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If you're a student at Design Academy Eindhoven, learning with your hands is as common as all-nighters before assessments and sandwiches at the Z-bar. Of course you use your head; you read a bit, you talk a lot and you may even write, but your hands are at least as important in the learning process of a design student.

A lot of knowledge can be gained by working with your hands. This is evident in crafts, such as weaving or lace-making, where craftsmen have passed on their profession from generation to generation by coming together to practice within workshops, families, crafting circles etc. This social setting is extremely important to pass on knowledge and to put it in context, discuss it and develop it.


This traditional model of knowledge and skill-sharing in what I call a social fabric is similar to current developments in FabLabs, where people with entirely new skills come together to share and work with new technology. Relatively new in this area are smart-textiles, that by the use of “soft” technology are given all sorts of properties and capabilities textiles have never had before. Unfortunately those people working with new hard technology and crafters used to working with soft materials like textiles, do not yet work together much, and neither do most technology companies and textile manufacturers.

They might benefit a lot from each other in the development of smart-textiles, especially if a bottom-up approach is taken. By coming together to work with their hands, to experiment, to show, to share and debate openly, tinkerers, crafters, manufacturers, designers and so on could inspire each other and drive developments in smart-textiles, leading to more diverse and more meaningful smart-textile products.

To test this idea I'm facilitating the creation of an interactive patchwork where every patch represents a bit of knowledge about textile and/or technology, and over time will grow into a rich resource of insights, skills and developments in smart-textiles. By coming together and actively adding, arranging and rearranging patches, new connections can be made linking materials to techniques, techniques to technology, technology to people or companies and so on.

A first tryout was done last week at the FabLab in Enschede, with a group of Saxion students who were working on smart-textile projects. The students created patches together while exploring materials, circuitry, dying techniques and combinations of these. While making, they talked about what their experiments could become and how they could be combined, leading at the end of the day to a shape-shifting textile, a cheap alternative for expensive UV ink, a sliding switch, a concept for a soft but strong construction helmet and much more.

All the patches that form the physical patchwork are also captured digitally and can soon be found at along with more information.


Published: 08-Apr-2013 23:08


  • Hands-on with smart-textiles!

    interactive patchwork

  • Hands-on with smart-textiles!

    thermochromic yarns

  • Hands-on with smart-textiles!

    Saxion students.JPG

  • Hands-on with smart-textiles!

    circuit diagram.JPG