Dream textiles woven from light

Optical fibre in communications is a familiar application, in theory at least, if not in actual sight. But a postgraduate at the Scottish College of Textiles, Sarah Taylor, has taken fibre optic technology for a spin and is experimenting with optical fabrics which can be woven with optical fibres and can potentially form 3D shapes.

As with any new material, the applications are not inherently obvious, but the use of optical fibres woven into textiles is finding some interesting markets.

In the medical field, optical textiles can stimulate the mentally handicapped. In the military field, the characteristics of the fibres could be used to produce uniforms that are clever as well as smart, such as camouflage, for example. Here, a military uniform could change colour in the presence of danger, such as chemical or heat, or when a laser beam is pointed at a soldier to locate his position in the field.

But already, companies are using woven optical fibres for backlighting LCDs, as well as for machine vision and membrane switch applications.

Taylor’s aim was to produce a light emitting material that would be practical, versatile and capable of being woven into 3D and aesthetically pleasing fabrics.

In her thesis, she concluded that this is possible using a 0.25mm end-glow polymer as the weft (running widthways) and nylon monofilaments as the warp (running lengthways). The ends of the weft are gathered into a bundle which is fitted to a projector. Collimated light from the projector enters the end of each fibre and travels along its core by reflecting repeatedly off the cladding. Light escapes from the fibres where they are bent by the weave. Switching and filtering the projector output makes the fabric continuously change colours and appear to move. Sculpted shapes can be produced if elastic yarns are added to the warp or weft.

The Japanese company Mitsubishi Rayon is sponsoring the development of the fabrics, but Taylor is keen to collaborate with any other industrial partners who may be able to improve the technology further. Already, one of her fabrics has been chosen to be shown at the prestigious 1997 5th International Textile Competition sponsored by the Prefecture of Kyoto.

{{Scottish College of TextilesTel: Galashiels (01896) 753351Enter 403}}