Smart Textiles

Materials that transcend the way we think today, embodying technology, movement, and environment. Check out these smart textiles.

The fabric of the future won’t be just plain chiffon, silk or cotton. Instead electroluminescent material, microprocessors and LEDs may be woven together with clothing fibers to create smart textiles.

“Clothing can be considered a second skin and by implementing technology in it, you are bringing it into your intimate space,” says Nicky Assmann, an e-textile designer whose work was part of a recent exhibition in the Netherlands. “You are not just carrying technology like a laptop or an iPhone, but wearing it constantly.”

The exhibition, Pretty Smart Textiles, which closed last week, gave a glimpse into what happens when technology meets fashion. Among the exhibits were a dress made entirely of circuit boards that could also be used to generate music, a garment that when worn takes the sound of a heartbeat and other sounds from the body and remixes it into music, and a trenchcoat that reads fabric punch cards and tells stories.

Electronic textiles are outgrowing their geeky reputation, says Melissa Coleman, who with Dorith Sjardijn curated the exhibtion.

“The open source hardware movement has allowed for quicker and easier development of electronics and made it accessible to artists and designers,” says Coleman. “The result is that smart textile applications have become more interesting conceptually and aesthetically.”

The exhibition, which ended last week, featured 16 works and seven interactive samples.

Most of the artists who showed their work were women. “Electronic textiles appeal more to women than men,” says Sjardijn. “Women who are already in technology find it a nice way to combine the stuff that they find appealing with the more clinical world of technology and programming.”

The Clear LED dress fits the bill for a lighter, more feminine outfit. The dress, created by Evelyn Lebis, has three pieces: the bodice and tutu — both made of tulle — and a long, sleeveless, open blazer.

The bodice includes some embroidery with glow-in-the-dark yarns that light up when bright artificial light is shined on them.

The blazer is woven with stretch fibers and yarn made of PMMA (Poly methyl methacrylate, a clear plastic that’s often used as a replacement for glass). The PMMA yarn transmits LED light. LEDs are attached at about a 90 degree angle to the yarn so with the help of a battery, the entire dress can glow in the dark.

Lebis says she’s working on making two more dresses.

The Body Speaker

If you want to make music, maybe you could look inside your body for inspiration, says Karina van Heck, who has created a ‘Body Speaker.’ The wearable textile allows the user to listen to sounds from their own heartbeat or blood rushing through their veins and remix it to produce music.

The Body Speaker, which is worn in direct contact with the body, places sound-capturing membranes on the skin and directs the sound signals to a control system.

van Heck says she was inspired by the fact that technology such as X-rays and CT scans make it easy to look inside the human body.

“By hearing the sounds from our own body we become aware of our own existence and the condition and necessities of our body,” she says. “In times of stress we tend not to listen to our bodies quite enough and take it for granted.”


A transparent dress may seem like a teenage fantasy, but a group of creative designers have tried to make it real. An exhibit called Intimacy uses smart foils that become transparent to create a dress.

The distance towards the garments determines their level of transparency. The foils transform the body of the wearer into a interface that acts as an “emotional meter.” The concept has been developed by Studio Roosegaarde and V2_Lab.

“Intimacy appealed to every visitor,” says Melissa Coleman, who was also one of the curators of the exhibition. “It uses an e-foil that becomes transparent with electricity. This material is uncommon that people have asked if it is really real!”

A Magical Carpet

For a modern take on a traditional rug, Dorith Sjardijn embedded electroluminescent material into a hand-tufted wool carpet. The resulting piece called 8 Bitskleed feels familiar, despite its eerie glow.

“I wanted to take a traditional craft like carpet weaving into the future,” says Sjardijn, who’s a textile designer. With Melissa Coleman (who created the Charlie trench coat), Sjardijn teaches e-textiles at the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague.

Sjardijn tufted fibers of the electroluminescent material into an existing carpet and backed the entire rug with rubber for durability.

“I can see this being used in interior decoration,” she says. “The potential for its use is not that far out into the future.”




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