Open Culture + Wearables

This panel will investigate the influence and importance of open culture on wearables production, dissemination and technological crafting. Uniting practitioners in the field of wearables who have worked on and with online platforms, open workshop events, publications, hack spaces, university classrooms and media labs to advance the proliferation of the craft of wearables, the panel will present case studies for the specific integration of open culture in the production and dissemination of wearables.
Monday, 19 September, 2011 - 13:00 - 14:30
Chair Person: 
Valérie Lamontagne
Otto von Busch
Syuzi Pakhchyan
Melissa Coleman
Piem Wirtz
Mika Satomi
Hannah Perner-Wilson
Movement by 2nd year Fashion & Textile student at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague
Knit and Crochet
3lectromode – Asymmetrical Modern 001

Chair: Valérie Lamontagne

This panel will investigate the influence and importance of open culture on wearables production, dissemination and technological crafting. Uniting practitioners in the field of wearables who have worked on and with online platforms, open workshop events, publications, hack spaces, university classrooms and media labs to advance the proliferation of the craft of wearables, the panel will present case studies for the specific integration of open culture in the production and dissemination of wearables. The importance of DIY, open platforms, collaborative design practices and hacking in the advancement of computational couture has been key in propagating the practice and research into mainstream media, academic curriculums, arts and new media festivals and publications. The hybrid practice of wearables - combining techno-scientific knowhow with the skill of couture fabrication - presents exciting challenges to both unique fields, encouraging the cross-pollination of artistic and scientific domains.

There are good arguments as to why wearables are closely aligned with the growing movement of open design practices. To being with, Johanna Blakley has argued that fashion is predicated on “free culture”, i.e. that the history of fashion points to borrowing, remixing, and re-inventing known patterns and methods. Other designers, such as Otto von Busch in his book Fashion-able, have looked at hacking culture as a way of creating an entry-point into the often closed commercial system of the world of fashion. Open design concepts stem from two main impetuses – a) the desire to make things “open” and commercially free and b) the need for multiple inputs from many participants to develop complex systems (i.e. a software). It could be argued that open design will become a facet of all technological production and dissemination as the added value of multiple participants becomes undeniable.

Open Culture + Wearables asks: How can open culture be useful to the field of wearables?

Paper Abstracts

Open Design Practices, Materiality and DIY Wearables @ 3lectromode

by Valérie Lamontagne

This paper and presentation will investigate the notion of open design within the practice of DIY wearables and the online/customization initiatives of 3lectromode and other design collectives in the field of fashion and technology. By looking at how technologies are facilitating access, networks and small production lines I aim to reveal the changing creative and production practices of fashion and technology from a pure industrialized vs. craft-based one, to a sophisticated, high-tech and networked 21st century cottage industry. Furthermore, an emphasis on the open design principles applied to textile material practices that can be adopted to sustain and enhance this field will be addressed.

3lectromode holds the vision of innovating in the field of wearables by combining technology with customizable prêt-â-porter fashion. We aim to inspire a future where wearables are democratized, aestheticized, and performative. We are a small design studio interested in developing accessible wearables, which combine DIY technology with current fashion research. We are fascinated with the potential for technology to create new modalities of interaction between the body and its environment, and are interested in the performative potential of technology. Key to our design ethos is a to create a library of open sourced tools which can be easily accessed, interpreted and used by anyone. We develop wearables, which we hope will be meaningful to the wearers by enriching everyday experiences with an awareness of both ourselves and the world around us. We see our work as creating a further connection between humans and the world at large of machines, information patterns, environmental data, and organic material

Fashion Hacking

by Dr. Otto von Busch

At the intersection of fashion and technology there is a fertile grey zone of intermediality and transdisciplinarity, a vital design space, which transgress the media of both fashion and technology. How is this space constituted and how can we work there? This presentation will take as its point of departure the practice of fashion hacking, where fashion is reverse engineered and tuned to make users "fashion-able". Here, for example, social media is used to amplify expressions and expand transversal tactics for the dissemination of fashion codes among users. Other traits address the shamanistic rituality of fashion and how participatory practices can expand the realm of fashion beyond the catwalk and ready-to-wear paradigm. Projects by von Busch are addressed as well as designs from his students at Malmo University as examples of using interactive technologies to intensify expressions of fashion. The question remains: How can technologies express the ephemeral and mythical beauty of fashion?

From Prototypes to Niche Production: How the DIY Wearable Tech Community is Crafting a New Fashion Revolution

by Syuzi Pakhchyan

The burgeoning DIY movement has resurrected a renewed investigation into wearable technology.

Unlike previous research in the mid-90s conducted predominately by electrical engineers and computer scientists, wearable technology today is being designed and developed by interdisciplinary teams of designers, artists and other makers/crafters.

