The Impacts of Sensory Textiles at NTU

Textiles are known for their aspects of tactility, with touch being a huge aspect used in the design process. With my idea of a making process using embroidery to help those with anxiety, I feel that exploring the impacts of sensory textiles is very important.

The design of smart textiles is currently being researched to explore the aspects of comfort as well as decreased feelings of anxiety it provides those who have mental health problems. Currently the project is being carried out at Nottingham Trent University by Dr Sarah Kettley who is a product design reader. In collaboration with the charity Mind, the project inquired into the positive impacts smart textiles has on those with mental illness, and also gave them a safe space to indulge in a new skill, as well as grow their confidence.

“The aim of the research was to raise new questions about how e-textiles can be personalised and how they can empower people and help them express their creativity. In undertaking the research through the person-centred approach, we were able to see how participants experienced fewer symptoms of anxiety which also enabled them to become more involved in the project.” – Dr Kettley

Textiles project
The project in process, with Dr Sarah Kettley on far right.

Nottingham Trent University has put £333,000 towards their research, with taking the decision to the psychological method of a person-centered approach. This an approach which places the trust in the mentally unwell patient, believing they know themselves best, and giving them authentic individual empathy and care they require. Funding from the project was provided as a grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, with up to twenty people taking part in the project.

In collaborative groups, partakers learned how to create their own smart textiles such as fabric push-button switches, embroidered fabric sensors which when touched produce an electrical current, and fabric tilt switches. All of these textile which respond to touch, and could most likely be used in a situation to calm someone down in which they felt high levels of anxiety.

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The participants working away.

Not only did the overall classes improve levels of anxiety, but those involved had better concentration, as well as better self-confidence within themselves in the group. Anxiety is an isolating illness, so I would almost imagine the sense of community created by making the textiles together (and also knowing everyone in the room struggles with a similar issue) would be extremely comforting and help with the loneliness felt by the illness.

“In undertaking the research through the person centred approach, we were able to see how participants experienced fewer symptoms of anxiety which also enabled them to become more involved in the project,” said Kettley.

The project has been so successful that the two of the participants with the improved self esteem were able to attend a national Crafts Council conference in Manchester, as well as present an e-textile workshop to international researchers at the university.

“Being involved in the project has empowered, increased the confidence and developed the skills of people.The programme has enabled those taking part to be co-researchers in a subject they had very little knowledge of and ensured that their voices were heard and their experiences valued,” said Nic Roberts (Notts Mind Network).

Light up gloves have been created by participants, as well as pocket anxiety monitoring devices, and a large scale sculpture showing well-being levels. Definitely a very interesting and relevant approach to how design can make a beneficial product, all while helping the maker. Although smart textiles is an aspect of what I want to create, the technique to bring it all together will be the process of embroidery. Having taken an embroidery elective last semester and focusing my project on mental health and the impacts of craft, I already have a very strong research paper on the positive effects. Rather than regurgitate all the information to you, I am going to highly recommend that you give this paper a read for yourself-I am very proud of it! Click here to read. 

 

Bibliography

Bizvibe. 2020. Textile Technology Project Helps Lower Anxiety For Mental Health Patients. [online] Available at: <https://www.bizvibe.com/blog/textiles-and-garments/textile-technology-helps-mental-health/> [Accessed 26 September 2020].

University, N., 2020. Smart Textiles Project Improved Anxiety In Mental Health Patients | Nottingham Trent University. [online] Ntu.ac.uk. Available at: <https://www.ntu.ac.uk/about-us/news/news-articles/2017/01/smart-textiles-project-improved-anxiety-in-mental-health-patients> [Accessed 26 September 2020].

Wilson, R., 2017. Designing Smart Tech Lowers Mental Anxiety. [online] Electronics Weekly. Available at: <https://www.electronicsweekly.com/news/designing-smart-tech-lowers-mental-anxiety-2017-01/> [Accessed 26 September 2020].

 

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