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This is corny

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If you like fashion and reality TV (like I do), have access to the Bravo channel (like I do), and have always wanted to see the inside of the Parsons School of Design (like I have), you should check out Project Runway. On this new reality series, twelve fashion designers compete for a New York Fashion Week runway show and $100,000 to launch their own clothing line.

I caught the show last night, and was instantly hooked. The challenge for episode one was to design an outfit from materials found at a grocery store. The winner made a dress out of cornhusks, which the judges deemed much more innovative than the outfits made of garbage bags, shower curtains, lawn chairs, mop heads, candy, pantyhose, and cupcake foils. Huh? Yeah, go watch the show. Its regular time is Wednesdays at 10pm Eastern.

loop reactive surfaces

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Rachel Wingfield makes amazingly beautiful electronic textiles. Under the name loop, she develops light emitting fabrics for the home that respond to their environment and facilitate visual communication.

Her research and resulting products aim to address big issues like seasonal affect disorder, sustainability, and the use of technology in the home. Digital Dawn (detail shown here) is a window covering that helps to maintain light levels in a room, responding to low light by increasing its own luminosity. Other pieces include a light-emitting bedspread that acts as an alarm clock, a tablecloth that displays where objects have rested for long periods of time, and wallpapers that light up according to noise levels or power consumption.

The intricacy and beauty of these textiles indicate deliberate and thoughtful attention to design. In Rachel's words, "Established notions of aesthetic and beauty do not have to be exchanged for function; therefore an organic interpretation is sought in opposition to the often clinical and futuristic shine of 'intelligent' materials."

Fiberart International

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Fiberart International, a biennial exhibition of contemporary fiber art, is currently showing at Pittsburgh's Society for Contemporary Craft and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

My favorite pieces: intricate, bold tapestries designed by weaver Nancy Jackson. My least favorite piece: the bowl made of fish skin.

If your summer plans don't bring you near Pittsburgh, the show will move to New York's Museum of Arts & Design in September. It's definitely worth checking out if you get the chance.

Dialectric

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Laura MacCary and her father Lawrence MacCary are collaborating on a series of interactive electronic textiles that they call Dialectric. "By interacting with the weaving the viewer physically enters the circuit, and the circuit passes through the viewer, blurring the boundary between them." Touching one piece in the collection causes LEDs to light up, while touching another causes audible clicks.

The output of the weaves isn't based on a simple on/off switch. Instead, how you touch the fabric (providing more or less skin surface area) affects the intensity of the light or the frequency of the clicks. Commerical fabric circuits (such as those from SOFTswitch used in flexible keyboards or MP3 jackets) also share this resistive property, but they certainly don't exploit it. There's a huge potential for analog input to allow for more emotionally rich expression and interaction with fabric, so it's exciting to see the MacCarys exploring this area.

If you're in the Seattle area, you can play with these pieces at Illuminator2 from June 25 - July 31.

e-Textiles press

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This month's IEEE Spectrum cover story is on e-textiles. Most of the discussion of potential applications (for soldiers, firefighters, snowboarders, etc.) was pretty predictable, but there were a few points of interest.

1) Reliability will be maintained through redundancy. "A truly smart fabric could route data packets or control signals around a hole in a wounded soldier's uniform or a wet area of a baby's outfit."

2) Safety and privacy will be key issues for consumers. Disappointingly, the authors glossed over this topic, saying that these issues haven't stopped sales of PDAs and cell phones. Maybe not, but cell phones have already been banned in some health clubs due to privacy concerns over camera phones. And consumer concerns over Benetton's proposal to imbed RFID tags in clothing labels shows that privacy is indeed an issue for wearable technology.

Newsweek ran a similar article this summer that focused mainly on an interview with Sundaresan Jayaraman, creator of a "supple mixture of natural fibers and gossamer-thin wires and optical fibers". My favorite quote: "Just don't call Jayaraman's invention an e-textile. 'E-textiles are so passive and passe,' he says. The future, he says, belongs to i-textiles -- 'i' for interactive." As I mentioned in a previous post, people are really concerned about naming wearable technology!

Jayaraman also says, "The user shouldn't know when he's wearing an electronic textile." (Did he just say "e-textile"?) Not sure if Jayaraman means that users shouldn't be able to tell the difference from a comfort perspective, or that they really don't need to know at all. The latter is scary...

P.S. Does anyone know anything about the illustration for the IEEE cover story? I love it! I want it!

- Thanks to Rob for the IEEE article (via slashdot) and to my folks for the Newsweek article!

rain

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A few years ago Elise Co from the MIT Media Lab was working on a luminescent raincoat. It had panels that would light up when they got wet, mirroring the pattern of the raindrops.

Interactive rain gear has since made it out of academia and onto the runway. The June 2003 issue of Wired featured a transparent raincoat from Prada that becomes opaque when it gets wet from rain or perspiration. Miuccia Prada says, "Every piece of clothing shapes your body but also the space around you, the emptiness around you. This raincoat, from our 2002 winter collection, plays off that divide. ... It changes the relationship between what's inside and outside."

I'm not crazy about the perspiration thing, but I really like the idea of clothing responding to environmental factors like rain in a whimsical way.

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