Making Futures Journal
Weaving Futures: Adopting Alternative Postures to Develop New Methods for the Construction of Textile-forms in the Context of Micro-manufacturing
Design and Anthropocentrism
Zero waste systems thinking
Experimental design research
Multimorphic Flat Textile-forms
Trouser Experiment 1: Flattening a trouser
Placing garments on a lightbox enables an understanding of the layers that are the result of flattening to occur as the light transmission is reduced the more layers it has to travel through (Figure 3). This stage allows for the beginning of the relationship between layer construction and form to be determined. These images could be turned into weave-able files almost exactly as they are, or their details and form manipulated further to allow the methodology and technology used to influence their expression.
New forms and expressions are also explored through the use of paper models. These figures of thought are like 2D/3D sketches that experiment with an element of, or the entirety of a form. The paper models begin to demonstrate that an action (from form to flat and flat to form) is a ‘material’ of design of these textile-forms – the models are metamorphic sketches or objects that facilitate the experience of transformation from two dimensions to three, and back again. The desired form determines the number of layers through the cross-section of the design at this point of the design process. If it is known how the form will be constructed, then it is determined by an intersection of desired form and construction specifications (such as loom warp density if woven). The paper models exist as physical things and also as videos of them transforming – as is shown in the stills in Figure 4. Videoing of the transformation both documents the transformation while also allowing for new ways of seeing the action and becomes part of the design process itself. Additionally, paper models allow effective communication between collaborators as they physically manifest the flat to form relationship by being able to exist as flat and formed as well as every state in-between.
The basic form explored in the paper model as derived from the folded trouser was then explored in digital form using CLO3D (Figure 5). Here the relationship between body and form begins to be manifested. The number of layers required in the flat textile-form is finalised (four), but exact design details are not resolved. This design shows the negative space created by the crotch seam in the middle two layers enables a pocket to be built in the form. The digital model at this stage is like a template of a basic flat textile-form design that can be manipulated further and detailed to explore a range of possible resulting expressions depending on the construction method intended to be used.
The final stage of this experiment was developed initially to a digital prototype (Figure 6). In this stage, the construction method was chosen (weaving) but only applied to the point of the width of loom repeat (40cm). As a result, an interim map of bindings was constrained by this 40cm width and the ensuing form potential was explored. The aesthetic possibilities of draping fabric from the front and back leg seams were developed, and considerations of fit, and edge details were resolved.
Trouser Experiment 2: Weaving a Trouser
In Trouser Experiment 2, the critical experimental element to explore was to resolve and code the Map of Bindings so that the flat textile-form from Trouser Experiment 1 could be woven. The relationship between 3D form woven into the layers of the cloth and the map of bindings required to weave the flat textile-form has implications on the expression of the surface of the trouser (Figure 7). Woven seams present in internal layers (such as the crotch seam) can be visible as a kind of ‘trace’ on the outside leg around the pocket. This relationship can be exaggerated or minimised, depending on the weave bindings used.
This experiment was a remote collaboration with weaver Milou Voorwinden who worked with the author to develop the final map of bindings and then used the video in Figure 4 and a simplified layer coding system (Figure 8) to understand the intended relationship between layers to assign weave bindings. The final woven outcome (Figure 9) used contrasting colours to illustrate the layers of the weave. The rigidity of the resulting cloth (which is 100% polyester) was not adequately accounted for and will be developed in future testing.
Trouser Experiment 3: Planet City Trouser
The initial Map of Bindings (Figure 11, top) was a balance between the width of the loom, the minimum size of each trouser, and the flexibility offered by the moulding process. Three trousers fit well across the full width which allowed for a small amount of texture to appear at the widest point of the mould while shrinking enough to reduce to its smallest (the hem).
Young and Crabtree of Planet City partially determined the surface pattern (Figure 11, bottom). For the purposes of research in this experiment, it was a variable with unknown effect in terms of how the additional bindings required for the surface pattern would impact on the bindings required for the form. In combining all of the previous elements – body, 3D mould, map of bindings and surface pattern, a digital approximation can be produced to communicate to within the collaborative team and to the client what the outcome might look like (Figure 12). It is important to note (and was communicated to the directors of Planet City) that due to limitations of technology, this digital prototype cannot be entirely accurate.
While the moulding process itself is open in that where and when heat is applied can affect the outcome – in contrast to cut and sew – in this process almost all of the expression of the trouser is determined before the cloth is woven. Peterson calls this reversal ‘Reverse Crafting’ and means there is still craft embedded in the outcome – it is just in another place. The construction of the trousers is a matter of the weave technicians loading the appropriate weft yarns and pushing a button. The textile form arrives at the user almost fully formed, with only a few cuts required to release the 3D form from the 2D textile, and one seam sewn for the zipper (Figure 13). Beyond that, if fitting is required, or the form possible through moulding, then the heavy application of a hairdryer can transform the textile-form further. In all, it seems a process well suited to micro-factories or makerspaces.
