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Michael Allen Harris mining for jeans

Where once silver was mined, now jeans are

To me, this sounds like the story line from a children’s book, but no, this is something that really happens. Michael Allen Harris and his father-in-law hunt for jeans from the 1800’s in abandoned silver mines. Recently they found a pair of Levi’s from 1873, the year they were first manufactured, that could still be worn. It makes me think of the image on a Levi’s label of two horses trying and failing to pull apart a pair of Levi’s jeans to demonstrate their robustness. They were obviously made to last.

Website link: I mine for 100 year old jeans, The Guardian, 25th September 2015

Video link: Levi Strauss – preserving the past

Prototype animals

We’re in the middle of updating our website and whilst sorting through images (we started with over 6000 – eek) I came across these photos of a prototype bag for a highly technical mechanism we made a few years ago. I seem to remember that after we’d finished it and were examining it to check the quality we decided it looked like the kind of animal you might find in a fossil or at the bottom of the sea. It seemed a shame not to record it and now to share it.

Taking the hard edges off 3D printing

3D printing can seem a magical way to produce an object as if from nowhere. It is often presented as a one stop way to produce a product but what it often lacks is a pleasing or tactile surface finish. Here at Thread we spend alot of time working with textiles and other flexible materials that it’s really exciting to see a 3D printing technique that creates a soft object. Carnegie Mellon University and Disney Research Pittsburgh have developed a new type of 3D printer that uses wool or wool blend yarns to create a felted object.

Website link: Carnegie Mellon University, Press Release, 28th April 2014

Website link: Disney Research

Robot Folding

We spend more time folding fabric than an average person might (particularly at the moment as we’re working on some very large products made of net). It’s a surprisingly subtle skill. We were intrigued to come across Dextrous Blue, a robot developed in a collaborative project between three european universities (Czech Technical University in Prague, Centre for Research and Technology Hellas and University of Glasgow). It can recognise, sort and fold clothes but I think it might have a bit of learning to do before it can help with our tricky, stretchy net fabric.

Website link: CloPeMa – Clothes Perception and Manipulation

Compostable clothing

It’s interesting how frequently a simple idea requires a large amount of perseverance and follows a complicated path before it physically exsists. Clothing that composts is a simple idea to understand but not to enact.

Freitag have spent five years developing three textiles (and their supply chains) to create clothing that bio-degrades in a compost heap (except for the jean button which is reusable).

Website link: Freitag F-ABRIC

BioCouture jacket shoulder detail

Pickled fabric? Not quite, but it is grown in a jar.

Fermenting cellulose

Fermenting cellulose

Designer Suzanne Lee has produced (and continues to develop) a fabric that comes from a zoogleal mat formed during the fermentation of a sweetened tea. The fabric that is produced is still made up of cellulose (like cotton, linen, viscose and rayon) but it comes not from plants but from bacteria. The fabric that is produced has similarities with very thin leather, though sadly it’s performance in the rain is less resilient as it tends to become a little mushy.

It sounds as though the fabric is being developed further so I look forward to seeing its progress.

Website link: Popular Science, BioCouture

Website link: BioCouture

Inuit fishing

Clarence Birdseye

“I do not consider myself a remarkable person. I am just a guy with a very large bump of curiosity” – Clarence Birdseye

Birdseye is synonymous with frozen foods but what I didn’t realise until yesterday was that Clarence Birdeye began developing his fast freeze process after observing how the Inuit preserve their fish through the winter. An innovation based on observing how an expert goes about their work. I like that.

Fast freezing only allows small ice crystals to form so that the cell walls remain intact and the peas (for example) aren’t mushy (different kettle of fish) when defrosted. Clarence Birdseye saw the possibilities of this when he was working on the Canadian peninsula of Labrador. He saw how the Inuit caught fish from ice holes in the winter and then laid the fish on the ice. The combination of the ice underneath and the cold air temperatures (down to -40°C) caused the fish to freeze almost immediately. When this fish was defrosted and eaten it tasted almost as good as when fresh whereas other commercially available fish was frozen over a period of 18 hours and tasted dry and tasteless.

A Singer sewing machine taken back to bits

The pattern pieces that make a sewing machine

In his book, Things come apart, Todd McLellan takes everyday objects, breaks them down into their constituent parts, lays them out and photographs them. These images highlight the hidden complexity of the products around us. Take a sewing machine, for example. We see a smoothly moulded plastic (or on industrial machines a cast steel) shell that hides the numerous mechanisms and components that can take two separate and continuous threads and make a linear connection between two panels, or in simpler terms stitch two things together.

At Thread, we often (well, not that often but probably more than the typical person) talk about how brilliant a sewing machine is and so we particularly liked to see it carefully disassembled. Not so keen on the picture that followed this one of the sewing machine seeming to explode though.

If you look carefullly to the bottom right hand corner of the main shell you can see 12 sewing pins. Pins always get everywhere so I’m not surprised to see that they got inside the sewing machine!

Silver nano wire

Just like our Mums always said….

