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Textiles and technology

As OCA textiles students you will have a growing awareness that the subject of textiles is wide and varied. It encompasses fine art, decorative textiles for fashion and interiors and also more functional textiles designed for medical and engineering purposes. The OCA is not in the position to expose you to the practical aspects of innovations in textile technology but having an awareness of the area will help develop your thinking and textile practice. Wide background reading enhances your practice by encouraging new fresh ideas that develop in exciting directions. In this blog post I will introduce you to the recent technological innovations of embedded technology, growing fabrics and software platforms for clothing design.
The digital giant Google started Project Jacquard in 2015 to research the possibilities of combining textile materials with digital technology in ways that seem natural and comfortable. The idea of wearable technology is not particularly new but in this project the hand picked team is made up of experts from fashion, tailoring, textile manufacturing and digital engineering to come up with novel but saleable products. The platform encompasses techniques for creating fashion fabrics with conductive fibres woven into them along with small flexible computing components and feedback devices. One aspect of the project has been working with the jean manufacturer Levi to create a jacket for urban bike users that connects to a mobile phone that is then controlled by the wearer via the cuff of the jacket. The touch sensitive technology within the Levi Commuter is invisible allowing the garment to maintain its design credentials.
For me the most extraordinary area of development is the ‘growing’ of textile materials from microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast, fungi and algae. One of the leaders in this field is the designer Suzanne Lee. Through an encounter with biologist when she was asking the question “what will clothes look like in 50 years time” the idea of growing fabric and garments began to form in her mind. By using the simple recipe of green tea + sugar + microbes left for two weeks in a warm place produces a thick spongy mat. The yeast and bacteria in the fermentation solution feed on the sugar creating nano fibrils that knit into a dense structure on the surface of the liquid. This material is then dried out to produce a fine leathery structure that can be cut and sewn in the conventional way. The process still in an experimental stage holds the potential to make clothes with minimal cheap resources that at the end of their lives can simply be composted with the vegetable peelings.
Part fashion label part experimental design lab Continuum Fashion have developed digital platforms that can be used to design bespoke clothing. Embedded in new technologies, media and culture the founders of Continuum Fashion Mary Huang and Jenna Fizel have sort to investigate new ways of producing clothing. Instead of making objects they have employed the connective nature of the Internet to assist individuals to create their own clothing. They have done this by building software that enables the users to create custom made garments. CONSTVCT is an on going crowd sourced fashion label “where all the designs are made by all the people.” Users individualise style and sizing then from their own images create a digitally printed surface design. This interaction design method encourages consumers to invest themselves in the clothes they wear and buy clothes that are the fit and style they like which will promote longer use.
I suspect like me you have many questions about these solution led textile initiatives. Like how does a fabric grown from yeast and bacteria feel to wear? What happens when embedded technology goes wrong and how will Continuum Fashion affect the wider industry? But what is so exciting is the drive to innovate and challenge conventional thinking. We can’t all make these big steps in textiles but these practitioners have so much to teach us about taking risks, being brave and experimenting, traits assessors look for in your work. I also suggest that reading widely and becoming really knowledgeable in your field will stimulate innovative ideas of your own.
3D Printing Fashion: How I 3D-Printed Clothes at Home. Danit Peleg (2015) YouTube Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3s94mIhCyt4
Buechley L, Peppler K. A, Eisenberg M. B. and Kafai Y. B. (2013) Textile Messages: Dispatches From the World of e-Textiles and Education (New Liteacies and Digital Epistemologies. Oxford: Peter Lang Publishing
Create Custom Clothing Online. The Creators Project (2013) YouTube Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owHEaz9s7E8
Continuum Fashion http://www.continuumfashion.com/projects.php
Danit Peleg. 3D Printed Fashion http://danitpeleg.com
Fairs M. (2014) Microbes are “the factories of the future.” Dezeen. https://www.dezeen.com/2014/02/12/movie-biocouture-microbes-clothing-wearable-futures/
Hallett C and Johnson A. (2014) Fabric for Fashion: the Complete Guide: Natural and man-made fibres. London: Laurence King
Hartman K. (2014) Make: Wearable Electronics: Design, prototype, and wear your own interactive garments. San Francisco: Maker Media
Howarth D. (2016) Google teams up with Levi’s to create interactive denim jacket. Dezeen https://www.dezeen.com/2016/05/26/google-project-jacquard-levis-commuter-jacket-interactive-denim-smart-fabric-garment-urban-cycling/
Indvik L. (2012) Bikini? Shoes? This Duo Will 3D Print Your Wardrobe. Mashable UK http://mashable.com/2012/07/17/3d-printing-continuum-fashion/ – PYpmKA.ED8qy
Lee S and du Preez W. (2007) Fashioning the Future: Tomorrow’s Wardrobe. London: Thames and Hudson
N12.bikini – Intro Video. Continuum Fashion (2011) Vimeo Video https://vimeo.com/24435512
Marriott H. (2015) Are we ready to 3D print our own clothes? The Guardian Online https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2015/jul/28/are-we-ready-to-print-our-own-3d-clothes
McKnight J. (2015) ODO unveils cotton jeans and t-shirts that clean themselves. Dezeen. https://www.dezeen.com/2015/12/29/odo-cotton-jeans-t-shirts-clean-themselves-fashion-kickstarter/
Project Jacquard. https://atap.google.com/jacquard/
Quinn B. (2012) Fashion Futures. London: Merrell
Sarotis: Wearable Futures. Interactive Architecture Lab (2013) Vimeo Video https://vimeo.com/184714613
Suzanne Lee. TEDx London Business School (2012) YouTube Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6lfnX62Pq8
Welcome to Project Jacquard. Google ATAP (2015) YouTube Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qObSFfdfe7I

