Oct 29, 2008


Fantti, fat wool felt yarn. Photo: Jen Buley

I love this super-fat felt yarn from Finnish yarn company Pirkanmaan Kotityö Oy. It's called Fantti. It's 100% wool, it's soft, it's mothproof, and it's available in a line of 20 fresh colors, with a few good neutrals. It's an interesting yarn for home textiles (carpets, blankets, window treatments, textile "baskets" or bowls), and handbags. Pirkanmaan Kotityö Oy sells a Fantti color card for 3.50 € .


Textile design by Betsy Childs, custom printed by Spoonflower.

A few days ago, I was blogging about how textile manufacturing could be on the brink of a production evolution towards "mass customization" and flexible, small-scale production, thanks to new technologies in digital 2D and 3D printing.

Here's the 2D version, and it's here today. A new US company, called Spoonflower, based in North Carolina, is selling digitally printed custom fabric, with no minimums, and no set-up costs.

Textile designers -- or anyone who has an idea for a fabric -- can now have multi-color designs printed on 4.5 oz cotton (42" printable width, 3 yard piece length). Prices are $18 per yard, or $5 for a sample swatch, and turn-arounds of two weeks or less are reported. Designer/customers retain ownership and all rights to their designs.

An ironic twist: Spoonflower is headquartered in a former, out-moded textile mill.

Oct 26, 2008


I see textiles as an industry ripe for a new manufacturing model that is more adaptable, customizable, much cleaner, more socially conscious, and smaller-scaled. Yes, smaller-scaled.

The common wisdom is that the exodus of manufacturing and capital to China (and other industrializing countries), is the wave of the future. But I believe that the manufacturing model being implemented in many cases (massive factories, massive pollution, mass production) is a dead end, like the Neanderthals.

Mass production doesn't work anymore. It's an early industrial model that uses too many resources, and creates too much pollution, to produce goods that sit on warehouse shelves growing outdated, or getting shipped around for discount reselling (creating yet more pollution).

I'm convinced that the future of manufacturing, including textiles, is in collective design and 3D printing (aka rapid manufacturing, digital manufacturing). The following ideas and links are largely inspired by a fascinating TED talk by MoMa design curator, Paola Antonelli, on her 2008 MoMa exhibition "Design and the Elastic Mind." Watch it!

2D digital printing is already revolutionizing print manufacturing. 3D printing, which sounds like the stuff of Star Trek or The Jetsons, is already being used for product prototyping, and is beginning to be used for small-run production of real goods.

Designer Janne Kytännen, describes himself as a "Pioneer in Design for Digital Manufacturing." His company, Freedom of Creation (FOC), is already producing "laser sintered" textiles and hard products using 3D printers.

"Chain mail" textile produced by 3D digital printing. Designer: Janne Kytännen, FOC

Tray produced by 3D digital printing. Designer: Janne Kytännen, FOC

Last month, Seed Magazine published an account of RepRap, the self-replicating rapid prototyper, which costs a couple hundred dollars to assemble, and uses open source software. Its creator, Adrian Bowyer of the University of Bath, says that the technology of RepRap will lead to the “decentralization of all industrial production.”

Child's shoes, made with RepRap 3D printer, Adrian Bowyer, University of Bath, UK

Google's Open Source Programs Manager, Chris DiBona says, "Think of RepRap as a China on your desktop."

In the USA, Evan Malone, Ph.D., has developed another 3d Printer, called the Fabber. Malone has also made his software open source, and has consciously worked to make the purchase price of the printer as low as possible, to encourage as much user experimentation as possible. (The current price of a Fabber kit is about $2000.) A variety of materials can be used for fabrication (i.e. silicone, wax, plaster, epoxy, chocolate, etc). Listen to the podcast about the Fabber on Phorecast. You'll be blown away.