…turn the heating down and put another jumper on, except that now that extra jumper might be dip-coated in a silver nanowire solution that makes the fabric highly radiation insulating. It could even reflect back over 90% of a user’s body heat whereas the average item of clothing reflects around 20%. At the Yi Cui lab at Stanford University fabrics have been created that have silver nanowires embedded in them to reflect human body infrared radiation while maintaining the original breathability of the fabric. This doesn’t get around the problem of persuading someone to put a jumper on in the first place though….

Website link: Personal Thermal Management by Metallic Nanowire-Coated Textile, Nano Letters, 2014

Make-up that makes things happen

Katia Vega seems to work at the intersection of the functional and the fabulous. It would be easy to think that technology research involving make-up would be perhaps a little frivolous but the miniaturisaton required alone is enough to refute that idea fairly thoroughly. She has created chemically metalised eyelashes and conductive eyeliner that transform a blink into a command and also RFID false nails that have the potential to unlock doors, act as tickets, pay for items or even allow a DJ to use the surface of water to mix tracks. Seriously powerful make-up.

Website link: Katia Vega, Beauty Tech Designer and a PostDoc Researcher at PUC-Rio

Not quite as convenient as an invisibility cloak…

Researchers at the University of Rochester have developed a cloaking device that uses standard lenses and optical equipment rather than exotic materials. It works across a range of distances and angles and avoids distortion of the background which often reveals that cloaking is being attempted.

It may not be quite Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak (it doesn’t flow elegantly and smoothly) but’s it’s an interesting development and a good example of standard components being used to create an unusual device.

Website link: ‘Cloaking’ device uses ordinary lenses to hide objects across range of angles, University of Rochester, Newscenter, 25th September 2014

Warwick glove small

Cheap and cheering 3D printed electronic sensors

Researchers at the University of Warwick have developed a low-cost conductive plastic composite that can be 3D printed using a standard 3D printer. This opens up possibilities for printing electronically functional objects rather than just beautiful models that have no functionality. Currently they have produced a partial glove that allows for the movement of a hand to be tracked and slightly more comically a mug with embedded sensors that can detect how full it is.

Website link: University of Warwick – Engineers pave the way towards 3D printing of personal electronics

Website link: Research article – A Simple, Low-Cost Conductive Composite Material for 3D Printing of Electronic Sensors

Spiderman’s secret?

The Gecko’s ability to climb walls and ceilings captures the imagination of many design and engineering students (it certainly did when I was studying) but most get no further than daydreaming about using this impressive skill at human scale. It’s the scaling up that’s prevented most people from getting anywhere with it. Not Elliot Hawkes though. The mechanical engineering graduate student has made his spiderman dreams come true and scaled the glass walls of one of the buildings on the Stanford campus using Gecko pads on his hands and feet. The trick to scaling up is to distribute the force equally across the pads and use minimal energy to switch the pads ‘on’ and ‘off’. Further details on how they achieved this on the Standford News page below.

Website link: Stanford News – Stanford engineers climb walls using gecko-inspired climbing device, 21st November 2014

(left) KONE Ultrarope in lift hoisting machine and (right) KONE Ultrarope next to standard twisted steel lift cables

Where bikes lead, lift cables follow?

For a long time all bikes were made of steel, then came aluminium and then carbon fibre. For fairly similar reasons (improved strength per unit weight) KONE have developed the Ultrarope (TM) lift cables based on a carbon fibre core. The limiting factor for the length of current lifts is the strength to weight ratio of steel that the cables are made of. At a certain length the weight of the steel is greater than the steel itself can withstand. This currently limits lifts to around 500m tall. Hope the ride quality is more comfortable than a carbon fibre bike!

Website link: “The other mile-high club”, The Economist, 15th June 2013

Website link: KONE Ultrarope (TM), press release, 10th June 2013

No really, this is the new black

I still remember being a child and my Grandad telling me that black was the absence of all light. It was an astonishing thought as I couldn’t fathom how it could be absence if I could see it.

A new material developed by Surrey NanoSystems reminded me of this.

Watch the video and be astonished when the sample is turned over to show the backing and then turned back to show the black front face again. It’s nice to have a dash of childlike wonder on a Monday afternoon.

Website link: Surrey NanoSystems – British breakthrough in worlds darkest material launched at Farnborough International

Administrative assistant


Are you an energetic and reliable individual with lots of initiative? Do you feel like taking on a diverse and well-rounded role in a social and dynamic environment? Are you a happy and hard-working person with a natural flair for service and structure? If you answered yes, then this might be a great opportunity for you.

We’re looking for a responsible Administrative Assistant capable of performing various light administrative and practical tasks in our office.

You will

  • Make sure our reception and office runs well – keeping our office tidy and presentable and lend a helping hand where needed
  • Answer our phone and handle our mail both professionally and efficiently
  • Prepare refreshments for client meetings
  • Run errands and coordinate the weekly purchases of everything from
    groceries to office supplies
  • Handle receipts for the credit card, taxi vouchers and various invoices
  • Enter financial information into Sage
  • Coordinate postage/dispatch or parcels

You are

  • Enthusiastic and have a proactive approach to your work
  • Cheerful
  • A neat freak with a natural flair for making the atmosphere around you nice
  • A flexible and no-nonsense type of person
  • Very service-minded and able to conduct your work with a smile
  • A motivated and outgoing self-starter
  • Structured and good at juggling many tasks at once

We offer you

  • The chance to become part of a creative, fun and professional team within a multi-disciplinary design environment

About us

Thread Design is a design consultancy based in Cardiff that specialises in products that have fabric or flexible materials in them somewhere. We develop products for international clients from a wide range of industries. Our aim is to make stuff that works.