Reflection on experiments
This research identifies three stages of transition from existing industry ways of working to the kind of holistic, regenerative industry we need. In Stage 1 (for more on this see McQuillan, 2019) we move from bad to better, utilising industry 4.0 in existing industrial contexts to reach for a low waste fashion ecosystem supported by Industry 4.0. In Stage 2, the industry is reimagined in multiple centres with semi-automated, zero waste micro-factories supported by regional waste collection systems and the development of the circular economy. Stage 3 builds on practices of regenerative agriculture, and encompasses the entire production, design, and use chain in Regenerative Micro-systems moving away from synthetic fibres (unless we can solve issues of microfibre pollution). This proposed Regenerative Micro-system can be articulated as a cycle of Farm – Form – Wear – Worm (and back to Farm), where sites of cultivation of fibre (Farm), production of form (Form), use of outcome (Wear) and decomposition (Worm) occur in hyper-local systems. Further reduction in production and consumption is achieved by addressing both the systems of manufacture and attitudes towards use, resulting in a plurality of production approaches, sites, and aesthetics, all which seek to eliminate the concept of waste as we currently conceive it. The first two experiments of this paper primarily address stage 2 and propose 'Form' (design and production) methods for stage 3. The Planet City experiment is situated primarily in Stage 3; however, it approaches the cycle outlines from an alternative perspective provided by the film context. Planet City proposed that all resources come from the reuse and re-mining of late capitalism and so the process would instead start with re-mining the leftover plastics and polyester of our contemporary society: a Mine, then Form – Wear – Reuse cycle. In this context, a circular economy use of polyester was assessed as most relevant, and in Planet City’s speculative future, it is assumed the problem of microplastics is solved, though it would not be regenerative, only cyclical.
Transition design asks that this research consider the implications of automation on the fashion industry and how a 'just' transition can be designed to manage the transition from the dominant manual high human input that exists now, to a mostly automated system in this imagine 'preferred' future. Another layer of analysis that Transition Design theory would add is the consideration of location. How might the system discussed operate in Sweden, New Zealand, Nigeria, India, China – urban or rural settings? Irwin states that transition visions ‘propose the reconception of entire lifestyles where basic needs are met locally or regionally, and the economy is designed to meet those needs, rather than grow for its own sake’ , therefore these broader structural notions would need to be considered in both the development and analysis of the outcomes of this research.
A key reflection of Experiment 2 occurred when estimating the wholesale cost of constructing trousers on the loom. The cost of the (Europe based) weaving mill time, length of the trouser and number of trousers across the loom width per metre results in a production cost of about €26 per unit for five pairs of trousers. Larger sizes will be more expensive as they use more yarn; however, economies of scale will drop that cost to €10.40 per unit if making more than 500 trousers at a time. This illustrates a potential unintended consequence of this method of design and production. It could conceivably be desirable to develop for large scale garment manufacture as it might enable a massive reduction of their workforce through automating the production of garments utilising technology that already exists.
Covid-19 has had and will continue to have an impact on the globalised supply chain of the fashion and textile industry. As well as driving a reduction in overall consumption, the sudden disruption, and in many cases destruction, of existing supply chains has increased the appetite for localised, automated supply chains. However, as neither localisation and automation of production necessarily ensure material waste reduction, they run the risk of exacerbating the global issues we face unless we holistically approach its development and implementation. The tendency to want to scale-up efficient production methods in any post-Covid world needs to be tempered with this understanding – instead, this research seeks to explore the potential to scale-out to multiple centres of production which are responsive to the individual needs of the community and resources of the environment.
The role of the outcomes of these experiments, or artefacts, in this research, is a complex one. It is a physical manifestation of a range of holistic theoretical, methodological, and physical inputs. The design process explores how we can utilise existing technology in the making of new forms and new futures. A key aspect is the translation from 2D to 3D, which occurs as a kind of reverse origami, allowing for more complex forms than those usually possible with whole garment weaving, and without waste creation. Its multimorphic and analogue-digital craft practice develops new understandings of conventional textile design and manufacturing elements, such as jacquard looms and weave structures, for use in micro-manufacturing contexts. The form-making processes developed in this research can be utilised in a range of processes. Primarily its is jacquard weaving that has been explored, but there is potential for these methods to be applied in the context of the biological textiles of Diana Scherer, and Kate Goldsworthy's work with Laserline, both of which require flatbeds for production. This will inform some future explorations of this research.
The work presented in this paper aims to develop methods and processes which are viable in the context of digitally distributed manufacture and local micro-factories, utilising existing technology in alternative ways and suggesting new methods with the potential to transition the form and nature of the industry to one that works for all. We need multiple visions of a future in which a just, safe and fulfilling life for all is bound by the social foundation and the ecological ceiling articulated by Kate Raworth.
We lack the methods to implement the automated, local micro-factory production of woven garments. By designing the interstitial spaces of textiles and not only the surface, we reimagine the 2D textile as 3D potential – enabling complex 3D forms to be constructed from an apparently 2D material. The boundaries between textile and garment are blurred. Operating in this blurred space enables new methods to emerge and the making of alternative futures. These design methods apply to any production method that requires a flatbed and allows for complex 3D form to emerge from that with minimal and in many cases, no stitching at all. New design tools are needed to be developed to automate the translation from 3D to 2D; new materials and processes are needed in production. This holistic and disruptive reshaping of form-making has the potential to future-make the industry, our cities, and our social fabric.
So, imagine a circular micro-factory or regenerative micro-system in every community. What would micro-factories producing on-demand in every community mean for the textile and garment industries? Currently, it has one of the most globally distributed, complex supply chains of any industry, utilising the bodies of the largest workforce in the world. We need to consider the flow-on effect of what in some cases will cause the reshoring of production – models such as these would put many out of work. However, the CO2 emissions associated with the transportation of materials and goods for the current fashion and textile systems are massive. Garments made-to-order locally, utilising local materials needs to become a commonplace reality, and to do that we need to reduce transportation and transform the relationship between design and production, which suggests redistribution and automation – how should we ensure a just transition? The so-called global north currently exports the negative impacts of garment production to countries in the global south with more relaxed laws relating to labour laws and environmental impacts. If we redistribute production, we risk merely redistributing the environmental problems associated instead of addressing them. Perhaps this will force the development of materials, recycling, production, and waste management processes which previously were far easier to ignore. Radical change is coming, either it happens to us, or we design the transition ourselves.