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Looking forward, looking Eastward…

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During lockdown the Thread team was fragmented with most of us at home (and communicating digitally) and only physical prototyping tasks taking place at the studio. Now we’re all (except one) back in the studio we can get back to our normal (but precious) face-to-face process of collaboration.

All the physical upheaval and emotional strain of the last 6 months has brought the importance of the overall health of Thread into sharp focus. I was looking for a structure to guide me in this and began researching the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) which is used in Bhutan as an alternative measure of a country to Gross Domestic Produce (GDP). I’ve been reading (and getting much inspiration from) “Proposed GNH of Business” by Tshoki Zangmo, Karma Wangdi and Jigme Phuntsho.

What lies beneath…

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…beneath our clothes we have our underwear and mostly we don’t forensically examine it but this is not how Amber Butchart sees it. She is a consultant forensic garment analyst for the UK police. Her background in vintage clothing allows her to date any clothing found with a dead body and she says underwear dates particularly well. Her skill and knowledge in recognising the age, construction and composition of clothing can add vital information in identifying a victim. As Butchart notes, “this has more social value than selling old clothes”. And curiously her methods of helping Crime Scene Officers describe clothing has a wider value. She educates them in the need to see items specifically and fairly; so no ‘ethnic’ used to describe everything from Indian Batik to Ghanain Kente. As she puts it “Describe it….don’t infer interpretation” . This seems pretty sound advice for everday life.

Amber Butchart: Consultant Forensic Garment Analyst

….seashells sum some stiff and some stretch to stay stuck

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Mussels are able to cling on in the face of waves that ought to overwhelm the adhesive strength of the glue that bonds them to the rocks. When the complete system (shell, byssus threads, glue and all) is modelled and analysed it turns out that the combination can withstand forces many times higher that the glue strength predicts. The byssus threads are composed of a combination of stiff and stretchy materials. The integration of rigid and flexible materials yields performance that gives the mussel a competitive edge in turbulent seas. This rings true for us at Thread. We find combining engineering knowledge of rigid materials with textiles skill and experience yields similar results.

Thread: what we do

Just hanging on: Why mussels are so good at it, MIT news office, 23rd July 2013

She spins sea silk by the seashore…..

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It was known to ancient Chinese traders as mermaid silk and mentioned on the Rossetta Stone. Those who weave it swear a Sea oath to never profit from its production and there’s only one weaver of it left in the world: Chiara Vigo ( Byssus silk is a mind-boggling textile. It’s made from the bundle of filaments that molluscs use to attach themselves to rocks. When collected together these filaments look like spun sugar and are three times finer than human hair. To make 200g of textile requires 300 dives.

Darn and (skin)graft!

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The idea of darning up a missing piece of skin on a human being sounds like the kind of medicine Lewis Caroll and Tim Burton might dream up but it could now be possible in the real world.

Work at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Bordeaux showed that “any textile approach is feasible: knitting, braiding, weaving, even crocheting.” Here at Thread we work on many medical products that are in contact with the human body. The properties of textiles are well suited to close contact with the body. They can be flexible, soft, and permeable while providing support and maintaining position. When synthetic threads and scaffolds are used they can trigger an immune response.

Like water off everyone’s back….

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Chloe Ball-Hopkins isn’t like most of us. Where most of us, if we found ourselves miserably soaking wet at a festival because there wasn’t suitable wet weather gear for us, would complain and probably have a hot bath when we got home, she decided to contact fashion retailer Asos to suggest they make the suitable gear. She then collaborated with them and the result is a waterproof jumpsuit that is designed to suit wheelchair and able bodied users alike. The jacket and top can be zipped together/apart so it’s easy to get into and out of or can be worn as a jacket or trousers on its own. It also features a waterproof pocket for medication or a phone.

website link: Asos Collaborates With Paralympian Chloe Ball-Hopkins, Vogue, July 5th 2018

