By Alex Flowers, Digital Programmes Manager.
Smart clothing, e-textiles and soft circuits are all upcoming trends in the way we look at fashion design, the functions of clothes and of fabrics. Apart from keeping warm and looking pretty that is. Smart textiles incorporate electronic components into their construction in some way add other functionality to it. These may be seamlessly integrated and invisble to the eye or emphasised to show the workings of the circuits and become part of the design. As with many technologies, the evolution of smart textiles has a basis in military technology. Through adding circuitry to textiles used in combat gear for example, equipment such as radios can be integrated into the clothes themselves, cutting down on weight and bulk for the person wearing it. As these become more advanced and technologies decrease in size, we will see our hats embedded with solar panels, socks with mini-heaters and t-shirts with wi-fi.
Some of these technologies have begun to make their way into mainstream fashion, most notably in snowboarding jackets and t-shirts, but also into interior design where fabrics are joined with electonic elements to create environments and pieces which react to people through pressure, touch light and sound. The "Soft Circuits" workshop on Saturday 17th November was run with Emilie Giles and Sophie McDonald of London based MzTEK, who run creative workshops and offer advice on how to involve more women in learning electronic skills in what is still a very male dominated (and intimidating) arena.
Attendees came along to the workshop to be greeted by piles of felt, LEDS, threads and multimeters, and many had never attempted any electronics at all or had never explored it since school. Their aim for the day was to create a cushion cover which contained a circuit in its design, which when touched, prodded annd poked, lit up. After an introduction to the concept and to the basics of creating a first circuit, everyone got underway generating some incredible designs and ideas which they took home with them.
Creating stitched circuits opens up lots of creative possibilities for looking at materials and the way you can integrate them into designs. Velcro can be made into rip stiches, pom-poms can be made with conductive threads which change resistance as you squeeze the yarns together and pressure senses can be hidden under design elements to add a surprise effect as you cuddle up into the comfiness of the cushion. Everyone at the workshop came up with their own original idea for a design, ranging from beautiful bunches of flowers to crazed robots.
Here are some more of the designs that people created on the day, each one having a number of lights and tricks up its sleeve, only to be discovered when you sat on it. By playing with the beads in the design below you are completing the circuit which illuminates the blooms!
We will be running a number of workshops over the coming year looking at soft circuits and electronics so keep an eye on our What's On guide for upcoming events.