Chingo Pestañas (an abundance of eyelashes)


Project Description

General Concept

A decorative fedora designed with the intent of being worn by a musician, ie. a street or small venue performer.  The main feature is painterly decorum that is influenced by the Day Of the Dead artwork from the Mexican holiday Cinqo De Mayo. 

Actuators used

This aesthetic is achieved with glow-in-the-dark paint and a formation of fibre optics that are gathered to form eyelashes around the eye shapes of a partial face. 


The concept goal: as the musician plays, the colour of the lights at the ends of the fibres react to the pitch of the music being played (ie. low notes produce one colour / effect, high notes another) .  In the end I produced the effect of an array of colours encircling the eye area 

Parts list

  • Circuit Playground Express (Adafruit)
  • Chinly (0.75 mm) PMMA Plastic end Glow Fiber Optic Cable
  • Glow-in-the-dark paint
  • Adhesive Heat Shrink Tubing (Moveland)
  • Fedora (Found at the Salvation Army)
  • Thread (for attaching the circuit)
  • Battery (type)
  • Circuit Playground Sewable “Light Pipe Case” (by Firepixie, on Thingiverse)

The installation of the fibre optics had been extremely carefully considered and thoroughly researched.  It struck me as all too easy to wind up with bunches of too-fragile or permanently dead-ended fibres on account of poor and/or insecure connections, and I hoped to avoid that at all costs. 



I came across a 3D printable model on Thingiverse, and since it was the only model I could find that was designed just for the CPX, I went with it.  It’s a simple case with a twistable lid and ten 2.5 mm holes for the neopixels.  It also has openings for both the USB cord and the battery, as well as the option to access the A / B buttons on the CPX .  I don’t have many great things to say about this design, though I learned a lot about what I would revise about the model.  For one thing, the ‘button’ pieces that came with the model proved to be useless.  Though the code was set up to access the lights with the A button, the only way of getting to it was by sticking something small and thin through the hole for the button (not recommded).  Also the socket for the battery was off by a bit, making it pretty inflexible.  Upon testing it out, I quickly discovered the holes were far too small for my .75 mm fibres (I could only fit six fibres in each hole).  The other issue was that on their own, far too flimsy.  Unfortunately, early in my research about working with fibre optics, I had been misinformed about working with a glue gun.  I’d read that using hot glue to seal the ends of the fibres together would result in dimming the light they could transfer.  So I spent many hours troubleshooting many alternatives, none with great results.    

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Some of the attempts at establishing a more secure connection for the base of the fibres (where they meet the neopixels).

Using heat-shrink tubes was effective in creating a covered area around each neopixel, which helped insulate and direct the light through the attached bundle of fibres.  But it was tricky to get the fibres to sit securely in the bundles.  I found that by cramming as many fibres as I could into each tube – that turned out being 16 fibres.   I had to drill each of the holes on the Light Pipe case larger (3.5 mm diameter).

I eventually discovered that a glue gun could be used to seal the base of the bundle, though had to leave this as a final step that could only be done once all the fibres had been implemented in the hat.

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I had actually purchased a black fedora for this project and had just picked up the purple one from the Salvation Army as a tester.  But the glow paint looked so good against the purple that I decided to go with it instead.  


It took a while to figure out an effective way of threading the strands through the stiff fabric of the hat.  The only way I could do so by piercing holes with a utility knife, leaving the blade in the hole while feeding the strand through the opening.  Each fibre thus took a considerable amount of time to install. 

It was a good learning experience all the same, because in spite of the time it took and the complexity of the physical design, the structure itself was strong and from the code perspective, manageable (that is, until I encountered a port failure when using Arduino and was limited to MakeCode).  I had devoted a fair bit of time to the circuitry of the fibre installation, recalling something Nick Puckett had said in a Creative Compuation class last term about mapping components out in an Excel sheet.  I wanted as much control over the fibre optic lights as possible, avoiding a random array of colours as it can appear kitsch.



Circuit Diagram that describes how each of the ‘eyelash’ sockets would be connected to the corresponding neopixels on the Circuit Playground Express.  


The fibres are connected to numbered holes that in turn feed into CPX.  Scotch tape was used to establish temporary connections that would be sealed together with a glue gun once all the fibres were connected.  



