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The revolution will not be hand-stitched

Every so often a news item grabs my eyeballs and reminds me that I'm supposed to be an amateur futurologist, because of course SF is all about predicting the future (just like astronomy is all about building really big telescopes, and computer science is all about building really fast computers, and, and [insert ironic metaphor here]).

Via MetaFilter, I stumble across the latest development in 3D printing (now that 3D printed handguns have gone mainstream). Mad props go to another printing startup, although that's not what they're marketing themselves as: Fabrican ...

Fabrican is a unlikely-sounding spin-off of the Department of Chemical Engineering, at Imperial College (which in case you're not familiar with it is one of the top engineering/science colleges in the UK; formerly part of the University of London)—at least, it's unlikely until you begin thinking in terms of emulsions, colloids, and the physical chemistry of nanoscale objects. It's basically fabric in a spray can. Tiny fibres suspended in liquid are ejected through a fine nozzle and, as the supernatant evaporates, they adhere to one another. If at this point you're thinking The Jetsons and spray-on clothing, have a cigar: you've fallen for the obvious marketing angle, because if you're trying to market a new product and raise brand awareness among the public, what works better than photographs of serious-faced scientists with paint guns spray-painting hot-looking models with skin-tight instant leotards? (Note: the technical term for this sort of marketing gambit is, or really ought to be, bukake couture.)

The real marketing value pitch is less ambitious, and buried further down the page. Fabrican currently amounts to spray-on felt; a loose mat of unwoven fibres that adhere to one another and naturally entangle. This is brilliant if you're an auto manufacturer, who wants to do away with the laborious hand-fitting of carpets in your cars (just have the paint shop spray the carpet on the floor panels), or a furniture manufacturer who wants to soften the image of those cheap plastic chairs you sell for lecture theatres or buses and commuter rail.

But the implications go much further, because this is just step one. What we're looking at is the first sign of the shift to 3D printing of clothing (and no, Victoria's Secret doesn't count, other than for novelty value, any more than the Honeywell 316/Nieman Marcus Kitchen Computer of 1969 was a sign of the personal computer revolution to come).

Here's the thing: we live in an age of plenty when it comes to clothing—but it relies on a dirty little secret. Clothing has gotten much, much cheaper over the past century; if you ignore the brand premium on Levi's jeans (which have risen in price in real terms, due to going from cheap workware for manual labourers to premium brand name fashion item), a pair of workman's trousers today cost less than a quarter of the equivalent price in 1900. But this fall in prices is local to us, in the developed world. Fabric is woven on mechanical looms, as it has been for a couple of centuries, and garments are still largely cut and entirely sewn by human hands—the greatest enabler of increased productivity was the sewing machine in the 1850s (and, later, the overlocker/serger and other specialised industrial sewing devices). Our cheap clothes are made in sweatshops by underpaid developing world workers, and as Bangladeshi wages rise, the factories migrate to cheaper nations.

A side-effect of separating garment manufacture from consumers (us) is that they don't fit well, either. There are legends of Chinese clothing factories whose first batch of sized-for-western-girth produce has to be rejected by the buyers because nobody on the shop floor believed that the people they were making clothes for could be so fat. Nor do we, in general, have our cheap clothes adjusted to fit. While it's worthwhile to have an expensive suit or formal gown tailored, who would bother fitting a $10 tee-shirt or a $20 pair of jeans? Yes, we have easy access to cheap clothes at prices that make them all but disposable. But we also have cheap clothes that don't fit particularly well and fall apart rapidly.

So, where does spray-on fabric come into this?

We are used to wearing clothes made out of woven (or knitted, or crocheted) fabric—lengths of spun yarn that are interlaced in two dimensions to form a flexible mesh. The individual fibres in cotton or wool or linen or silk may be quite short, but when spun they adhere to each other and this allows us to create thread or yarn many orders of magnitude longer than a fibre.

Right now Fabrican's spray-on felt relies on very short fibres in a liquid carrier that form a matted felt when the solvent dries. (I infer that the strands are probably quite weak, individually, requiring the matting to provide some additional tensile strength.) But I'd like you to imagine the same technology refined so that instead of coming out of a spray-can it comes out of an ink jet printer nozzle. And I'd like you to imagine the same print head also having a different "ink" to print with—a waxy masking substance that can dissolve in an oily dry cleaning fluid and be washed out of the finished garment. Print alternate layers of fabric and mask and the layers of fabric won't adhere to one another. Dry clean after printing and you have separate layers. Give it ink jet printer resolution and you should be able to "print" woven fabric, complete with the warp and weft in situ (separated by the mask layer). The rest of this picture is about ten billion dollars and ten years' worth of fine tuning, and then luxury fibres (synthetic spider silk, anyone?): but the basic premise is that we are between 5 and 20 years away from being able to 3D print woven fabric.

What are the implications?

If you don't think printing woven fabric is a big deal, DARPA beg to differ; DARPA is pumping serious money into robot sewing machines. But automating garment assembly from traditional fabric components turns out to be a really hard problem (as this possibly-paywalled New Scientist article on a €23M project to build a sewbot explains). Cloth is slippery, changes shape if you drop it, wrinkles, and has to be stretched and twisted and folded as it is sewn. Note that final word: sewn. If you can print fabric in situ out of fibres in a liquid form, you don't need to sew components to shape—especially if you can print more than one type and colour of fibre at a time: you can fabricate your "stitches" (inter-layer connections) as part of the process, with minimal hand-finishing to possibly add fasteners (zips or buttons).

Add in a left-field extra: the rapid spread of millimeter wave scanners for airport security. These devices caused a bit of a to-do, earning them the nick-name "perv scanner" in some circles, because of their ability to see through clothing to the skin beneath, in order to check passengers for hidden contraband. But if you put the same machine in a clothes shop, it allows the establishment to obtain extremely accurate measurements of its customers without requiring a strip-tease and manual measurement of all the relevant saggy, lumpy bits and pieces. By use of surface-penetrating wavelengths (possibly high-intensity laser light, or infrared) it may also be possible to automatically distinguish between fatty tissue, musculature, and underlying bone structure. All of which are relevant to the construction of clothing.

So here's my picture of the chain store of the future. You go in, go to the scanning booth, and do the airport-equivalent thing in a variety of positions—stretch and bend as well as hands-up. You then look at the styles on display on the shop floor, pick out what you like, and see it as it will appear on your own body on an avatar on a computer screen. You buy it, and a machine in the back of the store (or an out-of-town lights out 24x7 robotic garment factory) begins to print it. Some time later—maybe minutes, maybe hours or a day or two—the outfit you ordered comes to you. And it fits perfectly, every time. Some items are probably still off-the-shelf (socks, hosiery, maybe even those cheap tee shirts), but anything major is printed, unless you can afford to go to the really high end and pay a human being to make it for you out of natural fibres. Oh, and the printed stuff doesn't have seams in places that chafe or bind.

Now, here's the down-side.

The fabrics on offer to start with will be fugly. Maybe not as bad as the bri-nylon shirts and terylene and other crappy synthetics of yesteryear, but it's still going to be fairly obvious (at first) what you're wearing. Figuring out how to make a sprayable matrix that uses cotton or silk or wool fibres has a multi-billion dollar pay-off at the end, so I expect it to happen eventually, but at first the stuff is going to look and feel like felted nylon. The styles on offer at first will also be fugly. I've spent a few years watching my spouse make her own clothing, and it's worth noting that dress patterns are complex and don't scale linearly: going from a size 12 to a size 18 isn't just a matter of blowing every dimension up by 50%. Clothes that are some variation of a simple tube or tubes will be easier than, say, a pair of jeans (with pockets and decorative seams) let alone an underwired bra or a sports jacket. Nor are there going to be many chain stores left to buy this stuff from. The job of a high street store in this scenario is to take measurements with a scanner and handle order fulfilment. Maybe also to act as a showroom. Today they have changing rooms and act as edge-of-network distribution centres. Tomorrow? Expect tumbleweed where the likes of Macy's or Primark have their bigger stores. Let alone T[J|K] Maxx—that business model is on the way out.

But back to the product itself. The first printed garmets aren't going to eat into the high end fashion market. Rather, they're going to displace sweatshop low-end produce. No, scratch that: initially this stuff is going to be something you spray on conference seats and car body panels (and maybe horrible 70s style flock wallpaper). But sooner or later it'll get good enough for really cheap, semi-disposable clothing. And then the pressure to improve the processes and recapture some of that $100Bn imported-from-China garment market will be irresistible.

So I expect 3D printed clothing will take time to catch on. But as it catches on, a lot of developing world factory workers are going to find their jobs are as obsolete as the half million men who used to work down British coal mines, or the million who worked in iron and steel foundries, or the other countless millions who used to pick crops and plough fields by hand and by horse. People who use sewing machines for a living will find their jobs have gone the same place as people who used to work in office typing pools with carbon paper and manual typewriters. Low status jobs, mostly women, with negligible social safety nets to catch them when they fall. On the other hand, this will hopefully be as much a thing of the past as this.

When garment manufacturing returns to the countries where they're consumed, the pace at which fashion trends turn over may actually accelerate: currently, there's a limit on how fast high street fashion can change imposed by the time it takes to send pattern blocks to a factory overseas, verify that the product is of satisfactory quality, then ship the loaded TEUs to market. It'll be like going from batch processing of punched cards on a mainframe in a computer bureau to using a time-sharing terminal: expect flash fashion trends to take off like a rocket once the tech gets cheap enough and good enough to fit the budget and taste of the vital high street 14-24 year old female demographic (and once the design software gets accessible enough).

It'll take a while longer (if ever—there are strength/durability/flexibility issues here) for 3D printing to revolutionize footwear (but, oh my aching feet, I can't wait).

The hand-sewn couture market (which still exists) will be joined by the not-as-high-end machine-sewn-by-real-people somewhat-more-durable market in the middle end. But it won't be a mass employer.

Now. What am I missing?



Having recently seen a video of a rather nasty looking industrial accident involving a lathe and a loose sleeve I can see a market for safe clothing for industrial workers with spray on fabrics. The disposable nature of it as also a potential as steel filings and oil are a bugger to get out.

"The individual fibres in cotton or wool or linen or silk may be quite short, but when woven they adhere to each other and this allows us to create thread or yarn many orders of magnitude longer than a fibre."
Technical correction for braino - that should be "when spun they adhere to each other". If the fibres only stuck together at the weaving stage, life would be much more exciting :)

Isn't this stuff just basically Silly String with a higher resolution print head? It hardly seems earth shattering.


Uniforms. Cheap ugly clothing but well fitted and comfortable. If it's tough and waterproof, look for it on emergency services and possibly armed forces. If it's not, then supermarket workers and other customer facing people.

Neil W


Isn't this stuff just basically Silly String with a higher resolution print head? It hardly seems earth shattering.


Silly string is a synthetic polymer resin that foams and solidifies on contact with air.

This stuff is fibres suspended in a solvent which stick to one another and form a felt mat.

Put it another way: the developers of silly string were trying for a spray-on plaster cast for broken bones. That's where that tech leads. This is completely different.


Imagine all that, but with an electronics part-picker during the process - you suddenly get the all-singing-all-dancing, arduino (or similar) enhanced, flashing "IT'S STACY'S HEN NIGHT" t-shirts (including such trusty catch-phrases as "Gissa kiss!" or "Mine's a triple!") for barely more than the price of the spray on t-shirt in the first place.

Does this bring the market closer to hackerspaces, or not? Does the 3d fabric printer become as much of a household necessity as the household sewing machine of old? Or, does it "take off" like the pizza oven from Back To The Future Part II?


That's probably the justification for DARPA's research. Be kind of embarrassing if in a future PacRim superpower confrontation the US military turned up wearing uniforms labelled "Made in China", wouldn't it?


I don’t think you are missing anything on the techical side or the associated economics.

I wonder about the timescales.

I’m wondering if nations with large numbers of garment workers and which are in the process of transitioning from low to medium wage, low to medium added value economies will find ways to delay the adoption of the new techniques. A sort of State neo-Ludditism. Things like objecting to the new technology on environmental grounds and delaying it’s adoption in to various free trade areas.


Consider the drives to prevent hospital-acquired infections and minimize antibiotic usage meeting spray-on fabric; giving doctors and nurses disposable scrubs is probably going to be an early market for this tech.


I think that even the early, fuggly product will have a certain consumer-is-cool-first-adopter chic. These days, which have given us words like "nerdgasm" in mainstream use, wearing a dress/shirt/apron one printed...that makes one special. This early adopter coolth will drive more money into the process, I'm betting, accelerating development.

My mom remembers being the coolest too-hot kid in church when her mom made blouses out of parachute silk - actually very heavy, billowy nylon - from an uncle in the Army air corps. Everyone was fascinated by the process and the fabric, which no one in her middle class area had ever seen on clothing. The actual fashion was ignored until people got used to the fabric.


Fashion designing as an easy hobby. Today, to do that you need not inconsiderable time and materials: the moment the time and materials requirements grow a lot less, you can personally design your own outfit, if you so desire.

Another thing is people with tactile issues and allergies. I won't buy stuff from the net because if it isn't within somewhat narrow parameters of cloth and touch, it will drive me nuts: there are whole chains of stores whose products looks gorgeous on me but I simply can't wear. The moment you can personalize fabric and cut,this problem disappears.

Mood shirts/pants: the same concepts as mood rings, but whole body.

Real wearable computers: print in whatever computing substrate you need, i.e. biomonitors plugged into a panic button for people with chronic health problems.


The next paragraph, unfortunately, contains a real error:

you should be able to "print" woven fabric, complete with the warp and weft in situ (separated by the mask layer)

Um, no. If the "warp and weft" are separated by a mask layer, they're not warp and weft - they're two separate layers of fibres pointed in different directions[1]. The point of weaving is that the two layers are tightly interlocked (see this picture from wikipedia, for example).

Printing fabric is a problem that lots of people have been looking at for some time, but it's hard precisely because you can't simply lay down layers. If you removed the mask layer, the garment would simply fall apart, because it's just a bunch of fibres, not cloth.