Boring stuff

  • Hours: 20 hrs/week total over 3-5 days
  • Salary: £7-10k p/a depending on skills/qualifications
  • Holidays: 28 days including bank holidays

Extra bits

We’re interested to see examples of previous work in a pdf or web portfolio. For more information contact Rachel Tomlinson Rachel@thread-

Textile prototyper


Are you an energetic and reliable individual with lots of initiative? Do you feel like taking on a diverse and well-rounded role in a social and dynamic environment? Are you a happy and hard-working person who loves to create and stitch up 3D objects? If you answered yes, then this might be a great opportunity for you.

We’re looking for a highly skilled textile prototyper to help us create beautifully well-finished 3D prototypes of a diverse range of products eg. Rucksacks, body armour, pouches for medical devices, technical sports clothing etc.

You will

  • Help transform design intents into fully realised 3D objects
  • Be able to stitch up prototypes to an exceptional standard
  • Be able to develop patterns
  • Be able to mark and cut fabric precisely
  • Be interested in materials, their properties and innovations in materials/new developments
  • Be able to communicate ideas verbally and through sketches
  • Be able to work quickly to produce rough prototypes but also be able to produce prototypes finished to the highest quality
  • Maintain order in fabric and haberdashery supplies
  • Maintain stocks of fabric and haberdashery

You are

  • Enthusiastic and have a proactive approach to your work
  • Cheerful
  • A motivated and outgoing self-starter
  • Deeply curious about how things are made or could be made

We offer you

  • The chance to become part of a creative, fun and professional team within a multi-disciplinary design environment

About us

Thread Design is a design consultancy based in Cardiff that specialises in products that have fabric or flexible materials in them somewhere. We develop products for international clients from a wide range of industries. Our aim is to make stuff that works.

Boring stuff

  • We are currently considering Contract, Part Time and Full time
  • Hours we keep: 35 hrs/week 9.30am – 5.30pm
  • Salary: £17-25k p/a depending on skills/qualifications
  • Holidays: 28 days including bank holidays

Extra bits

We’re interested to see examples of previous work in a pdf or web portfolio. For more information contact Rachel Tomlinson Rachel@thread-

Manufacture support

Manufacture lead times often get extended by toing and froing with the factory. This is why we take an engineering approach to technical packs; Patterns, samples and detailed specifications eliminate ambiguity in the handover from designer to manufacturer, minimising errors that can arise through misinterpretation.

Thread Materials Library

Materials and sourcing

We source materials, fixtures and fittings from a wide range of suppliers, from local retailers to global manufacturers.

Our materials library is continually growing and contains materials fromcotton canvas to highly technical textiles.
We are continually looking for new fabrics to fulfil our clients needs

Body-Armour Defense Prototyping

MOD unveils futuristic uniform design

Great to see a project we contributed to being launched.

We worked with Kinneir Dufort to develop the body armour prototypes and produced the final prototype shown in the video in house at Thread.

Website link: MOD unveils futuristic uniform design, 16th September 2015




Not where you might expect to see inclusive design…

“Innovation and inspiration at Nike often start with the simple act of listening to the voice of the athlete. As expressed within its mission statement, the company believes: If you have a body, you’re an athlete”

We have a little phrase we sometimes uses at Thread: “Extreme to mainstream” that is, to look to those with extreme needs to get inspiration for something that the mainstream will desire. Great to see something similar happenning at Nike. I can’t see the FLYEASE on the UK store yet but I hope the concept is here to stay.

Tiny jumper

Did I shrink my jumper?

Here at Thread, we relish visits to manufacturers (we’ve even been known to visit factories when we’re on holiday).

Recently we’ve been looking into seamless knitting for a few projects. It’s an intriguing manufacturing process as the properties of a garment (such as stretch or ventilation) can be varied in different parts of the garment without using a second material. This removes seams between panels which can make tight-fitting garments more comfortable. It’s also able to create small-scale details (hence the mouse jumper in the picture).


EPSRC centre for innovative manufacturing in industrial sustainability: fourth annual conference

Hose drying


Tooley Tote


An interesting conference in Cambridge with several thought-provoking talks.

Kresse (of Elvis & Kresse) was particularly inspirational and challenging. I saw her speak when the company was just starting out and fell in love with the reclaimed firehose material. It’s an amazing story of rescuing an incredibly high quality material and repurposing it to extend its usable life. I like that the company ethos is to reduce waste and in doing so they have quietly attracted the attention of the fashion world.

Edgar Martins - Astronaut Dressing Room

What happens to spacesuits when they’re not being used?

In 2011, Edgar Martin spent 9 days exploring the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in star City, Moscow as part of a project to record the work of a space programme from an artistic point of view. This particular project stemmed from a childhood fascination with spacesuits, in particular, what happenned to them when they’re not in use. After many days of being taken around the standard tourist and journalist sights he finally found the room where the suits were stored “It was like christmas and I was 10 again.”

