Design

Crafted Technology

by Yuval Saar | 03.11.15

“My Shirt Breathes”, an exhibition that explores the connection between fashion, the human body and technology, and has been showcased at Tel Aviv’s Beit Ha’ir, is going to end next week. A last-minute feature of the exhibition is the “Crafted Technology” project, spearheaded by a special trio: Tamara Efrat (garduate of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design M.Des. Program for Industrial Design), Moran Mizrachi and Dr. Amit Tzoran (both from the faculty of Computer Sciences in Jerusalem’s Hebrew University).

In their project, the three developed eight different algorithms that change the patterns of embroideries, including a software that helps designers and craftsmen use the algorithms. The results are already showing: A new collection of handbags has been designed with the help of the “Crafted Technology” software.

All images by Daniel Shechter

All images by Daniel Shechter

Efrat, who has a B.A. from the Fashion department at the Shenkar College of Design, says that she found herself interested in textiles and traditional handicraft at the beginning of her studies. By the time she started studying for her M.Des. it was clear to her that what she truly wanted was to develop her knowledge in this field and find out how she could combine it with advanced technologies.

“I knew that I wanted to work with smock embroidery. It’s very special because the way it is sewn enables the fabric to be elastic without getting stretched out,” she explains. “This embroidery was very common in the 18th century and in the beginning of the 19th century for peasant’s clothing. It is embroidered in strategic spots that enabled the peasants unrestricted movement, which was important for their type of work in the field.”

“In the middle of the 19th century, which brought with it the Industrial Revolution, new and elastic fabrics were created. Thus, the smock embroidery lost its original purpose and became an ornamental feature in noble clothing. After that, it was sort of neglected as it went out of fashion. Since it is based on a grid made of dots, it is already some sort of primitive algorithm, so it was very convenient for parametric work or computer work. We tried to conduct mathematical research of this embroidery, and define the functions that we wanted to get.”

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We spoke some more to Efrat, to investigate the “Crafted Technology” project more closely. 

As a designer, weren’t you turned off by the connection to computer sciences and mathematical research?  

“Truth be told, the mathematics in this project are very simple. The real complicated part was trying to understand what kind of manipulations we wanted in the fabric. Each of the eight algorithms we developed changes the fabric in one way or another and lends it new features, such as: elasticity, plasticity, structural strength, axial movement, etc… At first I was thrown off by that, but later on I realized that the tools I had acquired throughout my studies have been very helpful. It’s not that I’m a programmer now, but I can certainly talk to real programmers and explain to them what features I want in the coding.”

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How does it even work?

“The basic idea was to make digital tools accessible to designers and craftsmen, so the first thing we did was to develop a catalogue that presented the eight algorithms we had worked on. Every algorithm is presented in photos that show how to use it and what it’s suitable for, along with a written explanation about its features and code.

“The second stage was the development of the software. It’s like Photoshop, but especially for embroideries. You choose an embroidery and drag it into the contours of the product you designed. You can enlarge it, make it smaller, define a specific spot where you want to place the embroidery, add more embroideries or different patterns and more.

“When you finish the design process, the software makes a work plan for you and you get an STL file that includes a map of the design work. You take the map and cut it or cauterize it onto the fabric, and then you hand-sew it according to the instructions in the STL file. It sounds very complicated but it’s actually very simple.”

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How would you describe the connection and the tension between the digital world and the world of craft? Why are you drawn to it as a designer in the 21st century?

“I feel that somehow, the more the world is taking steps towards becoming entirely industrialized and controlled by technology, the more people have this nostalgic longing to return to the unique, individual handiwork. That is something that can’t be achieved through the work of machines.

“I feel very connected to the idea of taking part of the process your product goes through, and not just having it ready-made at the store. Most often, computers and machines are used to manufacture products in the most efficient way and in the shortest time possible; but in our project the use of the computer wasn’t a function of time. With the help of the computer we tried to see how handiwork could be improved and brought to the centerstage”.  

Translation from Hebrew: Joy Bernard

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