Project Context

The idea was inspired by a musician who I was speaking with recently, who was trying to figure out ways to enhance his performance visually to help captivate his audience while having limited access to props.  A hat seemed the right solution: portable, wearable and with attention directed at the desired focal point (the face).  All the while it’s fun, adds a sense of theatre and drama, with the fibre optics adding an extra layer of music festival style.

Off the bat I knew I wanted to work with fibre optics on account of their visual appeal and potential as an artistic medium.  I set myself certain parameters (ie. it had to be small scale I needed to be able to control the pattern created by the light) and was forced to work with other restrictions (I’d wanted to work with side-emitting fibres but couldn’t get them ordered in time).  I explored countless designs and read many blogs, a process that proved really helpful in terms of brainstorming and trouble-shooting simultaneously.  One of my favourite pieces was the Jelly Fish Skirt, and I considered making a variation of it but I was too intimidated by the notion of working with an RGB strip.  It seemed very expensive both in terms of time and money, but it also left a lot of room for error (at least in my experience).  I seemed wise to stick with the CPX.  I then considered ideas that involved connecting neopixel rings to the CPX and using the latter to light the fibre optics strands, but these additional connections added another layer of complexity.

Gathering what I had learned and observed about fibre optics, it seemed logical to fan them out in a circular fashion, so that they sprouted out from the shape of the CPX while making consistent use of all ten neopixels on the board.  Meanwhile I was still waiting for my coil of fibre optics to arrive, and the research, planning and 3D printing of the case for the CPX took several days.  I had initially designed a detailed pattern for an umbrella inspired by a company called Lumisonata that specializes in luminous products (actually a ‘kids’ umbrella because I’d read that the light carried in the fibres maxed out at 1 – 1.5 feet).  I illustrated the pattern and built out two prototypes, and started working on a prototype.  I soon discovered though, when the fibres did finally arrive, that they actually maxed out at 8 inches at the very most.

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Initial circuit design patterns for the umbrella concept. 

I hit the drawing board again, this time with a new size constraint.  It hadn’t been long into my research journey that I found that where fibre optic wearables are concerned, almost all roads lead to festival art and attire.  Inspired by festival art but with the intent on a piece that could leave the desert and exist easily on the streets, I thought of the upcoming end-of-winter holidays: the Mardi Gras festival in New Orleans, St. Patty’s Day and the most artistically impressive of the lot, Cinco de Mayo.  Finally I remembered the musician, who had in fact been asking me about portable light rigs that could help enhance his performance. 

I was inspired by a brilliant concept by Kaitlyn Hova : a violin that lights up internally according to what notes of the strings.  Hova had designed the violin with the intent of creating visual demonstration of synethesia (the crossing of two senses so that one sense is experienced when reacting to another, ie. in this case, seeing light when hearing sound). 

Since it wasn’t really feasible for me to 3-D print a guitar, the simple use of a hat for a guitar player seemed to finally fit the bill.  For starters, the CPX and fibres could be hidden in the area above the head, I hoped in a way that would not bother the user.  I tested this but could only know so much without the physical installation of the 384 fibres.  Additionally, musicians typically wear hats during performances, and they could serve as a small, portable light show.  But the design would have to be carefully considered: The light ‘show’ couldn’t be distracting for the sake of it, but rather add a subtle magical quality to the musical performance.  Since the end-emitting fibre lights are very small and numerous, it started to make sense to see them more as a complimentary medium to a design rather than the principle feature.  This is what led me to explore glow-in-the-dark paint.  I envisioned an intricately painted concept that lit up above the musician’s face, animated by the fibre optics woven throughout the painted design. 
I searched for ideas that I could build from as far as the hat was concerned but stylistically speaking, most of what I came across seemed a bit too festival/nightlife driven.  This LED-lit straw top-hat appealed to me, although I was aiming for something far different and more elaborate. 
If I were to do this project again, I think I’d opt for a hat with a more spacious head compartment, like a top-hat or a 10-gallon cowboy hat.  I also would have aimed for a less strategic light design than the eyelashes, and opted for something more organic and dispersed. 


  1. Wassong, L. Fiber Optic Jellyfish Skirt.  Instructibles : Circuits.

  2. Bruner-Yang, E. Could 3-D Printing Save Music Education? From The Long Conversation.  Smithsonian Magazine.

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