Here at Thread we understand that feeling; one dream project that has been mooted is to work on spacesuits. The technical precision and robustness of design must be extraordinarily high. We like a challenge though.

Website link: Edgar Martin’s best photograph, The Guardian, 11th December 2013

Website link: Edgar Martin: The Rehearsal of Space & the Poetic Impossibility to Manage the Infinite, 2014

Rachel Tomlinson

With a penchant for making products that have a distinct impact on a user’s quality of life, Rachel is our textiles specialist with a background in manufacturing and industrial design engineering.

Since co-founding Thread, Rachel has combined her engineering skills with her textiles expertise to interpret briefs without the limitations of conventional product design materials and provide fresh direction.

Rachel has a Masters in Manufacturing Engineering from Cambridge University and a Masters in Industrial Design Engineering from the Royal College of Art.

Sam Ghazaros

Sam Ghazaros

Sam loves technical problem solving. From designing a ventilation system for high-performance outdoor clothing to developing aids for disabled children.

He’s not willing to let his heart rule his head and go for the cleverest looking (or sounding) solution but always wants proof and an explanation. This attitude ensures that his work is reliable, well thought through and efficient.

Sam has a Masters in Mechanical Engineering from Bristol University and a Masters in Industrial Design Engineering from the Royal College of Art.

Ancient bone body armour found in Siberia

A complete set of body armour made of bones has been discovered in Omsk, Siberia and according to Yury Gerasimov, a research fellow of the Omsk branch of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, it would have “given good protection from weapons that were used at the time – bone and stone arrowheads, bronze knives, spears tipped with bronze, and bronze axes.” Bones are naturally well-suited to resisting blunt trauma as they are not a single solid material but made up of two distinct types of tissue: the compact bone tissue that makes up the smooth outer surface and the trabecular bone tissue of the interior which is made up of rod and plate like elements. These two structures would dissipate energy under impact therefore helping to protect the person underneath. We’ve worked on the human factors side of body armour and it’s amazing how ancent body armour can provide inspiration for modern concepts.

Website link: Warrior’s 3,900 year old suit of bone armour unearthed in Omsk, Siberian Times, 6th September 2014

Marks and Spencer Autograph shwop coat

A shoddy coat from M&S? Well, yes and no.

Really interested to see the M&S ‘shwop’ coat. Firstly, it’s great that clothes that are unsuitable for charity shops or reuse can still have value. Secondly, it reduces costs. Lastly, I find the rebranding of what is actually a fairly old idea quite funny. The process of shredding unwanted woolen garments (or using waste from wool production) to produce a recycled wool yarn creates shoddy wool. This is why many woolen garments are labelled ‘pure new wool’ or ‘virgin wool’. The shoddy wool retains many of the excellent properties of new wool but as the fibres are shorter it can become a coarser and stiffer fabric. This can be overcome by mixing other fibres to improve the feel. Perhaps the word shoddy might eventually stand for not wasting things rather than being of questionable quality?

Website link: M&S stories – sustainable fashion, the shwop coat

The future of India’s textile industry

India has a long history of textile skill in development and production. This is reflected in the number of words we have in English that derive from Indian languages including calico, gingham, khaki, seersucker and chintz. The technique of mordant dyeing (that uses natural dyes to gives intense colours that don’t fade) was used in India from 2-3 thousand years ago. Until the 18th century Europe was less skilled than India in textile production. With the industrial revolution there was and has continued to be huge development in Europe but recent research suggests that India may be about to increase its share of the technical textiles world market share.

There are difficulties as many of the raws ingredients have to be imported (which increases the cost) and power supplies can be unreliable. However the Indian government is actively supporting the technical textiles industry and the sector is expected to grow by around 20% annually to reach a value of £16.25 billion by 2016-2017.

Website link: Technical Textile Market in India 2012-2016, August 2013

M.C. Escher drawings become a little closer to being possible?

The idea of water flowing uphill seems impossible and confined to fantastical images like those created by the artist M.C. Escher (Website link: M.C. Escher, Waterfall). However, engineers at MIT have made this impossibility feasible. Inspiration was taken from motile cilia, the small hair-like structures that line the human throat and waft particles and fluids away and out of the respiratory passages. Each microhair is about 70 microns high and 25 microns wide (a quarter of the size of a human hair) and made of Nickel. An array of these microhairs was fabricated onto an elastic, transparent layer of silicone allowing for it to be applied to many surfaces. The behaviour of the microhairs can also direct the flow of light and so in a similar way to a venitian blind can provide shading.

Website link: MIT news, Press Release, 6th August 2014

Screws made of baked silk for pinning broken bones

The spiders have the answer

Silk is an extraordinary material with several amazing properties. It can provide excellent ballistic protection and has been used extensively in the past and perhaps slightly more surprsingly is part of the current issue of kit for British soldiers. Here at Thread we know that silk (both silkworm and spider) can do these suprising things and yet we were still impressed to hear of screws for pinning broken bones being made of silk. The screws are created by moulding and baking a silk fibroin (an insoluble protein created by spiders) material. These screws are self-tapping and reduce stress shielding (where pins and implants can reduce the stress on a bone which can in turn reduce its density and strength) and promote bone remodelling.