With 3D printing technology improving quickly, the availability of open source software, and non-proprietary materials, 3D printers for small-businesses are becoming a real, and immediate, possibility. If you think that's far-fetched, consider what happened to the personal computer in the span of a few decades:

A precursor to the mini-computer, PDP-1, 1960. Price-tag: $120,000.

The mini-computer now, Apple MacBook Pro, 2008. Price tag: about $2000.

Here's a picture of one 3D printer, currently used for prototyping. Look familiar?

RM machine, Phoenix Analysis and Design Technologies, 2008

Besides the "Ooooh, cool" factor of digitally printed 3D objects and textiles, this technology has incredible potential to actually improve products and reduce waste through collective design and mass customization.

Bruce Sterling compares the new model of "mass customization" with the old model of mass production. Mass customization is a production process where different entities, including the customer, are involved in the manufacture of the product. Dell, Inc., already uses this model successfully. The customer "custom-builds" the exact computer she wants using menu items on the website, and the final computer is assembled only after she places the order.

Some benefits of mass customization and collective design, are:

  • The customer gets exactly what he wants;
  • Natural, energy, and people resources are not wasted on unwanted products;
  • Transport pollution is minimized: product is shipped once – directly to the customer;
  • Overhead is lowered, as warehousing finished products is eliminated;
  • Products do not become outdated, because they are not made until they are purchased
Adding 3D printing technology to the equation:

  • Designs and products can be adapted on every level as new information and needs arise;
  • No need to re-tool machines for design changes -- all changes are made in programming;
  • Internet and PC technologies make global business possible even for small businesses;
  • Short-run production and "originals," are possible;
  • Natural resources are further preserved by eliminating pre-manufactured components.

I believe that it is only a matter of time before 3D printers are able to create a variety of tactile qualities, textures, weights, and colors, opening the way for beautiful design and a brand-new model of production that is adaptable, portable, and green. That is hope for the future.

Oct 20, 2008


Photo: Jen Buley

After “discovering” crocheted insynsskydd in the Swedish countryside, I began to think about alternatives -- beyond draperies and simple roller shades -- for window treatments; and more specifically, I began to think about design solutions that actively play with light to create graphic decorative effects.

One thing I love about the insynsskydd is that it has a tailored, lattice-like effect, because it is stretched on a frame. A drawback, however, is that the frame cannot be adjusted easily as light conditions, and the need for privacy, change.

I began to think about other structured shades, that could be fully adjusted, and less expensive to produce than custom crochet. I like the idea of laser-cutting sophisticated designs -- from simple, modern lattices, to more decorative, stylized figures and florals -- into natural-feeling fabrics.

For several years, Dutch designer Tord Boontje has enjoyed deserved success with innovative home products made of laser-cut Tyvek, like his Garland lamp shade, and Until Dawn curtain.

Designer, Tord Boontje, Until Dawn

Boontje's designs are so beautiful, but I am thinking of new possibilities for laser-cut designs with a more appealing hand, and texture than Tyvek, and a "structured smooth," or more tailored, look.

In Copenhagen last week, I saw an exhibit entitled SAUMA, at the Danish Design Center, showcasing new design concepts by Finnish designers. There was an ingenious interpretation of the laser-cut shade idea, by Elina Aalto, a member of the Finnish design group Fiasko. Her Better View Blind, is cut to look like a city skyline by night, and comes in versions of several cities, including Helsinki and New York. The screens are hand-cut to order, by the designer, on a black-out polyester material.

