Each of my sabbaticals (2013-14 and 2021) provided me with the opportunity to venture outside of my comfort zone and engage in collaborations that contribute to the development of my practice as a designer, artist and maker. During both sabbaticals I participated in residencies that provided space for reflection and research. Working at the intersection of design and technology, these sabbaticals allowed me to focus on the development of embroideries that respond to external stimuli. In 2013-14 I participated in a collaborative research project with a number of institutions and research centers to investigate the potential of stretchable circuitry and embroidered electrodes. I partnered with Berlin’s Fraunhofer Institute, the RWTH Aachen University (Institute for Textiltechnik) and the Department of Epileptology at the University Hospital of Bonn, Germany.
The initial research lead to the launch in 2021 of a collaborative project, titled Re-FREAM | Embroidered Touch | Life Space, to explore the future of fashion and technology. I partnered with Berlin’s Fraunhofer IZM Institute, the Profactor Research Center in Vienna and the EMPA Institute for Materials Science and Technology in Switzerland to advance the development of touch-sensitive embroidered textiles. The result were prototypes for interlacing conductive yarns into textiles, which act as sensory tracks capable of responding to changes in touch, temperature and other stimuli.
The long-term objective of my research is to explore how technology can impact, as well as alleviate, feelings of isolation within communities. This approach was informed by the current pandemic, as well as social unrest in Europe and the US. It is also a response to a need for change in the fashion industry to foster more sustainable practices for creating, producing and consuming garments. In addition to serving a functional purpose, clothing acts as a second skin, conveying who we are to the world. Creating responsibly made textiles that communicate with diverse environments informs my current practice.
In early 2022, I spent five weeks at Berlin’s Fraunhofer IZM Institute in addition to Stoll, a company producing high-tech knitting machines in Reutlingen, Germany. Due to the pandemic, my trip was cut short and I continued my research remotely, collaborating with their laboratories from my Chicago studio. It was an enriching experience to work alongside a team of like-minded scientists, fashion designers, engineers and textile designers. Together we engaged in creative problem-solving, brainstorming, and experimenting to develop embroideries and knitting machines capable of advancing this technology.
Spending a portion of my sabbatical in Berlin also allowed me to absorb different perspectives in art, technology and design through sound and art exhibitions such as Hella Jongerius: Woven Cosmos at the Gropius Bau and Suzan Philpz’s sound work. I also captured field recordings throughout the city on my daily walks, which found their way into soundscapes featured in the Re-FREAM project.
-Anke Loh, Associate Professor, Fashion Design