[1] Consider a CFRP object made by taking two sheets, each consisting of parallel carbon fibres in resin, laying them at right-angles, and autoclaving. This is functionally identical to what you're suggesting, but it very much isn't woven, and doesn't share most of woven fabric's important properties.


Yes, I understand the point you're making. The point I'm trying to make is that we're not laying down linear fibres, we're printing in 3D, and assembling the threads already interwoven. (c.f. the gear assemblies manufactured in situ in 3D printing processes with all gears assembled interlocking inside a sealed box.)


Sorry for lots of short comments on one point each (or is it easier to follow that way?).

Fabrican's spray-on felt relies on very short fibres in a liquid carrier that form a matted felt when the solvent dries. (I infer that that the strands are probably quite weak, individually, requiring the matting to provide some additional tensile strength.)

Not necessarily - felted wool is generally weaker than spun and woven wool cloth. The advantage of the felting is that it requires minimum design work for the delivery system. A spraycan filled with short fibres is (a) an already known quantity, so easy to manufacture and (b) going to produce felt by default. If you want to get a product to market as fast as possible (thus generating funds to continue research), I'm pretty sure this is it.

You need to do something to connect the fibres to one another, and your choices are basically spinning or matting. Matting comes free with the spraying method, whereas spinning requires more effort and considerably more control.


Clothing is an obvious target. A few thoughts about other ones:

* in the very short end: better spray-on insulation, shock absorber materials and the like, as you can customize the fiber and the application process to the task.

* In the medium time frame: spray-on carbon-fiber and other structural materials. The major cost of these compounds today is because the items have to be built up by hand, layer by layer.

* Long-term: why restrict yourself to a 2D mesh? If you can lay down fiber in two directions, you can lay down a third mesh orthogonal to them. And a fourth, fifth and sixth diagonal strand as needed.

Imagine a carbon-fiber/resin compound in 3D. You'd have no weak force direction any longer, but could effectively make monofilament blocks of material customized to whatever forces you could imagine.

Imagine a thick "fleece" material that is just as strong and dense in any direction, not just in the thin sheet form we're used to today. It can be a much better thermal insulator than today's materials; be much better protection against impacts; be a much stronger structural component.

And if you can print it on demand you can create layered materials with different types and densities of fiber in different areas. Diving suits that will give you excellent insulation and flexibility of movement, yet not compress and cool you down as pressure increases. Then consider the possibilities of metal fibers, gels, protein chains and other fibrous materials. The possibilities range far, far beyond cheaper clothing.


A couple of second-order thoughts:

Rather than going to a shop for a scan, it's more likely to be something that people buy to use at home - no ugly privacy issues, and the technology will be there (accurate and cheap) in the next 5 years. Extrapolating, lots of people will suddenly have hi-rez 3D scanners in their homes, which could presumably be used to scan more than the human body, and come bundled with simple CAD apps. So, along with made-to-measure clothes, we can expect made-to-measure printed furniture, assessment of heating requirements based on 3d models of rooms, the ability to take a virtual tour of a property for sale and map your own (scanned) stuff against it, etc. May also become required for listed properties to prevent sneaky re-modelling...

Also, people will have a very detailed and accurate (brutally honest, to be frank) measure of their current body-shape and how it has changed over time. Expect lots of apps taking advantage of this to track health, fitness, maybe even diagnose shape-changes that could mean something ("that's a new lump/mole, get your doctor to have a look at it"). Expect Google/Facebook/whatever to offer to store your vital statistics in your wallet and on the side market things to you based on (changing) body shape.


My point of view comes from being an amateur but experienced hand-spinner, knitter, sometime crocheter, learner of weaving, wet and needle felter and dressmaker.

I disagree with your point about the early fabrics being fugly.

To me this technology seems like an extension of the viscose process and other similar processes where a bath of chemicals has a natural source of fibre added which are then are extruded via spinnerets that mimic those of a silk moth or spider and are then spun into yarn. The viscose process uses cellulose from wood.

The process has been developed and engineered so that many different types of spinnable fibres can be produced. Tencel is the trademarked name of a rayon made from beech, IIRC. But other fibre sources are being used and I have the intermediate form of them (commercial top) ready to spin here at home. The fibre sources include bamboo, soy, casein (milk), banana, chitin (shells from prawns and similar creatures), seaweed and corn aka ingeo (the corn's not good though, very flammable apparently). The commercial and handspun yarns produced from these fibres can have a number of desirable qualities depending on how they are spun. But, ignoring the corn, they can be soft, silky, lighter than cotton, not prone to wrinkling like linen, durable etc.

(Also there are commercial yarns that include stainless steel, copper, gold, silver and conductive wire which are all used for producing garments.)

I agree that the first uses will probably be in manufacturing, for fabrics that need to make a complex 3D shape like inside cars but also for complex filters. Upholstery for items such as sofas would be a next logical step.

As a plus-size woman, affordable custom-made clothes that actually fit correctly without me having to make them myself will be very desirable and the plus size market is still very much under-exploited.

As a woman in general, I think though the most desirable item will be the custom fit bra. Current bra sizes and fitting techniques work on outdated formulae and anyone who falls out of the narrow 32-38 A,B,C size range often has to seek out specialist shops or mail order. Even those who do fit within that narrow range still have fit issues. Most pairs of breasts are not equal in size. You can fall between two sizes. All sorts of problems. And don't get me started on underwires!


I think you are wrong regarding the possibilities of fibres in a can; that aside, the basic thrust of the argument (technology making people redundant, make on demand etc, all biasing returns towards those who have the capital to invest in it) is accurate enough.

What you might actually get is a small scale viscose plant, where the textile is printed from a feedstock of cellulose in a solvent. The current method, used in some really funkily engineered factories, is to get the cellulose from fast growing trees like that one which is a pest in america, introduced from Australia? Argh, can't remember. Anyway, their cellulose pulp is ground up and dissolved in a solvent; it's a method which simply was not possible 20 years ago because we didn't have the control technology that makes it possible. Any mistake and it sets or the cellulose comes out of solution and clogs things up.

This suggestion is rather more like silly string than fibres in a spraycan, but my problem with the suggestion you have is that 1) fibres are different to droplets of ink, 2) the 3 dimensionality is important, the idea is of course that the machine can pull the different sections together. Or here's a suggestion - they manage to come up with a flexible body doll, which can have its dimensions changed however you require, to suit the customer. Then you spray on the fabric you want. That way, no seams, zips can be added in at the start, etc.


> scrubs

Laundering scrubs is expensive, and the theft rate is high, which is why some hospitals use "ugly scrubs" to try to keep people from stealing them. Hospitals might well be early adopters.

Laundering in general is a hassle for people who don't have washing machines, the price of which has gone up quite a bit in my market in recent years. Time, travel, and expense for using a laundromat... for inexpensive clothing, the break-even point for replacement might not be all that high.

The cosplay people would probably squee with joy at the simplicity of making new costumes...

My wife buys purses like some people buy shoes. Each one is sized and pocketed to contain some specific combination of "stuff." It seems nothing is ever quite what she wants. Being able to design one on-screen and then print it would... probably fill the closets up faster, perhaps.

Buying a new pair of shoes is a miserable experience due to the shape of my feet. Just this morning I unboxed a new pair; I bought six pair a year ago, identical, after finding they fit. Next time I need shoes, that model probably won't be available, going by past experience. Even if all I can do is print an upper and have a shoemaker bond it to a sole, I'd be way ahead.

Come to think of it, my wife has made almost the same complaint about brassieres.


> carpet

Sound deadening! It's a multimillion-dollar industry on its own.

Also, custom-shaped, formed-in-place filter material.


Disaster relief anyone?

Warm, practical, weatherproof clothing often seems to be high on the agenda following natural disasters along with temporary shelter and if you can print a wind and waterproof Parka (or whatever) then presumably you can print a tent.

Shipping in the hardware and feedstocks won't be trivial (or cheap) but then neither I imagine is sorting and fitting donated clothing and, if you printing pretty much on demand then the wastage should be lower.


People, mostly women, who make their own clothes often buy adjustable dress-forms or make custom ones using either duct tape or plaster of paris and bandages.

In the last few years there has been much work done in the knitting world on teaching knitters how to measure themselves properly and in detail and several books published with customisable knitting patterns.

This has culminated with a wonderful resource run by a small start-up business called CustomFit ( I think that this project will revolutionise knitting patterns in the way that revolutionised the yarn and fibre craft world.

So for knitters, having an app with all your body measurements is a reality. I imagine it's the same for those who sew, downloadable custom sewing patterns are already available at I've not tried them out yet but the craft world is right at and taking advantage of the leading edge of technology these days.


I would like to add my own little fiction, just because I believe it might be of interest :


Not just for clothing? In the same room I currently have a camera case, backpack, and cricket bat case all made from stitched together cloth like material.

Cloth wrapping instead of plastic on food and goods is currently used as a indicator of "quality" (and higher price). Could this finally replace plastic bags? Would it be an ecological improvement?


Also, Rule 34, of course. This stuff will make the mohair fetishists look positively normal.

(What, you've never see pictures of mohair fetishists, oh you sweet summer child!)


I have to add that Fabrican, whereas of questionable value, isn't that new, I'm pretty sure its even made it into GCSE textbooks!
Re the made-to-measure downloadable patterns, I was using those with students about 10 years ago (and believe me, I'm not exactly "cutting edge").
The wow stuff in textiles technology at the moment is in bio-mimetics, camouflage, conductive fibre fabrics and roughly the stuff MIT wearables and others develop with smart and reactive.


I think there's a pretty big market in the "I don't care if it's fugly I just want it to..." some of which have been touched on. Hospital scrubs, disaster relief clothes, tents etc., combat fatigues, but as we're entering a cold snap in the UK thermal underwear and the like should be remembered too.

PPE - protective gloves and gauntlets say, lab coats and the like will be another good one I suspect. No more signs "Did you put your gloves on?" You just can't enter the workspace without putting your hands into the dispensers for the gauntlets to keep your cuffs in.

I think sometime after that you'll find things like a campsite in a can, or a tent in a can. Pre-programmed, put it on the floor, pull the tab and it sprays out a tent and a sleeping bag and so on. The mass will be the same or slightly larger of course but sometimes volume matters too when you're camping.

And as hugo.fisher suggests, if it biodegrades nicely it could be the death of the plastic bag.


It will add to the pressure against easy access to 3D printers (and similar tech) by companies holding a lot of IP. At first it will make knock off clothing items easier. Then will come pirated design files from the major fashion houses. If shops are printing designer fashions (because labels are important to a lot of people), how quickly will disgruntled or unscrupulous employees have these designs online for free? People can then print them out elsewhere, without paying licensing fees.

Some countries faced with pressure from IP holders as well as unions or blue collar voters might well outlaw this sort of tech, or heavily regulate it. After all, it was the seamstresses and tailors who were against the mechanization of the garment industry originally, even though they had terrible working conditions then.

For countries that do allow easy access to 3d printing devices, we'll see a big change in the industry. A lot of the industry now relies on mass producing items, ordering them in an assortment of sizes, and then quickly discounting them to clear inventory for the next year. If you can print on demand from a library of designs, there is no need to mark down inventory. So fewer clearance sales and retailers that specialize in selling last season's overstock.

We could also see the industry taken over by open source and "indie" designers. The main barrier to entry in fashion is getting rack space in stores and financing to produce a product. With 3d printing you could offer your designs templates for next to nothing. If 100,000 people around the world download your shirt design you could make a nice bit of money. In terms of time investment they are probably somewhere between artists selling prints online and self published ebook authors.


Airport security. You go into a room, strip, put all your regular clothes into a bag that's taken away on a conveyor, and temporary clothes/slippers are sprayed on you.


It's worth noting, perhaps that Charlie's dad used to be in a line of work which is a precursor to this technology, producing "shoddy" by shredding old woolen clothes into short fibres which matted together to form a woolen thread, inferior to "new" wool but very suitable for military uniforms etc.


I actually find myself thinking more in terms of being able to get that screamingly loud Hawaiian shirt even when the "fashion buyers" insist that what, say, males want this season is faded black and nothing but faded black.


To be honest, whilst the initial Fabrican material isn't going to be much good, the next stage will certainly be much better. Spider silk is secreted as a partly amorphous mix of proteins, it is the spider actually combing out this goo which makes the proteins align and form a thread. In a 3D printer, you could instead use the evaporation of a carrier solvent to slowly change the composition of the carrier, such that it forced the threads to form cross-links and effectively adhere to each other, but in a carefully controlled manner; effectively self-assembling a composite fabric on a molecular scale.

This self assembly doesn't need to be simple, either; you might well end up with a fabric that forms two shiny, hydrophobic layers at the surfaces, with a hydrophylic inner.

Better yet, imagine what this sort of material could be made to do if the sub-threads were something like Kevlar. Effectively you could synthesise bullet-proof, explosion-damping foam in a can.


If shops are printing designer fashions (because labels are important to a lot of people), how quickly will disgruntled or unscrupulous employees have these designs online for free?

Interesting point of design/patent/copyright/trade secret law; AIUI there is no design right inherent in clothing. You might be able to claim copyright on the pattern blocks, or trademark your name and logo, but that's about it.

So before any anti-printer pressure, I'd expect to see pressure for an IP land-grab by the fashion industry. Which will go about as well as you might expect; imagine the lulz that will ensue if some claim-jumping IP attorney manages to patent (or equialent) denim jeans or the A-line skirt.

(There's a short story somewhere in all this: IP rights in clothing are asserted, but modelled on corporate copyright. Any designs less than 95 years old are stitched up really fast; anything older is public domain. So you can tell who's poor very easily -- they dress like it's pre-1918, while the well-off can afford to wear modern styles.)


Yeah. I should note that I grew up with a dark satanic textiles mill (slowly rotting into the ground) in my family. A business that died several decades ago (I'm older than I look or play on the internet).


IANAL and from a knitter's perspective. There are no design rights in the US for clothing as it is considered a useful item.

The UK does have design rights for clothing and possibly other EU countries too.

However, international law is such that it is illegal for a UK company to rip off a UK designer but not for a US company to rip off a UK designer.

This and copyright generally is often debated within the knitting community and on places like Etsy.


