Pleated Electronic Textiles for Wearable Technology

Pleated Electronic Textiles for Wearable Technology

Pleated Electronic Textiles for Wearable Technology


  1. Summary

How can textile and fashion techniques be used and modified to fabricate folded sensors and actuators for textile wearables? 

This 4-year research project aims to investigate how novel soft circuits can be created through constructing electronic functionality as sculpted dynamic objects, rather than as plane surfaces. In particular, we will look at the textile technique pleating and experimental modifications thereof, which is traditionally used in textile and fashion design to create volume and dynamic texture; to explore aesthetics, performativity and interaction potential of origami textile wearables. 

The aim is to study pleated textile sensors and actuators across three scales: micro, meso and human scale. Data types and quality that can be generated through smart or unusual 3D sensing electronic textiles, kinetic structures, and (in combination with the previous two) complex body movement, will be explored. The findings will be used to develop a framework for designing and using such e-textile technology, including a methodology for designing and evaluating body-worn pleated origami e-textile structures, and a sensor data collection and analysis tool.

The findings could be applicable to fashion design and performance, and to other fields where knowledge and practice of pleated sensor and actuator structures could lead to light, comfortable and robust electronic objects and devices, e.g. architecture, healthcare or aerospace engineering. 

  1. Research Context

Pleating describes the technique of folding a fabric in a symmetric or asymmetric pattern, which is then made semi-permanent by applying heat using a heat press or steam. Pleating offers versatile texture and volume creation for textiles, and has been mainly explored within Haute Couture fashion design. An example is Issey Miyake’s seminal work on pleating technology (Miyake, 2012) culminating in the 1993 collection “Pleats please”, in which he combines aesthetic form with textile functionality, e.g. lightness, flexibility of movement, ease of care, as well as ease of fabrication.   


Figure 1: Collection “Pleats Please”, Issey Miyake, 1993

Today, we find a number of experimental modifications of pleated fabrics and other materials to be used for clothing, interior, furniture or product design (De Ruysser, 2009; Philpott, 2011; Strozyk, 2010; Vilas, 2009). These have been driven by the increase of popularity of origami, and the availability of digital technologies to model and fabricate folds in paper, fabrics, leathers, ceramics, plastics and even metal. The technique is not only popular with designers, but engineers equally show an increased interest in origami and folded electronic structures, to create lightweight, kinetic and adaptable sensors or actuators. Foldable smart structures are studied on various scales, ranging from micro scale active origami structures for “4D” robotic applications (Miyashita, Guitron, Ludersdorfer, Sung, & Rus, 2015), to large-scale constructions like textile antennas and membranes in space (Bloom, Park, & Hill, 1985; Miura, 1985). 


Figure 2: Collection “Wooden Textiles”, Elisa Strozyk, 2009 – 2018


Figure 3: Pinaki Studio / Arantza Vilas, 2009 – 2018

Although the topic is evidently interesting to both design and technical researchers, textiles that combine aesthetic textile qualities with electronic functionality for pleated and origami structures have been less explored. One example is the PhD project Metatextiles, in which small antenna arrays were embedded into evenly folded electronic textiles, demonstrating unusual sensing qualities and a negative refractive index (Greinke, 2017). Another example are the folded sensors and actuators developed as part of the project Radio Freak Lab at Design Research Lab, in which Shibori folding techniques (i.e. Makinui, Arashi) were combined with lasercutting, heat-bonding of conductive fabrics and printing of thermochromic liquid crystal ink. The demonstrator was used both as a (capacitive) sensor and an actuator (colour change).

pastedGraphic_3.pngFigure 4: Metatextiles, Berit Greinke, 2011 – 2016. Left: Sample of laser-etched and pleated antenna structure,
Right: Set up for measuring electromagnetic properties of three-dimensional textiles.