Beta Textiles is the notion that textiles do not only consist of their material shape, but are also defined by some sort of code like knitting or weaving patterns. And if you consider textiles as code, could Open Source philosophy apply to the textile itself?
Thursday April 12th, we had an E-Textile Workspace edition about Beta Textiles. This topic evolved from the collaboration within the dutch CRISP network on Smart Textile Services. Eventually, V2_ will organize a hands-on workshop and an Artist-in-Residency around Beta Textiles.
Introduction Beta Textiles
We had a few questions prepared as starting point for the discussion.
- How does the promise of 3D printing (design at home, send to print, reduce ecological footprint) apply to textiles?
- Crowdsourcing designs (open up a famous design and modify it). Would this result in innovative textiles?
- How would Open Source textiles have an impact on the textile industry and production facilities?
- Is Open Source textile exciting at all? Would it 'work'? Can we expect Pattern Piracy?
The evening mostly focused on defining what we all understand by Beta Textiles. Eventually, this common understanding should lead to an Artist-in-Residency proposal within the CRISP framework.
To get a feel for Beta Textiles, Melissa and Piem compiled a Google Doc with some examples.
General Development Goal
The concept of Beta Textiles is somewhat parallel to the idea of beta software. The intended project of a conceptualization of Beta Textiles is located between the fields of industrialization, design, innovation and art.
Most artists start out with making one single prototype that serves as a first tryout. We (the CRISP Smart Textiles consortium) on the other hand want to be able to produce in larger quantities/small series. So the goal is to evolve a certain textile from a single prototype into a production sample that can be modified, tweaked, dispersed, or mass-produced. This should apply not only to the industry. The idea is for many people in the community to work on it, use it, change it and apply it in different applications.
Possibly we cannot academically use a direct comparison between beta textiles and beta software, because software is something binary, only consisting of 0s and 1s, while textile is a real tactile material that can have countless properties. Thus having an enormous impact on production machine settings, and a varying outcome of results. Specifying textile behavior will be less exact than dealing with integer numbers.
The goal of the Crisp/Residency should also be to connect artists with companies. The beta textile should be developed parallel by the artist and by the industry. The development of our Beta Textile should take place in a reciprocal process: An artist would give an impulse that is then continued by the industry, at the same time the artist continues working on the idea; at a certain point findings can be interchanged (kind of like the game "exquisite corpse", where differentiated inputs from various contributors can create a common idea).
In the end, we aim to facilitate the use of an intelligent material that is easy to handle yet multifunctional in its appliance. Like this, designers should be able to use the material in their designs easily, without having to deal with programming languages. (Like in the saying: everybody wants toast, but nobody wants a toaster.)
The advantage of collaboration between the industry and the arts is that artists can come up with unexpected prototypes, or something radical. Then he/she can challenge the industry to mass-produce or invent a method of production to realize the material/sample. When working on certain materials, the artist does not have to think mainly about the usability of the product. An artist can challenge the industry, by inventing the most impossible thing and handing it over to the industry to realize the idea.
We are aiming for a textile that can actuate or sense. We are looking for a textile that could have a certain kind of behavior. Our textile should be able to be interactively applied, its interactivity should have the ability to be changed and updated.
Can there be such a thing as Fablabs or copyshops for textiles? It would be nice if in the future anyone could just go to the next textile-lab and print out a sweater or a dress. We live in the age of digital dispersion. With the help of machines like the MakerBot and the Ultimaker it becomes possible for any user to make a design or use a free open source one and have it printed into a real object. The notion of Open Design would open up Beta Textiles to a wide variety of possible users and developers, a wide variation of contributions from housewives to the industry.
This leads us to another aspect of the development, which also lies in the economic future of the textile industry. Will production be moved to countries with cheaper labor workforce, or will it become a little bit more specialized on certain products for niche markets? Will the DIY community as a result get stronger, so they can influence and individualize the products they want?
Create new Links
So what is the new element that we want to introduce?
Of course we acknowledge that what we are doing might not be entirely NEW (weavers reverse-engineering patterns is common practice). Our proposition is to be innovative in intertwining this method between arts & industry. We want to find ways to really apply it in practice and find common ground, additional to methods of working and developing.
One of the main questions this evening arose from the question of what should be the definition of "technical specs" for our Beta Textile. Will it be more important to state the exact settings and possibilities of a smart textile, instead of the physical or material properties of the cloth? In any case, the specifics of a material are quite important for the industry, for industrial production.
The Meta Level
There are various levels of abstraction in textiles. If we state that there is a base level and a meta level to the textile, the base level would be something like a thread, a raw material or a cloth. The meta level would be the meaning or functionality it could have.
For example: similar to one bit, a single thread could have the same significance as a base for all kinds of different applications. A textile with a single incorporated conductive thread can serve as an antenna, a heat-pad, a connection line in a circuit, a sensor and many more. Combinations of thread can lead to higher-level products and can get even more complex, similar to higher level programming tools and applications in software.
This is all assuming you want to simply create a textile from the ground up with for example weaving or knitting. Any of these things can also be made when using embellishment techniques such as embroidery, screen printing etc, or these techniques can be used to complete a circuit made in a fabric. Alternatively the conductive thread can be a 'parasite' in a decaying textile when you use conductive thread to darn the fabric (in Dutch: stoppen, like you'd do with an old sock). Yeah, textile cyborgs!!
So in the end we need to limit the context. Limit the project to one material, one method, so it doesn't get out of hand. For the V2_ residency the method should be based on knitting. Material will be produced before the residency to have something ready for the artist to use and manipulate it. We will have to invent something that people will want to COPY! So we have to make our textile interesting enough (and probably simple enough) that everybody will want to have it.
The Bigger Goal for our textile:
- Flexible production.
- Matrix or grid structure.
- Possible catchwords: health, durability, harvesting energy, heating/cooling, change shape or color, interactivity.
- "How to MANUFACTURE what you want" - as next step?
Since KOBAKANT is the most widespread and complete database on DIY techniques/materials it might be nice to seek collaboration with “How To Get What You Want”. It could be interesting to scale it up to an easy-to-use and understandable guide to “industrial manufacturing for dummies”.
- Oscar Tomico
- Martijn ten Bhömer
- Meg Grant
- Melissa Coleman
- Marina Toeters
- Bram van Waardenberg
- Karla Spiluttini
- Piem Wirtz