I'm going by my -- admittedly sketchy -- memory of conversation with a friend who's (a) a barrister and (b) did postgraduate research in intellectual property law as it applies to 3D printers (and other ways of turning a design into a physical object).


UM you need to read up of the long and non illustrious history of great British procurement disasters (,_Cardboard) to see how cheap cost can bite you - trench foot in the falklands as the army issue boots where rubbish.

I would bet you a case of Moet that all the SAS guys in the laundry buy their own after market boots and I suspect bob and mo have some decent boots in their go bags


Take a look at this:

now I'm off to print diffraction gratings all over myself before I go dancing. It's Friday and Friday means violently brilliant structural colour dependent on viewing angle!


I think a second order effect of this type of development (and others) is the problem of what to do with all the empty shops we're going to have in the future. So many products are already ordered online rather than bought physically and digital download is accounting for higher percentages of media as time goes on.

Counter to the idea that clothes shops of the future will be places to scan* and print your clothes I think that cafés! bars! cinemas and other leisure venues will be the place where you can get a scan and have your clothes printed. Even with most shopping happening online people enjoy socialising in public places. It seems likely to me that the trendy cafe of the future will be decorated not with art but clothed mannequins, screens showing clips of shows, background music that can be downloaded etc. I'm sure there are some serious third order effects of this if it happens (and I'm missing a flaw in my argument) but I can't think of many yet

*incidentally it occurs to me that occasional scans rather than every time would be desirable. A shop might even charge for you to download the scan into your phone for future use. And whilst we're talking about phones how long after this set up would it be until an app was developed that did a rough and ready body scan after a series of pictures?


I'm with Chris on this one: I scratched my head at the idea of printing interwoven fibers, because there's a major possibility of printing errors that weaken the fabric and/or make it less comfortable. It's the equivalent to burning a bit of nylon so the fibers melt together. I suspect that's going to turn out to be a non-trivial problem, because cloth is floppy and three-dimensional, and precision printing when the output is flopping around or folding on you gets more difficult.

The bigger problem is the billions of unemployed people in the world, to be very blunt. People are relatively smart, relatively adaptable, and low energy compared to most industrial equipment. If you're surplusing a lot of garment workers, an unscrupulous entrepreneur may very well come along and figure out what he can do with them that would be even cheaper. The solar-powered industrial looms might be a better tech investment.

That said, I think such technology (if it works!) has some great potential uses:
--bandages and medical devices: being able to create cheap, precision-shaped pieces of felt impregnated with whatever medicines and medical devices are needed will be a godsend for many types of wound care. For example: how many people have elderly relatives with slow-healing wounds on their feet or calves? I've got two, and getting the proper combination of pressure socks and medicines, along with creating a system they can actually put on and take off, and maintain, is a complex problem. Most of the drugstore sized things don't fit well enough, and we've had to improvise.

-Safety equipment, orthopedics, and prosthetics: anything that does better by fitting better could benefit from the mass-customization of 3-D printing. This is especially true if the fabric doesn't have to be woven, and does have to contain sensors, electronics, or what have-you.

--Complex fabrics: it's hard to interweave some kinds of technology into fabrics, but it may be more reasonable to print them into a fiber matrix of some sort. Think of fitted tyvek suits that contain built-in hazard monitors customized for the particular environment the worker is to be protected from. These would obviously be more expensive than the current tyvek coveralls (and note that tyvek is non-spun), but in terms of worker safety, they could be cheaper in some cases.

--Geosynthetics. I was thinking of geotextiles, but geosynthetics is the more inclusive category. Since builders already routinely apply a wide variety of sheets of materials in building sites and already widely use spray foams, I can see possibilities, if someone can develop a 3-D sprayer/printer device that can apply geosynthetics at a construction site. It would allow construction of more complex shapes than can be built now. It will also likely make restoration cheaper, if it's possible to snake a printing device through a small hole and print in a space on the other side (equivalent to laparoscopic surgery), rather than tearing a large opening and patching it afterwards.

--Clothing for the old and disabled. Older people tend to have more unique body shapes, due to the ravages of age, accident, and disease, and mass produced clothing is not made with their bodies in mind. If it's cheap enough, one of the most compassionate uses of 3-D clothing printing would be to make clothes for them that were comfortable on their unique bodies, and that accommodated their unique needs.

--Recycling clothing. It would be useful to have a clothing remanufacturing ecosystem where printed clothes are turned back into feedstock for the printers. I'm not sure whether this is resource efficient or energy efficient, but it might be better than seeing a boom in landfilling of clothes that are used for a short time and thrown away.

--High end clothing. If 3-D cloth printing doesn't ever become cheap enough to compete with the sweatshops, there's still a market for it at the highest end, producing 3-d curved fabrics that simply can't be woven on a flat loom. Of course, the printer would have to be pretty amazing to pull it off, but it's theoretically possible.



Volume is enormously important when camping! The size of an overload is awkward to handle in and of itself.


Ah, sorry. I'd thought you were talking about printing something using a fiber-containing material (like the Fabrican mix) rather than, essentially, printing the fibres.

The approach you describe is something materials scientists were talking about widely when I was an undergraduate in the 1990's. (The 3D printing side wasn't really achievable back then, but it was obviously coming.) The problem is what material you print with. Something like the Fabrican system is totally useless for trying to do this - it's fine for bulk, because it felts, but no good for making thread because you've got no way of spinning the fibres to join one layer to the next (and felting won't work on that scale). Which means you're looking at printing in something similar nylon or polyester. That's definitely going to prevent high-end usage, but for emergency-relief clothing it would work. The middle-ground is more complex - would you rather have a properly-fitted polyester shirt, or a S/M/L cotton one?

When(/if) we can reproduce something more like animal silks, then those might well take over the high-end market. They might not be so readily 3D printable, however; they're actually structurally rather complex materials, and the structure is very important to their properties. A spider spinning its web really is spinning multiple fibres into each thread (with the fibres additionally bound together by mucus). Which then leads you back to my initial problem here, which is that multi-layer 3D printing can't spin the fibres together between layers.


I swear by German army para boots. (Although my current pair have a sharp bit I need to work on ... digs into the side of my right heel.)

Oddly, I ran into a thread on a British cop's blog about the best boots for bobbies on the beat, and they, too, seem to have a thing for German army para boots.

I think sometime after that you'll find things like a campsite in a can, or a tent in a can. Pre-programmed, put it on the floor, pull the tab and it sprays out a tent and a sleeping bag and so on.

That's magic technology on about the same level as teleportation. What substrate is your "tent in a can" spraying onto? (No substrate, no fabric; the 3D printer idea uses the print-bed as substrate, while the Fabrican swimsuit uses the model's body.)


There are some intermediate possibilities between troublesome natural fibres and easy-to-print synthetics. The various reconstituted-cellulose fibres (rayon, etc.) come to mind, especially if they can be reconstituted out of somewhat-more-benign solvents.


That process is roughly equivalent to curing someone of sickle-cell anaemia by sending autonomous robots into their bloodstream to individually reshape their red blood cells. While there's nothing in the laws of physics that prevents it, it's heading into magic wand territory and requires nanotechnology that's sophisticated well beyond anything that current exists in any research lab I'm aware of.


Unless you can persuade the material to bind between layers, 3D printing it simply isn't going to work, though. For something like rayon, you might be able to achieve localised cross-linking into the dots of the mask layer using suitable solvents, but I'd expect the process to be rather hit-and-miss, giving you many more broken fibres than in an equivalent piece of woven cloth. Even the complete fibres are likely to be substantially weaker because of the short crossover distances.

You also, of course, have all the problems Heteromeles mentions, as soon as you try to print anything that isn't a flat 2D sheet.


Actually, the place for the 3-D printer isn't in printing the fabric itself, it's in printing the threads. For some fabrics, it might be useful to replace spools of thread with spinnerets that take a feedstock and generate the thread right before it goes into the weaving machine. One utility of this is that colors and properties could be changed on the fly inside the spinneret, rather than by swapping out threads.

All this does, basically, is to take the whole, complex ecosystem of thread creation and jam it into the loom. The advantage is that it takes a couple of well-understood technologies and mates them, on the assumption that something new and different will come out of the fusion.

Chemical companies already use spinnerets to make polymer threads, and they have for decades. Because of this, the fact that looms don't already incorporate spinnerets makes me suspicious that it's not exactly an economical thing to do.

Still, assuming it's feasible, a simpler device could even be brought into the home. All you have to do is combine one or more spinnerets with an automated knitting machine (which also exists).

Yes, the future might be knitted, and sweaters and knits might be the high tech clothing of the future. The MIT knitting lab, anyone? You heard it here first.


Don't know for sure, I'm speculating - but I'm imagining something where obviously the head is programmed. It sprays onto the ground first giving you a base and then up from there is small layers so it binds to existing material on one edge, starting from itself. In fact it bind on two edges almost everywhere and you can probably get away with a few rough bits if you build a "mound" at the vertices from which to start building up the faces to make the sides.

This is all speaking off the top of my head of course. I'm a bit sleep-deprived and have no idea of the actual problems involved in the process but I suspect they're not beyond solving.


That would definitely work, yes[1]. I was trying to find a way of making Charlie's 3D-printed-fabric idea actually work, but I don't think it's really viable.

[1] In fact, there are some natural materials - notably a lot of spider silks - that would, if we reproduced them, probably be easiest to make cloth from like that. And an automated knitter is a fairly simple machine - automated 3D weaving machines also exist, but they're much more complex and expensive.


The key "problems" with the loom -- a truly ancient technology -- are that:

a) They can generally only weave a flat two-dimensional sheet (weaving with 3D topological deformations is hard)

b) They can generally only weave one type and layer of fabric at a time

As human beings aren't two-dimensional, we need 3D deformations -- holes and tubes -- in our clothing. And we often need multiple bonded types of fabric (e.g. anything with an elasticated waistband) to ensure proper fit. Take a dress or a tee shirt -- topologically, it's a tube with two other tubular branches opening off it below one end. (Geometrically, it's a lot more subtle, of course.) Skirts: a tube (or, rather, a 3D rotation of a conic section, or variations on same). Trousers: two tubes, fusing into a larger tube near one end. Add pleats and ruffles and collars, cuffs, and waistbands to choice, for added complexity: the underlying shapes tend towards a small number of common attractors.

Most of the sewing/cutting side of clothing fabrication is about making up for the inability of our looms to weave merging/branching tubes of variable diameter.

The sewing machine and the laser cutting table have helped a lot, but they're still treating the symptoms (the need to cut out shapes and bond them together) not the problem (inability to weave three-dimensional fabric structures).

Now, if we had hordes of tiny spiders that could be trained/programmed to dance around and over one another, we could make clothes that way ...


Which is why nalbinding and then knitting transformed people's lives, at least when it come to their socks/stockings. The woven and sewn version just did not compare.

There were and are whole cultures where hand knitted socks were incredibly important, also mittens.

Lots of people continue to knit their own socks, like me, for improved quality and fit.

I'm still fascinated by the possible uses for this new technology.


What am I missing?

The intense humming of capitalism, which will use these technologies to immiserate countless thousands of already impoverished people? IOW, are you discussing a looming disaster as if it were a cool new gadget?

I'm not saying Ned Ludd was right - Marx saw that capitalist development could develop the forces of production to everyone's advantage (and Marx was right). But the transition to machine weaving was horribly costly - people starved to death, in Lancashire. (Perhaps in the short term the Luddites were right after all - and in the long run we're all dead.) To mention & then skate over the predictable human cost of these technologies, in a post headline with the word 'revolution'... it just got my back up, I"m afraid.


Which is why Heteromeles suggested knitting instead, since knitting can create complex 3D shapes, either in a single piece, or as multiple objects plus a finishing stage to attach them together. Whereas I don't see that your proposed 3D printing process can. Unless you use a huge quantity of rigid-but-removable "mask" material to support the unfinished fabric, it would only be able to print flat 2D sheets. If you do use enough mask material to support a 3D object, you're introducing a vast amount of extra energy expenditure to make/print/remove/recycle(or dispose of) the mask. That's going to drive the price up impractically, not to mention the environmental impact. Also, of course, it might result in large complex garments (full length dress, say?) being too heavy to lift until the mask has been removed.

As an aside, should anyone offer you the chance to watch a 3D weaving machine in action, I recommend you take them up on it - it's a very impressive application of technology. But too complex to ever plausibly be suitable to clothes manufacture.


You still don't have a substrate for the sides, unless your can is going to go up in the air and spray them downwards so that it can use the base for a substrate. And that only works if:
a) your tent is almost completely rigid (or the sides will flop down before you get near the top)
b) you don't mind it being firmly attached to the ground, because you've bound the grass into the base.


Luxury fibers you say? Spider silk? Polymers? Why stop there? How about artificial muscles, nerves, skin, biolfilms, etc. etc. for either soft robots or exosuits, or limb/organ replacement?


"While it's worthwhile to have an expensive suit or formal gown tailored, who would bother fitting a $10 tee-shirt or a $20 pair of jeans?"

I've heard that movie/tv actors do. It's one of the reasons they look better than most people. Their clothes fit.


People are going to be faced with more complex choices about what their clothes look like, since computer manufacture means that everything can be tweaked. At the moderately high end, people will have clothing advisers. There will also be all sorts of group-sourced design.

I like the idea of bars and dance halls with custom clothing access. People can tweak their clothes according to what they see or feel like having. And it's a low pleasure, but there will be pictures of people wearing the clothes they chose/designed when they were drunk.

People who don't happen to be the sizes that manufacturers feel like making clothes for will no longer have problems finding clothes.

You will be able to get clothes in the season you need them. (Is this the problem in the UK? In the US, the stores are generally a season ahead.)

Shoes would be harder than clothing, but I look forward to computer-measured and built custom shoes. And I refuse to worry about the Singularity until they happen-- they're a much easier problem than artificial intelligence, and when my atoms are repurposed, at least I'll be wearing comfortable shoes.


You will be able to get clothes in the season you need them. (Is this the problem in the UK? In the US, the stores are generally a season ahead.)

Yep, same problem.

