Book Review: Textile Futures

Textile Futures: Fashion, Design and Technology

by Bradley Quinn

Berg Publishers (November 23, 2010)

Review From Worn Through Contributor, Ellen McKinney

Ellen C. McKinney, Ph.D. is a fashion educator who has taught textiles to over 400 students. Research interests include apparel sizing and fit with interest in the use of technology to develop pattern-making theory for improved garment fit, how apparel consumers, retailers and wholesalers impact and are impacted by garment fit, and teaching fitting techniques.

In 2005, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum exhibited Extreme Textiles. According to author Bradley Quinn, it was this exhibit and accompanying book by Matilda McQuaid, exhibitions curator and head of the Textiles Department, that launched him into extensive research of new textile technologies resulting in articles (Textiles in Architecture in Architectural Design, 2006,76: 22–26), speaking engagements, and books (Ultra Materials: How Materials Innovation Is Changing the World with G. M. Beylerian, M. Caniato, and A. Dent, 2007; Textile Designers at the Cutting Edge, 2009). This is not to say that Quinn did not already have expertise in fashion and design. Prior to 2005, Quinn authored books: Techno Fashion (2002), Chinese Style: The Art of Living (2003), and The Fashion of Architecture (2004). Textile Futures: Fashion, Design and Technology(2010) reflects his research and interactions with a wide range of textile experts from artists to scientists.

Textile Futures will expand your view of what a textile is and what functions it can have. If you are generally fascinated with textiles, then you will likely read the book cover-to-cover upon receiving it. The book is of interest to both practitioners and academics. If you are not such a big textiles person, but are interested in new materials and design, this text may also be of interest to you. I imagine you will find yourself surprised by the amazing capabilities of materials you might not have realized were textiles.

The book will inform you of many applications of textiles you may have never heard about. Have you heard about wearable vitamins? How about art made of knitted textiles? What about textiles that sense and alert you to environmental toxins? It also offers explanations for those you may have heard about and wanted to know more. For example, have you ever wondered, “How do those dresses work that light up in response to the wearer’s emotions?” The answer: the fabric can sense physical changes in body temperature, heart rate, etc. that coincide with emotions and relay that information to trigger luminescent fibers within the fabric. How about, “How realistic are all those virtual clothes in Second Life?” The short answer: not very. Quinn helps the reader understand why and possible implications for real world clothes.

The advantage of this book over other books that serve as directories of new materials (such as the Transmaterial series by Blaine Brownell, 2005, 2008, and 2010) is that Quinn groups the textile materials by function and assesses their significance and forthcoming trends in the field, in addition to telling you “who”, “what”, “when” “where”, and “how”. Each chapter is concluded with an interview of a practitioner in the field, giving another perspective on the topic. Given that advancements in the textile field are rapid, it is hard to say how quickly the book will become outdated. However, it is a relatively compact reference, considering all the topics it covers.

It is written in a non-technical way that does not require an extensive background in any of the topics covered. The potential downside is that if you are a real expert in a topic (for example, 3D modeling), you will find the explanation (of virtual textiles) rather basic. Rather, Textile Futures explains textile-related technologies in easy-to-understand terms. It identifies the major researchers, artists, and companies working on the given textile subject matter. Unlike many dry technical textile books, the text is supported by photographs throughout and includes a section of color photographs in the center. The book is generally not in-depth or overly scientific on any topic, but will give you a basic understanding. Textile Futures includes resources to direct you to more information on topics of interest. Extensive chapter notes accompany the text. Many websites are listed for your further research. A Bibliography, list of credits, and an index of persons is also included.

I do have some concerns with the way the book is organized. As a fashion educator that has taught basic and advanced textiles courses many times, I was a bit disturbed that the book was not organized along the familiar lines of 1) fiber, 2) yarn, 3) fabric, 4) color, and 5) finish. I can understand Quinn’s rationale in organizing the chapters along the lines of the function of the textile product. However, there are many cases where he makes little distinction as to whether the technology he is discussing is a fiber, yarn, or fabric in particular.

There are some challenges to using the book as a reference tool. First, the book does not include an index by topic. This is unfortunate, given that some topics are mentioned in more than one area of the book. In other sections, the organizational scheme seems like a stretch to fit in a technology that didn’t have a place anywhere else. Second, the chapter titles (Body Technology, Synthesized Skin, Surfaces, Vital Signs, Sustainability, Contemporary Art, Interior Textiles, Textiles for Architecture, and Extreme Interfaces) fluctuate between clearly stated and somewhat cryptic. Some chapter subheadings give little guidance as to what topics are contained therein (for example, “Extremophiles”), and some just seem repetitive (“Smart Carpets” vs. “Reactive Rugs”). Other subheadings (“Antimicrobial Fabrics”) are quite clear. It is not impossible to find things, but more of a challenge than it should be.

Despite these challenges, this book would be a useful addition to the library of anyone whose field has traditionally or will in the future be shaped by textiles. Textile Futures is a nice collection of not only new textile materials, but also textile innovations the future may hold.

Additional books related to advances in textiles not already mentioned include:

Functional Aesthetics: Visions in Fashionable Technology by Sabine Seymour (2010)

Fashionable Technology: The Intersection of Design, Fashion, Science, and Technology by Sabine Seymour (2011)

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