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Knitting / Apparel

Math Technology Technique

Award-winning designer uses innovative strategy to create patterns for menswear line.


During a recent CItdA (Computer Integrated Textile and Design Association) conference in New York City, textile and clothing designers were asked the question Which comes first design or computer skills The quest was to determine from the perspective of todays creative professionals, which is the foundation for success and which is the value added skillset.Sentiment rang strongly among the nearly 100 attendees that a computer design program does not a designer make. Not only do todays designers view the computer as a tool with which they can express their design skills, but an increasing number understand both the importance and opportunity that integrating computer-aided-design (CAD) with computer-aided-manufacturing (CAM) can provide. The designer that can not only push the design envelope, but can push that envelope all the way through the production process is the designer that will make his or her mark in the design world. The consummate example of the technology-driven designer is Jhane Barnes, the award-winning menswear designer who weaves her own personal formula of thread, warp, weft, color, surface design, computer technology and math to produce her textiles. Math, you ask From Math To MenswearWhile most designers will look at a rainbow, a shape, a flower or any other concrete object for inspiration, Jhane is driven by more obscure stimuli such as patterns in fractal books, symmetries, algorithms or the angle of light reflecting off of an object. Its how she plays these inspirations against the computer and the loom that tells an interesting story.Though a star in her own right, one of Barnes childhood celestial aspirations was to become an astrophysicist. Her love for math and science were in stark contrast to her love for designing and making her own clothes, a skill that provided for some early recognition and success that sealed her destiny. She became frustrated early in her career by her inability to find the kind of textiles she was looking for and says she learned the art of weaving from books, mills and by making mistakes. The 45-year-old designer began using computers in the early 1980s, when she was among the first to own a weaving program that allowed her Atari computer to drive her handloom.She is emphatic about her belief that the technical weaving skills she developed in those early years are not only the foundation of her success, but the missing formula for many of todays designers.Most textiles happen accidentally because the designer doesnt have the technical production knowledge and the mills dont have the creative capabilities to accurately interpret the design sketch, Barnes said.By designing with the use of computer software that allows her to control both the design and the production processes, Barnes has complete control over the outcome of products that will proudly bear her name.While she and her staff of 10 designers have used many of the surface design and weaving applications on the market, she is fiercely loyal to both the applications from and the relationship with Designer Software of Syracuse, N.Y. She makes intense use of their flagship programs Surface Magic and WeaveMaker, and has substantially influenced the way the software has been developed.To understand the relationship, it is important to understand the driving force behind Barnes design inspirations. When she is in the creative process, she thinks about not just color, yarn, pattern and texture, but about symmetries, rules and generators.Symmetry is a mechanism for superimposing the entire plane on itself without changing the original motif or pattern. The 17 symmetries that exist for a two-dimensional infinite plane such as fabric include design concepts like mirroring, sliding, rotation and repeat. By combining her knowledge of design and symmetry, Barnes will create rules that will define the actual construction of a design. Rules define such items as the size of squares or circles, the width of lines, the number of colors, the size of the repeat, the float in the weave and the symmetry to be applied. These rules, which are constantly evolving and being added to her proprietary copies of Surface Magic and WeaveMaker, include instructions such as shearing stripes where the odds shear but the evens stay put, repeatedly reducing the size of a design on itself, or guiding the rearrangement of a design motif with a space filling curve, which was inspired by a math book on fractals.These symmetries and rules must be written into software that will not only produce the desired visual effect and allow Barnes to apply color to the results, but provide weaving direction based on such technical details as the number of harnesses, the number of colors, the weave construction, etc. Since the number of harnesses is contingent on the mill in which the fabric will be produced, this variable is not often known during the design process. Barnes applauds the flexibility of WeaveMaker, which allows her to see the effect on a design as, for example, the number of harnesses is changed. She also exploits this capability, as the software allows her to design as if there were an unlimited number of harnesses, a virtual dobby loom if you will.While she knows she must eventually reduce the number of harnesses to match production, the freedom to temporarily suspend real world limits in the initial design process only enhances her creativity and provides the opportunity to develop the unusual designs that have become her trademark.Much of her work actually starts in Surface Magic, a very inexpensive ($185, Macintosh and Windows) surface design program for pattern or jacquard design development on knit and woven fabrics. Features include: automatic pattern creation, automatic repeats, absolute color control, resolution control, the ability to define the shape of the individual pixels, masking and layers.The software supports the ability to create proprietary pattern generators, a feature that Barnes has exploited more than most. She has also taken full advantage of her relationship with Designer Software by assisting them to develop their products around the intuitive and creative thought processes of a designer. She doesnt like to read a users manual, and rarely does.When Designer Software owners Dana Cartwright and Bill Jones talk about their relationship with Barnes, the tone in their voices resembles that of proud parents. Their relationship goes back to 1992, when she first discovered their software at a trade show. Since then, each has had a profound influence on the other.As the chief software architect, Cartwright is responsible for adding features to the software, such as the saving of thumbnails or the addition of weave capabilities. Jones, a mathematician, is responsible for writing the software pattern generators that Barnes dreams up from her unique integration of symmetries and fractals. The three provide an unusual combination of skills that, by all accounts, provides for a free flow of creative inspiration in all directions.Barnes recently completed a project that was a unique honor. When the State of Ohio developed an initiative to improve both the interest and test scores in math of middle and high school children, their search for real world applications led them to Barnes.In co-operation with Ohio teachers and Designer Soft-ware, Barnes has developed a series of lesson plans that will teach students how to apply math in the world of textile design. It is supported by a 20-minute video of Barnes working at her computer and at the mills. It also includes a series of work books that will assist students in applying math to real world weaving situations.In the world of apparel and textile designs, where knock-offs are so common, one might think it was an actual business process. Designers and manufacturers alike have learned to guard their creativity and work product. The question remains, why would Barnes be so willing to tell the world how she does what she doesBarnes explains that the process of sharing her unique insights only serves to boost her creativity. While she herself has trained many of her staff, she has found her style and technique to be often imitated, but never duplicated. Step-By-Step Designing
1. The first step is created using a scheme (pattern generator) that automatically arranges a check design after selecting the repeat size, the number of colors and the number of stripes. The blending of the stripes in each direction is constructed using a technique involving the Quadratic Formula.
2. In Step 2, the "slice" filter progressively shears the rows and columns of pixels in a systematic way.
3. In Step 3, the "space filling curve" filter works like a multiple-reduction copy machine. It takes the existing picture and reduces it down to a fraction of its size in five different shapes and puts it back together.
4. The weave structure is added to the final pattern and the warp and weft colors are "woven" into this fabric simulation. Editor's Note: Teri Ross is a writer, speaker and consultant on new technology for the sewn products industries. She is owner and president of Imagine That! Consulting Group, publishers of the award-winning techexchange.com. She can be reached via e-mail at tross@techexchange.com or phone at (612) 593-0776.

December 1999



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