Causes headaches for me, because I usually buy one of a new garment to see if it works for me, then go back for more -- the week after it's pulled off sale to make way for the next season. Causes headaches for $WIFE who is enough of an old Goth that she mostly wears black or purple ... which is only available in the partywear season (i.e. October-December). Which makes summer clothing a particular kind of hell (it's all florals and pastels).


Heee. What Heteromeles said. *I'm* old enough to remember when paper clothing was the wave of the future. Didn't happen; the material just wasn't of good enough quality. It has arrived, though, in safety clothing and certain medical garments.

If that's the model, Heteromeles has the right of it. Specialized uses, but not replacing fabric as such.

On the other hand, it might turn out to be possible to build a "print" head which could weave. The output, though would be different from modern loomed fabric, which is woven under tension. It would unravel when cut. So, instead, one would have to make pieces to the finished shapes, and probably have a finishing step that involved sealing the edges. Older garment designs--t-tunic, kimono, huipil--avoided cutting fabric in curves--an edge in the direction of the weave was the limit of cutting. This, usually, is attributed to the desire to use all of the labor-intensive material, but perhaps, also, it was a way of avoiding the tendency of soft-woven materials to ravel when cut.

(I am bemused to note that "ravel" and "unravel" have come to mean the same thing.)


What have you missed?


Climate change. It will be too hot to wear anything more substantial than a loincloth soon.

Seriously though... I wonder if printed clothing like this will encourage a re-evaluation of styles of clothing worn in certain climates? I live in Texas and we wear Northern-European descended business suits in heat and humidity better served by shorts and sandals. But since there are no business-formal shorts, we carry on with a stupid tradition and just turn down the thermostat in the office. Somehow this is a signal of our suitability as business partners.

But if the key indicator of clothing quality (tailored fit) is now available for all clothing, for cheap, maybe other factors will determine business suitability. Maybe just wearing company colors is good enough, so long as you cover up your primary sexual characteristics.


Wasn't the last big move in the textile industry (spinning lizzy et al.) one of the reasons for the raise of the working class? Thinking Marx, thinking the Silesian Weavers, ... - what will happen in Bangladesh, Mexico, Poland, ... where ever currently cheap work for the textile industry happens?


Rather than going to a shop for a scan, it's more likely to be something that people buy to use at home
They may already have them, or at least will in the near future. I came across a review (probably via Boing Boing) of the new, improved Kinect that's shipping with the XBox One.


As a (possibly overconfident) material chemist I am not quite sure that the 3D printing of fibers can be so easily achieved. You cannot create a fiber by laying voxels of any material together, and creating a fiber from individual macromolecules requires much higher control over the van der Waals forces than is currently conceivable. So you will need to spin the fibers together to form "yarn" - and this is not 3D printing by definition, since the lateral movement of the printing head will be prohibited during spinning of each fiber.

Suddenly, the 3D printing of metal mesh is entirely conceivable with sufficient printing resolution: after you melt the metal particles, they "cling" to each other quite well.

Even more promising is the polymer analog. You will need to "print" with monomer droplets in the inert matrix, initiate polymerization without removing the matrix so that the meshed structure of liquid strands solidifies, and only then remove the matrix without breaking the polymer strands. Very non-trivial chemistry, by the way, but possible.

Still, you cannot force the freshly-formed macromolecules to align themselves along the fiber direction instead of perpendicular to it, making the individual fibers weaker. This will result in thicker fibers than currently used in clothing - but many advantages outlined in your blog post will still apply. Or you can go for 2D and 3D polymers and get a rigid, almost unstretchable material - that can have applications too.


I remember reading an SF novel in the mid-80s where, as a throwaway, the protagonist had a high-end pair of running shoes with a perfect fit ensured by a robot stitching them in situ, using the foot as a last. Not sure I'd be happy putting my foot into that machine...

Incidentally, if anybody can identify the title I'd be most grateful, it is niggling at me now. The main plot had the protagonist take off for an alien world, where his impotence was cured by communion with the sentient alien grass. Or something. I infer a male writer in late middle age ;)


Since we've identified several candidate technologies for "printing" custom-fitted clothes, and at least 2 of them are going to be used commercially in the near term to manufacture specialty garments, I think there's a good chance there will be large scale industry in the medium term. If so, the precise technology won't matter much in terms of economic and cultural impact: we will be facing yet another wave of automation-induced structural unemployment coupled with another complete restructuring of a retail market (as Charlie pointed out in the post). We really need to restructure our societies to deal with the reality of 10% employment rates very soon.

Some thoughts on applications:

Add an infrared fluorescent dye to the material of a collar, scarf, or hat, and you have a cheap facial-recognition camera spoiler. A lot simpler and easier than sewing a bunch of IR LEDs into your clotrhes.

The same printing techniques could produce custom-fitted bandages (ever tried to put a bandaid on a finger?) for odd corners of the body. If the materal is elastic enough, it could put pressure on a wound, or be used as a tourniquet. 3D printing is already being used with harder materials for custom casts and otyher medical supports.

Spacesuits. The non-pressurized bodysuit design is alive and well. It has major advantages over the big, bulky, heavy, and very expensive custom-built NASA suits currently in use. If we can print a sufficiently-elastic and strong material, the suits could be one or just a few use items, with no need to worry about changes of body shape causing bad fit.


I was thinking about new possibilities for cloth, and here's something made with computer design and production, though not weaving-- advanced knit/crochet combinations (knit for flexibility, crochet for stability) done with very fine yarn.


The fashion industry already tried to expand its copyright protection in America last year, though the bill ultimately died (that link also gives an overview of US fashion IP). I wouldn't be shocked if they tried again.

And since Chrisj mentioned 3D looms, here's one in action. It's a rather mesmerizing I think.


The hand-sewn couture market (which still exists) will be joined by the not-as-high-end machine-sewn-by-real-people somewhat-more-durable market in the middle end. But it won't be a mass employer.

I think even this is a bit over-optimistic about future prospects for employment in sewing, assuming that the technology reaches mass adoption in the first place. There's a repeating pattern in the human vs. machine employment contest: for a long time the humans are so far ahead that machines are a joke, then machines become minimally competetive, and a comparatively short time later the humans are so far behind they're a joke and stay that way forever.

There was once a time when the highest quality of everything required extensive human labor, and if machine-produced equivalents existed at all they were inferior. There was a labor-quality tradeoff: you could always improve quality by applying more human labor. For many products this is no longer true. Using hand labor instead of specialized machines to produce integrated circuits, welded parts, transformer windings, chemicals... means that you'll get a product of inferior performance and consistency. The highly automated system is so much better that even if you sell your labor for a penny a year it never makes business sense for a heavily automated producer to substitute some of your labor. Adding more human labor to the process would actually decrease value, as in "keep that crazy guy begging to intern for free from touching anything!"

If machines become good enough to take over making all the clothing sold to the middle class today, expect them to also take over the high end soon after. People might still make clothes by hand as a hobby or for sentimental reasons, but don't expect any segment of clothing production to remain a viable human occupation on quality grounds very long, if machines can eat the middle of the market.

Can humans compete just by using less energy or cheaper energy than machines? Nope. In middle latitudes photovoltaic electricity is already a cheaper energy source, megajoule for megajoule, than the cheapest of foods transformed through human bodies. Also humans dissipate about 100 watts when idly sleeping or otherwise not working. Machines can power down fully. The gap is just going to keep getting wider. The Iron Law of Wages is broken because a machine needs to "eat" less natural resources than an equivalent-productivity human laborer. Of course humans need to eat whether or not they have jobs but that's not the employer's problem...


relevant sci-fi film:
1951 "the man in the white suit" ..
bloup bloup ;)

I’m wondering if nations with large numbers of garment workers and which are in the process of transitioning from low to medium wage, low to medium added value economies will find ways to delay the adoption of the new techniques. A sort of State neo-Ludditism. Things like objecting to the new technology on environmental grounds and delaying it’s adoption in to various free trade areas.

In a word, no. There's nothing Bangladesh can plausibly do to delay the adoption of this technology in the EU or US or Australia or even China.

They can't project force. Diplomatic channels will be met with reassurance but no real action. Few politicians even care about the environment. Even dying by the thousand, as with the recent collapse of the Savar building, gets at most a few weeks of hand-wringing in the papers and some whitewash.

It's not a nice world we live in.


From an IP point of view, this sort of 3D printed clothing could be great for the fashion industry (at least in the US). While clothing designs can't be copyrighted in the US, 3D models can be.

The question would then be: does the combination of a scanned 3D model of a person's body together combined with the clothing design based on that model (and any graphic elements incorporated in the "fabric") constitute a copyrightable work? I would guess that the fashion industry would say "yes!" quite loudly and point to precedents involving the creation of mesh "bodies", "skins" and "clothing" in the gaming industry.

On the unrelated issue of neo-luddite reaction to this sort of technology:

I think it's unlikely, as clothing manufacturing now takes place primarily in non-western countries. Few people in the west are going to complain about bringing jobs back from abroad. Instead they will praise themselves for putting those "evil sweatshops" out of business. And what happens to the former garment workers in those countries?

No one in the developed world will give a shit.


This stuff would make a useful flexible thin layer insulation if you could use hollow fibres - Not just for heat but also electricity, or if you had metal fibres, as an RF insulator. And if the fibres were sufficiently fireproof you'd be able to hose on synthetic asbestos fireproofing.

Instant carpet? Or how about having a mattress coated with plastic and then spraying a new sheet on when you need to... or peeling the old one off.


The first half of this (the scanning booths) already exist in some US malls. Currently, they're for finding your size in particular brands (which is definitely a step up from the current guess your size and try on lots of clothing model), and they'll integrate into printed clothing quite well.

Here's a link:


dw @ 9
No chance, because the fully-developed "First World" countries will adopt it as fast as they can - & drive the neo-luddites out of the market.


err ...
Most pairs of breasts are not equal in size. ...
All together now:
"There was a young girl from Devizes,
Who had ***s of different sizes,
etc ..."
Let's not go there, shall we?


Possible correction - but the basic premise is that we are between 4 and 8 years away from being able to 3D print woven fabric. … I think this will happen really fast, if only because of the money to be made ...?

Cotton or silk fibres are going to be )relatively) easy … wool could be a real problem – it’s the fibre-diameter(s) that count here, as well as the length. However, if, as you suggest we can get a handle on artificial spider-silk, then the game will seriously change, & permanently.


Actually, that's a good angle: infection control in hospitals suggests that spray-on sheets on a plastic mattress would be a great niche market:

Patient gets out of bed. Cleaner strips bedding, spritzes plastic mattress with disinfectant/exposes to UV light. Cleaner sprays on new felt layer to provide breathable/absorbent underblanket. Then cleaner hits button on wide-carriage "sheet printer" to extrude and cut a length of sheeting. Pillow covers: extrude sheeting, fold, seal at one edge with a glue gun or fabric spray-bond. Old material goes out to "laundry" to be sterilized and reprocessed to make feedstock for tomorrow's bedding.

(As it is, when I go in for an out-patient check up these days the examining couch has a roll of tissue paper at one end and the medic yanks a fresh length out to protect it from each patient's unique microflora and fauna; this is just a possibility for extending it to the somewhat more comfortable bedding you'd need for an in-patient. Hospitals all have large laundries attached -- this may make them easier to run, just as cook/chill/microwave distribution made getting hot meals out to patients on remote wards easier in the 1980s.)

we will be facing yet another wave of automation-induced structural unemployment

I guess that's the most important aspect, part of a more general trend that truly does deserve the name "revolution".

It would be really good if we could find some way of dealing with that on a world-wide basis. Either we'll have to invent new jobs faster than old ones disappear, which seems implausible, or we should just admit that not everyone needs to work and make appropriate arrangements. Some form of universal basic income, maybe via negative income tax.

Because if we don't, odds are blood will flow.


Greg, I went there because this is an important issue for many women. It is not some to make a mockery of.

Back to general uses, custom 3D printed meshes for surgical use would be invaluable, I think.


Greg, I went there because this is an important issue for many women. It is not some to make a mockery of.

Yes, this.

I'm not going to hand out a yellow card yet, but I'd like to caution everyone to think for a moment before trivializing issues that are important to other groups. Anyone else have feet that are one shoe-size different? (That's me.) Or a missing arm, or a one-side mastectomy? (Neither of those describe me.) Think twice before you joke, lest you end up there yourself one of these days.


If someone gets the extruder-in-loom thing working, Nike already has a beautiful piece of technology for custom knitting, including various thicknesses for structure and support. And yes, the results lean fugly, but with a couple years of refinement, I'm guessing they'll look less like a handicraft.

I remember there being some talk about custom foot scanning at the time the tech was announced, but haven't heard anything in awhile. Anyway, pair that with a custom-molded footbed/last, and you've got your super-custom shoes, Charlie, and not impossibly far in the future. Let your feet rejoice.

But yeah, I'm not so sure about using my foot itself as the last, fmackay.


I've gone the other way with the question. You've got a spray can that shoots small fibers and an adhesive to hold them together. What else can you put in the can that uses this same technology? Carbon nano-tubes and some kind of polymer? Glass fibers and epoxy? Suddenly building any kind of hardened form becomes much easier... Do you need to cross a lake? Sculpt your a boat-shaped form out of dirt and cover it with a couple tubes of spray-on fiberglass. Did a micro-meteor hit your spaceship? Out comes the spray can! Pile up a bunch of cardboard boxes and spray... instant house!

Anything you can build a form for out of paper, cloth, or cardboard, or by sculpting with dirt or clay becomes buildable. If you spend a little extra for the carbon-nanotube spray whatever you've built is probably stronger than steel.


I've found a dozen "articles" consisting of re-hashed images and PR from Fabrican's web site. Though their web site goes back to early 2010, they don't seem to actually have anything to sell. There seems to be remarkable little detailed information on the web, or any sign anyone is using the product for anything. (I quit searching at a dozen links)

As it is described - self-felting fibers in a spray can - it would be a useful product *right now*, without "Real Soon Now" technology like 3D printing or nanotech.

As a purely speculative guess, I'd suspect the carrier solvent is a problem. It would have to be nontoxic, noncarcinogenic, non-irritating, and not fall under any "volatiles", poison control, or "substance abuse" environmental regulations. That's a pretty stiff problem, and one various industries have been working on for decades already.

