Thursday, April 21, 2016

Home Ec meets 3D printing

My mother was a pretty fair seamstress, and she made a lot of clothing for me and my sisters.

Of course, just as I always craved “store-bought” cake, which we had in our house once or twice a year (my father had a tremendous sweet tooth, and my mother did scratch baking several times a week), I always craved “store-bought” clothing. As great as everything looked in the pattern book, a home made outfit wasn’t quite couture. Not that something bought off the rack was, either. Still, at least it had the potential of looking like what everyone else was wearing. I say potential because it was just as likely that what my mother bought for us when we did get something she hadn’t made was some sort of off brand. Like that Anderson Little suit that sort of looked like a John Meyer of Norwich. But not quite.

Unlike my mother, and both of my sisters (who still whip up curtains on occasion), I never really learned to sew. The one item I made, a sort of hang-around the house muumuu, had a crooked yoke.

Learning to sew, however, was pretty much a staple requirement for girls during my youth. All of my friends could sew a bit. For starters, we could all sew on buttons, make minor repairs, and hem a skirt. And most of us at least learned the rudiments of cutting out a pattern and working a Singer sewing machine.

I took sewing lessons at the Girls’ Club.

And I was aware that there was something out there called “Home Economics” that public school girls took at some point during high school, while the boys went off and learned how to build a bird house in “Shop.” Catholic schools, in my universe, didn’t go in for Home Ec. Maybe we were too close, generation-wise, to having been maids, seamstresses, cooks, and cleaning ladies. Let those swanky Protestant girls whose grandmothers hadn’t scrubbed floors in the New Country learn how to clean in high school. We would take Latin instead.

I’m guessing that at this point in time, the arrival of boatloads of cheap clothing items has done away with the need to learn to sew. Why toil for valuable hours that could be spent on Snapchat to make a dress you could get at H&M for $20, wear twice, and toss out?

And now, on the horizon, is 3D printing of clothing.

So far, it’s used for the hautest of haute couture, destined for display at the Met’s Costume Institute, clothing that cannot actually be worn by anyone, even if they could afford it to begin with.

But it’s heading our way.

When that happens, “it can be as revolutionary as the sewing machine,” said Andrew Bolton, Manus x Machina’s [Met exhibit] curator. “It means you can 3D print your dress to your exact measurements at home.”

Couture clothes, in the traditional fashion industry definition, are “items made for you, that fit your body,” Bolton explained. Usually that means the garments are expensive, rare, and difficult to obtain. But with 3D printing, this extravagance will move into any home that has a printer. “Because it has the ability to mould exactly to your measurements, it’s environmentally friendly, too” Bolton said. “There’s no waste, whereas there’s always waste with textiles.” (Source: Bloomberg)

So far, most of what’s getting 3D printed is not exactly wearable, unless you’re interested in wearing something highly structured and inflexible. Forget that comfy jersey dress, or even an uncomfortable Lyrca club mini. Forget that flowing, drapey crepe number. The chiffon bridesmaid dress. Body armor is more like it.

But the “early adopters” are working on hard goods: jewelry, footwear, eyewear, pocket books.

Just think, by the time all those self-driving cars are out there, ready to take us shopping, there’ll be no need to actually go shopping. Admittedly, a lot of our shopping is online. But most of us still have occasion to go into a brick and mortar and buy physical goods. We want to see what’s out there. We want to see what’s on sale. We want to do some impulse buying. We want it now.

Before we know it, now will actually be now. Push a button and watch your 3D printer whip you up a little black dress, a new pair of jeans.

Who needs home ec?

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