Posted by author: Rebecca Fairley
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4 thoughts on “Textiles and technology

  • Great article, really exiting leads, Rebecca. Thanks so much. I am on my 5th sample using the kombucha tea (based on another TED talk of Lee), But with this new London TED there are some new ideas to include in my next samples 🙂
    You do not happen to know Lee personally, do you? I am having some technical issues with my samples become more and more paper like (not leather like – only the first one was) I am wondering what she add to the mix that softens it. I am thinking sculptural work for MMT (not garments)……just at the idea level yet. /thanks again Inger W.

  • It’s amazing how quickly science fiction becomes science-based reality. I’ve got a novel called ‘Woman on the Edge of Time’ by Marge Piercy (originally published in 1976) in which (p.171) a group of characters discuss making ‘flimsies’ for a party and describe the process of making them as being made out of algae and natural dyes, for one use only and being composted afterwards, while the garment itself is described as “a jiggling thing made of small bubbles, weightless and loosely bound together” (p.172)…..
    So many leads to follow up on in your article! – I have just borrowed from the library a different book but same author as one of those you reference – Bradley Quinn, and this cites the work of Emily Crane, who uses “sugars, proteins and foaming agents to create wearable membranes” (p. 118 in Quinn, B (2013) Textile Visionaries – Innovation and Sustainability in Textile Design, London, Laurence King Publishing). The pictures featured look almost how I imagine the fictional garment from the novel.

  • Makes me think of the glass fibre wedding dress and shoes made in 1943 for the wife of Professor Turner who interestingly was a glass technologist at Sheffield University, not in the textile or fashion sectors. In fact it was reported that the glass shoes cut her feet and I guess the dress was scratchy. They can be seen today in eTurner Museum of Glass in Sheffield. As a poet and Creative Writing Tutor, I’ve been writing a sequence of poems in the voice (yes voice) of well-known (and lesser known) women’s clothes, eg. Isadora Duncan’s scarf, and Agnes Richter’s Jacket. I’m now thinking not only about Mrs Turner’s glass fibre wedding dress,but possibly Emily Crane’s sugar membrane garments.

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