Can you introduce us to the people behind the Light-Emitting Textiles Project?
Margo Graham: I am the Design Director at MYB Textiles. I left school in 1982 after studying higher art to take up a lace design apprenticeship of 5-7 years with Johnston Shields & Co Ltd in Newmilns, Ayrshire. I worked there until 1998, mostly designing for Laura Ashley, Sanderson and Anna French. I then took up the post as Lace Designer with Morton Young & Borland Ltd (now known as MYB Textiles Ltd). I was promoted to Head Designer in 2004. and in 2011 I was asked to take up the position of Design Director. In this position I have been involved in the marrying of 100 year old Nottingham lace looms with modern design technology also visiting trade shows and customers globally; specialising in developing the Russian market.
Sara Robertson: I am the Smart Textiles Tutor & Researcher for the new pathway on the MA Textiles course, Smart; Soft Systems at the Royal College of Art. Previous to that I was Programme Director for Textiles and Researcher in Craft Innovation and Smart Materials at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of Dundee. I have extensively explored thermochromics dye systems over the last 10 years and the design potential of chromic material and digital function. I regularly collaborate with designers and researchers across disciplines, using craft-based exploration to showcase the potential of smart materials. Recent work, Digital Lace (Robertson & Taylor) won the International Symposium of Wearable Computers 2014 Design Exhibition Jury Award: Fibre Arts, showcasing at the EMP building and Microsoft Research Labs, Seattle.
Sarah Taylor: I’m currently a Senior Research Fellow at Edinburgh Napier University. I have worked as an academic and research practitioner in the field of e-textiles for over 20 years and specialise in light-emitting textiles. I completed my research degree in 1995 which explored the visual potential of fibre optic technology within textiles. I have a particular interest in the aesthetics of light within cloth and in using different technologies to enhance or activate visual effects or interaction for example. I have exhibited craft-based design work at major national and international exhibitions over the years and have worked in collaboration with experts from other design and technology disciplines and have enjoyed the diversity of working on a range of cross-disciplinary projects.
Can you explain the project you have received Challenge Funding for?
Margo: We received Challenge Funding to attempt to weave with fibre optic yarn which can be illuminated after weaving.
Sara: Sarah and I have been lucky enough to work on two, interrelated projects supported by the Challenge Funding with Margo and the team at MYB Textiles. The first project was an early stage, proof of concept project between MYB Textiles and the University of Dundee. The aim was to develop the capacity for manufacturing smart textiles using optical fibre as light-emitting lace. To be able to do this within a traditional Scottish textile manufacture infrastructure was really exciting and unprecedented.
Sarah: The results from this project prompted the second research project at Edinburgh Napier University in conjunction with lighting design and manufacturing experts, Mike Stoane Lighting. The second Challenge Funding allowed us to develop appropriate lighting systems to illuminate the woven optical fibre lace. This meant we could maintain full weaving capacity which had been previously compromised due to the need to make design adaptions in production when using conventional optical fibre light sources. Our main focus was to develop a lighting system as a fully integrated component of the woven product.
Why do you believe the textiles industry needs the project you are working on?
Margo: After speaking to Hotel group contacts, which are always on the lookout for more technical innovative textiles that can be used in bars, restaurants, night clubs etc., they were very positive about the use of such a product in the correct setting.
Sara & Sarah: We’ve been really encouraged by the responses so far from leading design companies. We also think it’s important to provide a competitive platform for Scottish Textiles within the smart textiles global market.
What have you managed to achieve progress on since you were awarded the Challenge Fund?
Margo: We have been very successful in weaving our madras (Scotch Leno gauze weave) fabric with the fibre optic yarn, learning that the different weave effects generate different light emission. Unfortunately our large 9m lace looms were unsuccessful in weaving with this fabric as the construction of the weave bend was too severe to let the light flow through.
Sara & Sarah: Based on the successful results from the madras weaving trails in Project 1 and our recent lighting developments (Project 2), we now have the capabilities for large scale weaving production and specialist know-how. Thanks to the team at Mike Stoane Lighting, we are not bound by size limitations of traditional fibre optic lighting systems, or the ways in which existing commercial woven optical fabric is lit.
What impact has your project had, to date?
Margo: Given that we have worked with Mike Stoane Lighting on this project to find the best way to illuminate the fabric, this project will be beneficial to both Scottish companies. The fibre optic yarn is also produced at UFO in Coldstream, helping to secure employment and hopefully further job opportunities. It is also projects such as these that put Scotland at the forefront of Textile innovation that it is renowned for.
Sara & Sarah: Each project has brought unique design elements together. The finished product is a celebration of exquisite (and exclusive to MYB) Madras fabric and bespoke lighting design manufacture. We think it will open up potential benefits for both the lighting and textile markets, and we anticipate future economic value and impact once the product is launched.
Production trials at MYB Lace
What does the future look like for your project? What are the next steps?
Margo: We are confident that the product is now ready for rolling out for production. It can be woven in panel sections of 100cm, 50cm or 15cm. Mike Stoane Lighting is planning to showcase the fabric with his logo at the Light & Building exhibition in Frankfurt in March 2018. We are hoping for positive feedback from this exhibition.
Sara & Sarah: We hope the launch of the first light-emitting fabric to be woven in a Scottish heritage mill will generate a lot of interest. We’re lucky because we have a great team who are committed and who share the same vision to continue with this research. We’re excited about the future. This is just the start!
Thanks to TFF for supporting our projects, to Universal Fibre Optics (UFO) for their generous material sponsorship, and to the rest of Our Team: Dave Hollingsbee and Graeme Wilson from Mike Stoane Lighting, Scott Davidson, Simon Grant and Charles Lamb from MYB Textiles and Malcolm Innes from Edinburgh Napier University.
Interview by Kimberley White