Without a doubt, there is nothing more exciting for a designer than to touch, experiment and create new material. For a creative mind, in fact, new material could be the final step of a long experiment or the stimulating beginning of a new project.

This is the case of Maggie Orth, recognised innovator in the field of electronic textiles and founder of the company International Fashion Machines. Her work in the field of wearable computers, started years ago with MIT, has evolved in a slow but progressive way towards textile experimentation. The need to win the difficult challenge of generating peculiar effects on clothes or on soft surfaces has brought Maggie to the creation of a new electronic textile (Electric Plaid), printed electronics with thermal-agent ink, able the change colour in predefined areas.

Her interactive textile works of art, Dynamic Double Weave and Leaping Lines , based on this new material, have been around the world and have shown an alternative vision, of highly decorative and handmade aesthetics, of our concept of technological textiles.


Today her work has reached a new change in direction, this time commercial. In fact switches/dimmers, the appearance of which have very little to do with the normal appliances we find at home, have recently been put on sale on her site PomPom Dimmers : they are in fact coloured and soft pompoms that vary in light, reacting under a caress of the hand.

This time the ingenious Maggie has taken advantage of another characteristics of her electronic textile, the conductibility of her treads, and has given life to a new sensor (fuzzy sensor) that substitutes the traditional switch and introduces a playful and soft interaction, but not for this less functional. Women seduced by technology, but not by the hi-tech aesthetics, women that experiment with new materials, but not abandoning the beauty and the warmth of traditional art textile. Women like Maggie Orth or also like Rachel Wingfield.


Rachel comes from another tradition, that of the large London schools the Royal Academy of Art and the Central Saint Martins School of Fashion and Textiles. Her research is concentrated on the fusion of new technology with traditional pattern design to make reactive surfaces. Her results, obtained by the printing of electroluminescent technology on cloth, are magic and enchanting, and with a decisive modern touch reinvent traditional objects like tapestry, curtains (Blumen) and window curtains (Digital Dawn)Thanks to her work, interior design has suddenly enriched its vocabulary with new interactive surfaces, which turn into unexpected sources of light, or into ambient displays that monitor energy consumption or noise levels in the environment.

So, old England hasn’t stopped surprising us, and her most beautiful tale is the one told us by Janet Stoyel , housewife tired of baking cakes, who at forty years old enrols at the Royal College of Art, turns textile designer and revolutionises the fashion world by “baking” futuristic textiles in her back garden. Textiles designed with processes that take advantage of the latent potential of laser technology and that of ultrasounds. Her ClothClinic cuts lace with lasers (LaserLace), engraves ultrasound three-dimensional textiles (SonicCloth) for names like Gucci, Donna Karan and Paul Smith. Not bad for a not so old lady.


In the meantime, the industrial world is also continuing its research through the channels of laboratory experimentation and has reached new results. Among the low cost materials the LEDs have been for a long time and are still one of the preferred technologies in the experimentation of reactive surfaces and in the creation of luminous clothes. Many among those who have worked with technology applied to fashion and interior design, have dreamed about the desired wedding between textiles and light, between cloth and LEDs.

Now the marriage is finally official. This September Philips Design publicly announced the beginning of a new era in Textiles with the creation of a new material: photonic textile (Photonic Textile). Disregarding the name of robotic reminiscences, the prototype is real and is made up of a flexible matrix of multicoloured LEDs intergrated into a soft textile that when needed can become interactive with the inclusion of sensory pressure, bluetooth or GSM. The appearance is that of a low resolution display. Now, new (alarming?) possibilities for innovative systems of illumination, of visualisation and communication are foreseen.


We are one-step away from intelligent chairs, sensitive sofas, perceptive rugs, and padding that thinks, inevitable temptations in our panorama of future experimentation for pioneers of diffused and invisible technology. Who knows one these may already be under the 2005 Christmas tree…