Thanks for the replies, but these chips look to be 8-bit and 16-channel respectively, which would mean clocking out a whole lot of useless information just to turn a digital light on or off. I've played with LED strips, but couldn't find any which are suitably flexible in two axis (most just flex on one axis, as they're a flat strip). I also played with 'led pixels' - strings of lights with lpd6803 15-bit rgb lights. These are flexible enough, but require the controller output clock signal even when there are no updates to keep the pwm going, and all the preformed led pixels I could find were quite large - wouldn't really work in the sort of small tube I'm hoping to build, and all of them required 5 or 12 volts, which would mean including a boost converter as well, making a portable (wearable) project even heavier than it needs be, while probably wasting that extra power in resistors to convert the power back down to something suitable for the LEDs.
RGB and PWM are totally unnecessary, and I'd rather keep costs down, unless 3-channel drivers really are the only way to reasonably do this - I can probably get away with sending dummy data to pad things out if need be, but it just seems so wasteful.
What I'm most ideally looking for is essentially just one single stage of a parallel shift register. I saw some stuff about astable something or other flip flop things, but I don't understand any of it. I've only just gotten my head around PNP and NPN transistors, and most of the articles talking about these things don't seem to use terribly googlable phrases or be that helpful towards beginners. If someone could enlighten me on how these things work, that would be wonderfully helpful.