Design Student Pairs 3D Printing, Knitwear for Innovative Fashions

A graduate student at the Royal College of Art has developed unique fabrication techniques combining knitwear and 3D printing for fashion-forward clothing designs.

Designers have paired 3D printing and fashion before—even in runway shows at Paris Fashion Week. Now, a student at the Royal College of Art in London has found a way to integrate the two in a unique way using knitted fabric.

Lingxiao Luo, who is pursuing her master’s degree at the college, has developed fabrication techniques that combine traditional knitting with 3D printing. In doing so, she has created a series of clothing designs that appear more wearable than the 3D-printed clothing previously offered.

First Experience

Luo said she first experienced 3D printing as a student in the London College of Fashion, seeing samples that combined the fabrication technique with mesh fabric. Because of the structure and tension controlling of knitted fabric, Luo recognized that there were even more possibilities to combine 3D printing with knitwear, she told Design News.

3D printed knitwear
Lingxiao Luo, a graduate student at the Royal College of Art in London, has developed unique fabrication techniques combining knitwear and 3D printing for fashion-forward clothing designs.(Image source: Royal College of Art)

To explore these opportunities, Luo brought a home 3D printer and developed three techniques as well as her own process to integrate 3D-printed knitwear into wearable fashions. “I usually have all my knitting done in the college workshop, and then build up the 3D file in my laptop and print them onto the knitting at home,” she explained to Design News. “It takes me ages to try the suitable yarns and filaments, and also [to figure out] how to apply all these samples on the body.”

After initial experimenting, Luo settled on three different functions for creating her designs. The first is to join fabrics, using 3D-printed patterns to attach to the fabric or combine two fabrics together, she said. The second is to print onto loosely knitted nature-fiber fabric and felt fabric after printing “so that the contraction during the felting process can change the printed patterns and create 3D structure,” Luo explained. The third process she designed is to use a flexible filament to print onto tightly knitted elastic fabric, twisting printed patterns into a 3D structure.

Aesthetic

Visually, Luo’s designs are colorful and comfortable, with some pairing form-fitting tops with loose-fitting pants that feature unique details integrated and woven into the structure along distinctive seams. Indeed, Luo said there are several things about her work that’s unique and that she thinks will appeal to consumers in a way that 3D-printed clothing so far has not.

“The techniques that I have investigated are unique, and the products made with my techniques have unique aesthetic and texture,” she told us. “They’re much more playful and structural than traditional knitwear.” Comparing to other 3D-printed clothing products, she said her designs “are less plastic-like” and “much more wearable at the same time,” making them more likely to be accepted by consumers than previous 3D-printed designs.

In terms of practical considerations, Luo said her designs also are stable and washable. So anyone wearing them can care for them the same way as any other clothing in their wardrobe. “With the engineering of knitting and printing, this innovation introduces a zero-waste fabrication to the fashion industry through the creation of customizable products,” she added.

Evolving

As she evolves her technique and style, Luo said she hopes to work with a 3D-printer company to develop 3D printers suitable for the fashion industry to develop sustainable and wearable clothing. She also has her own aspirations for her work.

“Based on this technique and my final collection, I’m planning to build up a business of providing high-end products and services for the designer studios, including technical consultancy, sample making, textile, and product developing,” she said. “My market research shows that the application of 3D printing technology in the fashion industry is developing very quickly, and the design studios I have interviewed showed strong interest in using my technique and products in their collections.”

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York City. In her free time, she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

 

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