For the past two years a very unusual scene has played out in Greensboro, North Carolina. In late January merfolk migrate from all around the world to show off their tails, splash, and play together at North Carolina Mermania. But amongst almost 400 homemade and handcrafted mermaids one stands out: Mermaid Glimmer.
This gorgeous tail built by Erin St. Blaine is the only waterproof swimmable LED mermaid tail in the world. As you might expect mixing water and programmable LEDs is no easy feat. This project has been three years in the making and has gone through many major revisions to become the beautiful and robust piece that it is today.
Even without the technology the tail is stunning and shows an amazing level of craftsmanship. St. Blaine first constructed the tail out of neoprene and a Monofin swimming fin. Then she used paint to add a scaly texture and topped it off with plenty of rhinestones, gems, and lace.
This was St. Blaine’s first large scale LED costuming project. And it was an ambitious one, to say the very least. Mermaid Glimmer has 180 addressable waterproof LEDs that St. Blaine cast in resin or sealed in silicone for additional waterproofing.
All in all, the original version of the tail weighed a whopping 25 pounds. Currently on its third major revision, the tail weighs closer to 15 pounds. On the positive side, it becomes near neutrally buoyant in water. “Though it still takes some time and some serious abs to flip the tail up when it’s wet,” according to St. Blaine.
The LEDs are controlled by an Arduino Micro that St. Blaine has connected via Bluetooth to an Android app that she custom made for the project. This has been one of the more challenging parts of the project for a couple of reasons. For one thing, this was her very first Android project. But it has also proven to be a challenge because with every redesign of the tail’s LEDs she has needed to do a complete overhaul of Android app. Nonetheless, it looks like she has done a beautiful job of integrating her controls into a usable platform.
St. Blaine was able to use the FastLED Arduino library to get some amazing different moods and themes working very quickly. She also, after many attempts, has been able to synchronize the lights to a song that she and her husband recorded together.
Ultimately, Mermaid Glimmer is an amazing and very ambitious creation. St. Blaine says that the project has been really hard and that “the sheer amount of tinkering and tearing down and rebuilding and fixing was unbelievable. If I’d known how hard this would be at the outset, I probably would have given up before I started.”
But her passion and enthusiasm for Mermaid Glimmer clearly shine through. “Sometimes ignorance is a blessing. But when a project is driven by passion, and when you just refuse to give up, all the frustration can become worth it in the end.” St. Blaine is currently performing with Mermaid Glimmer every chance that she gets including private bookings, photo-shoots, and even mermaid conferences. You can learn more about the amazing process of creating and re-creating and re-creating Mermaid Glimmer on St. Blaine’s blog. Or follow Mermaid Glimmer on her very own facebook page.