Embroidered Dresses that Read You Poetry

Currently on display at the TechnoSensual exhibition in Vienna, the Lace Sensor Dresses by 

by Anja Hertenberger and Meg Grant, tell stories — literally and metaphorically.


Each of the three garments produced is embroidered with a poem and embellished with custom-made conductive lace. 


The decorative conductive lace, when pressed, triggers a recording of the poem played through tiny crocheted speakers. 


The garments identity and behavior are inspired by poems sourced from antique embroidery samples. 


Pat is embroidered with a poem about gaining independence and autonomy  through acquisition of a craft/skill. To hear Pat's story, the wearer is required to stand with her hands on her hips — a gesture of power and confidence. 


Sian references a melancholy poem about death and remembrance. To trigger Sian's poem, the wearer embraces herself by crossing her arms across her chest. 


Lastly, Emma tells the story of aching bones caused by difficult work and inadequate tools. Emma's tale of difficult physical labor is triggered by the wearer massaging her own neck while holding her right wrist. 


The larger story here — at least to me — is how technology  reinvents craft and craft inspires technology. 


Perhaps William Morris from the Arts and Crafts movement was wrong. Machined-craft (ie here the conductive lace) in an artist's hands is just as meaningful and expressive as that created entirely by hand. The quality and the beauty of machine fabricated work falls entirely in the hands of the craftsman. 


Read more about the project and process here


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Comment by Vanessa Carpenter on August 13, 2012 at 5:41am

Yay Meg! They turned out beautifully - I hope to one day see them in person, what a beautiful project! :)

Comment by meg on June 23, 2012 at 11:00am

thanks syuzi, for the post and interesting comments.  during this whole project, anja and i were actively exploring these themes of hand vs machine work and what it means for people and communities.  the lace museum is in an area of the netherlands where there is a lace-making tradition, so it makes sense that the factory was built there originally, but would have had an impact on the artisans of the region.

the two technicians we worked with to make the lace had a really special relationship with the machines.  out of 40 or so bobbins, when we asked them to replace four with conductive thread, they watched the machine run for about a minute and then stopped it and grabbed the four threads to replace!  bear in mind that every lace pattern is different and the bobbin carousel (you can see it working in the first part of the film) bears no relation to the lace pattern to the untrained eye!

(ps the last two photos in this post are the same)

Comment by Syuzi on June 20, 2012 at 8:16am

Melissa, do you consider making 10 (small-scale production) to be different than making one? Maybe it's not so much about the numbers as it is about the process. If the artist is intimately involved in the design of 100 items (a combination of machine-crafted and handmade) than the artist never truly becomes divorced and alienated from his product. 

But yes I do believe William Morris was referring to mass-production.

Comment by Melissa Coleman on June 20, 2012 at 7:02am

Lovely pictures. I always enjoy seeing projects that inspire storytelling.

About craft vs machine, as long as we're still talking about one-off pieces I think we're still very much talking about craft, not machine production, even if a machine was used in the process. To me it's more about the closeness of the designer to the production of the piece. The hand of the designer as you put it. As soon as that hand is removed I think Morris is right.

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