Thursday, 7 August 2014

Never say Never

Technology moves at break-neck speed, or so it seems to me. As recently as May 2014, I smugly predicted that hand-embroidery was “safe” from the tentacles of technology such as 3-D printing, which enables painters/artists to replicate both the image and structure of their work.  Well as far as I can tell, embroidery is still unscathed, but there are developments.

Ingrida Kazėnaitė, a design student at from Kaunas, Lithuania, is creating a pen-like tool, which is intended to replace needle and thread in the repair of rips and tears. Her device also offers artistic possibilities, she believes. The wand would hold nano fibers in a solution and a scanner. Pass the tip over the rip to identify polyester or cotton fabric for color and structure, and then “ print” a patch from nano fibers to rejoin the edges of a tear. Her device is still “a work in progress”, but it is a finalist in the Electrolux design competition, which means the personal electronics industry sees merit in the idea.  
Miss Kazėnaitė’s  pen is based on a technology developed by Fabrican, a firm that generates garments by spraying particles of natural materials onto forms or people. Sewing and weaving techniques are nowhere to be seen. It’s quite mind boggling and certainly offers scope for artists and businessman. Have a look:

I can imagine that, in time, spray-on fabric could revolutionize the fashion industry --yet again. The number of thread and cloth manufactures would shrink. Robots, working round the clock, could replace sewing machine operators in sweat-shops, much as computer-controlled machines replaced mechanics in automobile factories. Will this new clothing be warm/cool, easy to clean, and recycle?  The fashion world and its technologist will undoubtedly work hard to convince us. They may even succeed, for some categories of clothing.

As for the future of the repair-fabric-pen, well I am less persuaded. I can foresee its utility once clothing is not woven, but sprayed.  But until then?  Electric shavers and depilatory devices have not replaced razor blades, although they have spurred manufactures to improve them. Stick-on bandages, now in plastic as well as cloth, sit on pharmacy shelves along with spray on band-aids.  And we all have gadgets that were once “oh so wonderfully exciting” now languishing in drawers and closets. Sure power mixers beat hand-whisks. And floor robots are better than vacuum cleaners, which are better than carpet beaters. But can you really improve a hand-needle, besides motorizing it?

I am not convinced that you need a machine for simple repairs, even if you are hopeless with needle and thread.  I have to hold up my hand to not always attacking minor disasters with needle and thread. In the past, when life was more hectic than it is today, I was known to repaired rips or drooping hems with scotch tape. Sometime I even stapled seams. Runs aka ladders in stocking got temporarily halted by drops of nail varnish.  Iron-on (irons..anyone remember that  ancient technology? ) patches camouflaged holes in jeans. Come to think of it, some new jeans come with holes and rips. It’s not even a problem anymore. That’s the ultimate solution.

Miss Kazėnaitė’s device will likely appeal to the techno-trendy, fashion-conscious generation, who has never worn items of clothing long enough for them to need repair. To be sure her device is an attractive, clever miniaturization of the bulky industrial sprayer in the video.  But I can't help feeling it is a solution looking for a problem. Am I a Luddite? Perhaps, but that’s how I see it through the eye of my needle.