The Austin Chronicle

DIY Tech

By Melanie Haupt, March 10, 2008, 8:06am, SXSW

Maybe “sewing” and “knitting” in the old-school manner don’t really matter that much within the scope of Saturday's panel "High-Tech Craft: Why Sewing and Knitting Still Matter," as no actual sewing or knitting was discussed (nor why they still matter). Instead, the DIY crafter-panelists were more concerned about the state and future of the marriage of fashion and technology.

As each panelist introduced herself, she shared a high-tech crafting or sewing project. Former Project Runway contestant Diana Eng revealed a skirt designed using mathematics; specifically, a formula that formed a ruffle in the skirt. Alison Lewis, producer of the crafty blog SWITCH and an instructor of Fashion Technology at the Parsons School of Design, showed how she made a purse that lit up inside. Mouna Andraos showed off her Mp3 scarf, and Syuzi Pakhchyan bragged on her interactive finger puppets.

After the introductions, moderator Natalie Zee Drieu, senior editor of Craft magazine, asked Lewis and Eng to share the stories of how they were taught by their mothers and grandmothers to embrace crafting.
Lewis told the story of her grandmother, Alice Merryman, who died last year at 100 years old. Merryman, upon being widowed at age 55, taught herself to paint, crochet, and the Native American art of cornshuckery. “By keeping her hands busy, she kept her mind busy,” Lewis said. “It was positive and social, and she had a great attitude about sharing and learning.”

From there, Drieu queried the panelists as to where they get their concepts for their projects. Pakhchyan asserted that for her, technology was just another palette. Andraos said that she spends time deciphering things in a language not made for DIYers, which can be a little frustrating. She advised the audience not to fear breaking things up and experimenting with raw material and combining stitching with hacking up electronics.

And that, right there, is the gist of the panel in a nutshell: Hacking and sharing. Every panelist envisioned a fashion + technology future based on open-source sharing, interaction between designers and consumers, and that relationships developed online can develop through fashion and crafting.
In closing, Drieu issued a sort of manifesto for the high-tech DIY crafter: “The word craft has lost its meaning. Back in the day craft meant woodworking, sewing, artisanal skills. The idea of craft got lost and now has a bad connotation. We need to bring back the idea that it’s the art of making something.”

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