Website link: The use of silk-based devices for fracture fixation, Nature Communications, 4th March 2014

Textiles in Matisse's paintings

Matisse and textiles as portable inspiration

I just came across this interesting article about an exhibition in 2005 of the textiles that (it’s claimed) inspired Matisse’s use of colour. In the town where he grew up there was no museum or galleries but the amazingly vividly coloured textiles were produced. Throughout his lifetime Matisse collected and carried around with him a selection of glorious fabrics that he used as backdrops and inspiration in his paintings. This seems to me to sum up some of the benefits of textiles; that they are lightweight and easy to pack-up and transport and can carry a huge array of colour and pattern with subtle variations that, say, a moulded plastic could never equal.

Website link: Matisse’s debt to textiles revealed, Guardian, 2nd March 2005

19th century digital

Jacquard punchcards

Jacquard punchcards

Jacquard weaving is a development of traditional loom weaving that integrates a system of punched cards (see above) that can control the position of the warp (lengthways threads) and therefore what colour and pattern is visible on the surface of the fabric. These punchcards automate what appears to be a complex process into a simple, repetitive one. This formed the basis of punch card data storage systems, notably Herman Hollerith’s machines and company that went on to become the core of IBM. It’s a curious thought that the roots of all the electronic, digital systems in use today were in the creation of patterned textiles. It seems to me this shows that it’s hard to predict where a technical innovation might eventually lead.

The Jacquard loom could use this simple system to produce images of incredible complexity. The portrait to the left was produced on a Jacquard loom using black and white silk which makes it a very early digital image. The automation of the pattern creation significantly reduced the cost of creating woven patterns and therefore made them available to far more people.

This excellent video on the V&A website illustrates clearly how Jacquard weaving can create complex patterns.

Website link: a video of how Jacquard weaving works, V&A museum

Shirin Gerami WTS Edmonton

Shirin Gerami: Iran’s first female triathlete

Shirin Gerami crosses the line at WTS Edmonton as Iran’s first and only female triathlete!

Thread and Shirin worked together to make the specialised kit that had to provide complete coverage with minimal effect on mobility and thermal burden. In a world of minimal, one-piece figure-hugging kit this seemed a tall order, but this was achieved with thoughtful design and selection of the coolest possible materials.

“They were comfortable, they looked awesome, they were easy to bike and run in and at no point in time did I wish I had a layer less.”

In a very short time window we were able to create toiles, produce artwork, source print and construct the final race kit. Shirin campaigned tirelessly for permission to race, which was finally granted the morning of the event.

Website link: Shirin’s blog for 220 Triathlon magazine

Website link: ITU World Triathlon Grand Final Edmonton 2014

insect gears

Not where you might expect to find gears

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have that a small plant-hopping insect, the Issus, has hind leg joints that very closely resemble mechanical gears like those in a car gearbox. These gears ensure that the Issus’ hind legs move with precise synchronisty when it starts to jump. In fact greater synchronicity than if the legs were controlled by neural signals alone. As Malcolm Burrows from the University of Cambridge says ‘In Issus, the skeleton is used to solve a complex problem that the brain and nervous system can’t.’ This is a really interesting example of a mechanical solution to what appears to be a nervous system issue. It reminds me of the origins of computing in Jacquard weaving….

Website link: “Functioning ‘mechanical gears’ seen in nature for the first time”, 12th September 2013


Insulin pumps and beauty pageants

Insulin pumps and beauty pageants: one a fairly frequent topic of discussion at Thread the other less so but Miss Idaho 2014 caught our attention. Sierra Sandison has type 1 diabetes and rather than hide her insulin pump she simply wore it on the waistband of her bikini. We were very happy to see this as for the last few years we’ve been involved in developing and prototyping pouches for insulin pumps for a major medical equipment brand. Where previously the only option for a pouch was black (always black), plain and generic there is now effort to create pouches that fit in with people’s lives and wardrobes.

Website link: #showmeyourpump takes off as diabetics inspired by beauty queen post proud pictures of their insulin pumps, The Independent, 19th July 2014

MIPS helmet technology

When I was on honeymoon in New Zealand a few years ago we gatecrashed (politely asked if we could join in) a symposium at the University of Otago entitled “Technologies in Sport: Performance, Bodies and Ethics”. Probably not most people’s idea of a good use of honeymoon but luckily my spouse is as much of a geek as me. One of the most striking things I learnt was about brain injuries, particularly in boxers, from Dr Andrew Pipe (now at the University of Ottawa and previously involved with the inception of WADA – World anti-Doping Agency) who told me that some of the most dangerous brain injuries are rotational rather than direct ie. a glancing blow to the side of the head that spins it rather than a straight on impact. These rotational forces cause shear forces in the brain which can be extremely dangerous. I’ve had this in the back of my mind since then (especially when skiing and biking) and so this helmet technology from Swedish company MIPS caught my attention. It seems that the basic principle is to dissipate rotational forces by having a low-friction layer between the outer shell and inner of the helmet. This mechanism imitates the brain’s own means of protecting itself ie the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain and is itself a low-friction layer between the brain and the skull. A neat bit of biomimicry.

