You can knot a scarf a dozen different ways. But for the most part, once you sew a textile into a piece of apparel, or upholster it around a piece of furniture, you can’t change the style much.
Not so with the Magnetic Fabrics, by Hochschule für Gestaltung in Offenbach lecturer Lilian Dedio. These prototype textiles are filled with magnets and materials that respond to magnets like iron powder. When put near electromagnetic fields, the fabric comes to life.
“I worked with this textiles as material for years and I always wanted to explore its features, its possibilities and limits,” Dedio writes in an email. “This time I turned it around and asked myself: What do I want textiles to be like and how do I want them to react and behave? I wanted fabric to become alive.”
Originally, Dedio began exploring magnetic fabric for car interiors, so that drivers could experience the vehicle as “an individual being that wants to communicate,” she says.
It was a heady idea, but it soon became obvious that the technology had broader applications. I can imagine a few: In fashion, a magnetic shirt could reshape itself to follow the latest trend. In architecture, a magnetic skin could do anything from create kinetic art installations to convey real-time information (imagine a wall that rippled with the same pace as the wind outside, conveying the weather).
If Dedio’s magic fabric looks more like a lab experiment than a ready-to-wear material, that’s because it’s still at the proof-of-concept stage. “This magnetic fabric is kind of a three dimensional sketch of something I wanted to achieve,” Dedio writes. “It would take some more research and technical expertise to bring this to a point where you could actually use it on any products.”
The fabric was developed in a cooperation between the IMD Institute for Material Design and BMW. Next, Dedio plans to develop the idea further, embedding the fabric with a second layer of flat, controllable electromagnets. “That would make it wearable,” Dedio writes, “and it could change shapes on its own.”
Because once the fabric no longer depends on external boxes and electromagnetic fields to reconfigure itself, the wearers are untethered to the laboratory. And they could change their look with the tap of an app.