As the barrier to entry (technical aptitude) has fallen in recent years due to access to inexpensive tools (Arduino, Rapid Prototyping Technologies) and online resources for knowledge exchange (Instructables, Fashioning Tech), wearable technology research has shifted from the investigation of technical and computational functions to materiality, aesthetics, wearablility, interaction, and experience of wearable prototypes.

As the new design culture in wearable technology matures, we see a movement from prototypes to micro-entrepreneurship and micro-production. From the use of mass-market rapid prototyping technologies to online distribution channels, wearable technology designers are not only re-defining exactly what clothing is, but also how it is manufactured and distributed. Unlike production in traditional factories, the manufacturing process for wearable tech garments is typically flexible, open source, and organized around demand not production.

Dissemination of Knowledge of Electronic Textiles in Art Schools and Universities

by Melissa Coleman

The field of electronic textiles is multi-disciplinary and operates at the intersections of textile and fashion design, industrial design, furniture design, computer science, interaction design and media art. Due to this diversity, the groups of students being taught in this field are equally diverse and all possess a specific skill set associated with their future work field. In creating their work they must consider the expectations of the type of end product(s) and the way quality is judged within that context. Experience tells us there is no one way to teach electronic textiles that would serve each group equally well.

Although the needs of the students differ, the skill set required to make a successful electronic textile is the same for each student. It is important to have at least a basic understanding of both textiles and digital electronics and to know how to utilize and integrate them in a prototype. When the student’s skills in either field are lacking the result is at best naïve or clumsy, at worst students will simply not finish the project.

In these diversified student groups virtually no student possesses skills in both textiles and electronics. In order to bring students to the level required for making successful electronic textiles we need to create a collection of boundary objects in the form of project documentation that describes the complete picture from textile techniques to electronics and the way integration issues were solved. Such boundary objects would allow students to see the skills they need to learn in the context of the skills they have, giving each group their own entry point into the knowledge.

This presentation will discuss different methods for teaching electronic textiles to artists and designers in art schools and universities and will describe the educational tools that aid these activities, pointing to further opportunities for open design in the world of electronic textiles.

Collaborative Approach to Wearables Production

by Piem Wirtz

V2_ is an interdisciplinary center for art and media technology in Rotterdam (the Netherlands). At V2_Lab, artists, technicians and scientists work together to produce art projects that make use of new technologies. V2_Lab is a place for artistic Research and Development (aRt&D) and creates generic technical solutions that are relevant to the fields of art and culture. The results are published and made available under open-source licenses whenever possible. Developed hardware and software is documented online and available to use or modify to anyone who is interested to use it. Sharing and distributing knowledge is one of V2_Lab's priorities, besides co-creating new media artworks.

V2_Lab has extensive experience with working in interdisciplinary teams. The Lab crew supports artists to realize their projects, from concept to working prototype. Working collaboratively on art projects guarantees challenging group dynamics and often results in innovative artworks. Artists, designers, technicians and developers share the same goal: create a working prototype of an interesting conceptual idea, which needs to be fully functioning and ready to present to an audience within a short period of time. The Summer Sessions (brief, intense artist-in-residencies for young and promising artists) are a good example of this workflow. V2_ Lab supports the individual artist both technically and conceptually. Selected artists have a personal coach to guide them during the Summer Sessions and the Lab developers give all their energy to make it happen. In weekly meetings, the whole team gives feedback on the design and ideas, to get a maximum result. Sometimes confronting, but always directed towards a better understanding of the necessity to create a specific work.

Piem will talk about her experience with supervising interdisciplinary aRt&D processes and the efforts of V2_Lab to become a central hub for wearable technology.

The Future Master Craftsperson: How To Get What You Want

by Mika Satomi and Hannah Perner-Wilson

Craft does not mean made by hand, without tools or technology. It means made with care, with foresight, with skill and involvement. When craft is optimization for repeatability the process still relies on human judgment and is not completely computerized. E-textiles are an example of a modern craft, which produces technology itself in the form of wearable electronics but its production process relies heavily on crafts. Automated manufacturing methods for combining textiles and electronics simply do not exist yet. What will happen when the first PCB weaving machine hits the market? Will the craft in e-textiles survive?

Craft, as opposed to automated manufacturing is a creative process with much room for error, innovation, expression and diversity. But it does not lend itself well to serving the needs of a population accustomed to mass-production. Will we become e-textile grandmothers, sewing LEDs onto t-shirts for our grandchildren while industry produces them in bulk? Will our grandchildren think of our creations as un-cool because they are handmade?