The finite element model of a human head to the left shows the strain in the brain when wearing a helmet with MIPS technology on the right and a standard helmet on the left. The more red in the image the higher the strain in the brain and the higher the chance of injury to the brain.

Website link: MIPS – How it works

TacSat Razor Antenna, Selex ES

TacSat Razor Antenna

Thread developed and prototyped the carry bag of the TacSat Razor Antenna during development. The mechanism that deploys the antenna is wonderful (it delighted us geeks here at Thread) and the tight tolerances on the mechanism meant the bag had to be extremely tightly toleranced too. This sounds simple but ‘hard’ prototypers talk about tolerances of +/- 0.1mm whereas textiles tend to be on more of a +/- 5mm tolerance scale. A tricky interface!

Website link: Selex ES, Press Release, 7th May 2014

Website link: TacSat Razor deployment demonstration

HMS Argus painted with dazzle camouflage

Hiding in plain sight

In a recent meeting there was a discussion about obscuring the outline of an object or body which reminded me of this early and bold camouflage. There was no science behind it when it was created just a feeling that it might make things more difficult. Recent research at the University of Bristol has shown that for large, slow-moving boats it is ineffective but for faster moving vehicles, such as a land-based car or truck, it may well provide an advantage. A surprising way to make something more difficult to discern.

Website link: That old razzle dazzle, The Economist, June 7th 2011

Website link: Camouflage, detection and identification of moving targets,Proceedings of the Royal Society B – Biological Sciences, vol 280.

A fabric-covered wing being made during WW1

Wind turbine blades covered in fabric? A modern technology that sounds like an old one.

With increasing demand for sustainable alternatives so it makes sense to minimise the weight of the sustainable energy production system so that it’s easier to deliver and uses less fossil fuel to do so! GE are developing a woven fabric that is based on fibreglass and will be tough and flexible. It will be tensioned over a steel frame and could be assembled on site rather that requiring expensive fibreglass lay-up moulds and avoiding the need to transport a blade that is 10’s of metres long.

Its interesting that technological developments can often seem cyclical, fabric covered wing structures were used in the first aeroplanes as it created a lightweight, relatively rigid structure and now that concept is being reused and updated with tecnical textiles.

Website link: GE Reports: “Can you knit a wind turbine?”, 3rd December 2012

Mamascent – brings Mama’s scent to baby’s bottle


Mamascent™ is a bottle attachment that recreates the sensory benefits of breastfeeding for bottle-fed babies. It consists of a pad that becomes infused with the smell of the mother. A petal from the pad can be attached to a bottle to calm and comfort baby during bottle feeding.

Thread designed and developed the injection moulded clip that fits around the bottle teat (and under the lid) and the distinctive flower-shaped pad as well as sourcing manufacturers for both.

Harry & Jack Jet pack

5-4-3-2-1-Jet Pack is launched!

It’s always pleasing when a product we’ve worked on reaches the market. Thread undertook Design for Manufacture refinement and manufacturing samples for Harry & Jack’s. This is a product that brought a smile to our faces. I think we’re probably all too old and big to have a jet pack rucksack now though…….aren’t we?

Website link: Harry & Jack’s – Adventure Packs™

From stretchy bat wings to stretchy batteries

Researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Illinois have developed a lithium-ion battery that can be stretched to 300% of its original size and still function. Not quite as good as a bat wing (see below) but when compared to a standard, solid battery rather extraordinary. One suggested use is for implantation into the body where flat, rigid batteries would not be suitable.

Website link: Northwestern University elastic lithium-ion battery

Brilliant bat wings

Having started thinking about the BMW GINA car the photo of it with its door open started me thinking about bat wings and flight.

There are several brilliant things about bat wings and flight. When a bat is flying it folds its wing on the upstroke which can generate up to 50% more lift. Also, the skin of its wing can stretch by 400% without breaking.

Website link: Brown University robotic bat wing

(left) Blowfly eggs on a moulded zip and (right) a standard coil zip

An unexpected context for a discussion about zip quality

It’s not often there’s an overlap between textile product design and forensic science, but research undertaken by Poulomi Bhadra (an MSc student at King’s College, London) in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police and the Natural History Museum seems to have found one. The research project, “Factors influencing accessibility of bodies to blowflies”, looked at the rate of decompostion of (in this case pigs) relative to differences in the zips on bags and suitcases. This included the quality of manufacture of the zip! Cheaper moulded zips tend not to be made to the tightest tolerances so the teeth do not fit exactly together. (More importantly to Thread cheap zips don’t run as smoothly and occasionally the teeth break.) Coil zips were found to be better at keeping out blowflies which is slightly surprising as most waterproof and airtight zips are moulded.

Website link: Metropolitan Police, “Insects hold key to forensic advances”, 8th August 2013

Leckey Leeway pelvic harness Design Healthcare Medical

Leckey Leeway launched!

The Leckey Leeway pelvic cradle (that Thread helped Leckey to develop) has just been launched. It provides improved postural support and proprioceptive feedback for wheelchair users. The improved hip position can improve upper body posture and position which in turn can improve breathing, head carriage and even appetite! The product developed from the insight that a windsurfing harness keeps the hips in a good position and improves proprioception. A great example of looking at one atypical situation (we’re not all windsurfers!) for inspiration in another atypical situation.

