Kitty Yeung On Tech-Fashion Designs and the Wearables Industry

If there is a field which has promise verging on a true breakout, it is that of wearable electronics. We regularly see 3D printing, retrocomputing, robotics, lasers, and electric vehicle projects whose advances are immediately obvious. These are all exciting fields in which the Hackaday community continually push the boundaries, and from which come the astounding pieces of work you read on these pages daily. Of course the projects that merge textiles and electronics are pushing boundaries in the same way, except for that it’s often not obvious at first glance. Why is that?

Wearables are a field in which hard work and ingenuity abound, but pulling off the projects that stand out and go beyond mere ordinary garments adorned with a few twinkly LEDs or EL wire is hard. Wearables have a sense of either still seeking its killer application or its technological enabler, and it was this topic that physicist, textilist, and artist Kitty Yeung touched upon in her talk at the recent Hackaday Superconference.

Kitty takes us through a selection of her work including a piece with fabric made from volcanic basalt and a top depicting an eclipse as a moving image, it was by way of illustrating the limitations imposed upon the creative textile technologist by the traditional nature of the medium. In some cases these limitations were purely technological, such as her using lenticular printing for the eclipse because her first choice of a flexible OLED screen was not yet practical. In others though, like the iterative process by which a designer and manufacturer work to achieve the correct product, she describes an industry whose practices have not followed those of other industries. She poses the question: why could the textile business not operate in a manner more akin to the electronics industry?

She’s looking for the appearance of garment companies that follow the model of 3D printing services such as Shapeways; encapsulating made-to-order products and prototypes produced directly from the supplied designs produced by the creator. Already there’s a service offering the ability to print and cut pattern pieces to order, but as the exception rather than the rule. Kitty sees a future in which the garment business is as tightly integrated through the use of CAD and CNC manufacturing as the 3D printing industry, and though she didn’t mention it we can also see a close parallel with the world of printed circuit boards. This could achieve the production of custom textiles at a level that would be democratised and accessible no matter what the production volume. Want to wear custom prints on uniquely built garments? Need something that fits you and not a size that “fits all”? These is part of the breakout promise laying in wait.

If you have ever worked with textiles in a hackerspace alongside other members using CNC routers, laser cutters, and 3D printers in their projects you will immediately understand her point. Sewing machines may have advanced since the days of your grandmother’s treadle Singer, but the process is still the same one of one of tissue paper, glass-headed pins, and fabric shears that she would feel right at home in. Kitty Yeung’s vision for the future presents infinite possibilities, and we’re sure you’ll agree it’s one we’d all like to be in.

9 thoughts on “Kitty Yeung On Tech-Fashion Designs and the Wearables Industry

  1. Laser cutting fabric patterns seems like an ideal application for available tech. Home use Doesnt need to be nearly accurate as most uses. Im assuming based on experience. Surprised there isn’t more about it. Vinyl blade cutters are common now but laser still not cheap or prevalent. Kitty news appreciated.

  2. It always amazes me how people can get these so-called ‘jobs’ doing stuff like this. Most people are out there every day busting their rear ends and expected to actually deliver something, and people like Kitty get to basically play around all day. For what it is worth, my wife and daughter have no problems applying the internet to purchase clothing and shoes. I don’t want to sound harsh, but maybe get a real job and solve a real problem – like hunger, cancer, energy conservation, or find a way to provide more cost effective clothing for people in the third world.

    1. She really gets your hackles up, doesn’t she?

      For what it’s worth, I can relate to the impulse of resentment celebration of a tech. celebrity can generate. I would encourage you to follow up that impulse with curiosity. Check out Kitty’s twitter. Listen to her talk. Look into her research as a scientist. Maybe even find a polite way to ask her what she thinks is valuable about her work.

      I think you will be surprised.

    2. Yeah, I’m jealous also. We’ll be OK. She does have legitimate concerns though and is knowledgeable and informative about what she is doing. The interesting aspects are the capabilities that I see as wearable diagnostic devices that I am working on to detect and log in an audit trail not only the individual events, boundary and environmental events.

      Plus, I didn’t even realize there was a “Basalt Fiber” material until I read the article and watched this presentation.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basalt_fiber

      Reads like it was declassified in 1995.

      I assume there are a range of materials capabilities for desired user requirements performance:
      Per the basalt wiki ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basalt ) the composition has quite a range and I assume there are synthetic formulations for optimal performance requirements:

      “Relative to most common igneous rocks, basalt compositions are rich in MgO and CaO and low in SiO2 and the alkali oxides, i.e., Na2O + K2O, consistent with the TAS classification.

      Basalt generally has a composition of 45–55 wt% SiO2, 2–6 wt% total alkalis, 0.5–2.0 wt% TiO2, 5–14 wt% FeO and 14 wt% or more Al2O3. Contents of CaO are commonly near 10 wt%, those of MgO commonly in the range 5 to 12 wt%.

      High-alumina basalts have aluminium contents of 17–19 wt% Al2O3; boninites have magnesium (MgO) contents of up to 15 percent. Rare feldspathoid-rich mafic rocks, akin to alkali basalts, may have Na2O + K2O contents of 12% or more.”

      Now to read more into EMS EMF transmission/absorption, reflection and refraction characteristics.

      Sure beats hacking clothing to bring in stuff into the country duty free. ;-|)

  3. The missing piece here is labor.

    When most of our new textiles are still produced on the piecework/sweatshop model, by what we would probably call unskilled labor, and in countries without good worker protections, there is going to be a huuuuge excluded middle between basic commodity clothing and the individualized garments proposed here.

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