I have recently returned from a packed, 5 day eTextiles Summer Camp hosted by the Palliard Centre d’Art Contemporain & Residence d’Artists, France and organised by eTextile practitioners, Mika Satomi and Hannah Perner-Wilson from Kobakant studio, Berlin (www.kobakant.at).Twenty-four participants from around the world came together in order to skill share though hands-on workshops, discuss and create new work through group projects.
eTextiles, otherwise known as electronic textiles as they incorporate malleable, electronic or digital components for example, conductive or colour-changing fibres. Over the last two decades there has been steady development within this field, particularly the latter. With increasing availability of new materials and advanced technologies there has been widespread activity within the design, artistic and engineering communities. This event was a unique opportunity for like-minded practitioners from these communities to come and work together. Each of us contributed samples in order to compile unique e-Textile Swatch Books which included: beaded tilt sensors; conductive bobbin-lace; light-emitting diode(LED) felt; interactive textile games; heat-activated, colour-change fabric; even a knitted breadboard! (A breadboard is a prototyping electronics base).
The theme for the Camp was ‘Soft and Slow Electronics’ as most of us used time-consuming processes such as weaving, embroidery, lace, paper-making and printing to incorporate soft electronics. The organisers were keen to promote the positive value of ‘slow’, practice-based methods which seemed appropriate given the growing popularity of many Slow Movements within today’s society. Perhaps I should join OCA tutor, Lisa Bloomer as a member of the Slow Textiles Group?
There were many workshops to fuel the imagination – Batik and copper fabric etching; Lacemaking with conductive thread; Screen printing with thermochromic ink; and, Building heat-controlling circuits. I teamed up with practitioner, Meg Grant (http://www.meggrant.com/flexiblecircuits.php) to run an experimental, optical fibre workshop which allowed the participants to create light-emitting and energy-harvesting textiles using LEDs and photodiodes. I joined the Arduino programming workshop with expert instructor, Melissa Coleman. Arduino is promoted as ‘an electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software’. It is the device which most artists and designers use. It can sense environmental changes for example and control lights or other switch devices. I use another type of microcontroller in my work.I knew nothing about using Arduino and thought this was a good opportunity to learn some basic skills. After a few attempts at putting together ‘code’ (with a fellow participant), we both finished the workshop feeling rather smug with ourselves having ‘made purple’ from a tri-coloured LED!
I also tried my hand at 3D printing – a machine which digitally prints (in layers) pretty much any three dimensional form. This has opened up a whole new area of design development opportunities. I focussed on creating flat, flexible materials trapping yarns between the layers. Others printed with materials to make textile sensors for example. Have a look at the company, Freedom of Creation, for an insight into their 3D printed products.
The group work was sparked by our journey of learning and e-textile discussions and was presented to the public on the last day. Innovative projects included a ‘magic e-Textile carpet’, ‘underwater eTextile hats’, a ‘live global eTextiles swatch book’ and an eTextile tree loom which I and five other budding enthusiasts worked on. Inspired by the centre’s previous existence as a paper mill and our immediate surroundings, we constructed interwoven hoop warps within a cluster of trees using paper yarn and optical fibres. We made (French knitted) multi-coloured, conductive weft threads and light-emitting paper shuttles integrating lit optical fibre so you could weave at night!The audience was invited to weave which allowed the tree loom to creatively evolve. Who knows where these ideas will take me next? Maybe you have some of your own?