Assembling the Headpiece

Place a “do rag” on a foam wig head. If you plan to wear the finished piece with goggles, add those to the head too and mark above the strap with chalk, all the way around. This way you won’t install dreads in the area where a strap needs to be.

Aside from looking cool in their own right, goggles can help hide the hairline in front.
Cut a whole bunch of pieces of cloth ribbon or elastic, each about 2 inches long. Fold these in half into little loops.

You’ll need a bunch of these…not just for the “active” dreads (those with LEDs installed), but extras for “passive” dreads as well.

The full wig gets quite “hairy” as it goes together, so we’ll demonstrate with just a few ribbons to help keep things clear.
Figure an arrangement for your “active” LED dreads first, then some extra “passive” dreads around them. The way these all hang, most will be anchored up toward the crown of the head, you probably won’t need any down by the goggles strap. Pin things in place temporarily as you work out these positions.

Once you’ve settled on an arrangement, the loops can be secured with basting glue or a couple of hand stitches.
After the basting glue has dried (or immediately, if you hand-stitched them), sew the loops securely to the do-rag. This is easiest with a sewing machine, but hand-sewing can work if you’re patient.
Because the loops will be load bearing (supporting the weight of the LED strips), you want to make sure they’re extra secure. Sew back and forth over each loop at least three times.
Finish all the sewing before proceeding with the next step. Just like the soldering, it’s most efficient to work in batches rather than continually switching modes.

Mount “Active” Dreads

Cut a piece of tubular crinoline ribbon at least 2-3 inches longer than each of your LED strips.
To keep the LED strips from poking out the bottoms of the dreads as they move around, pinch the end shut using a small cable tie, then clip away the excess “zipper” part of the tie. You can then push this up into the tube to hide the cable tie knot.
Slide all of the LED strips into the tubes.
Put a small cable tie through one of the elastic loops, then start to close it on itself. Don’t cinch it down yet…keep it open, just the first click or two.
Bring the wires for one LED strand up through this cable tie ring.
Feed the crinoline tube and base of the LED strip through the cable tie, then start to cinch it down. The cable tie should close down on the groove you created earlier — the narrow section between the LED strip and the hot glue flange.
Cinch it down tightly. There should be no wiggle between the dread and cable tie.
Then clip away the cable tie “zipper.” Wire cutters are okay for this, but I’ve found that nail clippers give a perfect, scratch-free edge.
Optionally, a second cable tie can be added just above the flange, to keep fraying under control.
Repeat these steps for all of your “active” dreads first. Once that’s done, you can position the microcontroller and start routing wires.

Install Trinket and Route Wires

Because Trinket is so tiny, we can actually mount it right on the wig…no need to run all these wires to a pocket (we’ll do that for just the battery).

In order to distribute power and data to all of these strips, a small Perma Proto board was used. If you’d like to give everything a dry run first, you can hook things up temporarily on a breadboard, then transfer everything over to the Perma Proto once you’re satisfied.

Our wig used 10 LED strips. These were installed such that then “fan out” from a ring near the top of the head, looking like some sort of luminous deep-sea squid landed there. Viewed from the top (with the Trinket board at the back), it looks a bit like this:
This guide was written for the Trinket Mini board. The pins used are the same for the Trinket M0. We recommend the Trinket M0 as it is easier to use and is more compatible with modern computers!
(Diagram shows LPD8806 LED strips rather than NeoPixels, but the idea is the same.)
Position the Trinket/proto board at the back of the head where it will be less visible, then sew a few loops of thread through one of the board’s mounting holes. This is just a temporary hold…you want to be able to flip the board over and solder underneath…we’ll sew it down more securely later.

+ and – from the battery needs to reach all the strips and the Trinket board (the Bat+ and Gnd pins). Depending on the number of LED strips and the proto board configuration, you may need to bridge a few tracks together. Clip each wire to a more manageable length as you’re routing them, then strip and solder them to the board (clipping any excess wire from underneath). It gets quite chaotic, hence the recommendation for color-coding the wires. Like all the prior steps, work methodically…for example, route all the ground wires, then all the +V wires, then signals.

The Trinket board only has five output pins, but our wig has ten LED strips. What we’ve done is connect two strips to each pin: the rear-most strip on the left and front-most strip on the right are both connected to Pin #0. Second rear-most left strip and second front-most right strip are connected to Pin #1, and so forth. You should be able to connect up to 3 or 4 strips per pin if necessary, but any more than that may become unreliable as the Trinket can only push so much current per pin.

Some users have reported trouble with uploading code to the board when NeoPixels are attached to Pins #3 and/or #4. This is one good reason for testing with a breadboard first. If you can upload code with no problem, then that’s great, you can install it permanently this way. If you encounter trouble, there are a couple of options:
  • Add female socket headers to the proto board, so the Trinket can be removed for programming and then reinstalled. Or…
  • Add a 2-pin JST connector to Pins #3 and #4, with the opposite plug connected to the corresponding LED strips. Unplug this connector before uploading code, then reconnect afterward.
The battery pack is relatively heavy and would pull the wig down, so we added about 3 feet of wire and hide the pack in a pocket. This is another good spot for a 2-pin JST connector or a DC power jack and plug set.

Test all the electronics using the code on the next page (or write your own) before wrapping up this stage. Once you’re satisfied, the proto board can be stitched down more securely. If you’ll be wearing this somewhere warm or might just be dancing and perspiring a lot, first cover the underside of the board with a couple layers of packing tape or glue down some craft foam to help prevent electrical shorts. Perspiration — being mostly salt water — is both conductive and corrosive!

Mount “Passive” Dreads

For passive dreads, fraying at the ends can be controlled by simply pushing the tips inside-out on themselves, no need for cable ties.
You can make these twice as long, then pinch and fold them in the middle to do two dreads at once. Here we’re doing it with just one tube…but these pinch down so small, you can do it with a whole handful all at once!
Continue filling out the empty spots in your wig until the desired level of poofyness is reached.

If you’re running short of crinoline tubes, or if you just want to add some variety, you can mix it up with long strips of craft foam, colorful bits of ribbon, or lengths of flat ribbon cable for a technological theme.
This guide was first published on Oct 30, 2013. It was last updated on Oct 30, 2013. This page (Assembling the Headpiece) was last updated on Apr 21, 2019.