Chingo Pestañas (continued)


This is the final iteration of a concept that started with the Expressive Wearables project: A decorative fedora with fibre optics incorporated into the design.  The microcontroller is sewn in to the upper lid of the hat interior.  I used glow-in-the-dark on the hat exterior, in a design that is inspired from the skeletal imagery from Cinco de Mayo, the Mexican holiday.  The fibre optic strands protrude from around the eye-sockets in large bushels, resulting in a vibrant, colourful effect.  The microcontroller is battery-powered so the hat is portable.



My goal was to create something decoratively artistic, that made use of a microcontroller without drawing attention to its use.  I also wanted the technical component to have artistic flare while adding to the overall appearance rather than dominating it.  Mostly though, I wanted to work with fibre optics, as I’ve come across some very interesting work that’s intended more for display than wearables, and thought this might serve as an opportunity to familiarize myself with their behaviour.


Intended to be worn by…

Initially I’d aspired to create an accessory for a musician.  I had plans to program the microcontroller to respond to high / low pitch sounds with corresponding light effects.  A musician had asked me once if I could design a portable light show for their set.  I pictured this idea as a funny play on that concept: a light show on the head of the musician that draws attention to the focal point (the face) and adding flare, while not distracting away from the performance.


Where it would be used

I pictured it being used in performances where portability is key: either in a pub or maybe busking on a busy street at night.  Once it was well-underway it seemed to beg to be taken to Burning Man or some sort of music festival.  It doesn’t look like any of that will be possible any time soon though, so it will likely serve to amp up my Zoom game on Saturday night video hangs.


How it works

The microcontroller – a Circuit Fruit Playground Express (CX) – is nested in a a 3D-printed incasing with a removal lid.  The lid has 12 holes; ten for the fibre optic bundles to access the neopixels, and two smaller holes for accessing the A and B buttons on the CX.  Each bundle of fibres has 12 strands that feed into plastic tubing (the kind used for insulating soldered wires with a heat gun).  Trouble-shooting the assembly process for these bundles was no small feat.  Because each exterior fibre tip was needed to emit light, it’s opposing end needed to contact the surface of a neopixel.  To achieve this, the fibre bundles had to be secured together in a way that prevented them from sliding around, so that the ends could line up evenly.

I used tiny elastics to bind the bundles closely together, fed them through a tube, letting their ends hang out the unevenly on the neopixel side of the tube.  Once all ten bundles were fed through the tubes, I connected each tube to a hole in the lid of the encasing box.  This part was a big improvement from the previous iterations of the design.  I had overthought the design process of these tubes, thinking I would be able to do very precise programming with the lights.  that might still be possible, but in hindsight my mistake was planning out their code schematic intact with number codes for each of the bundles / neopixels / holes in the hat.  Next time, I’ll know to focus a lot more on what makes sense as I go along in the assembly, instead of trying to stick to a map (that ended in near-tears).  After starting over from scratch, I let the bundles dictate which hole made most sense.


The fiber bundles finally well-secured


The fibers before getting adjusted / trimmed.

Once all the tubed bundles were fed into the encasement, I gently maneuvered the structure to where it needed to fit in the hat.  It involved a lot of fiddling with the slack of the bundles – so word to the wise, if you’re trying a project similar to this, make sure you’ve been very generous with the lengths of your fiber strands.  Once it was finally fitted appropriately, I pushed the elastics down to meet with the top of the tubing, then used a glue gun to ‘weld’ the tube to the elastic, thereby fixing the length.

Finally, I removed the tubing from the encasement, cut the fibers to be evenly flush with the mouth of the tube, then, pushing the mouth a slight bit past the ends of the fiber, added a bit of hot glue to fasted the ends together.  The other ends of the fibers were fed through the felt of the hat.  I used a pin-needle/knife process for this; the pin to pierce the location where I wanted the fiber to come through, then on the interior side of the hat, I used the knife to create a bigger opening where the needle came through, then slid finagled the fiber through that hole.  This was an excessively nerve-wracking and time-consuming process to repeat 120 times (not including the first failed attempt of the same number, which were all eventually removed, as well as the few dozen that slid out by accident).  Experience paid off in all other areas except this – I’m sure there’s a more efficient way of doing it, like 3-D printing a tube just large enough to fit the fiber, with a very sharp tip that could pierce the felt.  This was my big takeaway actually.  If I could figure out a solution for faster needlepoint with the fiber, then I’ve otherwise got the felt/fiber optic process down to a science.



Because I have previously discussed this project as it relates to wearable concepts of a similar context / variety, I’d like to expand beyond the topic of wearables to fibre optic artwork in the broader sense.  The intrigue about fiber optics is that in order to take effect, they need to be working in large masses.  This elicits an enticing challenge from the outset.  An idea may start with an artistic vision, but every step following requires a lot of strategy, patience and testing.  I think the real challenge is that the time between the original idea and the final product is a very long stretch, without a lot of wiggle room for error along the way.  But the quest for that result is addictive, and that determination will surprise you in how well it can suppress the anxiety of working with so many moving parts.