Like water off a duck’s back…

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…but for the rest of us we rely on our waterproof jackets to stay dry in the rain. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly well-known that much of the technology used can accumulate in the environment and in body tissue. A team at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have developed a waterproofing technology that is both a technical and environmental breakthrough. They started with short-chain polymers (which only bioaccumulate a little but tend to perform worse) rather than long-chain polymers that are typically used (that bioaccumulate a lot but perform better). They then used a process to apply the waterproofing that had been developed at MIT called initiated chemical Vapour Deposition (iCVD). Whereas usually a material is submerged in a liquid waterproofing  that blocks the pores of the fabric thus requiring a further process to open them up again to make a breathable fabric, iCVD doesn’t blog the pores in the first place. the technology is being further developed and the team are looking to license it to outdoor and clothing brands and manufacturers.

website link: MIT Develops Nontoxic Alternative to Water-Repellent Coatings, MIT Press Office, July 2nd 2018

From bin to burns..

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Most of us would rather not consider the possibility of sustaining a serious burn and in that situation the last place we would expect a medical professional to look for a treatment option would be food waste but sometimes the most valuable things are in the oddest places. The skin of the Tilapia fish has been trialed as a dressing for 2nd and 3rd degree burns at the IJF (Institute Doctor José Frota) Hospital in Fortaleza, Brazil. The research was instigated by Marcelo Borges, a plastic surgeon who had spent three decades working on burn wounds. He read an article about the use of Tilapia skin in handcrafted products that mentioned that the other 99% that wasn’t used was a worthless waste product. Human and pig skins are already in use as a treatment in certain burns cases but these specially prepared, sterilised and stored skins are not available in high enough volumes to treat Brazillian burns victims. So Borges decided to investigate if Tilapia skin would be a viable alternative and it turned out in some ways to be superior with twice the amount of collagen type 1 and 3 (important in healing and scarring) and in some cases a single application of Tilapia skin can remain on the patient until scarring and healing occur which removes the painful changing of dressing required with a cream and gauze approach.


Jack-Jack doesn’t have any powers..No? Well, he’ll look fabulous anyway

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I cut it a little roomy for the free movement, the fabric is comfortable for sensitive skin… [a sheet of flame erupts in front of the suit] And it can also withstand a temperature of over 1000 degrees. Completely bulletproof… [four heavy machine guns appear and open fire on the suit, without effect] And machine washable, darling. That’s a new feature.”


Thread Loves Edna Mode in The Incredibles.

Nobody’s skin…

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Assuming you’re happy that yeast is definitely not an animal (it’s a fungus….I double-checked) then Zoa is an animal-free alternative to leather. as far as I understand it there’s a bit of DNA cut-and-shut which is re-homed into little yeast cell factorys which grow the Zoa. No animals so no expensive feeding of animals and no expensive and ethically-open-to-discussion killing animals. It’s been in development for years and is finally being tweaked and embodied into products as we speak. Sadly not by us (yet) but we hope to get our hands on some soon. We’re always looking for more materials to add to our library.

Website link: Zoa by Modern Meadow



Whose skin?

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This morning I was looking at the Pantone website as we want to update our colour reference materials. My eye was caught by their skin matching books which claim to provide “a comprehensive visual reference of human skin tones”. The front cover appears to show a fair range but how they’ve fanned out the sample book seems to reinforce the default of ‘skin’ colour meaning caucasian skin colour. This is an assumption we came across when we worked on prosthesis cosmeses (covers for prosthetic limbs) that have a ‘skin’ colour stocking over the top. It’s interesting to note that truly inclusive design needs to start the second we open our mouths, at the very start of any discussion.

Website link: Prosthesis Cosmesis design: improved realism, longer life

No exaggeration, I think saddle points are amazing..

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I find saddle points (or hyperbolic paraboloids as they’re mathematically known) a deeply pleasing shape. This little hook was developed as part of a large project we’ve been collaborating on. It’s strong and safe as it has no sharp edges.

