TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Smart Textiles in Fiber Art

Photo: Source not named

If you read the book, Dune, you might remember how they had clothing that would transform all of the body's excretions into drinkable water.  I read the book in high school (decades ago!) and can still feel how both disgusted and fascinated I was by the idea.  Recently, I heard a pundit on a TV show talk about how close we are to making the invisible cloak.  It seems like part of the world really is heading towards the Jetson's future, while the rest of it remains in the 1800's.  

"Smart" fabrics and textiles are engineered to perform specific tasks: release perfume, send electronic messages, control sweat, heat, and so on.  These are engineered in high tech labs as seen in the video below:

Smart textiles have made their way into both the fashion and fiber art worlds.  Suzanne Tick designs specialty textiles for industrial purposes.   She also incorporates fiber optics into her fiber art:

Fiber Art using fiber optics by Suzanne Tick

Degree programs in the textile arts now offer curriculum that embraces the exploration of how smart fabrics can be used both to enhance the quality of life in specific fields and how they can push their way into new, unexplored interactive art.

Fascinating?  Absolutely!  Scary?  Absolutely.

The gap between those who have access to technology and those who don't has already divided our world in immeasurable ways.  We also hear reports of how our electronic overload might be sickening our planet.  What about recycling these smart textiles?  Already, we cannot handle the waste generated by our garment and textile industries created by the "dumb" textiles. Where will the outdated "smart" ones end up?

As with so many advances in technology, I have mixed feelings.  I like to know where things come from, how they were grown, who made them.  But, I make my livelihood using a computer, a part of an industry that has created serious e-waste.  Contradictions abound in my life.

What do you think?  Are you excited about "smart" textiles?  What pros and cons do you see?




  1. Fascinating article and video. I would have thought that recycling would have been uppermost in the minds of those dealing with textile development. Because the video didn't mention whether the new materials were green or not, dosn't mean that they are not.

    It will interesting to see how these are used within the textile art world and what that will throw up creatively.

    All very interesting.

  2. Thanks, John!

    From the articles I skimmed online, it seemed like most of the materials used would not biodegrade, especially if they were transmitting energy in some form. It is still fascinating and one new door opens countless others. This is one of those areas where science and art truly meld into a new form. We'll have to keep watching...


“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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