I had the very good fortune of visiting Venice this spring. Venice.. the city of Carnival, canals, masks, and the Aperol Spritz. I’ve heard about Venice for years — who hasn’t? But nothing quite prepared me for the amazing experience of getting lost in the hundreds of alleyways and ducking into every mask shop and gelateria I found. It was incredibly inspiring.
Of course, I had to get some masks. And equally, I had to create a character around them… so here she is: the Venetian Color Thief.
She is a beautifully detailed Venetian costumed character who steals the colors from people around her and displays them in a dazzling light show.
I was inspired by this blog post by Eirebecky, which details how she made a project really similar to this one. Such a great idea.. I had to steal it! I did make mine really different, but I’d love to bump into her some day and have a color steal-a-thon.
This costume has around 50-60 neopixels, controlled by Adafruit’s Flora and running FastLED Arduino code. It’s got mosaic glass and resin cabochons and lots and lots of rhinestone trim. It has ostrich feathers and a top hat. It’s got a 3d printed project enclosure and 3d printed neopixel cases, and a color sensor and activator button in the glove. So many different pieces and skills and crafts came together to make this costume. I never want to take it off.
Step one was finding the right fabric — something that would diffuse the LEDs but still remain flowy and light. I ended up using my old torn aerial tissu — it’s got runs and won’t support my weight anymore, so it’s been in the back of my closet for ages, but it’s made of tricot of the perfect weight and it was 120 inches wide. Also there was yards and yards of it, which is great because I needed to make the cloak two layers thick — one for diffusion and one for attaching the LEDs to. I used a cloak pattern from Simplicity and made the hood much, much larger to create a layered look. I also added pockets to both sides, so I’d have a good place to keep the electronics.
Next, I prepared the neopixels. I used individual neopixels and soldered them all together in three different strands — one for each side of the front and another for the back of the cloak. This took lots of wire and lots and lots of time and patience, but I got there eventually. Then I designed and printed snap-on cases with my 3d printer to protect the neopixels and solder joints and to keep everything from shorting if the cloak billowed around me. Then I sewed all the neopixels onto the outside of the cloak lining so they’d shine through the top cloak layer.
I took a pair of white satin opera gloves and cut the tip of the right index finger off, and set the color sensor in there. I covered it with a little half-dome of clear acrylic plastic to downplay the look of the color sensor a bit and glued it in place.
Then I took a push-button switch and sewed it in place at the tip of the middle finger. The way it works is that I can touch my thumb to my middle finger for a moment and that will activate the color sensor, which lights up and glows for about 2 seconds while it reads the color of whatever it’s touching. The sensor sends this data to the Flora, which then tells the LEDs what color to base their animation on.
For the headpiece, I cut a white felt top hat to accommodate the metal filigree of the mask, and added the ostrich feathers then glued all three pieces together. I added one LED on the back of the mask, shining inwards so it lights my face, and another behind the feathers and one on the roof of the top hat, illuminating the hat and the resin cabochon (filled with Venetian mosaic glass, of course, and set in a 3d printed setting). It looks lovely.
The hat, cloak, and glove all connect or disconnect with snap-together connectors, so it’s fairly easy to get in and out of this costume without help.
I added a matching cabochon to the front of the cloak to use as the clasp and added rhinestones and lace and just generally went overboard decorating the cloak.
For the code, I am using FastLED and the Twinkle code by Mark Kriegsman as a starting place, along with the sensor code by Phil Burgess from the Chameleon Scarf Adafruit guide. The random placement of the LEDs means that a random twinkling effect looks much better than a “solid on” type of pattern, so the cloak twinkles constantly… but blinking in the mask would drive me nuts so the hat and mask are running separate code that stays solid and steady but still changes with the sensor.
I also added some code so that a long press on the button resets the LEDs to white, since this code doesn’t ever read “white” no matter how white of a thing I touch. Here’s my code if you’re interested!
The color sensing doesn’t work quite as well as I’d like — it works maybe 2 out of 3 times, and the rest of the time the color is unexplainably wrong, or somehow the opposite color of whatever I’m touching. It’s interesting to learn what it likes and doesn’t like.. fluorescent colors confuse it to no end, as do shiny or sparkly things or very dark colors. Good solid bright colors seem to work best.
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