Designer: Elina Aalto, Better View Blind

I've been exploring ideas for production laser-cutting a variety of designs on more natural-looking materials, as well as on heavy felt. At the ModAmont and Première Vision shows, in Paris last month, there was a lot of lasered and layered felt. I think that sharp, laser-cut felt, in colorful, smart designs is an interesting mini-trend to follow for home applications such as windows, table top, and bed, as well as for fashion accessories. There is a tactile fun, and wonderful color saturation to felt, as well as the possibility for building up forms, as shown by these playful "father and daughter dancing shoes," also in the SAUMA exhibit:

Designers: Aamu Song and Johan Olin, Tanssitossut, Photo: Jen Buley

Going back to insysnsskydd: another thing I like is that they cover the bottom half of the window frame, providing privacy from the street, while allowing as much light as possible to enter from the top of the window, where the sun is. Traditional top-hanging roller shades often achieve the opposite: in order to block out the street, you have to block out all the light. A better design is a fully adjustable shade that can be moved freely to selectively block any portion of the window, as these patented shades offered by JCPenney do.

JCPenney, patented, top-down or bottom-up shades

It's a great installation solution. Now, I'd like to see it done in beautiful fabrics, and decorative designs.

Oct 15, 2008


Image © Jen Buley

Since moving to Sweden this summer, I've been looking at lots of vintage crochet and knit work. Every Swede, it would seem, has at least one female relative who was prolific at "virkning," or crochet. There was a strong tradition in Sweden of Do-It-Yourself long before the current DIY trend; it's reflected in family heirlooms -- and in the thrift shops -- as well as in Sweden's fashion and home design markets. Much of it is dowdy (I'm talking about doilies, after all), but some of the old designs I'm seeing are clean, complex, and fine.

Antique Swedish crochet. Image © Jen Buley

Spinning off some of the most beautiful examples, I am inspired now to apply crochet designs and looks to hard forms and non-textile products, as well as to revive a traditional, but now uncommon, Swedish application for crochet.

Based on what I saw at Première Vision in Paris last month, and on the street, crochet (a.k.a. guipure and macrame) is right on target for 2009-10. At PV, there was a strong trend for chunky or delicate crochet and lace paired with, and layered on, silky, satiny or reflective cloth -- a combination of “craftiness,” with sophistication and shine. This fashion trend comes home, so to speak, in a trend that I'm thinking of as, "Hard-Soft forms."

I am seeing a strong trend for using crochet patterns in hard-products. Like this small side table spotted in a Paris boutique last month:

Image © Jen Buley

Or, this "doily bowl" featured in an online DIY article -- made from antique doilies, molded and hardened with a polymer.

Bowl by designer Jane Schouten, image from Design*Sponge

One particular design product I'm inspired to do now is crocheted shades for modern glass and metal framed lamps. The "fishnet stocking" lamp, below, was spotted in a Paris boutique last month. I would like to see more decorative crochet patterns for this type of application.

Image © Jen Buley

I saw the lamps in the image below at an exhibit in Borås, Sweden. It's a cool concept, particularly with lighter, more open, crochet.

Textilmuseet, Image © Jen Buley

But the following image is more directional. This image -- from a women's fashion editorial in a Swedish magazine -- is a better illustration of where I would like to go with the crochet covers for lamps.

Insynsskydd is the Swedish word for a window treatment that covers the lower half of the window. Insynsskydd made of crochet work, stretched on fitted frames, were a traditional window treatment in Falun, in the region of Dalarna, Sweden, where many homes have low, street-level windows. The crochet work allows light to enter (important through winter's short days), while providing some privacy. I like the stretched and framed application of the traditional insynsskydd -- but I'm thinking about cleaner, more modern designs, as well as the logistics of manufacturing for standard window sizes.

Traditional Swedish insynsskydd. Image © Jen Buley

The insynsskydd product is common in Sweden today in modern materials like adhesive (plastic) designs for windows, and structured paper screens. The improvised insynsskydd in the picture below, suggest a nice direction with color and texture. I believe there would be a good market for these products -- in interesting designs, and higher-end materials -- for America's urban-residential settings.

Image © Jen Buley

A final note on color: I love the clean, minimalism of traditional cream and white crochet -- and that will always be beautiful -- but I think that incorporating focused color, and jewel tones, into crochet-look window treatments, tabletop, and bed products, is an interesting and timely design direction for this traditional look.