E Textile Swatch Development: Photochromic Sequins

Over the past few weeks Lynsey Calder and I have been preparing materials, screens,  imagery and perfecting processes to make 20 swatches for the eTextile summercamp swatchbook exchange 2014.
Lynsey and I are working together on a petri dish of responsive animated sequins “Disco Dish”. The sequins have been designed to animate when they are layered through the interaction of different scale lines printed on the sequins.  The layers of lines create a lenticular like effect or ‘scanimation’ which looks like shimmering or dancing stars.
The sequins also respond to changing light conditions they go from almost colourless to coloured in daylight. There will also be a UV LED integrated within the petri dish that will activate colour change.  We have a range of colours sky blue, aqua green, rose red, and sunflower yellow.  Two of the photochromic colours were supplied by LCR Hallcrest the rest are direct from Vivimed who manufacture photochromic materials.  The Hallcrest products are supplied ready to print either for textiles or other materials and Vivimed only supply the photochromics in their pure powder form.  The photochromic powders have to be dissolved in order to add them to an appropriate binder system. ( A more in-depth blog post is coming on dissolving photochromics and technical processes).
Photochromic sequins


Value in building trust for smart textile research

As I was writing this post my colleague Louise Valentine posted a blog about the research she was presenting with researchers Jo Bletcher and Saskia Coulson at the DRS conference last week Making The Case: collaborative concept development of products and services for a new design museum. Their paper concludes with six values that have emerged from their collaborative research so far and they point out that these values often go unspoken.

I haven’t thought about the values that I live and work by for a long time and it is easy to forget that values (whatever they may be) are at the core of every individual and therefore every relationship we build whether personal or professional. The paper was refreshing to read and it had ‘resonance’ with me through their honest insight into a new domain of collaborative research. It made me think what I was really writing about was ‘trust’.

I wanted to write this post as a thank you to LCR Hallcrest  who have supported my research over 8 years but it is also about the essential nature of this relationship without which my research and practice wouldn’t be possible.

They are a unique company based in Connah’s Quay near Chester where they manufacture colour-change labels, thermometers, liquid crystals and leuco thermochromic dye systems and a range of other specialist products and bespoke marketing material.   They also have a small R&D site based in Poole.

The relationship began in 2006 when I moved to Scotland, Galashiels, to start my PhD at the School of Textiles and Design, Heriot Watt University. My supervisors Sarah Taylor and Prof Robert Christie had already made contact with the company and they had agreed to support my PhD with materials in kind and a cash top up to my AHRC doctoral funding. I could never have imagined I would still be in regular contact with them 8 years later and that it would be the beginning of building a highly supportive relationship with LCR.

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I can only think this on-going relationship is based on trust.  They are generous with time, information and have often hosted me at their Chester factory and at their R&D site in Poole. I have gained material knowledge through literature, study and working extensively with thermochromics but that has only been the half the story, the other half is LCR, allowing me to visit regularly, keeping in contact, sharing knowledge of the materials and their continual investment in me. This has meant I have had access to an amazing first hand material laboratory for 8 years! When I visit I always come away having seen a material that has completely new or different properties. This first-hand interaction with a niche company and building of a longstanding relationship has been the essential ingredient to what I do. I trust their knowledge, support, and experience of a unique material base and they trust that I will challenge the convention of that material and present it to the world in a different way and I am a continual pest (in a good way)!

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The ingredients that went into building this trusting relationship I’m not entirely sure about but it has something to do with luck, the kindness and vision of the Managing Director, but also about sustained contact, enthusiasm for a material and its potential and a professional relationship. And now I am also a customer!


Electronic Texile Summercamp and Swatchbook Exchange 2013/14

Last year I attended the 2nd E-Textile Summercamp 2013, hosted by Paillard Centre d’Art Contemporain & Résidence d’Artistes organised by Mika Satomi and Hannah Perner-Wilson of Kobakant collective and Meg Grant which 27 participants from around the world attended including a small group of us working in the area of smart textiles from Scotland (Myself, Lynsey Calder and Sarah Taylor). The week long event was an amazing experience, not only about working together and sharing our skills and knowledge but cooking, eating and talking together often late into the night. The whole experience was so far removed the type of academic conference I am used to attending but was 100% more positive, rewarding and useful.   The reason it felt so positive was that it was based on making, sharing and working together. To begin the week participants ran and attended various workshops. Lynsey Calder and I ran a workshop on screen-printed thermochromics and Sarah Taylor ran one on fibre optics for generating light and energy with Meg Grant and there were many more to choose from. Lynsey and I had 7 participants who explored screen-printing a responsive pattern with thermochromic and photochromic materials and we took part in Textiles meets Digital Fabrication, Building a Heat Control Circuit and Batik and Copper Etching on Fabric. In the latter part of the week groups of participants worked together on projects, which culminated with a presentation to the public at the close of event.


