Light textiles is a research work which focuses on the development of light textiles based on the integration of optical fibres into textile structures. The aim is to create textile light designs which offer big light surfaces that have an even all over and strong light effect. Finally they could be used as big movable light screens in a space either private or public.
What am I?
Am I a designer, researcher, artist or craftsman? Today I find myself as a designer more and more in a field of cross-over of disciplines. As more as I enter the field of so-called Smart textiles as more I get lost in the question of who I am as a designer today and what are my tasks. I did not enter the field of Smart textiles because I wanted to be smart and therefore jumped into a trendy thing to do, no- I entered this field because I found a subject which affected me so strongly that I take risks everyday, to do things I have never done before, nor do I have knowledge about them. All started with me discovering again, that light is such an important part of human life that it also can challenge the textile designer to include it into his/her work.
Woven light powered by Sun Energy
Out of one year light experiences in extremes (in Scandinavia) the diploma thesis "woven light- powered by sun energy" (Jansen, 2006) arose. In this work the author of the present text had developed the basic idea to build up a textile surface with two different sides which each have individual functions. One of the sides is equipped with solar technology for energy generation and the other side has the function of a light source. It is a fascinating idea to develop light out of light. However the work emerged not only out of this fascination. Rather, it is understood as research in a new, defining field where different disciplines meet; textile technology and design, solar technology and micro- electronics. And it arose under belief that one of the present and future tasks of a designer is to be engaged with the utilisation of renewable energy sources. Out of this work many hand woven prototypes have been developed: both energy-generating and light-emitting. To continue the development of this design concept the next step is to work on the technical and industrial reproducibility of one functional side: light-emitting textile surfaces. That is the point there the current research on light textiles starts.
Light dots cooperation with Textilforschungsinstitut Thüringen - Vogtland.
The driving question for the present research work is: is it possible to produce light textiles based on the integration of optical fibres on shaft and jacquard looms? To start with a broad range of experiments with optical fibres on industrial shaft looms has been set up to see if they would withstand the industrial weaving process. Based on the previous research weaving structures which support the right bending angles and right reflection bases for the light emitted through optical fibres to shine over their whole surface have been chosen. (Originally optical fibres are supposed to send the light from one end to the other without any loss or shining across their length.) General challenges with the use of optical fibres are their high sensibility to strong binding and kinking angles. To strong and sharp bending will damage the optical fibres permanently viz. the transmitted light will escape strongly at the bending angle and no light will go further through the optical fibre. A similar problem arises through scratches or alike damages.
At the damaged point of surface the light will break out and afterwards no light will continue to shine- by just slight damage a sparkling side effect appears, but the all-over light effect gets clearly weakened. Therefore the challenge in the use of optical fibres on weaving machines is to assure that no strong bending angles or scratching damages occur throughout the whole production process. A further aspect is the slippery surface of the optical fibres. The equipment of the machine needs to be able to handle that. In spite of these challenges and struggles it can be said the tests have been mostly successful. Optical fibres withstand the weaving process and the samples are able to light up. Optical fibres have been tested both in the weft and warp system. The longest length of light shining through optical fibres in one piece in the weft insertion reached up to 1,60m (maximum machine width). The light in the warp system passed until circa seven meters by eight meter warp length. From the weaving production point of view, after one year of tests on machines it can be recorded that suitable weave structures and material combinations have been found to permit the production of self-emitting textiles based on the integration of optical fibres into woven structures.
Abstract layering of organic structures
Photo B. Jansen
3D jaquard weave optical fibres
Photo Jan Berg
Does my work as a designer stop here?
Though I can answer my research question positively today and a broad and deep technical development can be offered, is this enough to convince people to go in production of light textiles based on my ideas? Having reached the answer to my question, a thousand new questions have arisen: Flame retardency? Sustainable production and product life cycle? Who are your costumers? Who is your producer? How to connect the light textiles to a light source in a final product? What more do I need to become to be able to answer all these questions, to finally end up with a light textile design producible for the market? A chemist, specialist in environmental issues, marketing expert, electronic engineer?
This work is about designing in light, or to design with light through the media textiles. The future light textile pieces are supposed to be compositions of light and not light, of light harmonies- and tones. Working through the media textile will offer new possibilities of light designs in the space either public or private. Interaction The work aims towards a light textile design which will interact with its future internal and external environment and builds a bridge between these two spaces. Therefore an investigation of its future architectural space and its surroundings should be always seen as a necessity for inspiration, especially for customized designs for public spaces.
Inspiration from nature can be used to build a bridge between internal and external space; to create through them a link, a feeling back to our external environment; to let them be a multi-sensory inspiration in our everyday life. Nature is an endless multi-sensory inspiration source: visual, haptic, sound, smell and taste. The more we carefully reintegrate these qualities in our every day surroundings, the more they can become a positive counterpart to our often anonymous surroundings, and hectic and stressful lives.
Since the beginning of the research about light textiles transparent monofilament has been used as the warp material on hand looms. The choice of a transparent material arose out of the functional need to cover the light emitted from the optical fibres as little as possible. And therefore to reach a light effect which is as strong as possible. Out of this functional necessity a specific aesthetic arose, it turned out to give the designs a special beautiful, light and transparent to semitransparent day expression. Since then is tried to keep this expression as the designs need to complete each other equally in day and night time from their aesthetic point of view. Beside that the transparent to semitransparent material qualities offer the possibility of interaction between internal and external spaces.
The haptic design is a further important aspect of my work. To have a sensitive and strong focus on the haptic expression of a surface, or the tactile perception of a surface, is for me very important. That is the reason why I am so highly interested in 3D-structures. A three-dimensional structure adds something to our environment that our senses can explore and perceive. Our eyes scan all the surfaces in their environment. Simple, clean and glossy surfaces are easily discovered, while complex three dimensional structures cause the eyes to explore, to go on expedition, to dwell longer at a place. That is something I would like to restore to spaces again, to give spaces back something that makes people dwell, stay a while, calm down - in this hectic and fast-moving time.
Photo B. Jansen
As the need for light is concerning everybody, a design concept which is suitable and useful for a wide spectrum of users should be achieved. A light textile design concept which bases on a module system with two components could support that:
- Standardised monochrome light panels (producible on shaft machine)
- Completed by specific customised designs; designs that respond and interact on their future architectural frame and location. (Technical based on the monochrome weaves, produced on a full width jacquard machine)
Both modules could be used in standardised room dividing systems which provide the use of light textiles in a flexible and movable way in an interior space. To be used for temporary change of space: as sun protection in day time, as room dividers, to build light spaces in a space, etcetera.
I am a designer, an artist, a researcher and a craftsman. The designer and artist motivate my work. They build the heart beat of my work, they discover a need and challenge and keep me going even when solutions seem to be impossible. The researcher loves the challenge to discover new things, to ask ongoing questions, to question behind the borders of existing possibilities, and to systematically explore a new field step by step. The craftsman, what is the craftsman? I only know it is my hands, I need my hands to develop new things, to explore materials and their potentials. They are the part of me who unconsciously have memorized all my experiences - in different techniques, projects etc- they help me to network my thoughts and experiences to find new solutions. The designer of today needs to become a part of networking of cross-over disciplines to realise his ideas. It is this new part of tasks which seems to be one of the most challenging aspects of the changing every day work. In the frame of this work it means to find lighting and electronic experts who help to find a lighting solution for the light textiles. And to find a weaving production partner who dares to try out a new field and to challenge their experts and machines with new, difficult and risky materials. I guess the risk is always part of pioneers and the field of Smart textiles is still a field for pioneers, for people who are brave and crazy enough to dare to try things which they have never done before.