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Design Concepts: Advances in Textiles, From Bacteria Dresses to Acoustic Threads

fiber optic tapestry in production
The Web is teeming with the unrealized ideas of both students and established designers who set out to produce astonishing renderings and prototypes for unusual products. Unfortunately, due to the lack of time, money, or technology, many of those products never progress from the planning stages to the mass market. But that doesn't mean we can't salivate over them, nevertheless.

In 1855, Swiss chemist George Audemars developed the first artificial fiber by dipping a needle into mulberry bark pulp and gummy rubber, producing something like a poor simulacrum of silk. The result was later refined, and eventually came to be known as rayon. With this development came polyester, which ultimately changed how clothing was worn and made. We're still experimenting with new textiles, from natural sources like wood and bacteria (see below) to upcycled soda bottles and electronic fibers. New products and designs are all well and good, but they require interesting materials to come to life; without advancements in textiles, we'd all still be wearing wool swimsuits to the beach. (This is not the summer to even entertain that thought.) So, check out some of our favorite experimental textiles after the break.

Fiber-Optic Tapestry by Ligorano/Reese

Fiber Optic Tapestry by Ligorano/Reese
Artists Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese have been weaving fiber-optic threads for a little while now, and they've recently proposed a nine- by nine-panel tapestry for the International TECHstyle Art Biennial (ITAB) at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles. Inspired by Josef Albers and his work 'Homage to the Square' (1965), Ligorano/Reese have hooked their tapestry -- which is hand-woven from fiber-optic threads and lit with computer-controlled LEDs -- to the Internet, allowing Twitter feeds and flight data to modulate the color fields in each panel. They're looking for donors to help out with the project, so if you're feeling especially patron-y, you can throw a few bucks their way at their Kickstarter page, which also features a good video overview of the project.

Acoustic Fibers by Yoel Fink et al.

Acoustic Fibers by Yoel Fink
Yoel Fink, an associate professor at MIT, has been working with a team at the university's Research Lab of Electronics to develop electronic fibers that can interact with their own environment. The team's latest advancement is acoustic fibers, which can detect and produce sound. Applying a current will cause the fibers to vibrate, which can result in frequencies audible to the human ear. Potential applications for these fibers include clothing that could observe body functions or acoustic monitoring systems for the ocean.

Hermes Auto Feet by Omer Sagiv

Hermes Auto Feet by Omer Sagiv
Kevlar isn't exactly new in clothing, but, beyond the late Tobias Wong's bullet-proof rose, the material doesn't get much use outside of anti-ballistic and industrial applications. But Kevlar isn't just good for stopping bullets and protecting welders; incredibly light and strong, it has the potential to replace older materials that can't survive a lot of wear and tear. Designer Omer Sagiv's Hermes Auto Feet are running shoes made with Kevlar (and obviously inspired by the Greek god), and we can't imagine a piece of the average wardrobe that would better benefit from the material's tensile strength. Futuristic but not impractical, we could see these shoes on sporting good store shelves tomorrow.

Woven Light by Kathy Schicker

Woven Light by Kathy Schicker
Textile designer and artist Kathy Schicker has a soft spot for light-up products, as she's been crafting and developing illuminated textiles for the past several years. Her textile, which she calls Woven Light, contains fibers that both glow in the dark (not your momma's day-glo) and reveal designs in sunlight. The result is a series of beautiful objects and interiors that constantly change throughout the day, in accordance with the amount of light to which they are exposed.

BioCouture by Suzanne Lee

BioCouture by Suzanne Lee
Plenty of natural fibers contribute to the looks hanging in our closets, but Suzanne Lee, creator of BioCouture, thought about exploring other materials that are cheap, sustainable and of the Earth. She settled on the cellulose produced by a lively colony of bacteria and yeast in a solution of sweetened green tea. After fermenting in a bathtub, the bacteria began to grow a cellulose skin, so Lee carefully removed it and molded it over dress forms, or laid it out flat. As with felt, multiple sheets are pressed to one another to create a stronger textile. The resulting material is "papyrus-like" and absorbs vegetable dyes, such as turmeric, port wine and beet juice, for additional color. Check out a slide-show of the production process and some of the final designs, which look entirely wearable, here.

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