Even if they can't solve the problem directly, spraying fibers that could be fused or vulcanized by heat would be useful. "After spraying, bake for 20 minutes at 150C..."


@ 80 & 81
I carefully didn't write the whole of that ancient & rude Limerick, but I couldn't resist it ...
However, shoe sizes - or more to the point apparently similar sizes but different shapes of feet ( & all the other "bits" to which we attach or cover clothing ) - which is why bespoke clothing is expensive & why hand-made shoes art such bliss ....


I've gone the other way with the question. You've got a spray can that shoots small fibers and an adhesive to hold them together. What else can you put in the can that uses this same technology? ...

You're absolutely right. In fact, you've just re-invented shotcrete, which goes back a little over 100 years in some form and really matured in the 50s and 60s. Doing this with concrete results in heavy structures, as you'd well imagine, and the possibility of doing the same thing with lighter materials is full of potential.


Like Our Generous Host outlined in "Rule 34", how long before these devices get hacked, as illustrated in this XKCD strip?


A few comments on wildly varying subtopics:

(1) A lucrative use, if the "printers" can be made portable enough, will be floor- and wall-coverings. Consider the front parlour with a customized-to-its-actual-dimensions-and-shape "Persian"/"Turkish" wall-to-wall carpet. More to the point, consider this sort of thing in semiindustrial areas, like management's offices in an automobile factory. Too, we might see a return to vertical fabrics over wallpaper — again, applies on site and fitting perfectly, avoiding nasty seams. Fabrics, and particularly felt-type fabrics, do a better job of sound- and heat insulation than thin-sheet cellulose (and cellulose analogs), so that's a bonus.

The biggest problem here will be adapting the process to the substrate. These uses have one huge advantage over clothing, from the perspective of the manufacturer: Planar tensile strength is less important than in many other textiles. That's precisely why car manufacturers can use this in a car's footwell!

And as a side note, consider this for making custom furniture covers, and for tablecloths and matts in mid-range restaurants.

(2) Another type of clothing that would lend itself to this use is the company/school tie/scarf/cravat. Indeed, because their form is among the simplest (fundamentally, they're just folded sheets), they'll probably be one of the earliest "on site" uses — that is, a large company (or, as part of the building's rent, several small companies in the same location sharing a single "unit") or school will print five ties/scarves/cravats for new employees/students at orientation, actually length-sized to the employee/student.

If this sounds like some of the worst aspects of stereotypical misinformation concerning salarymen in Japan, it should...

(3) In intellectual property terms, there's a "third way" that presents some interesting problems: The design patent. Design patents are restricted to decorative, nonfunctional aspects of physical objects. They have very limited terms... but are of use in helping establish a particular design feature as a "famous mark" so that trademark law can take over when the design patent term ends. Consider a certain shoe manufacturer's three parallel oblique stripes, which began as a way to decorate a necessary seam location (on the types of shoes and with the materials used at that time) and have evolved into a trademark. In the US, those three stripes were covered by a design patent (under an older statute) when that manufacturer moved into the US market, and evolved into a general brand identification. I understand that there was a similar process in Europe for that manufacturer/brand, but this all precedes 1992 so the legal issues are... less uniform.

The key with this kind of transition is knowing in advance what aspect(s) of the design will become famous. Is it the doubled handle on a handbag? The stitching on the handle? The stitching pattern connecting the handle to the handbag? Some combination? No matter what any design guru says, the particular aspect that becomes famous can't be predicted in advance; if you need proof of that, look at a Cadbury's bar and ponder the recent rejection of its attempt to register a specific color of purple as its mark...


The substrate problem is an interesting one, which seems to need another invention before the whole sprayable-clothes thing becomes practical.

I'm trying to think of ways the same problem is solved in some other industry, but none of it quite matches. You get temporary forms in various casting processes, but they are the same shape every time.

The best I can imagine is something that makes custom forms with a cheap CNC process out of a reusable material. Something like the way sweet moulds are pressed into cornstarch, but on a bigger scale and with a computer doing the pressing.


The best I can imagine is something that makes custom forms with a cheap CNC process out of a reusable material.

You mean, like a 3D printer?

I'm thinking of an extruded-plastic device, like a MakerBot. The plastic is recyclable -- you can shred it and melt it and reuse it. Only real requirements are for the print resolution to be fine enough to make a decent substrate for fabric, and for the melting point to be lower than the scorch/damage temperature of the fabric.


Anyone who has spent hours in a department store with a ten-year-old trying to get him to try on back-to-school clothes will love this technology. A quick scan followed by a stack of clothes: heaven. Also, children tear through clothing quickly, either through growth or destruction, so being able to quickly acquire replacements is a win, too.


"What am I missing?"

1. The time between ordering and delivery may be an issue for clothes. High end clothes (remember bespoke suits and dresses?) were expected to take time for manufacture. Cheap clothes, off-the-shelf, not so much. If you compete on cheap, the time to manufacture may be a major problem.

2. Fabrics are nowhere as rigid 2D shapes as implied. Fabric composition, and cutting direction can compensate quite a lot. This ranges between linen and spandex.

3. Major industries that are threatened with renewed competition don't stay static. Dimensionally "made to order" could compete quite well with much of the same measuring technology.
Good software to determine cutting patterns from 3 shapes should be possible,

4. As heteromeles suggests, knitting might be another alternative, that we already know produces nice 3D garments. If the stitch size could be reduced to thread count sizes, that might be a useful technology if it was inexpensive,

5. Typically new tech will make a major impact if costs, performance or price are 10x better than existing tech. This doesn't seem to obviously apply to sprayed 3D printing for garments. Therefore it is more likely to be a niche application, where dimensionality by shaping is difficult or very expensive. I'd be looking for uses where the application requires fabric, and the shapes are very difficult to construct.

6. My guess is that spray-on fabrics will "never" have the range of properties of different spun fibers and fiber mixes. This will make them less attractive for garments, despite possibly being better fitting. This would seem to predicate them being in different applications.

7. Today (in the US), a awful lot of clothes are bought, used once, and returned for refund. Perfectly tailored clothes would be unattractive in this model. The couture model assumes permanent ownership. It may be difficult even to borrow clothes if they only fit an almost unique individual.
Fabrics that do not fit perfectly, but close and "give" are probably a better solution.

I think a better application is spraying carbon nanotube whiskers and bonding agent into complex shapes as mentioned up thread, as carbon fiber sheets are quite rigid dimensionally and need good fit between layers. Complex, structures with hollow cores might be extremely strong and lightweight, good properties for airplanes and spacecraft.


A 3D filament printer would obviously do the job, but with current tech it would be slow and so relatively expensive.

A powder printer with some sort of soluble binder might be better, if only because it can be quicker. It also makes it easier to get the form out of the garment at the end of the process.

I have the nagging feeling that there must be a better way, though.


What will this mean for women's clothing sizes?

I agree that, right now, the sizing system is broken, at least in the US. The clothes my significant other buys vary by at least four numbers, depending on the manufacturer, and even pants from the certain manufacturers, bought during the same year, both fitting, have different numbers.

Still, we've fetishized certain female body measurements, and bragging about clothes size had become the socially acceptable alternative (as in "she's a size zero," vs. "she's a size 12"). If and when we transition to mass customization of clothing, hopefully the whole clothing size system will go away, but what then will people talk about?


Well, they're already talking about stupid ideals like the 'thigh gap'. They will always find a way to put women down, even when the 'they' are women themselves.


Two Points
I did not realise - until it was forcibly pointed out to me ...
That knotted garments have become a lot commoner, recently.
Many womens' tops & both sexes T-shirts etc, are knitted, not woven, as I had assumed - did everyone else realise this, either?
Secondly, Charlie maybe didn't emphasise that "Imperial" is almost up there with MIT as a technological superpower among universities.
Now, if they came out with this 2 - 3 years back, but nothing much (obvious) has happened since, then it means they have run into serious snags along the prototype-to-production flow-line.
What they are, I know not (though some here have made suggestions) but it does suggest that the revolution may be postponed for a year or two, yet ??


Whats to stop us form making the coagulated fibres skinlike?

Why use suntanning oil, when you can just spray an invisiblel layer containing exactly the right amount of melanin not to get burned?

Use some buildup material (by hand or machine) before you do the outer skinlike layer and you've got masks MissionImpossible-style. That would be something for the cosplay and LARP communities ;)


Not to mention identity theft, security issues and so on..


As a lot of the comments have already pointed out, I think specialist applications will pick this up first. In terms of breaking into wider consumer markets, the first to pick it up will be active-wear companies. They already charge a premium for garments made from fabrics like gore-tex, etc. I can see clever additions to the 3D fabric ink giving specific desirable properties like insulation, wicking, etc. that could justify the extra cost. Plus there's less concern about fashion in active-wear, if the benefits are worth it (especially for serious active-wear for mountaineers, etc.).

I also think you're wrong about shoes Charlie - these could be huge way before 3D fabrics. The scanning technology is already here, and there are a range of flexible materials that can be printed. You don't even need to print more than one material - Crocs have proven that, but certainly a 2 or 3 material shoe wouldn't be that hard to do. All it would take is for Nike to roll out a scanner to their flagship stores and other companies would jump on the bandwagon. Even if it was just offering plebs the opportunity to have custom printed soles with standard fabric uppers. OK, so you won't get a decent faux leather shoe, but then who wanted the automobile to look like a horse-drawn cart?


If the new technology improves the fit of women's clothes that would be a powerful driver for adoption of the new technology.


Linen is longish fibres and silk is really long fibres, unless you're dealing with cocoons collected after the silk worms are finished with them.

Natural fibres would be the ideal, but the way in which artificial fibres made from sources like Soy and Bamboo are created is almost tailor made to plug into 3D printing.


It might be a good thing if Bangladesh was forced to diversify more as opposed to relying so heavily on textile production as a percentage of exports. It's at the point where getting wage raises and labor protections in the industry are extremely difficult because of the political clout of textile owners in the Bangladeshi government.

You don't move up the value chain just by being a stop in some other country's corporation's global supply chain if you're a poor country. Compare Bangladesh to South Korea.


That particular problem was well worked through on rec.arts.sf.fandom a long time ago.

Apart from what you hint at, there are problems with getting good measurement, the imperfections of the sizing system, and manufacturing variation. If you find something right for you, there is no guarantee that the same nominal size from another manufacturer will work as well.

And these problems extend to the whole clothing business. People just aren't getting properly measured.

You all might be surprised by how many seams there are around a waistline, and how many seam allowances there are. Even slight errors will add up.

I have learned the hard way that it is a waste of time to buy shoes mail-order.


Oh I realise, all right.
Nominal identical sizes for Men's underpants .....
Except that some are *TOO TIGHT* - squeak!
Nominal 34" waistband trousers, where the size is too large, &, because I have almost-zero hips, the damned things just gently slide off .....


We're assuming cheaper clothes but with advances in metamaterials, wearables, flexible batteries etc there may be a new market for high end clothing - the clothing equivalent of an iphone for the geek on the go (Initially, then spreading to the whole population). With a mobile phone's swiss army knife style of capabilities: Protection, monitoring, communications, customizability.

If the fiber can shrink and stretch, change colour or texture you don't NEED more than one suit and if it's dirt and water repellent you've got yourself one segment of eager buyers - the engineer/borderline asperger/computer science type who never had much time for this clothing business to begin with. His girlfriend can choose his patterns for him if it makes her happy (And he does have one because he's the only one left with a job in the neighborhood...)

Maybe the 50s sci fi was right and everyone in the future will wear uniform silvered jumpsuits, except they don't look like that at all because everyone is wearing augmented reality lenses and is seeing custom overlays...


you've got yourself one segment of eager buyers - the engineer/borderline asperger/computer science type who never had much time for this clothing business to begin with

Like me, you mean? That market segment is already served by folks like ScottEvest (makers of jackets that used to come with cable ducts for your personal area network). The colour thing is easily addressed by only ever wearing black -- hey, everything matches! And hiking/camping/outdoor shops tend to sell lots of highly functional stuff with too many pockets.

But the silver jumpsuit future is about as likely to happen as the food pill future or the flying car future: vanishingly few people want it and/or the drawbacks are obvious to most. (Who wants food pills when you can have world cuisine? And you might want your own flying car, but do you really want general access to flying cars if it means facing the risk of your neighbour's 16 year old son borrowing his parents' wings to impress the girlfriend and drilling a smoking hole in your bedroom roof?)


That's the vest-of-pockets idea taken to a practical conclusion.
I use Orvis + Craghoppers/Regatta for "Traasis", which do the same job -: + of course, belt-loops / Pouches for other "extras" [ Swiss-Army + Torch at least. ]
Most decent tweed-jackets have a ridiculous number (i.e. very useful) of pockets, too!


In semi-related news; the "EX1" kickstarter ( ) allows printing of circuit boards onto various surfaces, including paper and cloth. Spray a layer of cloth, print the circuit, spray a second layer and you have disposable wearable electronics.

His girlfriend can choose his patterns for him if it makes her happy (And he does have one because he's the only one left with a job in the neighborhood...)

That's a remarkably sexist remark. Maybe it is the woman who has the job and she wants a live-in computer geek to maintain her plethora of gadgets? :-)


Buying shoes by mail is a pain, but the only way I can get a reasonably good fit (my feet are 8E) is from a mail order company called Auditions. I have four pairs of shoes in the same style, and I'll probably buy more.


Tangential to part of the OP, where in the world will manufacturers go from Bangladesh? What happens when labor costs worldwide rise up by their bootstraps? And how can that be ensured? Perhaps a world minimum wage. Could be done with a treaty. All countries that sign it have at least a 1 dollar an hour, or so,
minimum wage (no need to get greedy initially). They also agree do erect prohibitive trade barriers to countries that don't sign the treaty--thus no reshipping scams. So then Bangladesh and Mexico and China are all the same, wagewise, thus the most pollution tolerant or building code lax country will have the edge to get the investment. Or more likely labor saving tech fixes like 3d printing will get more appealing and we go back to the world as it was before the container ship.


