A Young New Context to Smart Textiles

The other week I got the opportunity to talk about ‘Smart Textiles for kids and youths’ with a group of Municipality Heads of Art, Culture & Leisure. It was great to hear their positive feedback towards my newly started initiative of introducing Smart Textile Materials to schools and nurseries. I gave the workshop ’Smarta Textilier: En intro till Smart Textiles & ett ungt nytt sammanhang’ (’Smart Textiles: An intro to Smart Textiles & a new young context’) as a part of ‘Innovationsspåret’ at Stenkrossen at a conference held by the Municipality of Lund for Heads of Art, Culture & Leisure from different parts of Sweden.

After giving an introduction to Smart Textiles and why we should introduce kids and youth to Smart Materials, the attendees had a go at working and thinking around thermochromic (heat sensitive) textiles. The workshop at the conference was related to the workshop ‘Smart Textillek för Små’ (Smart Textile Play for Wee Ones) that I am offering to young children (for more info click here).

So why should we introduce Smart Textile Materials in schools? I can see several potential benefits why to do so.

First and foremost from the perspective of the pupil; working with these kind of Smart Textile Materials allows for new ways for children and youth to express themselves as well as to discover and find new textile possibilities. These materials have great potential in being explored from a number of angles; from straightforward play with action/reaction to much more complex applications incorporating technology and programming. Introducing Smart Textiles and dynamic innovative textile materials from an early age allows kids and young people to see that textiles comprises more than a homemade knitted jumper (I am not saying that a knitted jumper is a trivial thing, on the contrary it is a vary important aspect of textile craft and textile traditions, but I am merely pointing out that textiles can be so many other things as well, that textiles are a subject of the future.)

Additionally, Smart Textile Materials can act as a hands-on gateway for teachers to visually bridge subjects such as technology and natural science with art and culture.

On a larger scale, today most work concerning Smart Textiles is being conducted at universities or R&D groups at companies. The first time design students come into contact with Smart Textiles is often as late on as in University, maybe not even until the MA-level, and then only at the more textile related educations. Some might have been given a Smart Textile introduction lecture at their foundation course, but even this is still quite unusual. Still when we talk about textiles most people associate this with static textiles, such as a knitted garments or interior textiles like curtains.

And still there are not that many Smart Textile products out on the market. What is produced are more prototypes, concepts and exhibiting objects. This is not necessarily a bad thing, the research field is still fairly young, and hopefully we will see well thought of and useful products on the market in the future. However, these products will be designed, developed and invented by the coming generations, such as generation Alpha (people born after 2010), a generation that is to be said to be bilingual in their mother tongue as well as programing. Wouldn’t it be great if these future designers already had a head start and were familiar with the concept of Smart Textiles and had played around with them for years, exploring and finding new contexts, just like kids are doing today, building robotics and programing with open source tools such as Arduino? And by doing so creating potential synergistic effects between this creative play and exploration (conducted by kids and young people) and the Smart Textile research society.

Photo: From a ‘Smart Textillek för Små’ workshop at a nursery.