Clothes that change color in response to your heart rate? Bed linens that glow to treat seasonal affective disorder, P.M.S. or migraines? Alarm clocks woven into your pajamas? Murmuring wallpaper?
These are a few of the tales of digital wizardry drawing textile designers and artists from as far away as Finland and Australia to the “Inspired Design: Jacquard and Entrepreneurial Textiles” conference this week at Blue Ridge Community College.
“The textile industry is dramatically changing in North Carolina,” says Dian Magie, executive director for the UNC Center for Craft, Creativity and Design, which is sponsoring the conference.
Gone are the days of large-scale manufacturing, once the marrow of the region’s economy. Instead, they’re being replaced by niche markets: High-end clothing and interiors, including some pretty wild textiles, including fabric with wire woven inside that plays sound or responds to external stimuli.
“Oh my goodness, it’s a new world,” Magie says. “I think that’s what we’re looking at—this is where textiles are going for the United States. We’re not going to go back to manufacturing the way it was.”
Other countries have seen their industries change as well. The conference will draw speakers and attendees from Australia, Finland, Japan and many other locales. In these times of economic scrambling, innovation is key.
The conference will focus on “smart” and “interactive” textiles; textiles for boutique clothing and high-end interiors and commissioned textile works for both public and private spaces.
Aside from inspiring very cool art, digitally-enhanced textiles have practical applications—we’ve come a long way since the “Hypercolor” T-shirts of the ‘80s.
Smart fabrics can be programmed to respond to changes in the environment, body temperature or sounds. Going out dancing? Put on a shirt that will morph to the beat of the music. These magical fabrics have found their way to Cirque du Soleil shows and Broadway productions of The Lion King. But they can also be used in military gear to monitor a soldier’s vital signs or to create healthier living and working interiors.
While most of us will probably not have our iPods woven into our sleeves, we may eventually be able to enjoy clothes made of more comfortable, responsive and beautiful fabrics; interiors enriched by a designer’s imagination; and a revitalized textile industry that reflects the depth of this region’s craft practice.
[Harriette Grissom is a Humanities instructor at UNCA.]