For more hyperbolic paraboloid and origami joy pop down the rabbit hole that is the website of Erik Demaine

Website link: Erik Demaine


Woodn’t it be nice….

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Wouldn’t it be nice to have even natural light in a room regardless of the position of the sun in the sky? One unexpected way to achieve this could be to use wooden panels. Clearly (!) not just an 8′ x 4′ from the builder’s merchant but a new transparent material developed At the University of Maryland. The wood is soaked in a solution to remove the lignin that gives wood its brown colour. Unfortunately removing the lignin also removes its strength and so the material then needs to be treated with epoxy to restore it.

Website link: Wood windows are cooler than glass, University of Maryland, August 16th 2016

Silent language at your fintertips

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This glove may look cumbersome but it could seriously reduce the communication burden for thousands of sign language users. It can translate the 26 letters of ASL (American Sign Language) into text and the current version was built for less that $100 using stretchable and printable electronics that are easily commercially available. The glove has the potential to allow sign language users to travel through everyday situations such as train stations or supermarkets without needing a human translator to communicate their questions or needs.

Website link: Low-Cost Smart Glove Translates American Sign Language Alphabet and Controls Virtual Objects, 12th July 2017, University of California, San Diego

Visual samples

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We produce beautifully finished textile based prototypes of concepts for our clients to use in many different ways.

Market research, user research, for demonstrations, photo and video work.

We work hard to create prototypes that work right and look great. To get the right feel, we make these prototypes with representative materials. We work to bring the appearance as close as possible to the intended product. We do this by matching colours where possible, and applying logos and branding.

As a result, our clients can use these prototypes to get meaningful feedback from customers, to sell projects both internally and externally and generate a buzz around their projects.


Golden samples are preproduction samples that represent the construction, look and feel of the end product as closely as possible to eliminate ambiguity. A golden sample is made (along with technical specifications) to guide manufacturer in the intended look and feel construction and quality of the product. This is especially required in the case of complex products because a finished article communicates so much more than a set of drawings. Manufacturers use this information for their sampling prior to production.

With a well made golden sample in yours and your manufacturer’s hand, you’ll be able to translate your concept into a great product more easily.


Old skills, new product

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As a child Dr Franz Freudenthal visited indigenous communities in the mountains of Bolivia with his doctor grandmother. On these trips she would quote a snippet of Rudyard Kipling “Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the mountains. Something lost behind the mountains. Lost and waiting for you. Go!” It seems unlikely he could have predicted the importance of the words or the trips. As a paediatric cardiologist he went on to utilise the weaving skills of the indigenous Aymara women to develop an implant to close ‘holes in the heart’.

The device is woven by Aymara women in a clean room environment from a single strand of Nitinol, a nickel-titanium alloy that is superelastic and has shape memory. These material properties allow the woven implant to be compressed inserted into the body via a catheter in the groin and only expanded to its ‘top hat’ form when it is correctly positioned in the heart.

“The most important thing is that we try to get really really simple solutions for complex problems” Dr Franz Freudenthal, Paediatric Cardiologist

Website link: “A new way to heal hearts without surgery”, TED 

Exosuit white blue

Exosuit Launches!

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We are delighted that in March 2019 Exosuit was launched. Exosuit gives athletes proprioceptive feedback to help improve posture, stability and feeling of power. To help make this possible Thread iteratively developed the garment and it’s patented technology with Exosuit. It was tested and refined in conjunction with Progressive Sports in Loughborough and now this amazing technical garment is available to buy.

Cracked egg

Solid state from a fragile source?

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It’s possible that future computers could have memory devices based on eggshells as researchers at the Guizhou Institute of Technology have been prototyping a new form of solid-state memory. Eggshells were processed to form a material that changed its resistance in response to a voltage being applied across it thus making it suitable for use as a ReRAM (resistive random access memory) device. This egg-centric research might offer the possibility of an environmentally friendly, low-cost and sustainable material for the next-generation of non-volatile date storage device.

