Tomorrow’s Textiles: Building Tradition - Technology Synergies

Kaul, Ekta Khokhar a graduate of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, is currently engaged pursuing her Masters in Textile Design at the School of Textile and Design, Heriot-Watt University, Scotland. She was awarded the Scottish International Scholarship, 2005/06 as well as Charles Wallace Wallace Trust India Scholarship, 2005/06. For her Masters project she is engaged in developing synergies between technology with textile traditions. Prior to embarking upon the Masters programme, Ekta had a successful stint at the industry, working with some of India’s most revered designers.

March 2007 Update

Technology is ushering in a brand new era in the 5000 year old history of textiles. The fields of art, science, design, craft, engineering and computation are converging to create new fabrics that are innovative, functional, aesthetic and provocative. This next generation of textiles is pervading all fields, be it architecture, space travel, medicine or fashion.

Fashion makes a good case study of current developments brought about by the assimilation of technology with craft. “Technology is the future of fashion” notes New York based designer Donna Karan1. The use of technology is not just confined to advanced fabrics, but it now extends to question the very craft of making clothes. On the one hand intelligent textiles are being used to make clothing that is responsive to change in temperature, light or even emotions; while on the other, technology is spurring designers to take a fresh look at their craft and to devise unconventional ways of clothing the body. Though, still in their nascent stages, these developments point to a future where clothing would serve more functions than it does today; taking on functions like communication, healthcare, wellbeing and even entertainment besides more traditional functions like aesthetics, protection and personal expression.

“Who knows what clothes will be? Maybe an aerosol used to spray the body; maybe women will be dressed in coloured gases adherent to their body, or in halos of light, changing colour with the movements of the sun or with their emotions.” Paco Rabanne’s fashion prophecy pronounced in 1969 seems to have been realised quite literally in 2004 by London based fashion designer Manel Tores. Manel’s company FabriCan has literally created fabric in a can. The aerosol contains ‘spray-on non woven fabric’ to create an item of clothing2. This development can potentially change the craft of making garments from ‘cut and sew’ to ‘open and spray’. The spray-on fabric is limitless in possibilities for ad-ons like perfume or drug treatments and of applications. It can be applied to anything, from the upholstery of a chair to the skin of an aircraft3.

Issey Miyake’s A-POC (A Piece of Cloth) is an innovative system of garment manufacture. It is an attempt to democratise the design process, allowing the wearers to contribute in the creation of their clothing. In this system, a single yarn is converted into a seamless tube of knitted fabric which can then be cut up into an entire outfit by the wearer with variations of style and length made possible thanks to the sophisticated construction and advanced knitting technology. A-POC thus challenges the fashion hierarchy and empowers the wearer. In his Spring/Summer 2004 collection Hamish Morrow did not use any stitching, only relying clever cutting and ultrasonic welding for making the garments, again challenging conventions through technology4.

These examples illustrate the role of innovative technological developments that have taken craft to new frontiers. However, it is important to note that new developments do not owe their origin solely to technology. An equally significant role is played by craft traditions in the development of advanced textiles and tech couture. Numerous examples exist where new textiles have emerged through referencing craft traditions of weaving, printing or knitting. To give an instance, in the 1990s, the research team at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Centre was researching integrating electronics in the soldiers’ uniforms that could effectively communicate raw sensory data. Taking inspiration from the craft of Victorian millinery and manipulations of ribbons, the research team worked out wire edged ribbons that could be applied flat to the soldier’s clothing to simplify routing of digital signals and power5. Polartec Heat Blanket is another example of referencing textile traditions. Researchers looked at traditional Elizabethan gold embroidery in this case to develop flexible wiring to enable a low-cost, washable electronic circuit that could be applied to the blanket6.

Such a symbiosis of technology and tradition exists in Japan and is illustrated by the Japanese dominance in cutting edge textiles. Japanese textile and fashion designers use technology to expand craft horizons, drawing from centuries old textile traditions. They use cutting edge technology and advanced materials in combination with traditional techniques to express new ways of thinking. Active collaboration between the industry and craftsmen results in innovative developments. Renowned textile designer Reiko Sudo’s work exemplifies this collaboration between technology and traditional textile crafts.

This synergy between technology and tradition has become all the more significant in today’s world of growing homogeneity. When references are drawn from local traditions, culture and crafts in the application of technology, the result is singular. India, with its wealth of textile traditions and a strong IT industry is in a unique position for such synergistic developments between crafts and technology. Given the legacy of rich craft textile traditions, techno savvy Indian textile and fashion designers can potentially revolutionise the field. A celebration of technology with a reverent nod to craft traditions will undoubtedly forge new paths into unchartered territories.


  • Lee,S. (2005), Fashioning the Future- Tomorrow’s Wardrobe, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London

  • McQuaid, M., (2005), Extreme Textiles- Designing for High Performance, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London

  1. Pg 109, techno textiles

  2. Pg 27, Fashioning the future, Suzanne Lee

  3. Pg 33, Fashioning the future, Suzanne Lee

  4. Pg 30, Fashioning the Future- Tomorrow’s wardrobe, Suzanne Lee

  5. Pg 199, Extreme Textiles, Matilda McQuaid

  6. Pg 199, Extreme Textiles, Matilda McQuaid

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