How Textile Designers Can “Hack” Fabrication Technologies and Techniques

For this six-part series, Metropolis asked the textile industry's foremost experts what inspires them—here's what Susan Lyons, president of Designtex, told us.
Designtex textile fabrication

A stool and mat made with Forest Wool, a sustainable material made from pine needles. Courtesy Tamara Orjola

Textile design is, to say the least, a varied field. High-tech woven wearables seem far removed from efforts to grow climate-beneficial fibers, and further still from more everyday concerns, like improving commercial upholstery. But speculative art and industry research can propel each other in powerful ways. Metropolis asked six leading textile designers to name inspirational projects that have pushed them to think differently about their work.

The following sustainability-savvy inspirations come from Susan Lyons, president of DesigntexStay tuned to the Metropolis homepage as we publish the other entries in this series!

Forest Wool, Tamara Orjola

In her final year at Design Academy Eindhoven, Latvian designer Tamara Orjola saw an opportunity in the timber industry’s waste by-products. Pine is the world’s main source of timber, with over 600 million trees cut down annually in the EU alone; as these trees are felled, they shed their needles, which account for 20 to 30 percent of the trees’ original mass.

To address this problem, Orjola developed a new material, Forest Wool, in 2016. For the project, she transformed the discarded pine needles by crushing, soaking, steaming, carding, binding, and pressing them, along the way extracting the fibers’ oils and dyes, making the production zero-waste. The resulting material can be used as an alternative to various textiles, like cotton, as well as paper and even wood itself. In her own applications, she’s experimented with minimalist, haptic products, including stools and carpets, but she believes once the material is rolled out on a larger scale, it could benefit industries from automobile manufacturing to fashion. “This work is the perfect demonstration of sustainable thinking and beautiful invention,” says Lyons.

Designtex textile fabrication

K-Tech digital knitting factory Courtesy MIT Media Lab

Hacking Manufacturing, MIT Media Lab

What happens when you “let a group of students into a factory to hack it”? This is how Lyons describes MIT Media Lab’s experiments at K-Tech, a digital knitting factory in Dongguan, China. When the researchers visited K-Tech in the summer of 2017, most of them had little background in fibers. With factory technicians, they began producing innovative textiles, including a knit based on EEG data; structural textiles that integrate plastic filament; and textile-based sensors that incorporate conductive yarn.

“A factory should be a playground where creativity can be fully expressed at grander scales,” says Jifei Ou, one of the group’s lead researchers. Through experimentation with machine processes, the team members were able to break down the boundaries between prototype and production, designer and producer.

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Categories: Design, Sustainability, Textiles