Woven Signals (Work in progress)
Here are details of the first prototype. I will work on this project during my residency at the Textile Arts Center (Brooklyn, NY) in 2014-2015. The final version will be part of an exhibition in November 2015.
A textile composed of yarn treated with thermochromic pigments. When activated by interwoven conductive threads, the seamless and unified material is transformed, revealing a dynamic fiber interface.
The project fuses new technologies with the fabrication techniques characteristic of traditional textile design to create functional fibers and integrated interactive textiles, specifically a woven display. The textile is woven with a custom-made thermochromic cotton yarn spun with conductive copper thread. Designed patterns incorporate channels for low-power current. The generated resistive heat catalyzes the dyed fibers to change color and reveal hidden, programmatically-controlled content.
Woven Signals is inspired by the mutually informative histories of textiles and communications, and aims to investigate a fiber’s ability to transmit information and emotion through visual and tactile interactions.
Textiles have always been used to share information, numbers, laws, stories, etc. Their cultural importance triggered the development of an invite array of techniques and technology. Since their invention, textiles play such a crucial role in our lives, that one of the tool used to create them, the loom, was the first computational machine ever invented. What is the impact of our interconnected era on our contemporary perception of textiles? How can the the historical relationship between computing and textile design can inform our perception of technologies? As the interactive technologies wave transforms every aspects of our daily lives, what would be the woven story and fiber display of our age?
My project Woven Signals aims at creating a woven tapestry that is made alive by new media and that questions our relationships to textiles and technology. Generally, circuitry applied to textiles is often embroidered and sewn onto the textile as an afterthought – electronic components stitched to the surface. In contrast, my pieces aim for a seamless relationship between the textile and its electronic componentry; with thermochromic ink applied to allow for subtle and elegant multi-state patterns, and thin wire wholly embedded in the woven or knit structure, to create a unified interactive textile. I will embed conductive fibers to create a woven circuitry system and will therefore use weaving techniques and dying techniques to code fibers with textile design tools and practices.
As source material, I’m interested in the historical relationship between computing and weaving, the aesthetics of encoded information: punched cards, morse code, bitmap interlacing and woven stories. The color changes permitted by the thermochromic pigments inspire me to explore the notion of memory and reminiscence.
Throughout the creation process, the project evolves within the constraint of textile design. Fibers and dyes have a personality or their own and experience is needed to understand them. I progressively gain knowledge of their inherent behaviors and understand that what could sometimes feel as a physical limitation or obstacle has to be respected and followed. Rather than trying to tame the matter to my needs, I let the dyes and fibers show me what they can do and become within the context of the project. This often creates a chain effect that impacts the whole design process. For instance, the dye color is sometimes different that what it should be and this influence the decision on the certain fiber textures.
The design process is a dynamic conversation between my curiosity and desires and the materials personality. I deeply enjoy discovering the wisdom of fibers and tradition fabrication techniques. Merged with a technological approach, they allow me to create an interactive interface that is very uncanny and original.
I began the production process by experimenting with weaving techniques and trying several patterns/approach. This phase was crucial as it determined how I could embed conductive materials within the textile structure. Once I understood what could be possible on that angle, I tested conductive material to find the best one for the project. In the meantime, I conducted experimentations with the dyes and researched fibers.
The textile is constructed on the integration of a minimum of two designs/patterns: one for the inactive state and another one for the active state. Thermochromic pigments are triggered - from a specific color to clear - at specific temperature. The one I am using changes value at 29 degrees celsius. This means that when the textile is at an ambient temperature, the thread retains its orginal value, in this case dark grey. At this state, the textile is of a plain color, grey. There is little difference between the colors of the thermochromic-treated threads and the non-treated threads.
When the textile will be exposed to the trigger temperature, the thermochromic-treated threads slowly change colors, revealing white squares on the textile surface. At this stage, the difference between the non-treated and the treated threads progressively create a design that change the relationship the viewer has with the textile, surprising and intriguing.
For now, the array of woven fiber pixels responds to a Processing sketch made of nine buttons, each associated to a pixel.
The main lesson is that traditional techniques and fibers have a wisdom of their own. It pays best when we listen to it and do not try to fight it. Etextile is a very interesting field of study as it merged new technologies with traditionnal approaches. It forces a contextualization of the work within the larger history our relationship with nature.
The next steps are: - continue to experiment with thermochromic pigments. There are various temperature changes available as well as colors. I would like to work with a combination of both colors and temperatures; - I will create a textile display that has a minimum of 60 x 60 fiber pixels. The display could be connected to a camera, a sensor or to data to create interactive patterns; - I will continue to experiment with fluids as they can also be conductive. Maybe I can combine conductive inks with thermochromic pigments. I also want to experiment with threads treated with conductive dye to create woven circuits or prints on textiles; - I will continue to gain skills in textile design and creation to further my knowledge of soft circuitry and etextile. My wish is to start weaving components soon.