I was in Malaga, Spain recently, and was dragged into C&A (remember them?). Interestingly, they had a whole section devoted to fitting and customising clothes - this would be unusual for a generic high street clothing retailer in britain.

And across much of Malaga there seemed to be many fitting shops.

Therefore it seems the effect of fitting being restricted to the super-wealthy may well be restricted only to some parts of the developed world. I know Spain is poorer than the UK, but not hugely. Fitting is something you get done when clothes are expensive and you want as much use out of them as possible.

Perhaps if clothes were to rise in price just a little we'd see the return of widespread fitting in the UK.


I assume the original users will be places where fugly doesn't matter. For example, there might be a rational for custom fitted high tech garments for firefighters, soldiers, athletes, divers, etc.


I have commented one or two times on Making Light about my slow progress with my late Mother's sewing machine, which may well have been a wedding present. Old-fashioned even then, but made to last.

Using standard sizes, my shirts have always been long in the sleeve when they fit my neck. Some other areas are a trifle large now.

I have shortened sleeves on one shirt, and it looks better, but mostly I have been doing minor repairs.

The technology has a certain geekish fascination, and the more modern machine I picked up on eBay for 99p, plus delivery, is using some parts which were first put in a Singer machine in 1879.

A Singer machine in the 1890s was priced at the equivalent of around GBP 4000 today.

The Singer sewing machine in the 1850s was as revolutionary as the 3D fabric printing we are talking about here, and, in terms of the labour cost of a skilled machine-maker, would cost around $50,000 now But that expensive machine did the same amount of work as 4 or more women hand-sewing, and the end result was cheaper clothing made with more durable stitching.

One type of Singer machine cost half-a-year's wages in 1940, which is GBP 6500 now.

There are all sorts of problems with the numbers, but we're talking about about something within reach of the cost of a good motor car.

Only thing it, what it the productivity increase of 3D fabric printing going to be, when you allow for all the preliminaries. Spinning and weaving are going to need replacing by a whole new infrastructure.


A lot of people discussing shoes, nobody talking about the last industry that actually rested on felt: hats. Measure your head size - don't even need millimetre scanners - and then tick bowler, slouch, trilby, or your own design based on the Golux's indescribable hat from Thurber, and the machine runs it off. I agree that the hat market simply went puff in what, 1948? for no particular reason after several thousand years of use (my grandfather worked in a bank; he lost his hat one day and had to skulk at work until after dark, when he could slip home by back alleys) but who knows, this may bring it back....

Speaking of tents and camping, has anybody experimented with going out into the woods with a roll of clingwrap and simply making your own tent between a couple of shrubs? Should work.


One thing you might be missing is that it just may not work. Hardware (even "soft" wear, remembering an old Doonsbury joke)is not quite like software. I know one quite serious research lab had a contract several years ago to automate sewing. Just needed to do one seam accurately, these were seriously determined engineers and there was some issues with the flexibility of material that they just gave up on. The universal replicator may be vastly far in the future.


What is the source of the fibers for the 3D printer?
The individual full size hair/wool/cotton fibers may be too big for the print heads. If a suitable replacement for these fibers are found, then the irrigation intensive farming of cotton crops may be severely curtailed. Would those regions switch to food crops? How about the silk industry?


Your minimum wage of $1/hour would be a huge rise -- probably unachievable -- in many nations; the current UN definition of poverty is "has to live on under $1.25 a day". Currently there are rather more than a billion people living under these conditions.


There already is an intermediate step; those companies that have observed that you can build models of simpler clothes that are made to measure when the customer orders. There are a large number of them, I won't link.

They still use people in lower wage countries to sew clothes but they only make clothes when ordered which makes them more profitable as a shirt is still a shirt if made to a custom measure, they save the cost of stocking and the waste of unsold clothes.

Making a machine sew a suit or shirt should be very difficult for the reasons you mention. Using laser cutting to make the parts is relatively cheap. It would probably be easier to glue the parts together but the fasionistas expect cotton, wool and other fabrics to be sewn but that can of course change.

What will happen when the world runs out of cheap labour will indeed be very interesting.


the hat market simply went puff in what, 1948? for no particular reason after several thousand years of use

I think male hat market was killed by cheap shampoo and ubiquitous showers. For the first time in history men could keep their hair consistently clean.

And "several thousand years" is a gross exaggeration. Try "one or two hundreds". The rich and the nobility wore hats or wigs depending on time and place, but until industrial revolution commoners wore headcover only when it was practical -- fur in winter, sombrero in tropics, steel helmet in battle. Felt hats became a necessary object for all men only with industrial felt production.


Historical speculation: the 17th-early 19th century thing for wigs in European fashion may have correlated with an uptick in lice. (I note that it corresponds roughly with the most intense period of the little ice age, so perhaps there's a climate/epidemiology correlate here.) By shaving one's head and wearing a wig instead, it's possible to keep parasites under control (wigs are easier to disinfest). Hats persisted afterwards as outdoor protection from both the weather and soot from fires; the advent of central heating/air conditioning, decline of coal smoke, improvements in hair products (showers and liquid shampoo) all contributed to render hats less necessary, until the Boomers and their parents more or less abandoned them in the post-WW2 decades.

Pre-little ice age, well, indoor heating was rare/labour intensive and smoky. And there were some odd theological beliefs surrounding ears and the exposure thereof during the mid to late mediaeval period that might have had some effect. But mostly I'd put the prevalence of headgear down to the need for protection from the elements and the lack of heating.

(Now an expert on historical fashion is going to set me right. Right?)


WEll, my main interest is the roughly 500 years before 1600 or so, but you seem to be reasonably accurate.
The thing is that once you get away from being modern and living in central heating etc, you actually find that yes, hoods and hats and suchlike are useful for keeping you warmer, but the precise fashions etc change with little reference to this fact, and there's simply the social pressure to be meek and unassuming which means wearing a hat.
So in general, yes, lack of heating means more hats, scarves and gloves; heating everywhere meaning you can walk from warmth to warmth whilst wearing very little clothing, means no need for any of them.


I think you'll find that hats were worn in California and other non-cold environments.

As I recall, the collapse of the hat industry is usually credited to JFK and RFK's decision to shun headgear, in the name of their youthful approach to politics.

(Charlie - as the fiftieth anniversary of the fateful November morn in Dallas, are we likely to see your fine mind trained on the Kennedy Assasination phenomenon, from any angle? Or is that not really your sort of thing?)


(Charlie - as the fiftieth anniversary of the fateful November morn in Dallas, are we likely to see your fine mind trained on the Kennedy Assasination phenomenon, from any angle? Or is that not really your sort of thing?)

Nope. I think the whole Kennedy assassination/conspiracy nexus is a red herring.

It's likely that Lee Harvey Oswald was acting alone.

Firstly, the high frequency of assassination attempts on US presidents since 1963 -- weren't there something like 4 assassination attempts on Bill Clinton alone, per wikipedia, and 6 on Obama so far? -- gives us a baseline, and it looks like they're almost all random nutjobs who've bought into the myths peddled by the boosters of the paranoid style in American politics.

Secondly, it's been fifty years. Conspiracies leak, at the best of times; the idea that a conspiracy to successfully assassinate a US president could be hushed up for half a century, with all participants silenced, almost beggars the imagination.

Having said that, I can't rule out a conspiracy definitively. There are plenty of powerful individuals or groups with a motive and the means.

One theory is that it was the mafia, in payback for JFK's stab-in-the-back by appointing RFK as attorney general and going after the mob, after they helped get the vote out.

Another is that it was the Cuban secret service, in payback for the numerous verified CIA plots to assassinate Castro. (I think this unlikely: the blowback if it came to light would be immense -- assassinating a head of state is an act of war, and while the USA rubbing out Castro would have precluded easy retaliation, a Cuban hit on a US president would have courted invasion.)

There's the role of the FBI to consider. It looks as if J. Edgar Hoover cordially hated JFK. Did Hoover have an inkling about Oswald and let him run rather than arrest him? That'd explain some of the cover-up-shaped aftershocks.

But in general I tend to discount large-scale conspiracies to commit some kind of positive action. They're not plausible. Cover-my-ass-ups are another matter, however ...

My personal favourite theory: Oswald was brainwashed into shooting JFK by the Time Police, who were desperately trying to prevent WWIII from breaking out in 1964 thanks to an earlier botched attempt to retcon history in order to avert a WWIII in a 1952 where Stalin's NKVD captured the files and samples from Unit 731 when the USSR invaded Japan in 1946, and WWIII went biological rather than nuclear.


If/when this happens it is going to be devastating for a lot of developing nations which have used textile exports to drive their economic growth and employ new urban dwellers. It may not be pretty and it is often downright cruel, but millions of people have been lifted out of the worst of poverty on the back of these jobs.

Any thoughts Charlie on what these countries which are often resource and capital poor could do in the future?


Yes: in the long term, we're all fucked.

Capital chases labour at the cheapest cost. Restrictions on immigration -- which only apply to those of us who don't have a million bucks or so, to buy an investor's visa: the 0.1% are free to live wherever they like -- keep the proletariat (anyone who isn't in the top 0.1%, basically) nailed down and unable to go where they can earn more. Thus does imperialism work, per Marx's analysis: it's not about armies and colonial government, it's about resource/labour/capital flows between resource or labour rich client states and capital-rich great powers.

Which is all very well, but we're rapidly charging into a world where computers are finally powerful enough to take on a lot of hitherto-computationally-intractable grunt work. Self-driving cars, 3D printing, robots, the internet as tool for disrupting disintermediation layers in markets ... our jobs are gradually evaporating.

(My next blog entry was going to be about that. I ought to write it later this week.)

The point is, in the developed world we're used to an employment rate of around 40%. That is, about 40% of us have full-time work in jobs for which we are appropriately qualified. The rest are retirees, the disabled, kids and students in education, homemakers, and part-time workers. A really depressed economy may get as low as 20% -- think Russia in the 1990s, Weimar Germany -- and a really thriving economy can fully employ maybe up to 45% of the population. But that's the envelope we occupy. Ignore unemployment figures, they're easily massaged for political gain. (A PhD flipping burgers in McD's is not truly fully employed, but they don't show up as unemployed.) This, incidentally, is why the UK feels so dismal right now: we have lower-than-expected unemployment, but all the job growth has been in burger-flipping and zero-hours retail contracts and so forth. If those were real jobs we'd be in a boom instead ...

But anyway: automation is going to cut deeply into skilled and white-collar jobs over the next decade. Lexis/Nexis has already gutted demand for junior legal staff in the USA (they used to have jobs researching cases in law libraries: now the senior partners can push a few buttons and get the same results as a junior with a day among the books) and there's massive overcapacity in the legal trade. Cutting into the low-paid fabrication jobs is just another part of the picture.

We're heading for a 10% employment world. And nobody in a position of power seems to care much about what this implies, or how the underemployed are going to eat or pay taxes.


INdeed, that's the other side of the coin - fashion and social mores to do with covering your head etc. Might not hats in CA also help you avoid sunstroke?

And I reallly don't think wearing hats fell out of fashion due to JFK. Some influence, under the heading "fashion", but there will have been a great deal more than that going on, including the previously mentioned improvements in home heating etc.


I think part of the Strange Attractor nature of the Kennedy assassination must come down to how irreparably weird Oswald is as a cultural figure - a double defector who had a novel written about him before he became famous.

(If you want an explanation of why there's so many conspiracy theories about JFK's death, consider that the conspiracy theory is both art form and devotional worship in Discordianism, and Oswald was friends with Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst)


Note that low employment is an unstable situation. There are at least three historical solutions for it:

--Revolution followed by forced de-automation
--Population flight following the jobs
--Revolution to a fascist regime, followed by rapid expansion, followed by major war.

Those are for countries that have followed through on this. One does hope that politicians are smart enough to go for option four, which is to constrain automation to where it minimizes social instability and keeps their regime in power. I'm not sure how often that has happened, but I suspect it has happened multiple times in the US, at least back in earlier days (like the 1930s-1960s) when people had a better idea of what market bubbles and rapid social change really did to societies, and wanted no part of it.


Snopes has a piece on Kennedy and hat sales

Hats also declined in other countries too, so the Kennedy influence seems suspect in regards this fashion trend.


China looks like which of the 4 paths?


I don't think you've got the whole idea re. the 1930's to 1960's. It wasn't so much that people had a good idea of what bubbles and rapid change did to a society, rather that the power was more spread out, e.g. with unions able to hold their own against management much of the time, ensuring that the benefits of improved production methods were shared more evently.
Which is blatantly not happening now, in the USA and many other countries. Also I really don't see how automation was constrained exactly; or rather, what were later seen as pointless union rules about who could do what work were as much or more about power than about stopping or slowing automation.
Hmm, so I suppose you're partly correct; nevertheless it certainly wasn't the whole story.

Now in the hypothesis Charlie has presented, there simply isn't any room for workers at all, just some fairly well trained engineers to carry out regular maintenance of the production facility and a grunt to wash the place down once a week. There's simply no opportunity for people to be employed en masse and for workers to exert some influence. And with our politicians demonstrably in the pockets of big business, it is clear that absent some major changes, the workers will continue being turned into peons and the return to the worst of the 19th century will be complete, probably even with increases in communicable diseases because who will pay for immunisations and we're in a post-antibiotics world.

Well I suppose the post-antibiotics world thing will help push the one use clothing idea. In fact how about the spray clothing being held together by a glue which is dissolvable, so that every night your clothes are dissolved and re-made, thus saving the need to wash them yourself?
Of course this is only available to the rich. The poor have to wash things themselves, using scarce natural resources so its a bit expensive, or home made soap.


Is this corrected for local price of living?


Note that low employment is an unstable situation. There are at least three historical solutions for it:

--Revolution followed by forced de-automation
--Population flight following the jobs
--Revolution to a fascist regime, followed by rapid expansion, followed by major war.

A revolution that ends in de-automation has to be accompanied by something close to autarky. The locals won't want to compete with foreign robots any more than they wanted to compete with local robots, and in any case they can't produce export goods on a competitive basis to pay for imports. Maybe they can aspire to North Korean prosperity*.

Population flight chasing jobs won't work because employment is going to be in decline everywhere, and borders are generally less porous to immigrants than they were in the early 20th century.