When our skills become devalued because machines can replicate our work faster, cheaper and “better” we will still enjoy the craft process. But instead of sitting back to become e-textile grandmothers, perhaps competition from the machine will encourage us to move on. In accepting this challenge, the future master craftsperson needs to re-invent craft in order to maintain relevance and express the advantages of man over machine.

In this paper we present a body of work created within the interdisciplinary field of e-textiles. We reflect on the introductory themes introduced in the abstract by detailing and analyzing our craft approach to building electronics as well as our explicitly open stance on documenting and sharing our techniques. We conclude with a discussion on what it could mean to become future craftspeople and pass on our trade.

Bios of the Participants

Valérie Lamontagne

Valérie Lamontagne is a digital media designer-artist, theorist and curator researching techno-artistic frameworks that combine human/nonhuman agencies. Looking at the rich practice of performance art, social intervention and interactive installations – she is invested in developing responsive objects (specifically wearables) and interactive media scenarios which interlope the public-at-large, the environment and matter as “performer”. 

She is the Founder and Director of 3lectromode, a design studio invested in developing wearables that combine D-I-Y technology with current fashion research. Her work has been showcased in festivals, galleries and museums across Canada, the United States, Central and South America and Europe. She holds a BFA and MFA in visual arts and is presently a PhD candidate at Concordia University investigating “Performativity, Materiality and Laboratory Practices in Artistic Wearables” where she teaches in the Department of Design & Computation Arts. +

Otto von Busch

Otto von Busch is a researcher at the School of Design and Craft at University of Gothenburg exploring the emergence of a new “hacktivist” designer role in fashion. He has also been teaching the course Fashion and Technology at K3, Malmo University as well as Creative Technologies at Auckland University of Technology.

Syuzi Pakhchyan

Syuzi Pakhchyan is fashion technologist and author with a passion for beautiful code and conductive cloth. After receiving her BFA from UC Berkeley and her MFA from the Art Center College of Design, she began a research-based design practice in 2006 focused on next generation wearable technologies.

Author of "Fashioning Technology" the first DIY book on interactive fashion, Syuzi has also penned numerous articles on the creative practices of intelligent clothing. As a leading expert in her field, she chronicles the constantly evolving developments in wearable tech on her blog,, while continuing to develop products that are both fashionable and culturally motivated. 

Her work has been exhibited at various conferences and events including Eyebeam, the Fashion Future Event, South by Southwest, Maker Faire and Emerging Technologies Conference.

Melissa Coleman

Melissa Coleman is a new media artist whose work focuses on the shifting relationship between people, their bodies and technology. Melissa teaches at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague and the Willem de Kooning Academie in Rotterdam and is coach at the Wearable Senses theme of the Industrial Design department of the Technical University of Eindhoven. Together with Piem Wirtz from V2_ she founded the E-Textile Workspace, a monthly expert meeting for artists and designers working with textiles and electronics. She curated the exhibition Pretty Smart Textiles, which has been on show in The Hague, The Netherlands in 2010 and in Herning, Denmark in 2011. She currently writes for Fashioning Technology and designs interactive textiles. +

Piem Wirtz

Piem Wirtz is projectmanager at V2_Lab. Her main interest is in wearable technology projects, where she is not only involved from a management perspective but also in the hands-on production of artworks. Piem holds an MSc in Industrial Design Engineering and participates as a dancer in the contemporary dance group Dattah. In 2009 she initiated the E-Textile Workspace, in collaboration with Melissa Coleman. The E-Textile Workspace aims to offer an informal setting for both critical discussions around and about wearables, and for hands-on work on individual projects. The assumption that the field of wearable technology is in need for critical reflection turned out to be correct, given the fact that the group has largely expanded over the last year. The E-Textile Workspace has proven to be a very successful platform for bringing people together and sharing information. Besides hosting the monthly Workspaces, Piem has been actively coaching V2_Lab's artist-in-residents. Many popular wearable technology projects such as Intimacy (Daan Roosegaarde), Pseudomorphs (Anouk Wipprecht) and Media Vintage (Melissa Coleman) found their origin at V2_Lab.

Mika Satomi + Hannah Perner-Wilson

Since 2006 Mika Satomi and Hannah Perner-Wilson have collaborated forming the collective KOBAKANT. They explore the use of wearable technology as a medium for commenting on the social and technological aspects of today’s high-tech society. Conscious of wearability and questioning of functionality, they believe in the spirit of humoring technology and present a twisted criticism of the stereotypes it creates. For them technology exists to be hacked, DIYed and modified by everyone to fit their own needs and desires.

In 2009, as research fellows at the Distance Lab in Scotland, KOBAKANT published an online database for their DIY wearable technology titled HOW TO GET WHAT YOU WANT. +