Website link: “A larger nonvolatile bipolar resistive switching memory behaviour fabricated using eggshells”, Current Applied Physics, Volume 17, Issue 2, February 2017

A playful solution to a serious problem

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A focus on frugality and a willingness to explore unlikely mechanisms has led this team of Stanford bioengineers to develop an incredibly low cost ‘paperfuge’ – a centrifuge made of paper that requires no electricity – as a diagnostic tool to serve the one billion people worldwide who live without infrastructure such as roads and electricity.

Website link: Inspired by a whirligig toy, Stanford bioengineers develop a 20-cent, hand-powered blood centrifuge, 10th January 2017, Stanford University

Merry Christmas 2018!

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Wishing all our clients, suppliers and collaborators a very merry Christmas and a happy new year. We look forward to working together in 2019!

Fungus based leather alternative

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We’re always interested to come across materials that meet particular requirements. In this case a leather alternative that is not an animal product. Muskin is a material based on a large parasitic fungus that grows on trees in subtropical forests. It is similar in appearance to suede-leather and its texture can be stiff like cork or softer.

It reminds me of another unusual textile I’ve written about before here

Website link: MuSkin, LifeMaterials

Bat Bot the aerobatic robot

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I have an ongoing fascination with bats, bat wings and bat flight and so was delighted to come across this bat-based aerobatic robot. It’s known as Bat Bot (B2) and has been developed at the University of Illinois by postdoctural researcher Alireza Ramezani who describes it as being able to “dance in the air with great composure”.

A real bat wing is incredibly complex and contains over forty joints. This allows the morphology of the surface to change rapidly and significantly and enables a real bat to be agile and nimble in the air. Its younger sibling Bat Bot (B2) has a little catching up to do.

Plastic built by food poisoning (sort of)

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Apparently bacteria can be engineered to produce thermoplastics. This is not a fact I knew and is casually mentioned on the website of the BiOrigami team of undergraduates from Standford and Brown universities who are developing a method of producing plastic and then causing it to fold into useful objects based on E.coli bacteria. This is rather different to injection moulding or extruding an object!

The motivation behind the project is to allow tools to be produced in space by astronauts, for example, on flights to Mars, to help reduce the weight of equipment taken.

Website link: BiOrigami Stanford-Brown

A cracking idea

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A big theme in textiles and materials development at the moment is sustainability and recycling so this story about egg packaging made of eggs has scrambled our minds.

Researchers as Tuskegee University added egg shell nanoparticles (350,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair) to a plastic polymer consisting of 30% PLA (polylactic acid, a polymer derived from cornstarch) and 70% PBAT (polybutyrate adipate terephthalate, a petroleum polymer that, unlike other oil-based plastic polymers, is designed to begin degrading as soon as three months after it is put into the soil). This resulted in a material that was 700% more flexible than other bioplastic blends and this pliability could make it ideal for use in retail packaging, grocery bags and food containers — including egg cartons.

How amazing to be able to make a valuable material out of a waste product!

Website link: Tuskegee University – Eggshell-based nanoparticles could be used in future biodegradable packaging

Hot tap, cold tap

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This morning we were discussing how hot a roomful of 30 people doing tap get in the summer (not a theoretical discussion but a pressing one after a very hot tap class). Another person in the class had a cooling towel which was as cool as if it had been in the fridge. Here at Thread, a casual morning question of ‘how was your evening?’ can quickly descend/ascend into a discussion of evaporative cooling, thermal conduction, absorptive properties of different textiles and potential surface treatments to alter the perceived temperature of a fabric.

The very hungry caterpillar…

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…on saturday he ate through one piece of chocolate cake, one ice-cream cone, one pickle, one slice of swiss chesse, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake, and one sliece of watermelon….and 184mg of supermaket plastic shopping bag.

