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Meet the Fabrics of the Future

Advanced Textiles for Health and Well-Being is a fascinating new book by Marie O'Mahoney, Professor of Advanced Textiles for Fashion Design at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia.

There was a time when clothes were made of fabric, cars were made of metal, and houses built of bricks or wood. it looks as if that’s all going to change. Textiles are going to do a lot more than just clothe us in the future!

I’ve been flipping through Advanced Textiles for Health and Well-Being, a new book by Marie O’Mahoney, Professor of Advanced Textiles for Fashion Design at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia. She’s also worked on the books Techno Textiles 2 and SportsTech.

Around the world, chemical engineers, biotechnologists, sustainability experts and textile designers have been creating fabrics that have qualities you couldn’t make up. You can start with the expected – fireproof, soundproof, antibacterial – and move on to the science fiction – fabrics that are lighter than air, that carry heat from or to the body, or that generate energy from the wind or sunlight.

These textiles – from the tiniest medical implants that won’t degrade or be rejected by the body, to giant geosynthetics that provide drainage for man-made islands – have great potential to change the way we live and work.

The first half of “Advanced Textiles” takes a look at the materials themselves, including synthetic and hybrid fibers, new weaves and knits, three-dimensional materials, coatings, biotechnology and nanotechnology. The second half looks at design innovations in clothing, buildings, transportation, and managing the environment.

One of the points the book makes is that the scientists working on textile design now aren’t struggling to “copy” natural fibers. By looking at the intrinsic qualities of synthetic fibers – and considering textile development in answer to problems, instead of as a replacement for an existing fiber – the field has blossomed. Here are some highlights:   

Fabric-covered cars: How would you like a BMW that would never rust, get dinged and used less gas because it was lighter? GINA, a concept car by BMW, has a skin of polyurethane-coated Lycra-based fabric. The fabric is pulled taut over an aluminum frame. The fabric is translucent, so the headlights shine through.

Textiles to shape the Earth: Geo textiles are group of materials that both manage and sustain the environment. Depending on their use, they can be biodegradable or not. Giant “geogrid” nets hold back erosion and prevent landslides. Geosynthetic “megacontainers” can be filled with sand, forming artificial reefs or breakwalls.

Health-monitoring clothing: A European consortium is working on creating microscopic sensors built into a textile structure. These nanotech-enhanced patches could check your blood sugar, take your temperature, monitor your heart rate, look at the oxygen level of your blood, and possibly much more.

I thought Advanced Textiles was an amazing look ahead. The book’s release date is Nov. 14, 2011, from publishers Thames & Hudson, but it’s already available on Amazon.

What type of fabric would you like to see in the future? I’d love to have a self-heating coat before the next Nor’easter here in Connecticut!


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  1. Katielynne | | #1

    I had not heard of these progressive 'inventions'...amazing! Thank you for sharing this Sarah.

  2. WayOutWest | | #2

    The health-monitoring clothing reminded me of the book, "Super Sad True Love Story" where you could find out everything about someone before you even started dating them. "Advanced Textiles for Health and Well-being" sounds like a provocative read and I suspect that this may not be too far off in the future. After all, Cristo has been creating enviromental works of art for years by wrapping bridges and fences with fabric; art on a grand scale. So why not fabric to shape and protect the earth.

  3. suzannity | | #3

    Cool! I just returned from a week of training in thermal analysis. After hearing about some of the technologies that my classmates are working with, this book review is timely and fascinating. It's going on the top of the reading list. I would really enjoy seeing more people embrace math and science. Thank you for reviewing a book of this type. Hmmm...is it possible that I could direct my career in the direction of my true love...textiles?

  4. User avater
    rotarydryer | | #4

    Really?It is unbelievable.

  5. scrubble4 | | #5

    This is a great review, thanks for doing it. I am currently reading Michio Kaku's "Physics of the Future". He touches on the content of the changes coming in fabrics as they perform many new tasks, but it sounds like Ms O'Mahoney has lots more information about fabrics in her book.

    For readers interested in innovations that are currently in the works I recommend Kaku's book. Physics of the Future is an easy and great read as I think O'Mahoney's will also be. I look forward to reading it. I just hope my library will have it soon. So many great books that I limit my purchases to reference books these days. Even that limitation still has my bookshelf groaning.

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