Fashion with a Cause

Jellyfish Dress

Our oceans are our largest natural resource, filled with beauty and mystery and life. There are more than 15 trillion pieces of trash in the ocean. It’s estimated that there is six times as much plastic in the ocean as there is plankton. Plastic bags drift through the water and look just like Jellyfish to a hungry turtle. The turtles eat the plastic and die. 

This dress by Erin St. Blaine uses recycled plastic bags, bubble wrap, and soda bottles along with Adafruit electronics to create a bioluminescent jellyfish costume. Erin hopes to draw awareness to the problem of so much plastic in the oceans, and help to save our turtle friends.

Featured in the Reinvent the Runway Show 2019

Build Process

The Idea

I’ve wanted to make a jellyfish costume for ages. A few years ago I made the world’s first LED swimmable mermaid tail, Mermaid Glimmer, which was partially inspired by the bioluminescent jellies I saw at the aquarium. They had beautiful pulsing rainbow lights and I just loved the idea of mimicking that with LEDs.

I was invited to showcase a piece in the Reinvent the Runway fashion show put on by the Placer Arts Council this fall. The theme of the show was Science, and the rules stated that the fashion should be made from recycled materials. I’m passionate about the problem of plastic in the oceans, and specifically about turtles mistaking plastic bags for jellyfish, and the idea came to life from there.

Materials

California has done a great job in the last few years of minimizing plastic shopping bags. I wanted to build the whole dress from plastic bags, but being the hippie mermaid I am, I didn’t have any — I switched to cloth bags a long time ago. I posted on Nextdoor.com to see if any neighbors had recyclable single use plastics they’d be willing to donate to the project, and .. success! My neighbors had plenty of plastic for me to use in the form of bags, cups, bubble wrap, and plastic bottles. I had my materials!

The Build

I patterned the skirt off my Cinderella ball gown. I had a lot of Rayley’s bags, so laid them all out and hot glued them together into large fabric sheets, then cut the pattern just like I would with fabric. Instead of sewing, I attached the whole skirt together with hot glue, with a velcro closure. This was very satisfying. Plastic bags and hot glue go together like chocolate and peanut butter.

For the bodice, I built on top of an old costume corset I found in the back of my closet. I laid out the prettiest bags so they’d look nicely arranged and hot glued them to the corset. My favorite bit was using a plastic bag from Target on the back.

For the lights, I used Adafruit’s NeoPixel Dot Strands. I created five strands with 10 dots each, and wired them together to a Circuit Playground Express. For diffusion, I used clear plastic wine cups (also donated by a neighbor) that I painted the inside of with an iridescent spray paint. This diffused the lights so beautifully! I was really happy with how this came out.

I decorated the outside of the dress with bubble-wrap spirals. Cutting a spiral in fabric (or bubble wrap!) creates a beautiful swirly tentacle. I made a lot of them! I also made an underskirt from more bubble wrap spirals sewn to an elastic band, so that when I “fly” the skirt up and mimic the motion of a jellyfish, the tentacles underneath will show, creating that classic jellyfish shape.

Accessories

For my head, I created a glowing turtle fascinator. I used a plastic soda bottle for the turtle’s shell, and bits of plastic bottle, bubble wrap, and some googly eyes to finish him off. His feet are made of wire and they can “swim” around, and he’s entagled in fishing line as he swims through his sea of plastic. I lit him from underneath with another Circuit Playground Express.

I created a choker necklace from plastic soda bottle rings. This was inspired by images we’ve all seen as children of ducks, turtles, or other aquatic creatures with their heads stuck inside these rings. It turned out surprisingly pretty!

I made the bracelets from the same material, and connected them with fishing line to the hoop skirt.

Functionality

The bracelets allow me to “puppet” the dress without touching it. While wearing the bracelets, I can lift my arms up and down and the skirt will pulse like a jellyfish. The motion looks really cool, and really does say “jellyfish” to me! So, of course, I had to create a motion-sensing animation using the Circuit Playground Express’ onboard accelerometer, so that every time the jellyfish pulses, the lights animate. I did the programming in Microsoft MakeCode. Here’s the project if you’re interested to see how it works!

Reinvent the Runway

Here are a few more photos from the Reinvent the Runway Show. There were so many creative projects and costumes!  A lot of folks used lights and technology, and one entry even sported an Adafruit MonsterM4sk!


Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.

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