Over the past several years, concerns about the ethics of textile production have substantially increased. A significant percentage of fabrics are produced in sweatshops that require intensive, intricate labor for extremely low pay. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, only 14.7 percent of all textiles were recycled in 2018, while 11.3 million tons accumulated in landfills. A popular current solution to these concerns is upcycling, which involves using the lowest possible amount of waste to produce items.
One recent exciting and ambitious approach to sustainable textiles is DefeXtiles, a tulle-esque printed fabric compatible with all common 3D printers. Thanks to intelligent engineering, these textiles are flexible, durable, and versatile. Per their name, DefeXtiles intentionally exploits a 3D printing defect known as under-extrusion, which add gaps to fused deposition modeling (FDM) printing.
"Gap defects [can] afford the prints greater flexibility than a continuous sheet of plastic," said a statement by the DefeXtiles team. "By leveraging the periodic deposition and stretching of thermoplastics, we generate textiles in a single nozzle pass."
With DefeXtiles, users of various skill levels can easily turn digital clothing designs into tangible items. The fabrics are extremely intuitive and can be used in a wide variety of ways without complicated training. Just a few processes users can explore with DefeXtiles include decorating the fabrics with intricate patterns, heat bonding or sewing them to existing textiles, or de-pleating them.
DefeXtiles' patterning process uses glob-stretch printing, which stacks globs of fabric on top of each other. This warps the fabric in a way that makes it ultra-flexible and stretchy while allowing the user to control its look.
"A key advantage of our approach is it requires no preparatory steps, no mandatory post-processing, no extra nozzle movements, and no specialized printing hardware," said the DefeXtiles team. "Because of this, our approach allows us to combine the affordances of textiles with nearly all the benefits of well-developed 3D printing workflows. That is, support of a diverse range of materials and forms, hands-free fabrication, rapid production and iteration, full use of the print volume, and computer-aided design."
The DefeXtiles team hopes to revolutionize fashion by drastically decreasing waste. One proposed use is as a safe, physical alternative to virtual dressing rooms. In this scenario, a consumer could try on a DefeXtiles prototype of the garment in question to make sure it fits correctly. The material could also replace samples in fashion and costume design, which would help designers cut back on fabric waste and cost.
"Once the try-on is complete, the [garment] can be remelted and recycled into a new 3D printing filament to be used in the future," the DefeXtiles team said.
DefeXtiles presents an alternative to fabric production that is not only environmentally friendly, but easily accessible to new designers, and can satisfy a wide range of functions and aesthetic possibilities. The team created a handful of examples to illustrate the versatility of their fabric. In addition to a layered skirt, the designers used the fabric to make a lampshade, a badminton shuttlecock, an iron-on pocket, and an interactive dancing puppet.
"Due to the widespread use and accessibility of FDM printers, we envision this approach can immediately empower a wide audience with the ability to fabricate fabric into finished forms," the DefeXtiles team continued. "We hope DefeXtiles can enrich HCI's maker toolbox and lower the barrier of entry to computational textile design."