Make a Techno Ugly Christmas Sweater Project- Part 2


by Mark Schreiber -

Let me let you in on a little secret… that ugly sweater from the Part 1 guide was my sweater from last year.  Yup, that right. I’ve had a year to refine, learn and hack a new sweater.  And I have to say that I’m pretty proud of this little project. And, I want you to be able to make one as well!

Here is the executive summary of the project along with a video of my upgraded (read “awesome”) ugly sweater.  The core of this project is a cool sequencer called Vixen, an AdaFruit Flora (with a FastLED library), and a bunch of NeoPixel stips (or other digitally addressable RGB LEDs) Grab a gift bag, load your laptop, some speakers and tissue paper - you are set!

The Theme-

What says, “2014” more than the Frozen soundtrac I wanted to make my sweater the epic ugly Christmas sweater for 2014 and I when I found this rendition of Frozen I knew I had the makings of a winning sweater.  I used the free version of WavePad to edit the song to a shorter length.  I loaded the code on my Flora so that it could receive serial communications from Vixen, set up the NeoPixel elements for the different zones of my sweater and then imported the song into Vixen (see the full tutorial below).

You’ll have to let me know but I think I might have even beat the Griswolds this year.  I’m thinking that I should go stand on my street corner and broadcast my own house light display channel.  Dancing sign guy, prepare to be bested!

Check out the video-  (Better video Coming soon) -Short alternate video

Follow the steps and have a great ugly sweater party of your own.  And hey, “Do you wanna build a snowman" on your sweater?  Well, that will just have to wait for another blog post..

Here’s the step-by-step:

  1. Collect your parts- Flora, Neopixels, wire, cotton balls, laser cut snowflakes, ugly sweater bling.
  2. Download and install software- Adafruit’s Arduino IDE, FAST LED library, and Vixen (see resources below)
  3. Upload sketch to Flora (remember USBTinyISP programmer, and remember you COM port too)
  4. Close out of your Arduino IDE
  5. Configure Vixen for Generic serial port using the same COM port as your Flora was using. (see blog link below)
  6. Setup Vixen Displays- I suggest breaking your full strand of NeoPixels into small sections/segments so that you can do different effects on each segment.  I used about 80 pixels on my sweater with 8 different segments (also called elements in Vixen).
  7. Connect your NeoPixels to Pin6, Ground and VBatt on the Flora (make sure you put a 330ohm resistor on the data pin of your first pixel so you don’t blow that pixel and kill your whole setup!).
  8. Close Vixen and the Flora.
  9. Turn on your devices in this order: Plug in the Flora connected to the Neopixels (you should see a green light and yellow RX LED on the Flora flash.
  10. Open Vixen (you should now see a solid yellow light on Flora if all is configured correctly if not, make sure that your display is set up to receive the same COM port as your Flora is using)
  11. Open a “New Sequence- Timed sequence” in Vixen. 
  12. Drag an effect to the pixel segment you’d like to test and click the “play” arrow (green play button). I like to use the “chase” effect to test out the whole strip at once.
  13. Build your sweater: cut strip into segments, run wires, and resolder to chain your strip segments all the way around your sweater to different locations (I started at the bottom left, then up the zipper, around the collar, down the right zipper, to the bottom, up to the left middle, left pocket and finally around the back to the right pocket.) You can power pixels from anywhere the beginning, the middle or the end (or all of them) just make sure your data pin wire is 1 continuous strip)
  14. Test it again.  Once your strips are installed on your sweater check all connections and retest.
  15. Take a break.
  16. Spend way too long syncing music to your lights in Vixen audio track.  Click here for my synced version of the Frozen remix.
  17. Decorate and camouflage your LEDs with cotton balls, or laser cut felt, or other fun stuff.
  18. Tweak, troubleshoot, and repeat.
  19. Hook it all up to your computer, hide your computer in a gift bag, put on your sweater (or vest) and head out to your Ugly Sweater Christmas party.
  20. Enjoy, have fun and remember, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer, is signing loudly for all to hear”

Advanced Resources: