Monday, September 29, 2008

Moving house

I'm rather frantic right now... today is my last day in Quebec City before moving for a three month stay to Toronto, as part of my sabbatical leave. I've almost got everything done, today is for tidying up a whole slew of small loose ends. Over the weekend I packed away my clothes and tried to keep my list of what to take updated. Tonight, I'm going to be packing up my sewing supplies and machines... Of course I'm taking my sewing machine and serger with me, I couldn't survive now without them! I sorted my fabrics on the weekend and picked out a subsample to take with me - things I hope I will make, although I probably have too much. I'm going to need a box to store all my thread and accessories into as well. It is amazing how much space my sewing life takes up, not just in my life, but also in my house!

I spent some time on the weekend constructing a new bodice sloper, using Aldrich's book on metric pattern cutting. I've been using one that I scaled up from another book, but I'm ready to start making garments in standard sizes, and Aldrich's book provides clear instructions to making the pattern "blocks". It is an interesting process following her drafting instructions to come up with the blocks, which aren't really yet a sloper, they are like a precursor to a sloper. So now I have a pattern block for the bodice in a standard size 14, ready for the next stage. I am planning to make up two women's shirts using some very bold fabric I have, as the beginning of a collection. Something for my weekends while in Toronto.

I can't wait to make the rounds of the fabric stores there, too. The last two times I was there this year, I found some fabulous fabrics, unfindable here in Quebec City. I just have to be careful not to go overboard on buying them!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Design Notes : With a view towards making interesting e-textile clothes

I have been thinking about the process of making clothes using smart textiles, and have a number of reflections to share.

First of all, I am overwhelmed and a bit bewildered by the range of sites one can find on the web dealing with different aspects of smart textiles. There seem to be dozens, perhaps even hundreds of new technologies under development or emerging on the market that provide new approaches to clothes. There is definitely a revolution in the making.

I've found a very interesting source of "artificial muscles" that could be integrated into clothes (""). Environmental Robots Inc (ERI) provide a number of kits to work with these materials, ranging from about 100$ to nearly 1000$ - these are really engineering kits, however, not for the faint at heart, I think. Nonetheless, they offer interesting possibilities for the use of shape changing textiles within clothes with a modicum of technical tinkering.

I've also been investigating the use of thermochromatic inks - inks that "change color" as a function of temperature. I've found one UK company that sells these ( - I'm sure there are more around, if I went looking. These inks don't exactly change color - they fade to invisibility and back when the temperature changes, but different inks may do so at different temperatures, or if they are connected to a powered heating link, they might be controlled into fading at different moments - this is what allows fabrics to change color. I think color changing fabrics is potentially of greater interest than the use of lights within clothes and as a result I think this is an area of experimentation worth pursuing.

I've also been thinking about the process of selecting fabrics in relation to the introduction of LEDs and fiber optics. Aside from the color-changing fabrics mentionned above, it is likely that one will choose fabrics for clothes differently when one is planning to incorporate LEDs or fiber optics than if one is doing conventional clothes. A lot of sites seem to be dealing with the incorporation of these devices into t-shirts. Personally, I believe the use of lights or color changing textiles is more interesting for more complex garments, but this likewise requires more care in design. Do certain fabrics lend themselves more to incorporating LEDs? As many of these are temperature controlled or may generate a small amount of heat, I imagine that more volatile fabrics such as acetate or triacetate will need to be avoided, but no doubt this should be tested. For that matter, does conductive thread operate equally effectively in different fabrics? Again, a good subject for testing.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

E-Sewing Kit

Well, my e-sewing kit arrived in the mail. It looked like a very elegant card from someone, to the point I was wondering who my secret admirer was, when I saw the address in the top left corner, Aniomagic. I guessed that it was my electronic sewing kit, although it turns out to be only a part of what I ordered. It is the item called "Electronic Sewing Kit" on the bill of sale - one among several elements. I imagine the others will come later, but I'm already filled with my first esewing package! It's like an official launching, a ritual departure, into the world of smart textiles.

Although the packaging is delightful, the contents are rather more mysterious, as there is only a rather cryptic instruction sheet that shows how to string the elements together when sewn onto a garment. It's going to have to be deciphered to get this to work. Still, it can't be worse than a sewing pattern, which isn't always the easiest thing in the world to understand either!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Design Notes : Using Smart Textiles

I have been looking into the current situation for smart textiles, in relation to some upcoming projects with regard to my work as a research scientist and artist. There is an absolutely fascinating blog site I've added to my list on this blog, called - as of today, I count 56 pages of information about different initiatives in smart textiles!

I used this blog to identify several companies that provide an entry point into smart textiles at modest prices. Hence, for example, Aniomagic provides kits such as the one shown at right that include textile switches, batteries, small LED lights and conductive thread that can be sewn into garments and used to control either lights or other devices. I ordered some of their products to try them out, and will report back on these efforts somewhat later on. I also looked up fiber optics companies with sideglow cables and ordered some of this to experiment with their inclusion into garments.

There are roughly four categories of smart textiles under development today :

1) Controllers for accessory devices and fashion elements : There are lots of actual products (i.e. garments) now available on the market that control devices such as iPods, and some garments with lighting patterns built into them. There are also a few kits for developing one's own garments, such as the Aniomagic one shown above, but these are not very robust yet, they are really meant for home projects rather than professional use;

Numetrex Garments

2) Sensors for body states : A growing number of companies are marketing garments with these capabilities. One of the most impressive I have seen are the Numetrex heartrate sensing shirts (sports bra for women, cardio shirt for men, child's shirt soon to be marketed). These are elegant sportswear garments that also monitor pulse (they are compatible with the Polar watch devices), but they are also inexpensive - the sports bra sells for about 50$ ;

3) Shape changing textiles (also called artificial muscles) : For the most part, these textiles are still in development and not available commercially, although this will likely change over the next couple of years. Like conducting thread and textile switches, however, sample kits are available for modest costs, albeit somewhat more expensive than the former and requiring a bit more expertise. The most widely available commercial product, shown in the figure to the left, is Nitinol, available in cylindrical wire, tubes, ribbons or as sheets. These are Nickel-Titanium wires and sheets that may stretch up to twenty times their length in their "superelastic" state, but also may change shape when heated or an electrical current is applied in their "shape memory state". Nitinol is used widely in medical applications (for example, for lining blood vessels), because the alloy is also anti-corrosive and does not interact with blood. Nitinol is named after the American Naval laboratory that originally developed and tested these allows.

4) Power generating textiles : Specially designing textiles are being created that convert human movement into electrical power. Eventually, these smart textiles will generate the power necessary to operate the other smart textiles, that today require separate battery packs.

Using smart textiles

As indicated earlier, there are a variety of kits available for some of these products that can be used to experiment with the incorporation of these technologies into clothes, and a growing number of companies and designers that are including their use within commercially available products. As part of my ongoing interest in clothes for people with disability, I will be working with rehabilitation engineers to develop "smart clothes" for different challenges in relation to disability. But there are also significant opportunities to develop interesting, useful and fashionable clothes for everyday use by all. I shall report back on my own efforts in this regard.