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Smart Textiles

Smart Textiles

Can a beautifully designed knit dress use vibration therapy to treat osteoporosis or a slow-to-heal sports injury? Could people benefit from a textile programmed to provide light in response to touch? These are some of the questions that innovative textiles designer and newly appointed Assistant Professor Jesse Asjes explores in her work.

“I have been working in the Netherlands on smart textiles,” Asjes explains, “combining hard technology and soft knits.” Before relocating to Rhode Island a few months ago, she was collaborating with a multidisciplinary team at the TextielMuseum Tilburg, working on high-tech projects such as a garment incorporating “stretch sensors” that interact with a smart phone app to provide biofeedback for patients suffering from dementia.

Asjes is hoping to put together a new smart textiles team here in the US, but for now she’s entirely focused on her students and getting to know RISD’s “brilliant” array of resources, from the Stoll knitting machine to the Material Resource Center housed at the Fleet Library to the RISD Museum’s newly reorganized Costume & Textiles Collection of more than 25,000 historic pieces.

“Everyone at RISD seems really dedicated to the community,” Asjes notes. “And the textiles and knits programs here are so rich. My students already think like knitters.” In the Netherlands, Asjes earned a degree in product design from the HKU University of the Arts Utrecht and taught at the Eindhoven University of Technology. There, her “students were incredibly talented but the challenge was bringing tactile aesthetics into highly engineered products,” she says. “My main goal here is not about aesthetics but about getting the knit curriculum to the same high level as the weaving and textiles printing curricula.”

Most of Asjes’ students are juniors and seniors who are working on hand knitting as well as incorporating computer-aided designs via industrial knitting machines. “I encourage my students to produce and develop their own ideas,” she says. “They work in the Nature Lab and study historical pieces at the museum, always with an eye to how ideas from nature and elsewhere can be translated into contemporary work.”

Though the knits begin as two-dimensional objects, the artist must shape them three-dimensionally depending on the properties of the materials, Asjes explains, always thinking about the end user and context. “It’s like hacking the textiles,” she says. “The way you design the fabric depends on how you want it to behave – where you want it to grow or shrink or move.”

Ultimately, the idea is “to figure out how to apply technology so that we’re creating more than just gadgets,” Asjes says. “The community here is really diverse, and there are so many interesting people to collaborate with. I’m learning how the local industry works and thinking a lot about organizing a shared studio space.”

Simone Solondz

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