The lastest fashions - by Nasa

Extreme Textiles
August 26, 2005

If you think that textiles are used predominantly for the production of clothing and household furnishings, think again. This book will introduce you to new and wonderful advances in textile design and engineering. It accompanies an exhibition, Extreme Textiles , at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, which is the National Design Museum of the US, and is written by the curator Matilda McQuaid, head of the museum's textiles department.

The main focus is on the extreme performance of textiles produced in the 20th and 21st century for applications such as the apparel to be worn by future travellers to Mars. The subject is divided into five themes under the chapter headings "Stronger", "Faster", "Lighter", "Safer" and "Smarter". The introduction outlines each theme and mentions particularly innovative and novel examples, such as the intelligent ropes (by Squid Labs) that incorporate electrical fibres so as to test the integrity of the rope with an electrical current (as opposed to the traditional method of inspection). The author describes the many ways in which we can benefit from these new and enhanced intelligent textiles while pointing out that many of them use the same structures and construction methods that have been used for centuries.

The essay by Susan Brown on "Fibre structure and function" explains in detail what these structures are and how they are being employed to produce robotic muscles, vascular grafts, bioplantable devices for reconstructive surgery and self-lubricating gears and cogwheels, to name but a few. And the last essay within the introduction, Alyssa Becker on "High-performance fibres", goes into more detail and includes clear and concise descriptions of some of the most important fabrics, as well as some charts on their performance characteristics.

McQuaid interviews Eric Goetz of Goetz Custom Boats, famed for building prizewinning America's Cup sailboats in the "Faster" chapter. Goetz explains clearly some of his methods of production and how new textiles have resulted in innovations in his and other sectors. He refers to structures explained in earlier essays, which helps the non-specialist understand the purpose of each material in its application. It is clear from the interview that artists and craftspeople using these new fabrics have sometimes become the experts that researchers and scientists increasingly refer to in collaborative projects. This particular company has become so proficient in using fabrics and resins that it is now being commissioned to build for architects, artists and aeronautical companies such as Lockhead Aerospace.

"Lighter" contains an essay titled "A transformed architecture" by Philip Beesley and Sean Hanna. They present examples of architectural projects and proposals selected for the way they innovate through their use of intermeshed, lightweight and flexible structures. A range of examples, including some familiar buildings such as the Swiss Re Headquarters by Foster and Partners, is used to demonstrate the latest ideas for the incorporation of textile technologies in the building of lightweight floating cities.

AirBeams by Vertigo have created inflatable support beams out of seamlessly braided Vectran fibre. These rigidisable structures can offer far more strength and possible uses than other existing inflatable structures. The various scientific methods for producing them are explained in detail.

"Safer" has an essay by Cara McCarty titled "Nasa: advanced ultra-performance". Space travel has produced a considerable number of inventions that have found their way into everyday use. Textiles for protecting astronauts and their spaceships from extremes of temperature are now in common use. Kevlar, Teflon and Gore-Tex all started at Nasa and were later (from 1971) marketed by DuPont. Although we may think of these materials as ordinary and familiar, they continue to be used and developed for their remarkable properties in space exploration. McCarty identifies a shift from metal to textiles in all future space exploration, predicting that large kite-like structures will be integral to these spaceships and satellites. She suggests that nanotechnology is the science that will revolutionise textiles, accelerating the development of textile design with their advanced performance and becoming part of our daily lives.

"Spacesuit", an essay by Amanda Young, gives us a brief history of the suit's development from Wiley Post and B.F. Goodrich's first full-pressure suit of 1934 up to present-day prototypes for lunar and Mars suits.

Numerous fabrics and especially developed materials are referred to in these detailed descriptions of each garment.

The last essay, "Textiles from novel means of innovation" by Patricia Wilson, outlines new and innovative textiles created by communities of artists, designers, historians, scientists and engineers. Wilson proposes that innovation does not result from the incremental advancement of ideas but is a result of "disruptive thinking" by these new communities.

Garments, artworks and interiors are given as some of the examples where smart textiles are used to sense their surroundings, think and then respond.

This book introduces the novice designer to modern textile technologies, while a designer at an intermediate level could benefit from the book's insight into the collection held at the Cooper Hewitt Museum. It is extremely well illustrated and the images are of excellent quality. It contains many useful technical terms and textile data and is well referenced. Besides appealing to design students, artists, designers, architects and craftspeople, it should appeal to materials scientists who may not specialise in the area of textiles but may want to access expertise in this area. It should be considered, too, as a valuable resource for school libraries. The book's designer has incorporated a sample of one of the high-performance materials as a part of the cover, which all adds to the impression of a publication of high quality.

Martin Conreen is head of the design department, Goldsmiths, University of London.

Extreme Textiles: Designing for High Performance

Author - Matilda McQuaid
Publisher - Thames and Hudson
Pages - 223
Price - £24.95
ISBN - 0 500 51225 6

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