The Galleria mellonella larva is a very hungry caterpillar indeed.  An amateur beekeeper, Federica Bertocchini, happened upon their amazing digesting and degrading abilities when removing parasitic pests from the honeycombs in her hives. The worms were temporarily kept in a typical plastic shopping bag that became riddled with holes. Bertocchini, from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), collaborated with colleagues Paolo Bombelli and Christopher Howe at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Biochemistry to show that  “The caterpillars are not just eating the plastic without modifying its chemical make-up. We showed that the polymer chains in polyethylene plastic are actually broken by the wax worms,” said Bombelli.

This discovery might lead to a biotechnological solution to the approximately one trillion palstic bags used each year worldwide.

Website link: Caterpillar found to eat shopping bags, suggesting biodegradable solution to plastic pollution, 24th April 2017, University of Cambridge 

Merry Christmas 2017 from Thread!

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2017 has been a great year for Thread – we’ve welcomed two new members to the team! Georgie as a textile prototyper and Elora as a junior designer. Here’s to 2018!

Georgie Leigh

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Georgie is a textile prototyper with a background in costume construction, tailoring and bridal.

Georgie’s interest in costume was born out of a desire to explore different and unusual materials, construction techniques and the chance to create something visually exciting and that communicates to its intended audience.

Having a background in Costume has not only given Georgie strong problem-solving skills and the ability to contribute and advice on design decisions but also means she understands and greatly values the importance of communication during the design and production process. She enjoys creative discussion and liaising with clients to make sure everyone is always kept in the loop.

Georgie has a BA in Costume Interpretation for stage and screen from London University of Art; Wimbledon college.


Thai-ing up some loose ends…

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This month we’re back in Thailand, finalising the production set-up for a product launching later this year. We’ve been developing the product with our client for four years and we can’t say much until it’s launched but here’s a photo of a bit of cardboard engineering (while we wait for a component to arrive) helping to feed some binding tape flat into a sewing machine.

Nike Pro Hijab – a modest improvement

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Great to see Nike have launched a sports Hijab. In 2014 we worked with the pioneering and inspirational Iranian triathlete Shiz Gerami to develop sports clothing that met the Iranian ministry of sport’s modesty requirements, but did not impact on Shiz’s performance in the World triathlon championships. We were delighted to work with her to remove barriers for female athletes who wish to be modestly dressed while exercising. Statistics from Sport England show that just 18% of Muslim women take part in regular sport, compared to 30% of the total female population.

Website link: Shiz Gerami interview, Triathlete magazine, January 19th 2017

Website link: Nike unveils Pro Hijab for female Muslim athletes, Dezeen, March 8th 2017

Shirin Gerami WTS Edmonton

Knitting as the first additive manufacturing

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Interesting to chat to Hal Watts from Unmade at a reception for The 1851 Commission (an amazing organisation who funded both Hal and me to study at the RCA) about knitting as the earliest form of Additive Manufacture. In knitting you take a continuous material to form an object without waste and without removing excess – sounds like additive manufacture, no?

Website link: Unmade

Website link: The Royal Commission for the Great Exhbition of 1851

baby product design

Baby product design for time-strapped parents – Bibado

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Baby product design, BibadoHow can baby product design save parents time? Reduced mess = less tidying.

Rachel and Tom Wood are parents of twins – and time sapped as a result. Seeking to save on tidying and clothes changes (or messy kids) after mealtimes, Rachel began experimenting with bibs. They approached Thread with a prototype made from a broken umbrella that strapped onto highchair trays, because they wanted to turn their functional lash-up into a product.

Thread explored design options and prototyped them for user testing. We developed the chosen concept further to be made from a single pattern piece that was adjustable to increase the age range of the product, and could fit a wide range of high chairs.

This bib catches mess that would otherwise end up on clothes and the floor. We can vouch for it as Thread’s directors tested a pre-production prototype with their first child.

We’re delighted that Bibado has launched this week and is available to buy.

prototype gloves concept

Go Gloves and Wheelchair Prototype

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Thread has recently reconnected with Ben Hubert of Layer, a friend from previous projects. Ben has been working with Materialise on a 3d printed wheelchair. Here are some links to the very good-looking wheelchair and glove prototypes.

