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Smart Fabrics


Some of today’s fabrics are far from being the sewer’s familiar medium to use for making clothing, accessories and home décor items. Fabrics have caught the wind for sailors from time immemorial propelling human kind to explore and discover new places.

Fabric has so many functional high-tech uses today. It is used for covering the open spaces of boats, an auto’s convertible soft-top, and pickup truck tarps. Fabric is used in pet screens and carriers, bug screens and mesh for insect protection, in light-reflecting safety clothing and hunting apparel, painted for stage and scenery backdrops, used as high temperature cloth in racing and fire-protective clothing, rubberized trampoline fabric, and astronauts’ space suits.

Now fabrics can do even more. Fabrics that are smart or ‘e-textiles’ come in a variety of interactive mediums that can - change color by reacting to heat or light, sense vibration and use it to conduct energy via sound or heat, release medications, guard against dangerous biologic hazards of viruses and bacteria, protect against environmental hazards like radioactive particle emissions or even the biological effects of space travel.

There are smart fabrics that can be incorporated into backpacks, bags and other accessories that act as interactive companions to today’s high tech mobile devices. Smart fabrics have been used as conductive textiles that create an interface that interprets signals from the electronic devices, even using the sun as an energy source.

Smart fabrics can be washable, flexible, and wireless with appropriate software. The remarkable fabric can be fashioned into any number of items - soft T-shirts, outerwear jackets and vests, cycling shorts, and portable loudspeaker bags and backpacks. The future of this interactive soft fabric is promising with applications for children’s’ toys and in the sport, industrial, medical and military environments.

Fabrics have always been uniquely functional as they adorn our outdoor spaces with all-weather pavilion covers, for stationary and retractable awnings, tent structures and outdoor casual furniture. Fabrics grace our windows in draperies and provide shade systems. Architectural fabric tensile roof structures can span great spaces such as the Denver International Airport and London’s Millennium Dome.

Fabric is used for covering the open spaces of boats, an auto’s convertible soft- top, and pickup truck tarps. It is used in light-reflecting safety clothing and hunting apparel, painted for stage and scenery backdrops, used as high temperature cloth in racing and fire-protective clothing, and flexible trampoline fabric.

As sewers we know how to fashion fabrics into clothing to cover and protect, as artists how to influence and manipulate fabric to intrigue and delight, and as engineers who allow us to ride the wind on parachutes, hot air balloons, wind surf, and sail. Fabrics wrap us in warmth, can keep us cool, filter light, upholster our furniture, enchant us with artistry, color and design, make known our cultural and societal systems, and (smartly) take us to the stars.

Sew happy, sew inspired.

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Content copyright © 2015 by Cheryl Ellex. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Cheryl Ellex. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Cheryl Ellex for details.

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