Website link: Leckey Leeway, pelvic harness

Featherweight feet

3D knitted spikes by Nike

The upper of the Nike Flyknit is like no other trainer or spike. Instead of being created from a number of panels stitched together it is knitted as a single piece (including the tongue). The upper has different properties in different areas. This allows the upper to be supportive where needed whilst also being breathable and incredibly light. At 110g it weighs roughly half of what a standard pair of spikes would. As an athlete (realistically an ex-athlete but I haven’t quite hung up my spikes), this sounds incredible. The lighter the shoe, the less energy you waste by making your feet heavier. Also, the more connected you feel to the ground which can help to improve running technique. The manufacturing engineer in me is intrigued by the 3D knitting process that came out of 4 years of R&D and required new machines to be developed. Perhaps understandably Nike don’t seem to have made public much technical detail of how these magical knitting machines work. That’s one factory I would love to have a good look around!

Website link: Nike Flyknit performance track spike

A very small section of techtextil 2013

techtextil 2013 – international tradefair for technical textiles and non-wovens

We’ve just returned from the techtextil tradefair in Frankfurt. Technical textiles and non-wovens as far as the eye could see! Some interesting new materials and some great new suppliers. Lots of development happening in the integration of leds into textiles. I think we’re still a way off it being a mainstream technology though (it’s those pesky batteries that are needed). Now to sort through all the samples, business cards and brochures!

Website link: techtextil

BMW Gina

A fabric-covered car

The BMW GINA concept car was made a few years ago but I started thinking about it the other day. It’s such a different way of thinking of a car. I like the idea of questioning the obvious: in this case, the assumption that safety comes from a big hard shell.

Website link: BMW GINA concept car video

Keira with Anna and floral leg

Is it a prosthetic limb or is it a work of art?

Just finished a quote for some potential work on prosthetic limbs (which we’re very excited about). We came across this amazing organisation during a bit of background research. The Alternative Limb Project creates prosthetic limbs for individuals, either ones that are so realistic it’s disconcerting in a ‘why isn’t that attached to a person?’ kind of a way or incredible limbs that are definitely not designed to match a typical limb. It seems strange to be thinking of a prosthetic limb as a fashion accessory but this one surely must be?

“My attitude to being an amputee and wearing an artificial limb has changed with time. To begin with one is very aware of being different, of being disfigured, but as time moves on one adjusts and changes perspective. In the first few years my focus was on trying to be normal, wearing clothes that hid the fact that I was an amputee, but over the years I have become more comfortable with who I am and I now embrace having different legs for different activities and different occasions”
Kiera Roche, Chairperson for Limb Power

Website link: The Alternative Limb Project

Website link: Limb Power – life after limb loss

Rock making!

A vintage video of how to make rock!

This video from 1957 of a rock making factory in London is astonishing. The letters in rock seemed magical enough anyway but now they seem even more extraordinary. Sometimes things are made in the most unexpectedly simple way. In the case of rock, a bit of scaling makes it all work perfectly: build really big letters and then stretch them until they’re small. (I also think the voiceover and background music adds a little extra charm.)

Website link: British Pathé video clip archive

Iris Van Herpen and Materialise 3D printed dress

The end of the seam? 3D printed garments on the catwalk at Paris Fashion Week S/S 2013

A series of garments were shown in Iris Van Herpen’s collection at Paris Fashion Week S/S 2013 that were 3D printed in a single piece using Materialse’s Mammoth Sterolithography machines. As they are created in a single piece they have no seam lines. This has an especially beautiful effect as the ‘fabric’ they have created has a lace-like structure that is able to run down from the shoulders and under the arm in a continuous pattern rather than having break lines where the panels of the dress would usually be stitched together. The shape and form of most tailored garments from suits to waterproof jackets for skiing, climbing etc are created through the positioning of seams and darts and the seam itself can change the proprties of the material at that point (eg. making it stiffer and less flexible). If the garment is created in a single piece it breaks the link between material property and shape. This sounds like it has potential for more function driven applications such as postural support garments and protective clothing where the item has to have certain properties (eg stiffness, stretch or permeability) but the fit and comfort of the garment is paramount to its overall success.

Website link: Materialise – large scale 3D printed of total garments

Website link: Iris Van Herpen – Voltage haute couture collection

Patagonia R4 wetsuit

A wool-lined wetsuit? I kid you not

standard vs merino vs synthetic cropped

Here at Thread we love natural fibres, particularly Merino wool, so it’s brilliant to see it being used by Patagonia to line their frigid water wetsuit. The fibres of Merino wool are much smaller and smoother than most other wools so it can be worn next to the skin without being itchy. The image above shows standard wool on the left, Merino wool in the middle and a synthetic fibre on the right. The merino is as fine as the synthetic but has all the marvellous properties of wool; such as not smelling after you sweat in it and being warm when it’s wet (due to water getting trapped inside the fibre itself and providing extra insulation) unlike synthetics.

