Designing for Future Textiles – Challenges of Hybrid Practices

The concept of an interactive sensory-appeal wall covering could be used in many ways. For example, for health care applications and as a learning environment for children. Apart from the purposes of aromatheraphy, the integration of scented messages into environments and objects would be beneficial to blind people as their olfactory sense can be activated more to get oriented in space. An opposite concept of smell absorbing textile technologies for environments could also be used by incorporating smell/malodour absorbents or technologies that absorb certain harmful substances (eg nicotine) in our environments.

In the author‘s opinion, which is based on peoples’ response to the work, ‘touch sensitive‘ walls and olfactory textiles have a potential for future design applications all of which are becoming increasingly senses orientated. Future and research conscious companies, including Outlast Technologies, are seeing a large market segment for products that offer haptic and other sensory experiences.

Drawings with Electricity

Figs : 3a, 3b. “Sensory Screen,” 2003. Before and after the colour change effect takes place. Photo © Zane Berzina
Figs : 3a, 3b. “Sensory Screen,” 2003. Before and after the colour change effect takes place. Photo © Zane Berzina

During the research project the author became interested in the idea of “drawing“ with electricity. Employing the properties of an electric current, semi-conductive treads that react to electric current by heating and thermochromatic inks which change colour in response to heat, temporary linear patterns were created. This refers to the skin analogy and the nervous system at work – the neurons sending information collected from the outside world to the brain through electric impulses.

Figs : 4a, 4b. “System I,” 2006. Photo © Raimo Lielbriedis
Figs : 4a, 4b. “System I,” 2006. Photo © Raimo Lielbriedis

These experiments resulted in a prototype called “Sensory Screen” (figs. 3a, 3b) where the colour change process is controlled by opening and closing the circuit using a remote control. When the electric circuit is open, the space divider reveals latent linear patterns in reaction to the heat created by the electric current flow through the conductive thread integrated into the base material. A similar principle is employed for the creation of the artwork “System I” (figs. 4a, 4b) where instead of conductive threads electrically heated conductive base fabrics are used. There is a huge potential for extending this idea into more complex patterns, drawings, maps or intelligent signage that could in the future be invisibly and discreetly incorporated into walls, carpets or clothing and activated when needed. Currently analogue systems only are used to ‘animate’ the cloths but in order to achieve more sophisticated displays digital systems could be used. The integration of digital technologies would establish the ‘skin – brain’ analogy where the computer is the ‘brain’ and cloth is the ‘skin’ – the interface between the viewer and the computer.

Fig. 5 : “Skin Architecture,” 2004.
Fig. 5 : “Skin Architecture,” 2004.

Another work is from a series called “Skin Architecture” (fig. 5) and it is based around the inspirations derived from magnified skin structures, its constructions and technology. The work refers to the interactive mechanisms of our body, including our sensory and vascular systems, sweat glands, hair and skin cells that all work together in harmony to form or support the functions, processes and the physicality of the skin tissue. For the production of work silicone was used as a sculptural material, finding that its flesh-like quality works as a natural allusion to the body and skin. This has been combined with a conductive stainless steal filament yarn, embedded into silicone rubber coloured with thermochromic inks that performs a slow and meditative colour play when the voltage is charged through the entire networked structure creating electric heat. Some pieces from these series also release aroma when triggered by an electric current. Due to the incorporated colour change technology heat is drawing sophisticated patterns on the fleshy 3D structures. The slow, radiant colour change plays offer a calming experience that is almost a meditative one when the viewer is taking the time to engage in the process.

The sculpturaly elaborated pieces of the “Skin Architecture” aim to offer unusual sensory experiences that involve sight, smell and touch. They can be used as precious objects or decorative tiles applied in a series or as one-off pieces to enhance peoples sensory environments by releasing aromatherapeutic fragrances, performing soothing colourplays and intimately responding to touch helping to reduce stress. Such multi-sensorial systems would prove useful for hospitals, health resorts and physicians waiting rooms and could offer a unique experience, which enhances people‘s emotional and physical wellbeing in calming and therapeutic ways, and also provide a personalised environment.

Conclusion

Through the research and practical investigations from a designer‘s point of view the author has discovered that the properties and mechanisms, incorporated in human skin, can contribute to and be a catalyst for the development of new approaches to smart textile design systems. As a result responsive, active and interactive textile design solutions have been developed at a prototype stage that embody selected skin-like aspects such as its aesthetic, sensory, somatic and tactile qualities for possible application in body-related concepts and living environments. These combine technologies currently commercially available with the author‘s expertise as a textiles designer. By enhancing our physical and psychological wellbeing and improving our sensory environments, these textiles could encourage people to explore their senses in novel ways. However, still a lot of further research and testing is needed in order to bring these ideas into real living environments. All this work would not have been possible without the collaborative assistance from the technologists and scientists I was working together with on this project. By establishing a common language we managed together to achieve interesting outcomes.

Fig. 6 : Flexible textile switch, developed in collaboration with TITV, Germany, 2005. Photo © Zane Berzina
Fig. 6 : Flexible textile switch, developed in collaboration with TITV, Germany, 2005. Photo © Zane Berzina
Fig. 7 : Testing of optimised conductive yarns in a non-finished colourchange textile system. Collaboration with TITV, Germany. 2006.
Fig. 7 : Testing of optimised conductive yarns in a non-finished colourchange textile system. Collaboration with TITV, Germany. 2006.
Fig. 8 : Application of conductive yarns using CAD stitching processes. Collaboration with TITV, Germany, 2006.
Fig. 8 : Application of conductive yarns using CAD stitching processes. Collaboration with TITV, Germany, 2006.
Figs 9a, 9b, 9c : Electronic textile prototype with integrated colour change modules using computer aided stitching. Each module can be addressed and activated individually. Images are showing various stages of colour change effects. (TITV, 2006)
Figs 9a, 9b, 9c : Electronic textile prototype with integrated colour change modules using computer aided stitching. Each module can be addressed and activated individually. Images are showing various stages of colour change effects. (TITV, 2006)

The “Sensory Screen” concept discussed in this paper is now being developed further by the author in close collaboration with TITV – Textile Research Institute Thuringia-Vogtland in Germany. Their scientific and technical assistance as well as access to specialised industrial equipment is crucial for the realisation of the prototypes into real products. To date a flexible user-friendly textile switch (fig. 6) has been developed to replace the hard remote control which was used previously to switch on or off the electronic textile systems. A series of tests have been conducted in order to optimise the specialised semi-conductive yarns for specific end applications (fig. 7). Intense work has been done to industrialise the conductive yarn application techniques on various textile substrates using computer aided stitching machines (fig. 8). The initially very fragile electronic textile systems have now been improved and much more sophisticated active textile displays have been made which can be reproduced industrially (figs. 9a, 9b, 9c). All this allows the author to continue the investigations on a larger scale, offering a wider range of design possibilities in terms of the complexity and variety of latent patterns, colour combinations and rhythms of colour plays. (Courtesy : The Textile Society of America)

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