Digital technologies and crafts form an increasingly common pair in innovative industrial processes. Also in the field of textiles. From the thread to the weave to the manufacturing technique, fabric and computation are more symbiotic than we might imagine.
From the invention of the Jacquard loom using punched cards in the 18th century, which influenced the pioneer of mechanical computing Charles Babbage (1791-1871), technological innovation and know-how have nurtured each other in pursuit of greater variation in serial production.
From fashion to decor, the strong demand for custom products, together with the need for more efficient management of the production cycle, have prompted companies to redesign the industrial ecosystem and to think in terms of ‘made to measure’: to produce not only ‘by measure’ but also ‘to measure,’ i.e. based on the client’s requests.
The Catalan carpet brand Nani Marquina has introduced the online product configuration system Mia, which allows customers to create their own rugs based on different sizes, colors and decorative options, including fringes, stitching and embroidery. When the choices have been made, the program indicates a price and delivery schedule.
The innovation – not a total novelty – is interesting because it also lets a small company manage processes without waste at a high level of customization, operating with capillary distribution even without local dealers.
A British startup founded in 2013 by Hal Watts, Kirsty Emery and Ben Alun-Jones, which was finally launched in 2015, Unmade is a complete digital platform for knitted products, allowing fashion brands to create ‘experiences’ of personalization on an industrial scale.
Through morphing software inside the e-commerce site, clients can vary the colors and graphic patterns of apparel, adding monograms or variations imagined by the fashion designer. The file is then sent directly to the factor where the orders are centralized and processed by computerized knitting machines.
Unmade has worked thus far for the brands Opening Ceremony, Christopher Raeburn, Farfetch e Selfridges. The configuration interface is extremely intuitive and lots of fun. Anyone can become an integral part of the creative process, and no two products are ever exactly the same. So production is on demand, for a significant reduction of waste. With standard methods, in fact, over 30% of seasonal products are never sold, because they were made based on trend projections and not on the effective demand among consumers.
Speaking of unsold volume, the English designer Jenny Banks, a bright recent graduate of Central Saint Martins hired by the sustainable fashion brand Finisterre, has designed a circular process for the fast fashion sector that involves the recycling of post-consumer textile fibers to make new garments.
Jenny Banks starts with about 350,000 tons of used clothes, with a value of 140 million pounds, that are sent to dumps every year in the United Kingdom. She proposes the use of accessible, economical and versatile 3D printing technology to make a series of non-woven printed fabrics starting with the low-value staple fibers produced by mechanical garment recycling.
Besides the design of fabrics by machine, we are also seeing a redesign of the infrastructure of the fashion sector. The fact that there is a need for this is proven by fast fashion giants like H&M, which recently acquired a minority share in the Swedish startup Re:newcell, specializing in recycling of textile products, with the aim of recycling 25,000 tons of used garments on a worldwide level by 2020.
Just as 3D printers are changing industrial production processes from the ground up, so the digital open-source platform Kniterate.com wants to transform the manufacture of knitwear. The software is still being developed, and because it is open-source it is in a process of continuous implementation.
Kniterate wants to create a machine that prints garment files of compact size at an affordable cost. it wants to bring production back to a small, local scale, changing the production methods of the fashion industry.
In the words of the founder Gerard Rubio, Kniterate is a movement for distributed production, because it can be housed in any workshop for a cost that is ten times less than that of industrial machinery, and cuts down on the time required for testing of yarns and fabrics. Over the last year the team has created a prototype of a web-based app, and they are working on a script capable of converting images into knitted artifacts.
Belgium’s Diane Steverlynck, Anne Masson and Eric Chevalier of the studio lænd have created carpets whose decorative motifs spring from the design of the yarn itself. In other words, the decoration and geometric patterns are encoded before the machine makes the product. Though this might sound abstract, the tiny variations of the yarn, like the fluctuations of tension due to the imperfections of the fiber, leave room for slight margins of the unexpected, adding new value to the project.
The encoding of decorative patterns is also a pursuit for the designers Cecilia Delaney and Vladimir Gheorghe, based in London. Raum is a series of printed fabrics whose decorations – all unique – come from real time processing of video images, shot in real places. The goal is to explore the intersection between physical place, temporal scanning and digital space.
A tireless researcher in the field of color and fabric – with an exhibition at the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich (until September 2018), after a solo show at the Design Museum in London – Hella Jongerius studies the interaction between the woven crafts tradition and processes of industrial production.
Among the experimental weaves on view in Munich, there is a multilayered Jacquard made possible precisely thanks to industrial looms. The upper layer in thick black linen yarn has long ‘floaters’: weft yards not tied to the base weave with the warp.
They can be cut and opened by hand, revealing the layer below composed of slender polyester yarns with graphic motifs. Jongerius’ fabrics demonstrate how applied creation can help to push the envelope of the limits of making. As the designer says, “if you think our future is making, therefore it’s in our hands.