Contextually the process is somewhat reminiscent to pointillism, a genre of painting made famous by Georges Seurat in late 19th century France.  The style itself was inspired by colour theories in terms of their optical effects and perception found in the scientific research of Michel Eugène Chevreul and Ogden Rood.  Seurat applied miniature dots of brush stroke colours closely together so that from a slight distance, the human eye perceived the differing colours as a single shade or hue.  Seurat hoped that the technique would succeed in making the colours more brilliant and with more power than brushstrokes.  
It was on these terms that working with fiber optics fascinated me.  Though they have been utilized in a variety of ways, I favour the styles that use the end-emitting light to convey brilliant hues when displayed closely together, while also executing a level of control over the display.  Although fibre optics can look brilliant when the light effect is haphazard, the strategic placement of each light is the human quality I appreciate most.  I love the idea of the time invested in plotting out several hundred individual lights to achieve the effect of a greater whole.

Oil on canvas by Georges Seurat, Art Institute of Chicago

Oil on canvas by Georges Seurat, Art Institute of Chicago


One such fiber optic artist is Bruce Munro.  For Munro, a lighting technician by trade (and retired by now), fiber optics are his paint and sprawling fields of night are his canvas.  Initially inspired by nights spent camping out in the Australian desert in his youth, Munro was struck by the contrast of the green grass to the surrounding red desert, or how the desert would burst into colourful flowers when it rained.  The idea of replicating the effect with fibre optics sat with him for years, till finally at the Eden Project in Cornwall, he finally brought it ‘to light’.  Set on a sloping grass roof of clover, the Field of Light is comprised of 6,000 acrylic stems fed with fibre optics and sealed by glass spheres.  The area spans 60 x 20 meters, and the 24,000 meters of fibre optic cable are powered by 11 external projectors.


Bruce Munro, Fiber Optics, Cornwall, United Kingdom

Bruce Munro, Fiber Optics, Cornwall, United Kingdom


When I came across the work of Malin Bobek Tadaa, a Swedish textile artist who creates fibre optic installations on a more intimate scale, I was immediately reminded of scuba diving.  I did some live-sketching of coral reefs and struggled for ages to figure out a format I could convert them to that would do justice to the luminous, ominous presence of aquatic life.  Tadaa seems to have risen to a similar challenge and succeeded in conveying the soft brilliant patterns weaving through the darkness by way of fibre optics.  Her suspended tapestries and bulbous sculptures reactive to human touch, in her show Tactile Refuge.  In this interactive installation, Tadaa invites viewers to place their hands on the sculptures, and as they do, the colour of the interwoven lights within change in reaction.  The more hands that are in contact with the work at once, the greater the strength of the light reaction, evoking changes on the atmosphere of the space.

Tadaa had aspired to bring people together while encouraging awe and wonder from the individual.  It’s great to now have the ability to really see the work of an artist, all that must have gone into the production to achieve the effect.  From a technical standpoint, I can see how the fabric pockets for each individual strand could have only been the brainchild of an experienced textile artist.  I would like to attempt something similar – narrow slates of fabric – with the help of a sewing machine.  The assembly is so engineered and meticulous – all in the name of an effect that flows organically while secured to withstand the hands of many.

Malin Bobeck Tadaa optical fibers and LEDs Stockholm, Sweden, 2017

Malin Bobeck Tadaa
optical fibers and LEDs
Stockholm, Sweden, 2017


  • 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)
  • Alterations of the Light Pipe Case.



By far the largest challenge was securing the fibres in a way that was flexible enough move the bundles around as individual components, as well as the entire contraption inside the hat.  These adjustments were essential, and were responsible for breaking my first version of this hat because the fibre bundles had been too fragile.  It took ages to finally get to a solution that worked, but once I got there, I felt hugely accomplished, like I’d created a prototype of sorts.


Where to go from here

I know now that I could reuse this system to create some pretty awesome looking fibre optic art, while having total control over the structure and code as well.  I would like to try reworking this system on a surface rather than as a wearable.  I like the idea of recreating a mini-version of Munro’s field, with a few display modes that perhaps alter according to the tempo of music.  It sounds challenging but at least considerably less so that it did before this project.


Under different circumstances, I would have…

I had planned to continue with this fiber optic project because I’d learned what to improve in the first version.  The key feature was the revamping of the 3D-printed encasing.  I had sourced the design online (reference in previous documentation) and had it printed directly from the model provided.  I had intended to add my own touches to the model, namely converting the holes in the lid into cones that extruded outwards for stronger support, and cylindrical tubing that extended on the underside of the lid, to better direct the fibres to the neopixels.  It might have saved a lot of time and trouble.

Had I saved time there, I would have made use of the extra hours by investing more into the light code – which I do regret not having at this point.  Arduino seems to be completely crashed on my laptop so I was left with make code and there weren’t a lot of options available there.  It would have been great to be able to bring my laptop in to have Kate or another experienced Arduino person take a look at it.



Amory, Dita. “Goerges Seurat (1859 – 1891) and Neo-Impressionism”.  October, 2004. Heilbrunn, Timeline of Art History, The Met.


“Pointillism: 7 Things You Need to Know”.  Sotheby’s.  21 May, 2018,


Chino, Mike. “Artist Bruce Munro Creates Brilliant Fiber Optic Fields of Light”.  Aug., 2013, Inhabitat,


“Tactile Refuge”, Colour Emotions – Broken Illlutions at Hallwyl Museum.  Feb., 2017, Stockholm, Sweden,

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