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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I followed a thread from a Twitter follower to your posts on e-clothing. If you haven't alrady investigated this, you should check out Burning Man-related costume sites for ideas in connection to clothing incorporating LED, cool neon, fiber optics, etc (just google or start at the main website and go from there). I think this event more than anything else has driven the creative development of luminescent fashion. You might find some good ideas or even get a tip on some new technology.