Though two projects Formbric has explored copper wire within machine knitting to create formable textiles, while it is currently in the process of being applied to Electromagnetic Shielding designs.
Studio V, The Study
Exploring materiality to form fabric
The study of Formbric is a body of work that undertakes an exploration in materiality to develop physical characteristics that give form to fabric. As the concept has developed through an action research methodology, using fabric as a form with structure has turned seemingly speculative ideas into realistic opportunities. Continuing from an idea developed during Interactive Technology Systems of Semester II of 2017 I was interested in the physical development of a surface that had the ability to retain a shape once moulded.
Copper produced as a wire is available in varying widths, but it wasn’t until I began to play with these variations that I understood how treat each of them. The first action was the manual knitting of 0.63 mm copper, eventually leading to 1 mm copper and wool with the first point of interest being the materiality and structural quality of the product. The initial analysis through the methodology brought forward questions about the material’s scale, automation and interface.
While in an early stage of divergence, my research opened several avenues of interest. One of these being themes of cells and the surfaces they create from Under the Microscope. Enabling the project to be viewed from new perspectives, characteristics of movement from observing the growth of viruses, infections and bacteria under the microscope introduced aspects of shape shifting and the possibility of an autonomous surface (microscopemaster, n.d.).
Most often used for its conductive qualities I was shown an interesting point of research. By experimented with producing a magnetic field through a charged coil of copper and hand knit copper, I was able to produce a surface that independently shook and shivered under the movement of a magnet. Charlotte Alexander’s research through paper “Disabled Monsters” became a spring board in getting to know the possibilities of also producing sound (Alexander, Joseph, & Charlton, 2015). Alexanders work both introduced my concept to coppers abilities and expanded my research on what was possible.
Closely related to this was an area of interest from MIT in their development of Magnetic Hair. Externally controlled much like the magnetised copper experiments, this surface had the ability to control singular water droplets from A to B. Discovering these developments made me question what was possible and what was yet to be discovered. Could this be a possible application to be combined alongside a forming fabric?
With the introduction of independent movement to a surface at the early stages of discovery and development it became critical to step back and question our natural existing relationship with surfaces. How do we naturally want to interact with the surfaces that surround us? Through Zeitguised’s ‘Phygital’ world combinations of digital simulations with cloth and fabrics challenged the audiences reality in what I saw as means of pushing boundaries in order to confront these questions (zeitguised, 2015). Taking these ideas a step further was Hype Cycle: Smart Matter by prototyping elements of interaction (Universal Everything, 2018). There being no doubt that one day most of what we are currently discovering will be the norm, it being interesting to see how we currently perceive these notions and predict them to become normal.
Expanding on these findings and re searching what was known, Smart Memory Alloy (SMA) was combined to progress my existing experiments. Demonstrated by Artist Ying Gao an interactive commentary was set in motion throughout her collections of ever evolving use of Muscle Wire (Gao, 2017). Her work set out to mimic the data collected from its environment and reflected through subtle movement. Gao’s seamless integration of SMA into her well crafted garments was no mean feat.
Using the SMA myself proved to be far more challenging than expected. The format of the wire was not produced as expected and I struggled with finding a way to integrate it into my knitted prototypes. I believe there to be plenty to discover with muscle wire and its abilities, which was clearly shown through another piece of research by MIT. The autonomous soft earthworm developed at MIT set a new standard for SMA abilities, not only for myself but in the creative industries (Chu, 2012). Pre programmed and constructed from minimal material, their movement and the resulting life like activity presented a reality to the development of other works and yet again sparked questions related to social aspects.
The opportunity to knit at the Textile Design Lab (TDL) with Gordon Fraser became a pivotal point in the study, regarding both machine made methods and manufacturing. Originally thought to be a paradigm shift in textile production with the introduction of spacial design, it turned out that the use of machine knitting brought a wearable element to a more suitable conclusion of the study at this time.
With the limitations of being knitted through a machine the copper needed to be 0.125 mm. Unsure of how the width would be in comparison with what I could hand knit with thicker wire I began by producing a small simple wool and copper knitted pocket. Although not as strong as previous methods it showed promise. At this point I was reminded of Alexander’s work and running a current through it to test for sound, and even though it was faint the machine knitted pocket was able to produce sound. I continued by knitting solely the copper at a longer length to gage its strength without wool and possibly by double layering it. Much like the pocket knit it proved hopeful but fell short of the strength that would make forming it reliably possible.
Danish Textile company Kvadrat’s perspective on textile design through their Soft Cells project proved to be a positive development in the creative industries and towards my concept. With the aim of producing three-dimensional textile panel systems, we can observe an urge from companies to push textiles to their limits in the pursuit of their goals (Hobson, 2017). The developments of Formbric reflect this movement of bringing textile production into spacial design.
It was at this point that a conversation began between Gordon and I regarding my aims for the textile proved productive. He showed me a basic copper inlay and saw its greater potential than the knit. As a result we worked together to push current boundaries of copper inlay by designing one layered knitted wool to hold an inlay when normally two and the copper is woven back and forth between these layers.
Knowing what was beginning to be possible with these discoveries with the copper inlay I saw further similarities with Swedish family owned and operated company Bolon. Leading the manufacturing for woven vinyl flooring in Europe and globally after inventing the process with their custom machinery (Bolon, 2018). Driving such a large project on a level of constant innovation it was clear to see the potential of combining techniques for cooper to be integrated to textiles on a global scale. Seeing the strength of the thicker hand knitted copper wire and industries driven by innovators who are able to design, produce and manufacture their own concepts there is an opportunity to develop these processes into larger territory.
Having discovered multiple connections between these avenues I began to see the concepts and prototypes I was producing in an area of convergence. Creating new connections and sitting between disciplines allowed my concept to be torn apart and reconstructed in different ways and be seen through alternative lenses. Without an approach of curiosity the development of understanding materiality and altering characteristics would not of been discovered. I have come to see what I have found as the foundation for great opportunities which extend over multiple disciplines.
Showcasing the studies development in the form of a garment brings ideas of materiality and how we choose to interact with fabric and their forms to a wider audience. Bringing the progress through process to light aims to engage creative industries with development. The study of Formbric through this body of work goes beyond today’s ‘norms’ in an effort to discover possibilities and experiment in the unknown.
Alexander, C., Joseph, F., & Charlton, J. (2015). Disabled Monsters: Performing prosthetic technologies and ambivalent bodies: An exegesis submitted to Auckland University of Technology in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Creative Technology (MCT), 2015. Auckland: AUT.
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