Patagonia have blended it with polyester to improve its durability (and probably reduce cost and make a more predictable fabric). The Merino lining means that thinner Neoprene can be used for the same level of insulation. Here’s to happy warm surfing in the winter!

Website link: Patagonia R4 wetsuit

Cork bowl

An intriguing cork material

This bowl is made of 100% cork but processed in such a way that it apparently feels more similar to leather and is very pliable. This seems like it could be useful for something less decorative and more function-led. Cork provides excellent insulation (I think I’ve heard that is was used on the early Russian spacecraft) and protection from impact. It says it’s 100% cork but I wonder if there are any adhesives, resins etc used to bind it together? It seems there probably are so not quite 100% cork…

Website link: how cork is made

Website link: Adjust-a-bowl at Branch, sustainable design for living

How to make a bra…

It is both surprising and perhaps obvious that the process of making a bra is complex, careful and time consuming. A good bra has high requirements; to be lightweight, structurally robust and tailored to fit a variety of breast shapes. On top of that, it should look good.

RoboJelly: hydrogen fuel powered biomimetic jellyfish

Researchers at the Bio-Inspired Materials and Devices Laboratory at Virginia Tech have developed and are testing a hydrogen fuel powered robotic jellyfish. The jellyfish consists of a silicone bell structure with nano-platinum catalyst-coated multi-wall carbon nanotube (MWCNT) sheets, wrapped on the surface of nickel–titanium (NiTi) shape memory alloy. As a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen gases makes contact with the platinum, the resulting exothermic reaction activates the nickel–titanium (NiTi)-based shape memory alloy which flexes thus causing the jellyfish to propel itself.

Website link: Smart Materials and Structures: Hydrogen-fuel-powered bell segments of biomimetic jellyfish (article abstract)

Website link: Virginia Tech: Bio-Inspired Materials and Devices Laboratory – Alex Villanueva

Dress-up: digital pattern-cutting from a physical mannequin

The Igarashi Design Interface Project at the Japan Science and Technology Agency is developing software that allows the user to draw in physical space on a mannequin to generate digital patterns that can be manipulated in software. There are a few basic tools for creating sweeps of fabric, cut-outs and seam lines. I can see this being really useful for other fabric products like personal protective equipment (where fit and so ergonomics are vital), pushchair hoods (which can be made up of sveral compound curves in 3-D – not easy to model in 3-D software alone) etc. I hope this is developed further…and soon.

Wrecking crew orchestra – electroluminescent-suited stop motion dancers

Wrecking crew orchestra is made up of eight Japanese men who perform dance routines wearing electroluminescent suits. You might expect the result to be bad, inane, cheesy or all three but the choreography makes it a delight. Makes me think of the type of Japanese theatre (Bunraku?) where the pupeteers wear black to blend in to the background

Website link: iLuminate: wearable, wireless lighting system

Kranium with shell

An alternative cylcle helmet 2…Kranium – a head protector made of cardboard

Kranium is made of ribs of corrugated cardboard that are slotted together into an array. Under impact the ribs can flex to absorb energy and under extreme loading the cardboard will crumple. When tested at Imperial College against the British Standards (EN 1078) it performed 4 times better than standard expanded polystyrene helmets. Kranium was the subject of Anirudha Surabhi’s masters in Innovation Design engineering at the Royal College of Art.

Website link: Kranium: effective cycling protection

hovding collar

An alternative cylcle helmet…Hövding – an inflatable head protector

Hövding starts as a collar which deploys in an accident to protect the head, much like an airbag would. Hövding started out as Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin’s industrial design master thesis at Lund University in spring 2005. Their aim was to try to make a helmet so attractive that people would choose to wear it rather than being made to by law. 7 years later they can be bought through their website.

Website link: Hövding: the invisible bike helmet

Extreme Rhino relocation

I’m specifying the strength requirements for webbing straps on a product. I don’t think I need it quite as robust as the webbing below though.

Extreme loading on webbing straps: Rhino relocation
This photo is from the latest rhino move, where 19 of the creatures were taken by WWF, Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency, SANParks, and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife on a 1,000 mile journey across South Africa to reside in a new location in the Limpopo province. There are only about 5,000 critically endangered black rhinos in all of Africa. Because they’re not the most social of animals, they need a lot of space to roam around and play their rhino games. This means that, as populations slowly recover, they need to be spread out. In the past, moving a rhino involved tranquilizing it, loading it into a truck, and carting it over bumpy African roads. This was not good for the rhino. Sometimes, rhinos were carried by helicopters in nets, but that led to breathing problems. Today, conservationists are using a new technique–tying the animals by the ankles and flying them by helicopter–to get rhinos from one place to another.

Website link: Operation rhino drop, co.exist: world changing ideas and innovation

how to be simple

Today I’m creating patterns for a product and the following piece of advice sprang to mind.

“Saying that someone is simple is a little bit insulting, whereas it should be the highest compliment. It’s very simple to make things difficult and very difficult to make things simple. Things generally start simple, get difficult, then become simple again. The middle bit is where you learn the value of simplicity and try to regain it.”

Website link: The Guardian, 17th March 2007

Steve Jobs on design

“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.”
Steve Jobs, Fortune Magazine, 2000