A nation that compensates for unemployment with military expansion and conquest is going to either be destroyed quickly or quickly destroy themselves and the rest of the world, depending on whether or not they escalate to nuclear weapons. Any future total war involving great powers will be much shorter and deadlier than WW II.

*North Korea is a joke by OECD standards, but by the Human Development Index it's still above the world median.


Nope. It's also in 1996 money, so subject to so adjustment for inflation. Nevertheless, it's not good: the folks who live on that level of income are not automatically starving -- many of them are subsistence farmers -- but it's a measure of the degree of their exclusion from the global money-based economy. (IIRC an economist whose name I've blanked on noted that if you start looking at un-developed world peasant systems and developing/developed world intra-family transactions it turns out that something like 75% of all economic exchanges of value occur in non-fiscal systems. And not often via barter, either.)


>IIRC an economist whose name I've blanked on noted that
>if you start looking at un-developed world peasant
>systems and developing/developed world intra-family
>transactions it turns out that something like 75% of all
>economic exchanges of value occur in non-fiscal systems.
>And not often via barter, either.

I think by "non-fiscal" you mean no money is involved. If it's an exchange, and it doesn't use money, and it isn't barter, what is it?

My best guess is quid-pro-quo. I give you eggs when I have extra, and you give me pork when you slaughter a pig, because we're friends. If I give you eggs for long enough and you don't give me pork during that time, we won't be friends any more. But that's a guess.


I think by "non-fiscal" you mean no money is involved. If it's an exchange, and it doesn't use money, and it isn't barter, what is it?

You really need to read David Graeber on debt and the origins of money ...


That's not quid-pro-quo, that's reciprocity, but it's quibbling. Gift-giving, lending, doing favors, and volunteering are quite normal in all societies.

Consider, for example, how bizarre it is for someone to charge one of their children the cost of raising them, even though children-rearing costs are enough in some societies to keep people from having kids. It has happened, but in the one example I read about (rather nasty father presented son with itemized bill for the cost of raising him), the child paid off his father and they never spoke again.

What's actually bizarre, to the point of being unheard-of, is monetizing everything and trying to capture every transaction in economic statistics. When it is tried (how much is mother love worth, anyway?), it often devolves to people throwing up absurd guesses of value and estimates that are effectively absurdist fiction. My guess is Charlie is being polite: in all societies, the majority of transactions are not captured by the economy. This also includes such costly and criticical things as child-rearing and caring for sick and dying relatives.

Certainly, the majority of truly critical economic exchanges--the ones involved with providing us with breathable air, shielding from interplanetary radiation, and gravity necessary for our health, and so on--are not monetized. Attempts to estimate how much the Earth contributes to our overall economic well-being suggest that the "natural capital" of the biosphere still dwarfs the human economy by at least three-fold if not more. This is one reason that space stations and large closed biospheres are so unbelievably expensive--it's horribly expensive to replicate what the planet provides for free.


This may be going a bit too far forward, but suppose we were to develop a polymer that could not only be used with this technology, but could be decomposed catalytically into something relatively harmless like water or gaseous nitrogen? Most people wouldn't want to wear clothing that would dissolve at the touch of a stick, but there are some scenarios where this would be extremely useful.

* A hospital that can dress a patient just by having them stand in the "clothes shower" and can undress them by touching a catalyst stick to the clothing.
* Toilet paper in a can - spray on your hand, wipe, drop into bowl (or hole for camping). When done, drop a few drops of catalyst solution from the eyedropper to instantly biodegrade the "paper".
* Instant mop - spray onto a liquid spill, pick up the sheet, toss in a bucket which has a catalyst strip embedded in the bottom.


If we're at the stage of being able to use fibres in that way - and I'm probably late on this one as a 3D printer might be able to do same - does that not bring closer perfectly identical fraudulent money and biological organs? I know organs have been covered in the past but it's the perfect notes that interest me...


I absolutely agree it's not the whole story, but it's partly right: the two world wars, with the depression between them, had exposed a lot of fault lines in the various styles of imperial capitalism of the 19th century.

The basic point is that endemic unemployment is a bigger problem than cheap products. We've got a lot of cheap products, but we're already diving into a post-consumer economy, by which I mean we have fewer and fewer people who can afford to buy them, even when they want to. The economy of the nineties and the early naughties, fueled by unbridled consumption, has fallen apart.

We've seen high unemployment before, and it seems to result in societal instability followed (occasionally) by even worse outcomes. I therefore think smart politicians will work to keep people busy. The simplest way is to rein in automation, but it's might also be useful to do WPA-style infrastructural fixes.

As for China, I'd argue that they're only now facing this problem, since they've classically depended on a lot of cheap, skilled labor, rather than high level automation. It will be interesting to see how they make the transition to automation and mass unemployment. My prediction is that it will be messy.


Hospitals: adjacent district general hospitals (say Exeter and Taunton) may have only one laundry, with transport between. If transport becomes more expensive this may revert.

Shoes: I'd expect something more like computer controlled cutting for shoes than spray.


Chopper gun fiberglass is this, but with a non evaporating filler.

Once the piloting problem is solved (fully autonomous, human out of the loop), I wonder if flying cars will take off? High power and noise, but could be handy, then again, with self driving cars, I'd think staying on the ground would not be so bad.


The simplest way is to rein in automation, but it's might also be useful to do WPA-style infrastructural fixes.

As we live in a world where capital is effectively liquid, but labour constrained by location, I suspect reining in automation isn't feasible; you'll always have a neighbour who's willing to take advantage of it, and worse, you'll always have a population who want the shiny toys, meaning a market for cross-border trade. (Even NoKo can't quite clamp down on this. Hence their release of an official Juche Android Tablet this week.)

Infrastructure spending and public works, on the other hand, are a really good thing: they serve as a sink for surplus labour activity, but if done right they give us incredibly useful stuff. (They also need ongoing maintenance spending, typically 2-5% of construction costs per year to keep them intact.) Trouble is, the spread of automation means that we don't need gangs of thousands of guys with pickaxes to build the Grand Hoover Dam these days. So that's not a long-term-viable way out of the trap either.

Ultimately we're going to have to either ditch the idea of a perpetual-compound-growth-based economy, at least in physical goods -- or we're going to have to ditch the Reformation-vintage idea that work is spiritually uplifting and that idleness is sinful. Switch to a basic income scheme whereby the government pays everybody an annual wage for existing, and tax all income above that wage (with no loopholes). You could keep a capitalist consumer-demand-driven economy on life support for quite some time if you go that way, although the irony (free market economy propped up by, er, socialism) will probably stop it gaining traction in the USA until after the coming revolution.


The perpetual growth economy has been moving into the financial sphere for decades, I guess partly because banks create money to suit themselves, and therefore there's positive feedback going on, and of course the financialisation of the economy. The problem is that all this obviousness (even I, a lowly scientist by training noticed it years ago) has yet to filter through to the politicians and the political movements.

Also, typing as a long term unemployed person, I would happily live on a moderate sum of money, if I could spend time researching historical and other such subjects with a view to spreading and publishing the information I find, i.e. part of the reserve army of the unemployed can pick up the slack with regards to the cutting of arts funding. (want to do a PhD in history or archaeology in the UK? Tough, there's bugger all funding for it, so you'd better have rich parents)

Regarding development of underdeveloped countries, I get the impression that those who are trying a 'free' market approach aren't getting the step up from cheap easy labour making clothes, to the next stage of light engineering and so on upwards, because all the profits are gathered by an elite who are not interested in the local development, and by transnational elites who are also not interested in local development. At least the older government pushed not so free market development styles, whilst more nationalistic, actually had an obvious growth path.


Yup, I agree. NOte also the explosion in debt which maintained consumption beyond the real ability of people to afford it.
Meanwhile, there's tens and hundreds and possibly trillions of dollars of money saved by people worldwide, looking for good investment opportunities. Not useful or anything, just good, as measured by return, thus stimulating asset bubbles and the like.

WPA like infrastructure fixes won't work in developed countries, (well maybe in the USA because of the lack of proper replacement and maintenance of bridges etc) because there's not much more to do. Here the government is so desperate for a big project that they are about to waste 40 or 50 billion or more on a high speed rail prject that has no economic usefulness, at least compared to its cost of building. Meanwhile funding to science is cut, funding to arts is reduced to a pittance.
Infrastructure would work in a developing country, obviusly, if they can get the money somehow for ever more expensive raw materials.


I wrote a long comment on works schemes the UK (and especially Scotland) needs, but the timed logout thing ate it. Highlights:

1. We need more affordable housing. Lots of it.

2. We need a major new trunk railway -- like HS2 -- but I'd start it in the north and work south (to ensure that construction doesn't stall once the London-centric version currently specified finishes linking up the London commuter belt); goal being to encourage development in the north. And I wouldn't optimize for speed but for passenger capacity -- broad loading gauge, double-decker cars, longer platforms.

3. Upgrade the A1 to motorway for its entire length, including the Alnwick-to-Torness single carriageway stretch.

And that's just for starters. While I'm on it: we need lots of municipal tram networks coordinated with bus/rail interchanges and out of town park-and-ride termini. We probably do need some new, higher capacity airports for long-haul travel (although I'd rather put the biggest near Manchester and at the hub of a national HSR network than in orbit around London). And why don't we build a tunnel under the Irish Sea? Belfast to Stranraer is only 42 miles -- the Seikan tunnel is 33.5 miles, so we could grab the "world's biggest engineering project" title back from Japan. If Belfast was 40 minutes from Liverpool by train, and 3 hours from London, suddenly we might see some regeneration going on there ...


...will probably stop it gaining traction in the USA until after the coming revolution.

Please send lawyers, guns, money and good encryption. :)


"Paper Promises" by Philip Coggan ....

& @ 148
Almost right ... but not quite ... THIS BIT: And I wouldn't optimize for speed but for passenger capacity -- broad loading gauge, double-decker cars, longer platforms. is wrong.
NOT 5'6" gauge, but standard, but to full UIC or even German max loading-gauge (With through running on to HS1 which is at that gauge.)
That thus gives you double-deckers ....

Err & speed IS passenger capacity ... however, I'd go for 225 MPH max rather than 250 .....


1) Agreed, particularly since the seeds of the banking crash were set as much in the housing bubble as in deregulation and derivatives trading in housing debt.

2) Not quite sure; I agree that we need more capacity, but I think we also need speed "to make rail competitive with air". Of course, if we can persuade people to consider security theatre and city centre - airport travel as "part of the air journey" that would help lots.

3) Not quite so sure; I think it may be better to do the A68? In this context note that anyone I spoke to who came from the Glasgow area to bradford by car went M74-M6 to J36 then A65 to Bradford (ir's a slower road but saves about 50 miles).

4) Belfast - Craigryan would save 5 miles of undersea civils, and still grab "World's biggest engineering project".


I'd replace the A1 rather than simply upgrade it; a more direct dual-carriageway link between Newcastle and Edinburgh following the line of the A696/A86 rather than the north-then-west long way round via Berwick the A1 follows today. It would save at least 20 miles off the trip and take a load of traffic away from the existing A1 ox-cart track segment which probably wouldn't need upgrading at this point.


This, today

"Zhejiang Province, a manufacturing hub that neighbors the commercial capital of Shanghai, would invest a staggering $82 billion over the next five years to encourage manufacturers to adopt more robots; this in order to overcome the short supply and high cost of labor that currently prevails in the coastal areas of China."


Also, dont think that this was mentioned.
3D printing can make perfectly acceptable chainmail structures, with a high degree of complexity, in very interesting shapes - one way flexible for example.
Would making the "links" small enough and using soft materials with good haptics start to give materials that feel like knitted jersey etc?
Using this kind of technique could (and has, IIRC) let to complete 3D printed garments of the high end conceptual fashion kind.
See the Fashion Digital Studio at LCF.
It's all happening, already!


led, not let.


Well, more of the A1 as dual carriageway would be nice. Whether you can do the A68 as well depends on how much you are willing to rip up a scenic area. It's a while since I've been up it but large stretches are vulnerable to bad weather and involve some hill climbing etc. All very well for a Bradford to Manchester motorway with millions of people at either end; less so for a cross border route. Meanwhile more of the traffic goes the M74-M6 route anyway.

The assumption is also that more people will be driving greater distances more often, which I simply find untenable, especially if we are supposed to be meeting greenhouse gas reductions limits. Sure, if we get magic fusion tech, all bets are off, but we have to try and plan for not getting such things.
More and better railways and their electrification is definitely a good thing though - I just disagree that we need high speed, as opposed to merely very fast like we have now. Again, down to the increasing energy to make it run faster, and the massive costs which don't fit the likely payback.

Big tunnel idea, nice, but wouldn't employ many people. Same with many other ideas. More affordable housing would surely just take the housing industry back to boom time, not use the couple of % more people who are out of work.
But then you know that's not a viable way out of the work trap anyway.

The coming revolution? Where do I sign up?


We may agree to disagree about the size of the infrastructural problem in the US. According to Robert Courland's Concrete Planet, the infrastructural debt is up to US$21 trillion. The problem is that most reinforced concrete structures have a lifespan of no more than a century. Because the US didn't go through that, erm, massive urban renewal project that hit much of Europe in the 1940s-1960s, a lot of our critical dams, bridges, etc, are at the ends of their lifespans. The problem is finding the money to do the repairs before things fail and people die. If only it was simple.

On a related note, it's interesting is that we tend to treat the biosphere the way Iain Banks humans treat the Minds: a benevolent overlord who takes care of the basics while we do our own thing.

Perhaps we should switch that around a bit, especially since we're becoming so prominent in so many biosphere processes: we're the crew of Spaceship Earth. Idling the crew is kind of a stupid thing to do, isn't it? Especially when there are so much housekeeping that needs to be done.

I don't like idling people, because telling people they are useless and have no purpose is asking for trouble. They will come up with creative things to do, but a lot of that creativity can wind up heaving bricks through windows and the like. A lot of people like to live meaningful lives, and there's a lot of positive things we could do to give their lives meaning.

