Tuesday, November 18, 2014


A few weeks ago, I happened across this blog post on Medium. Electroloom is a company making 3D printed textiles, which of course caught my attention. It's amazing to see the progress that they've made in the last year, and the gifs showing the fabric's flexibility immediately had me wondering about its hand, and how it would sew in comparison to traditional textiles.

So when my friend Shaun forwarded an email, saying that the guys at Electroloom were looking for somebody to help them sew a shirt, I immediately thought, "UHOMGYESPLZ!" and quickly got in contact with Aaron.

Where but in the Bay Area would you get a chance to sew with startup fabric?
This is one of the pieces of fabric that Aaron brought over. They currently print them in large tubes.

The fabric itself is very squishy--I leaned on the fabric for a second to grab something, and left a pretty good impression of my fingerprint somewhere. My test swatch had a definite groove where the presser foot was. Sewing with tissue paper against the feed dogs was an absolute must, although even then there was some indentation happening on the lower fabric.

The fabric also has basically no stretch, and any stretching that happens is permanent. This meant that a T-shirt was out of the question, if they wanted something wearable. I don't have many patterns on hand to make shirts out of non-stretch fabric, so I had to go pick out a few in the store (oh no, the hardship).

My first choice was McCall's M6107, a basic unisex scrubs pattern, but the muslin I made looked pretty terrible. It was huge and ugly. When I learned that there was a tube piece that fit Aaron well enough for size, I took the yoke/sleeve pieces from Vogue V8877 view A, and stuck it on top of the tube. V8877 is a misses' pattern, but the bust shaping is minimal and not in the yoke, so the shape was fairly boxy. Actually even the full pattern has a definite boyfriend-shirt look, anyway.

Preparing the tube fabric, à la knit gathered skirt. You can see the fabric is still a prototype; all those white spots on my cutting mat are little bits that came off and got stuck. I now know how to scrub my cutting mat properly.

The fabric is really fun to cut; it kind of sticks together and has to be pulled apart. Definitely a neat texture.

My solution to the squishing problem was to use a zipper foot. That way the indent would be only on the seam allowance, and wouldn't be visible on the right side of the fabric. Clips were helpful too, instead of pins; the plasticity meant that any puncture mark made by pins were permanent.

Lots of tissue paper on the hem!

Look at this. Can you get any more nerd heaven than this? I don't think so.
I think I just pushed my glasses up the bridge of my nose, if you need to stereotype me further.

Since I was turning up the fabric on the sleeves and hem, squishing was unavoidable. The zipper foot kept it to one side, though, so it doesn't look too out of place. One could almost pretend it was a design element.

Pins were more advantageous than clips at this point; I defied common sewing logic and placed them parallel to the edge, 1/2" in. That way the holes made by the pins would be covered up by the thread.

I made a small facing for the collar, by cutting out the neckline of my pattern pieces. And since the back and the front looked so similar, I threw in a tiny tag!

Here it is on a hanger. The fabric has a decent amount of drape. Its squishy stickiness makes it less than ideal for garment manufacturing, though I'm not sure 3D printed clothing is really what they're going for, anyway.

When I brought the finished shirt back, I got to check out the space the guys are in, and meet Marc and Joe a little bit, too. Mostly I wanted to geek out and poke at the 3D printer.

Et voil√†! This is their second version, their first being much smaller. That tube in the middle is sprayed with a chemical solution, and an electric current causes it to solidify, resulting in the fabric. When I visited, they had been trying to add colour, too, which would be an exciting modification.

And here is Aaron, wearing the shirt. It isn't exactly high fashion (or is it?), but it fit, and had enough ease for him to slip it on comfortably.

I'm happy with how it turned out, given I only spent a weekend on it. The fabric is a neat ongoing experiment, and it's pretty exciting! Good luck to the guys at Electroloom!

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