3D printers produce rigid objects, usually made of plastic. They don’t print or weave fabrics, but Massachusetts-based firm Nervous System used a 3D printer to make a dress that moves and flows like fabric. Even better, MoMA thought it was so incredible that they acquired the dress along with the software used to create it. The Kinematic software modeled a flexible surface that was then folded up. After printing this crumpled heap, they cleaned it off and unfolded this single piece into the amazing dress made up of thousands of unique interlocking pieces wearable directly out of the printer.
Nervous System has been developing a fabric like material that could be 3D printed, which is no easy feat considering 3D printers only make rigid objects. Their approach was to create a series of interlocking triangles that moved on hinges, thus becoming flexible. They created the Kinematics software to handle all the complex parts and pieces. First, they started small with just a bracelet and eventually worked up to the Kinematics Dress, which is made up of 2,279 unique triangular panels interconnected by 3,316 hinges printed out of nylon.
Normal clothing is cut from a flat textile and sewn together in order to fit a three dimensional body. The Kinematics Dress though is modeled from the start around a 3D body and contoured to match the shape and can vary in rigidity, drape, flex, porosity and pattern. While the pieces are in fact rigid, the design and variation in shape and size allows the material to flex and move, like a fabric.
Where it gets really interesting though, is how the heck they printed it. Remember this is a long dress with a hollow center and 3D printers aren’t really that large. To be able to print the dress within the confines of the printer at Shapeways printing factory in NYC, Nervous System had to fold it up. Their software allows them to crumble the dress down for printing, then afterwards they clean it off and unfold all the parts to reveal the dress. It’s a single piece without any assembly required and that is what is so incredible and why MoMA recently acquired it along with the software. As 3D printers improve in resolution and capabilities, Nervous System will be able to further shrink down the size of their moving parts to create smoother and more flowy fabrics all custom designed for your own unique body.