Magic CarpetMagic carpet

Hannah Perner-Wilson initiated and organised the 2013 E-Textile Swatchbook Exchange which participants could contribute to with an E-Textile related sample – everyone that contributed took away their own copy of the swatchbook with an incredible diverse collection examples of practice in the area. Lynsey Calder submitted a piece of her amazing colour-changing TuTu with integrated heat-sink, Sarah Taylor, a light emitting strip and I submitted a sample of liquid crystal fabric and worked together with Katharina Vones on a colour-changing waterproof silicone fabric. Last years swatchbook is soon to be exhibited at the MAK in Vienna as part of their Exemplary Exhibition.  Have a look at a video of the  2013 swatchbook.


I am attending the 2014 E-Textile Summercamp in July this year and am working on two collaborative swatches for the Swatchbook Exchange, one with Lynsey (Disco Dish) and one with Sarah (Jamie’s Lace) and there are many other amazing samples being submitted. Judit Eszter who is based in Budapest and I will run a workshop together this year. We are not completely sure about the format of our workshop yet but we are in the process of planning but it will involve printing thermochromics!  Judit’s MA project is amazing she is now studying for a PhD.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/91989013″>Chromosonic</a&gt; from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/ejt”>ejtech</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

I am really looking forward to attending the  2014 Summercamp, running the workshop and making swatches with Lynsey and Sarah – I’d better get working – what an amazing event and E-Textile collective. The photographs were taken by Lynsey and myself last year and remind me of how magical the event was.

Hand Made Digital Textiles

The project I am currently working on with Sarah Taylor  (see her blog also) has involved us working with a new type of thermochromic liquid crystal that hadn’t been used on textiles previously. The white scattering liquid crystals we have been exploring have been developed by LCR Hallcrest a UK manufacturer of temperature sensing materials. I first saw these materials on a visit to their factory near Chester over a year ago– and was fascinated as they offered the potential for a textile surface to change from (off) white to black or from a lighter colour to darker colour which hasn’t been possible before with thermochromic dye systems.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/96517293″>’Rejuvenating Craft’ White Scattering Liquid Crystals</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user10682017″>Sara Robertson</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Why would you want  something to change colour reversibly from light to dark, transparent to opaque, or from white to black/black to white? …well in mine and Sarah’s case this offered a completely new way of working with thermochromic materials aesthetically and one that hadn’t been explored before. We saw an opportunity to utilise the positive and negative imagery used in preparation for screen-printing within a print design, creating a reversible colour-changing shift within the print from positive to negative. However, the broader potential of switching between white and black, black and white and transparent and opaque presents possibilities for energy harvesting, smart glass (similar to electrochromism but without the electro!) and protective clothing for sun exposure and many more…. the materials might not yet be robust enough but the reality of being able to achieve more complex functional surfaces at lower cost appears closer.

This project has also made Sarah and I work quite differently – the call ‘Rejuvenating Craft’ part of the Crysalis Project asked for textile makers who wanted to explore the use of digital and hand making to create to new products. Normally Sarah and I both utilise laser etching to treat or pattern the surface of our fibre optic or thermochromic surfaces, however we have switched the digital laser etched elements for hand craft processes and have used digital technology to speed up the other parts of our process which has given our materials totally new qualities together. Ultimately the table runner we produce will be controlled digitally and will (hopefully) be a beautiful digital tactile surface that illuminates and brings to life to a 17th Century lace sampler held in the National Museums of Scotland archive.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/96530136″>’Rejuvenating Craft’ Fibre Optic Lace</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user10682017″>Sara Robertson</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

‘Rejuvenating Craft’ making an interactive table runner

Sarah Taylor and I were a double act last week hosted by Plymouth College of Art and their amazing team, making a responsive table runner combining fibre optics and white scattering liquid crystals. The expert maker workshop part of the Crysalis project brought together 7 makers for 2 days in order to explore hand making and digital technology to create new products.  Our table runner is inspired by a 17th Century lace sampler held in the National Museums of Scotland textile archive.   The runner (which has yet to finished) is destined to be inlayed into a simple console table and be programmed to generate different colour changing and light emitting effects.

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White scattering liquid crystals and fibre optics

Over the past couple of weeks Sarah Taylor and I have been sampling and testing in preparation for a 2 day making event ‘Rejuvenating Craft’ that happened last week at Plymouth College of Art where we finalised our lace inspired interactive table runner.   We have been working on processes to combine Sarah’s fibre optic technology and my work with thermochromic liquid crystals on textiles.  Although we are working from knowledge of our own materials and respective practice – we didn’t know how they would function together aesthetically.

