How to make an ugly, tech-centric holiday sweater

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’Tis the season for eggnog, gift giving, and…oversize knitted sweaters plastered with reindeer. Yes, nothing says holiday cheer quite like a cozy, tacky creation straight out of grandma’s closet. Any other time of the year, I wouldn’t touch an ugly sweater with a 39-and-a-half-foot pole, but for some reason the holiday season brings out my love for festive flavors of irony, camp, and nostalgia.

holidaysweaters primary Michael Homnick

Sweaters galore!

Whether you want to go for the gold at an ugly sweater-themed party (and I should know, as I’ve dominated TechHive’s annual holiday-sweater competition for the past two years), or you just want to wear something unusually festive, here are three holiday-sweater designs that you can re-create at home. The twist is that these designs use cool technology to keep the ugly-sweater trend from becoming as stale as last year’s gingerbread house.

Light it up

If you already have a wonderfully horrendous holiday sweater but you need a little something to make it extra cheery, add some lights. I celebrate Hanukkah, so my friend and I made matching menorah sweaters with a light for each candle. Just attach a string of LED lights and hide the battery pack inside.

Things you’ll need:

  • Battery-operated LED lights with batteries (such as this set from Innoo Tech)
  • Duct tape
  • A sharp object (I used a drawing compass with a sharp point)
  • Shoelace eyelets or tiny rubber bands
  • Sharpie permanent marker
  • Hot-glue gun
  • Any sweater (your local thrift shop is likely a treasure trove)

First, decide where you want to place the lights, and then mark the spots on the sweater with a Sharpie. Next, poke holes into the spots for the lights to peek through. (If you have a proper knitted or wool sweater, you might be able to just poke the lights through the material without cutting holes; sweatshirts and thicker sweaters need a sharp device.) Finally, put the battery pack inside the sweater and pop each individual light through a hole so that the lights are on the front and the battery pack and cables are inside.


You can’t celebrate the Festival of Lights without...lights.

The trick is getting the lights to stay put, and that’s where the shoelace eyelets or rubber bands come in. (Rubber O-rings for plug earrings work great, and you can purchase them individually.) Once you’ve strung the lights through, slide a fastener around each bulb on the outside. Then, secure the backs in place with a bit of hot glue on the inside of the sweater. As for the battery pack, stick it to the inside of the sweater with duct tape.

The beauty of this add-on is that everything on a sweater looks fancier with a few well-placed lights. Try lighting up a Christmas tree, Rudolph’s nose, snowflakes, or anything else you can dream of.

Matching phone

To capture the glory of all the sweaters that you and your friends are wearing, you’ll undoubtedly keep your phone by your side all night. Decorate your phone to match, however, and you and your phone can be twinsies!

holiday sweater

See the present under the tree? Yep, it’s an iPhone.

Things you’ll need:

  • Cheap phone case
  • Art supplies for decorating
  • Sweater

This one is easy: Just use the leftover scraps from your sweater project or other art supplies to decorate the case, and then fit it around your phone. You could even use wrapping paper and ribbon, as I did—I turned my iPhone into a miniature present to go under the Christmas tree on my sweater. Precious.

For people who would rather not do the crafting, online marketplaces Zazzle and Red Bubble sell matching T-shirts and phone cases with holiday-themed patterns.

The ultimate accessory

If you want the most spirited sweater of them all, make it interactive—with an iPad. Yes, an iPad. A hoodless sweatshirt works best with this design, but trust me: It will be plenty festive.

Things you’ll need:

  • iPad or other tablet
  • Scissors
  • Duct tape
  • Shoelace
  • Masking tape
  • Plastic wrap
  • Art supplies of your choice (for embellishment)
  • Sweater or sweatshirt

First, lay the tablet flat on the sweater (or sweatshirt) in the spot you want to display it. Place strips of masking tape on the sweater around the tablet’s edges to mark where it will go. Move the tablet to the side, and cut along the lines on the sweater where you just marked—this opening serves as the window where you will display the tablet. Remove the fabric scrap from the sweater.



Now you’re ready to decorate the rest of the sweater with whatever holiday motif you like! I opted for a garland and gingerbread men, with lots of glitter, puff balls, felt reindeer, and other accoutrements. Consider framing the tablet window to make it pop.

When you’re satisfied with the sweater design, move on to the iPad. Before you attach it to the sweater, cover it in plastic wrap. The covering keeps the screen and back safe from smudges and “party fouls,” yet still allows you to use the tablet’s multitouch display. Then, it’s time to get technical: Flip the sweater inside out, and use duct tape to secure the tablet directly to the sweater itself so that the display pops through the window you cut out.

Take the shoelace, and duct-tape each end to either side of the tablet, so that it forms an upside-down U and lines up with the sweater’s collar. The shoelace will serve to anchor the tablet around your neck, as the sweater can’t support the tablet’s weight on its own. It’s like wearing a necklace—a really beefy necklace that’s attached to your shirt.

(Does that sound like too much work? Let an elf do the heavy lifting for you. Morphsuit’s Digital Dudz has a collection of holiday sweaters with built-in pouches for your smartphone or tablet, and each sweater comes with a corresponding app for your device that fits the theme of the sweater.)

Finally, pick something festive to play, such as a photo slideshow, a holiday movie, or a Yule-log app. Pop the sweater on, and you’re ready to go. The result is glorious—a holiday miracle, even.

Get creative

When it comes to holiday cheer, the sky is the limit. These are just three of the many ways you can incorporate tech gear into your festive garb. Experiment with your camera, or perhaps a small portable speaker. Whatever sweater design you choose is sure to be a head-turner, and tech can help you get there. Happy holidays!

This story, "How to make an ugly, tech-centric holiday sweater" was originally published by TechHive.

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