We’ve previously worked with Ben back in our earliest days when we were involved with the design and prototyping of the soft parts of the Mamas and Papas Mylo pushchair.


Website link: Go wheelchair

Website link: Go gloves

The future of textiles R&D in the UK

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Thread attended a consultation workshop for the UK textile community exploring textile R & D priorities for 2017-2020 organised by the Knowledge Transfer Network.

One of the main themes was development of textiles that can integrate with data gathering equipment for monitoring purposes eg medical.

Another strong theme was creating textiles that can be recycled easily without decreasing the value of the final textile. Increasing use of laminates in textiles (where several layers with different properties are combined to create a technical textile) can make this more difficult.

Website link: Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN)



Chris Lewis

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Chris is a product designer who became passionate about specialising in products with textiles after designing a technical jacket for hand-cyclists.

For him, design is always driven by the user. He enjoys design challenges and approaches through problem solving and collaboration with the user. His experience of integrating textiles with other disciplines (such as electronics) has fostered his holistic approach to design.

Chris has a BA in Product Design from Cardiff Metropolitan and has just completed his MPhil thesis “Defining a Methodology for the Effective Design Specification of Functional Garments with Integrated Technologies” at the University of South Wales.

The wrong trousers went into space in 1971!

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Inspiration can come from many places and often seems to come from seemingly unrelated fields. I was recently at the Science Museum’s Cosmonauts exhibition and found the clothing particularly fascinating. (Frustratingly for me there was almost no information on what the garments were made of or how they were constructed. I wish I could have opened the cabinets to have a closer look) One item in particular caught my eye and I couldn’t help but wonder if Nick Parks of Aardman Animations might also once have seen them?

Website link: Chibis Lower Body Negative Pressure (LBNP) Device, NASA

Website link: Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age, The Science Museum, 18th September 2015 – 13th March 2016


Mechanical engineering

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We develop and incorporate mechanical and functional features such as mechanisms and moulded fixtures into products we design, and can develop moulded components, mechanisms and internal structural elements.

Industrial design

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We work closely with our clients to realise their aims. Some know exactly what they want their product to be like, and others come to us with a problem to solve. Collaborative sessions are a great way to find solutions, generate ideas and drive innovation:

  • Concept generation creative sessions
  • Workshops with clients and expert teams
  • Making days to create and test concepts quickly

Through 2D sketching, 3D CAD, sketch prototyping and iterative prototyping, we develop concepts from ideas into fully featured working products that fulfil complex requirements. We explore multiple options and test them out so that the end result is the best it can be.

Thread Design and Development


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Making is at the heart of all projects at Thread. We prototype to explore, develop, test, communicate and sell ideas, concepts and products. This important with all design projects, and is especially important with textiles.

Our prototyping studio is well equipped with industrial sewing machines, bonding presses, cutting presses, seam sealing machines, and rolls and rolls of fabrics with which we can make almost anything out of textiles.

In our prototyping workshop and lab, we 3d print assemble mechanical parts of products, test rigs and jigs.

Creatively prototypes are used to explore and build on ideas, we use anything that’s to hand to communicate and test. We call these kinds of prototypes lash-ups or if we’re making a garment, we might call it a toile.

In development, prototypes are important milestones where we can test our ideas. A stake in the ground where we demonstrate our thinking, and learn about our designs. We test their performance, we use them to demonstrate progress, and you can use them to show stakeholders and get buy in.

Iteratively developing a design, we improve, and hone a concept into a product that is ready to manufacture.

We use samples and prototypes to communication the construction, and the quality required to manufacturers. This, along with a specification is how we ensure the most efficient transition a manufactured product.

Get in touch if you need a prototype made, or want to know more:


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Books, Google, primary research, user research, inspiration; all these help to bring understanding to a design project. Insights drive projects and facilitate successful design. Research, and particularly user research helps generate insight.

We also use research to identify manufacturers, suppliers, new technologies and materials, processes and trends.