I use LED Christmas light strings on the AustinLightGuy Light Suit. The much-lower power requirements of LED strings make them ideal for mobile applications (I want to get around to figuring out a good way to put a few strings on my car this year too 🙂 They’re still 120V strings, so I have a small Inverter that’s powered by 12V battery packs.
Now, I’m not exactly sure why, but some of the strings on the Light Suit start fading sooner than others as the batteries run down. I’m pretty sure it has to do with the voltage rating of the individual LEDs and the number of LEDs on a string. Unlike incandescent bulbs, when you hook LEDs up in parallel (which is essentially what you are doing when you connect multiple strings to one socket), current tends to flow through the LED offering the least resistance. In a situation with limited current, as is the case when driving these things using a small 12v-to-120v inverter like I do, this means the current will tend to all go through the string with least resistance. Some of my strings have 50 lights, while others have 70, so I think that is contributing to the problem…that’s my theory anyway, and I don’t want to go into too much detail, since this post is about something completely different. For anyone interested, here’s an article from a fellow Austinite who has clearly spent more time both investigating and writing about the subject than I 🙂
So anyway, I have some strings that are under-performing and plan on swapping them out this year. Now, to date, I have been hot-melt gluing them onto the jumpsuit. I just use a dollop of hot-melt every two or three lights rather than running a continuous bead to embed the string in, since you have to hold it a while while the glue cools. I also don’t want the attachment to be too permanent, precisely because I may have cause to remove one or more strings at some point. The hot-melt approach works pretty good, but constant activity still results in strings working loose from various attach points over time. AustinLightSidekick actually riveted Velcro to his jumpsuit, and has bands of the other side (what do you call that? Velcro male and female? No..I think it’s hook and loop…) wrapped around his light strings, which then stick to the riveted patches. This seemed to hold up pretty well last year, but seems like a lot of work.
So, in the process of researching EL Wire for my Halloween costume, I came across another option for attaching wire to fabric – the Buttoneer! This thing attaches stuff (a button, or possibly a wire for example) by straddling the object with a little length of plastic and forcing each end through the backing fabric. Each end of the little plastic doodad has a crossbar – sort of like the plastic thingies that hold the price tag on new clothes. When you load the doodad in, those little tabs sit inside two hollow, needle-like rails which you push through the fabric. Then, when you squeeze the Buttoneer, two little plungers inside the rails push the tabs down, through the fabric.
The little plastic things aren’t super strong, so the jury is out on how well it holds up, but they allow the wires to slide a bit which should reduce the tensions when I move. It also provides for the ability to perform repairs in the field, which could be handy.
This biggest problem is that I only have about a 50% success rate with the Buttoneer. I think it’s a combination of the device just not working very well, and the fact that the little plastic doodads are just barely long enough to straddle the wire and penetrate the fabric. You have to load the doodads just right or one end or the other may not get pushed through the fabric – or might get sheared off by the little plungers that push them through the fabric. Holding it just right and getting a hand on the other side of the fabric to kind of work the fabric up closer to the wire seems to help, but I still get a lot of failures. I have to give the Buttoneer only a moderate score for this task, and I wouldn’t expect it to work well with buttons at all, except in the case where the button is under only light strain.