text {isle}

one small islet in the sea of digital text
April 28th, 2013



Smart fabrics.  High-tech interactive clothing.  It sounds like something out of Back to the Future 2, right?  Remember power laces?  What about the self-drying jacket?  It seems that the movie creators’ ideas about what might be possible in 2015 were not quite as far-fetched as they seemed in 1989.  Sure, they got the fashion predictions wrong (although I have heard rumors that some 80’s styles are returning…), but some of their technological fantasies were not altogether unrealistic.  Powered clothing and smart fabrics are now possible, and even old-school pixellated video games have been given a modern textile twist.


Playing a sweater or knitting a game?  In a story reported by touch arcade a couple of months ago, Eli Hodapp reviewed an iOS game called Knitted Deer.  A standard 2D linear format game, it features nordic-style knitted sweater graphics reminiscent of vintage 1980s Christmas sweaters in place of old school pixel graphics.

Ok, so maybe the idea of a knitting-inspired video game puts you to sleep.  Would you appreciate smart pajamas that are patterned with QR codes that can be scanned with a smart phone or tablet that, along with the accompanying app, will provide bedtime stories and lullabies, complete with cuddly images and read-along text.

Too juvenile for your taste?  Maybe this risque 3d-printed dress modeled by Dita Von Teese is more to your taste.  Made of nylon, this black-lacquered crystal-studded gown’s design is based on the Fibonacci sequence, designed on an iPad, printed out in 17 pieces, and assembled. Will the future bring clothing that we can design and print for special occasions, or even every day wear?  (Although the thought of wearing synthetic fabric every day makes me shudder, even if a whole synthetic lifestyle was predicted for us by New York Times Science Editor Waldemar Kaempffert in 1950.  Really.  And underwear that would be recycled into candy.  Read his article from the February 1950 issue of Popular Mechanics speculating about life in 2000; it will entertain you.  It was wrong about many things, but it did seem to grasp that we were heading toward a more disposable mindset in relation to our belongings.)

Aside from the fanciful and the novel, it is amazing what is currently possible to do with fabric and clothing.  Take thermochromic fabric, for instance.  Like a mood ring, it changes color in response to temperature changes.  These jeans change from blue when the wearer is cold to white when warmer, but the reaction is localized, so warmer areas appear white, while cooler areas are blue.  If you are more interested in smart clothing than clever fabrics, the Department of Design and Computation Arts at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada is currently working on a conceptual project that weaves electronic fabric into clothing.  In the future, this could serve functions like charging a cell phone, eliminating the need for extra batteries and cables, or augmenting the temperature of the wearer.  That would be cool.  Or hot.


So we saw what Back to the Future predicted clothing would be like in 30 years, and we know what Concordia University in Montreal is working on for the future, but how high tech will our clothing be…say 65 years from now?  The new SyFy show Continuum takes a guess at an answer.  Set in 2077, the show focuses on a terrorist group who go back in time to 2012, accidentally taking a Protector (police officer) named Kiera with them.  I have to admit that I am completely fascinated with Kiera’s protector uniform.  Her computerized suit is a completely integrated toolkit that is bulletproof, invisibility cloak, and telecommunications unit that allows her to access data or hack computers from digital screens that appear almost magically from the fabric of her uniform, capabilities that are demonstrated in this short video and this clip.

We have come a long way:  from a weaving loom as the first programmable machine and precursor to the modern computer, to sci-fi shows that turn smart clothing into programmable machines.  What is the future for this integration of tech and textile?  What kind of techstyles will we be utilizing and dreaming about in 30 years?