Thursday, April 8, 2010

The moment of commitment

One of the most intense sensations when designing and sewing, I find in my own practice, is the moment when I must commit to cutting the fabric following the finalization of the pattern. When you are working from a pattern someone else has prepared, you also get this in a milder form - have you selected the right size and traced out all the lines correctly? But when you've worked for days coming up with a pattern that you think serves and must commit to turning the pattern into a garment, this moment is particularly intense. It is true that you can make a muslin shell rather than use the good fabric, but even for that, you are committing to several hours work that may be less than adequate if you need to rethink the design at that point. As long as you are working on paper, you are not "committed" to the design, but after switching to laying out, cutting and sewing, mistakes become more serious and what you do has direct consequences.

It is both a terrifying and an exhilerating experience, even for the most modest garment. I'm sure if you did this professionally, you would learn to manage this moment more routinely, but I'm not sure even then that the intensity of the moment of commitment will every quite disappear!

Friday, April 2, 2010

What I do...

Several people have asked me recently, online, what I do. They may have seen me write that I'm a scientist and they are curious about what kind of scientist I am. Some people are themselves scientists, and want to know what my specialty is, partly out of professional interest. Also, I have stated in several locations that my passion for sewing has begun to intersect with my scientific research, and, of course, that catches people's eye and they want to know more.

It is actually not all that easy to tell you what I do. I can tell you what academic department I work in ("geomatics", sometimes called "surveying" or "surveying engineering"), and what discipline my Ph.D. was in ("astrophysics" - actually "observational cosmology" if you want to be precise). But my current research is very, VERY interdisciplinary - I work at the intersection between "rehabilitation science", "new media and performance art", "geomatics", "cognitive psychology" and "computer science", more specifically "artificial intelligence", and, more recently, "fashion". For example, I am constructing a new media laboratory within a physical rehabilitation hospital that incorporates a range of sensors (cameras, microphones, touch sensitive devices, pressure-sensitive mats, data gloves, physiological sensors, radio frequency identity tags, etc.) and provides a wide set of perceptual experiences (via mono and stereo projections on walls and the floor, loudspeakers located throughout the room space, motorized devices that engage the body, etc.) with the goal of exploring the impact of new types of interaction between the self and the environment, on our ability to adapt to changes in our body or to learn new ways of understanding who we are.

Furthermore, to a large extent, the "science" I do is less about "measuring" and more about "engineering", or "designing" environments (although we do some assessment as well). This is where fashion issues come into play. One of the lines of inquiry we are following involves developing garments that showcase dynamically moving images, and investigating how certain dynamic images may be used to change our postural control, for example. For example, imagine that you are wearing a shirt which displays a horizontal line - no matter how you hold your body, the line is always horizontal with respect to the surrounding environment! Does this absolute horizontal reference affect how you stand or move?

I'm not sure if that is any clearer, though. You'd have to see us in action to really understand what we are doing, and since the lab is presently under construction, it is hard to actually show you concrete results at this point. There isn't much to see, yet...