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Repeatless: combining science, technology and design to re-think print and pattern for the future

Russell, AP (2014) Repeatless: combining science, technology and design to re-think print and pattern for the future. In: Transition: Re-thinking Textiles and Surfaces, 26 November 2014 - 27 November 2014, University of Huddersfield. (In Press)


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Digital technology offers a method to fundamentally change the way printed textile designs and surface patterns are created and applied. Within industry, pre-digital textile printing processes mechanically transfer the same design again and again down the entire substrate's length. The patterns they reproduce have to repeat identically and cannot be altered without stopping and reconfiguring the printer. The practice-led research in this paper firstly proposes that digital technology could allow a design to change as it is being printed. The application of dyestuff or other colour by a digital printer is controlled by data corresponding to the design. This need not be static; the printer could be receiving constantly evolving information, producing pattern that need never do the same thing twice. The second proposal is that generative systems be used to create evolving pattern. The possibility that digital fabric printing could remove the need for repeating pattern has been identified (Briggs and Bunce, 1995) and others have considered its implications on pattern design (Ujiie, 2006; Tallon, 2011; Bowles and Isaac, 2012). Within a textiles context, interactive design (Paramanik, 2013), the use of randomness to create non-repeating design (Carlisle, 2002), animated pattern (Richardson, 2007 and 2009) and tapestry-based applications (Sutton, 1981; Moallemi and Wainer, 2008) have been considered. However, in comparison with other creative industries such as architecture (Fraser, 1995) and graphics (Maeda, 2000) that have established areas of practice where generative systems produce design outcomes, the field has been relatively unexplored in textiles. In this research, a software application uses cellular automata, a method of mathematical modelling that allows the elements within a system to evolve in relation to each other (Wolfram, 1994). Here, the elements are the motifs or other individual images and the system is the overall design. The final proposal concerns the rules by which the elements interact; it is here that the traditions of printed textiles can be exploited. When designing a repeat pattern, practitioners use a number of methods to ensure that the eye can roam freely over a design, balancing the arrangement and scale of the motifs, for example, or the negative space between them (Day, 1903; Bowles and Isaac, 2012). Whilst these are generally used to disguise the repetitive structure that underlies such designs, the methods have two distinctive points of interest in this context. Firstly, they determine the compositional quality of the design. Secondly, they can be quantified to a workable degree as design rules. These rules can be used to create algorithms, which can in turn be translated into the code (in this case Processing (Reas and Fry, 2007)) that forms the generative software application. The output is a repeatless design of any length that can be saved section by section to be streamed to a digital printer for application to fabric or other substrates, exploiting the technology in an entirely novel fashion. The outcomes demonstrate a method of re-thinking print and pattern for the future, providing a new way of exploiting digital technology that is workable on an industrial scale.

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