Both materials are subtle and understated (plain) until they are activated through light or temperature change and bringing these together in harmony and creating an interesting and responsive surface was harder than we anticipated. We have tried to keep things simple! … but through the process we have discovered exciting things, which we would like to explore further. We are both makers at heart and deeply interested in materials and materiality so being in an unknown place discovering qualities we didn’t anticipate is a great place to be.

Some of the interesting things we have discovered so far are:

  • the white scattering liquid crystals appear to change the white light emitted by fibre optics to green;
  • the fibre optics magnify the woven structure of linen below and create the illusion of a light emitting woven cloth;
  • aligning the fibre optics and adhering to the liquid crystal linen intensifies a colour shifting surface from white, to green and soft pink.


Ultimately our project has been about creating a product that showcases smart textiles in a functional and aesthetic way but also it is about research and education – recording and understanding our own practice better (in the area of smart textiles) in order to pass on the knowledge we have gained.

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Interactive Lace Inlay Table

At the moment I’m working in collaboration with Sarah Taylor (woven fibre optic extraordinaire) on a project to develop an interactive lace table runner that will be inlayed into a simple console table. The aim is to combine the light emitting qualities of fibre optic materials and the dramatic colour change effects of white scattering liquid crystals. The light and colour change effects will be controlled with Arduino and we will explore the integration of sensors to trigger different visual effects.   We hope that the project will shed light on the similarities and differences in our practice as smart textile designers and enable us to communicate our process. ImageImage The making part of the project will happen in late May at Plymouth College of Art where we will be part of an expert workshop, funded by the Crysalis Project. We will be among seven textile practitioners exploring hand making in combination with new technologies to extend their practice and create new products.  The table runner is inspired by 17th century lace samplers held in the National Museums of Scotland archive. The lace samplers are unfinished and show the process of how the lace was made.  Our aim is to recreate the sense of tracing the process – to create something that reveals our practice with fibre optic and thermochromic materials on textiles. Image

Library of Structural Colour

The National Museums of Scotland Collection Centre holds the most amazing collection of Lepidoptera.  The examples of structural colour across the neotropical collection are diverse, from the amazing recognisable blue of the Morpho Rhetenor to the subtle iridescence of the Morpho Sulkowskyi.

Morpho Rhetenor Morpho Rhetenor

DSC_0037 Morpho Sulkowskyi

Morpho Sulkowskyi Morpho Sulkowskyi

Morpho Portis Morpho Portis

DSC_0052 Morpho Godarti

Morpho Achilles Morpho Achilles

DSC_0078 Morpho Achilles

Thermochromic Liquid Crystals

Thermochromic liquid crystal materials (TLCs) change through a spectrum of colours known as ‘colour play’ commonly from red, very quickly through yellow, moving through green and blue on temperature change. They produce colour structurally, as temperature is raised the structure of the material changes, each phase of change in the structure interacts with incident light differently allowing us to see a different colour at each phase. The colours appear like coloured light (although they are non-emissive) and are viewed at their best when applied to a black background.


TLCs can be screen-printed, sprayed or coated onto a wide range of surfaces.  They come as microencapsulated slurry, which can be mixed with different binders to achieve different surface effects. The binder used to fix the TLCs to another material makes a difference to the strength or chroma of the spectrum of colours perceived in the TLCs. A matt binder will dull down the colours and a binder with a satin or gloss finish will enhance the colours.  They can be fixed to textiles and other hard materials with controlled dry heat at around 140 °C for 5 – 10 minutes depending on application.

It is possible to create different colours in the TLCs ‘colour play’. Layering different activation temperatures of the TLCs can generate new colours in the spectrum; the colours mix as they pass through their spectra at slightly different temperatures.  Working with the TLCs RGB spectrum it is possible to additively mix colour on any surface.


TLCs show their strongest colours when applied to a black background but they can be applied to different coloured backgrounds for example a red background will really enhance the blue phase of the colour play creating a strong magenta.


There are two types of TLCs commercially available, cholesteric derived from cholesterol extracted from sheep’s wool and chiral nematic, which is the synthetic equivalent.  The prices differ dramatically with 10g cholesteric TLC from £4-6 and 10g chiral nematic TLC from £40-60, there are many different formulations, temperatures and bandwidths that TLCs are available in (these prices do not represent all the alternatives).  Chiral nematic TLCs offer superior colour and better stability but if you are looking to experiment and explore the potential of the material working with a cholesteric TLC would be more economically viable.