We're got a lot of chores to do to make life more comfortable for everything in our biosphere, and we're idling a lot of talented people. What we're missing are ideologies to connect the two, and a willingness to pay people for that kind of labor. I mean, it's okay to worship someone who makes more shiny gewgaws and make him a billionaire, but it's not okay to employ someone who tells land managers how they're screwing up and help them fix it. What sense does that make?


The one huge plus for upgrading the A68 is that it joins the A1(M) south of Newcastle, thereby bypassing the festering circle of hell that is the A1 between Sunderland and Gateshead.

For non-locals: the A1 is one of the two major north/south arteries connecting England and Scotland. Unfortunately Newcastle, a major city, lies smack bang alongside it and has no ring road/beltway; so all the local traffic ends up clogging up the long-haul artery and it grinds to a halt every single day.

Add a spur road from the hypothetical A68(M) running across to Sunderland and crossing the A1 and we could neatly snip out the A1 around Newcastle, turning it into a ring road and saving about 60 miles relative to the 220 mile Edinburgh/Leeds motorway/A1 journey.


The M74/M6 link up the west coast climbs the Shap and Beattock summits, both over 300 metres in elevation and often snowed in. I once spent a night snowbound in a service station to the south of Beattock with nose-to-tail trucks stationary in a line up the approaches.

I'm not saying a new route would follow the A68 route perfectly over hill and dale but a shorter journey between Tyneside and Edinburgh would be a big help for a lot of folks who don't want a sidetrip to Berwick every time they travel north.


And why don't we build a tunnel under the Irish Sea?

Because there are only 11,000 people in Stranraer?

Less facetiously, Stranraer is still a long way from any major cities - 230 miles from Liverpool, and a fair way (in different directions) from Newcastle and Glasgow. Whether you're aiming for regeneration of Northern Ireland or fixing up the national infrastructure, I'd expect you'd get more bang for your buck with other projects.


Let's go back to the airport. The endpoint of the current paranoid trajectory of security there is a state in which you can take literally nothing from outside into the terminals, let alone the cabin, and airline-issued clothing is a necessary part for that to work. Printable clothing might make those garments sufficiently non-awful that people will still be willing to fly...

(Rental netbooks/net tablets that never leave the plane for entertainment and low security business needs. People shouldn't be doing higher security things in public in the first place.


Fashion becoming more decentralized among young people.


Another thing that's missing from most views of the economy is the work people do for themselves.


Yes: in the long term, we're all fucked.

As it happens, I've lately been re-reading the roleplaying game GURPS Transhuman Space. It's set in the year 2100, with a quite magic-tech Transhuman world.

I quite like the game, and I liked it more when it was published in 2002, for not being only a crapsack world, like many cyberpunk and scifi roleplaying games at the time.

It presents a quite optimistic picture of the state of the world at least on the first reading. After reading this blog I cringe at the prevalent "independent anarchists and free-thinkers colonising the outer Solar System" meme in the game, but I can live with that. The magic tech helps in getting the inhospitable places colonized, and in the context of an RPG it might even be good.

However, as I'm now re-reading it ten years later, I get the feeling things are not quite fun for everybody (or even most people) on Earth. Even though it's mentioned in multiple places that there's almost universal health care, lots of entertainment and new Stuff to buy (or 3d-print), the proportion of people working worries me.

In the book "Fifth Wave" (yeah, Toffler's been read) it's mentioned that about a third of the workforce is really working. I don't really know what the jobs are, as it's also mentioned that many of the jobs have been automated, and even generic AIs are possible. Being in the portion of the populace that doesn't have work is mentioned to be frustrating and there might even be some revolutionary movements.

Also, I think there's a rather large population living off interest, the so-called "leisure class" is like one-third of the population. This might be a slightly exaggarated in the light of the developments during the last decades, especially considering that there isn't that much growth in the 2100 world.

Then in the Third Wave nations things might not even be that well. It's mentioned that these countries mostly sell either remote labor (it's cheaper to use a remote human worked for a robot than a specialized AI even in this world) or their basic resources. This is of course what's happening now in our world, and I don't think it's getting better in the almost 90 years to come.

There are a lot of other stuff that I would like to comment about the game, like the attitude with intellectual property, but I think this is not the forum for it. I might even blog about it myself at some point.

So, yeah, you give me ideas for modifications and interpretation of a mid-future RPG, but I'm not sure I would like to *play* it. It seems to be too close to the real world in many aspects.


On the general subject of Scotland-England routes, I'm reminded of one time I'd been at a con in Nottingham (not Novacon, a small specialist model-making con called Dronearama*) and was heading back North.

There were signs on the M1, M18, A1(M), A1 (delete as relevant to my actual route) warning that the M6 wasc closed just North of Penrith (my usual A1/A1(M) route turns left over the A66 at Scotch Corner and right again on the M6 just South of Penrith), so instead I stayed on the A1 up to Newcastle intending to take the A69 along Hadrian's Wall to Carlisle.

I got stuck in a significant jam passing the "Metro Centre" (big @$$ shopping mall) on the A1, but that was the slowest part of that section of the route.

When I got over to Carlisle, I passed over 3 lanes of stationary traffic on the M6 Southbound, making the queue from the closure something like 15 miles.

*IF and only if Charlie has no objections and someone else is interested, I'll post contact details for the Dronearama organisers.


... whereas the US - quite apart from DARPA's understandable and entirely legitimate interest in the future warrior's robotic exoskeleton - is most definitely willing to provide their troops, or at least their special forces Afghanistan, with no-expenses-spared decent kit. This stuff, with design input from former top mountaineer Mark Twight, is pretty state of the art.


The US isn't alone. The "black bag" routinely issued to British soldiers on deployment contains over £1k of clothing alone.

The big change came with the end of the Cold War. When everyone was expecting nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare in Central Europe, armies had to plan for decontamination; that means occasionally stripping a soldier of everything that they're wearing, and replacing it. Add that to the need for large armies, and a defensive NATO posture; you don't need such extreme weather equipment if you're in an APC, or waiting for the Red Hordes (tm) in a trench with overhead cover. That drives you in the direction of cheap equipment.

For the British, several things helped. Two decades of rural operations in Northern Ireland (wet and cold, or wet and windy and cold - you choose), the Falklands War exposing the limitations of the above equipment being used in bad weather, and then a succession of "light infantry" types getting the top job, meant that the need for good-quality personal equipment was recognised.

I joined an army in 1984 that didn't issue me with any waterproofs other than a poncho, and cheap split-grain leather boots; I left one twenty years later that was issuing better equipment than I could buy from any shelf. These days, for example, the new soldier is being issued a couple of pairs of £150 boots as standard (Lowa or Haix, AIUI), and a lot of effort goes into clothing that is fit for purpose.


You're forgetting the advantages to the more "controlling" state - add the catalyst to your riot police water cannons...

...or the first occasion a celebrity is caught by a catalyst-spraying paparazzi, or a child by bullies. The "appearing naked in the classroom" nightmare would be a reality.

A big hit to the tailoring industry was social, not economic: when a fitted suit stopped being a necessary part of credibility, and an off-the-peg suit became acceptable for all, and smart casual acceptable for most. I've got a few items of (old, out of date, honest-it-shrank-in-the-wash) umpteenth-hand dress uniform, that were made in Edinburgh by tailoring businesses long since departed.


It'd also mean the Dublin to Holyhead ferry dies a death. As it's a crossing that justifies the Ulysses as just one of the boats, that's a lot of business suddenly coming through Belfast.


(your login via livejournal OpenID is not working)

HS2 is not a particularly useful commuter railway, because the first stop out of Euston is 50 minutes later and is at Birmingham International. It turns Birmingham into London's fifth airport (I'm assuming it gets built before Boris Island ...), but it doesn't suddenly mean half of Buckinghamshire gets fast trains into London, and it's deliberately built to miss conurbations.

It's very much a backbone railway; phase 2 would enable a commute from Derby or the nice bits east of Nottingham to Birmingham or Sheffield, but it's not useful for commuting to London.


Er, you are aware that people commute to London from Swindon (1hr by HST), Bath and Bristol (both further out)? Such being the case, I'm pretty sure that they would commute from South Birmingham and environs given the chance.


Yeah. Which is why HS2 effectively turns Birmingham into a commuter suburb/dormitory town for London.


>That's a remarkably sexist remark. Maybe it is the woman who has the job and she wants a live-in computer geek to maintain her plethora of gadgets? :-)

Is it? I could say the same about your counterexample. Why doesn't the woman get to be the engineer?

There is an asymmetry between care/don't care where it comes to clothes that doesn't necessarily map to gender (Maybe Pinky cares about clothes, Brains doesn't and lets him pick). A girl engineer probably won't expect (Or allow) her bf to pick her clothes, even if she isn't quite as concerned about them as the prom queen.

I expected to get flak for the aspergers comment, I have an aspie brother and his idea of fashion is... interesting.

And no I don't really think a silver jumpsuited future is in the cards it just ocurred to me as I was typing and I thought it was an interesting idea for retroactively fixing old sci fi (Much like Nu Doctor Who claimed K9 was designed retro deliberately by the doctor)


The original statement said the geek would have a girlfriend because he had a job. Assigning mercenary motives to women is an old and deeply shit sexist behaviour (has anyone ever used "golddigger," without qualifying it, and meant a man?).

THAT's the problem in that statement, and why Alexander flipped it the way he did; not to make the woman the IT person, but to make her the one with the economic power.


Ah, the A68 is a lot lower down than I had thought. Memories are untrustworthy. Nevertheless, the question has to be asked, why did they run the main route through the M74 rather than via the A68 - could it be because it's not actually an easy route to engineer over?
As for the A1, it needn't be dualled all the way, just a couple more sections between Berwick and Alnwick. The A9 definitely needs improvement though, and I thought that was under way now.


Disaster Relief? Pointless.

Already, US charities spend 20% of their man hours sorting "Junk" Donations; Too many people want to find "good" homes for their holy T-Shirts; Far more efficient to purchase and deliver in bulk exactly the needed goods (Tents, tarps, Blankets, Water or whatever) to the disaster site. In the US, just give them a $100 (or whatever) card for Walmart, and let them buy new (same cheap stuff, but..).

Same applies to all the food drives this time of year, please consider a cash donation to a local Food Pantry. Yes, the bulk package of Ramen Noodles or Kraft Dinner is useful, but the same dollars will have a greater impact and buy two or three times as much wholesale. Plus the food Banks still need cash to pay their rent and electricity bills. The best justification for putting food in the donation baskets is as an example to Children, etc.

I've spend days sorting the "Junk" donations, which will mostly arrive long after the basic need for T-Shirts, Towels and toiletries have been filled by a trip to Walmart.


Re: Custom shoes-

Re: Massive structural unemployment-
I think there's a great deal of work for people to do, but much of it may not be "fun". For example, it would probably be desirable to reforest an area the size of Australia around the world, and that might be best done by humans, as would a wide variety of field-based ecological restoration/enhancement/sustainability projects (planting drought-resistant plants in areas of risk for desertification, restoring eroded areas, etc.). I also think that bringing up the entire world's infrastructure to a leading-edge, mid-21st Century level would require quite a large number of people, as would the logistical tasks of providing for them while they're working...


Historically, the main routes from the Forth-Clyde valley to the Hadrian's Wall line were the A1 (London - Edinburgh when the numbering system was first instituted) and A74 (now M74). At about this line, the A74 becomes the M6 (and formerly A6). The A68 was always more direct than the A1, but runs through comparitively unpopulated countryside (compare with A1 Edinburgh - North Berwick and Berwick-ipon-Tweed - Newcastle-upon-Tyne stretches).

Which suggests another effect that a dual cabbageway (sic) from Edinburgh to Newcastle might have; reducing traffic on the M8 since the time saving from goign South on the M74 would be reduced.


I live and work in China, right now down in Guangdong Province, and Shanghai and Jiangsu before that. They already are having issues with social unrest due to manufacturers retooling to robots. Foxcon has advertised they are going to add a million robots to their assembly systems in the next few years to reduce costs and problems.

Now imagine, when someone like Foxcon and their ilk idles a couple of million workers who do "low skill" assembly work, it will be bad.But places like Nantong, Jiangsu province have the same amount of bodies working in clothing and cloth manufacture. Not a pretty thing for the future i think.


People use the M8 for getting to the M74 from Edinburgh? I thought they used the Biggar road, although a tip from me who has driven to the M74 a lot, is try the A70, the road north of the Pentlands. It isn't any less distance, rather it's less hassle, as there are no lorries on it and there's some lovely straights. I am usually faster on it than the A702 when there's traffic about.
Historically, the invasion route was usually up the A68 from Berwick, aiming at Edinburgh.


I suppose. I meant the job quip as a compensatory factor for the geekiness, not the whole reason for the relationship. In this brave new future it's the men who're going to be mostly unemployed, after all.


Well, perhaps more from Livingston (and Falkirk/Grangemouth) and maybe Fife than Edinburgh itself but travelling West on the M8 and A/M80 routes you do notice a fall-off in the number of trucks on the road as you pass the M73 and M74 cutoffs from those routes.

Regardless, our main point is about the desirablity of an Edinburgh - Tyneside dual carriageway than exactly where in Scotland the traffic generators are.


People use the M8 for getting to the M74 from Edinburgh? I thought they used the Biggar road

It's easy to get to the M8 from most parts of Edinburgh -- just aim for the coast road (Ferry Road) or the City by-pass, then onto the M8. It's then extremely straightforward and fast (except in rush hour). The Biggar road is a bit harder to get to from many parts (especially the east of the city) and then requires lots of twisty-turny cross country driving with village chokepoints (30mph max speed down crowded high streets) and nasty switchbacks. Also: trucks. It's a shorter distance on a map, but more stressful than motorway driving.


IMHO, you're less stressed and faster if using the Moffat road (A701) than the Biggar road (A702) to get from Edinburgh to Carlisle. Fewer villages, fewer if any trucks, smoother drive, and a nicer view especially when you get to the Devil's Beeftub.

Granted, the M8 is less stressful unless it's rush hour; but we were doing the Edinburgh to Bisley trip six or seven times a year. When leaving straight from work on a Friday it was the difference between arriving at 1am and arriving at 2am, with a 9am competition start on the Saturday morning...


Heckblazer provided a link to a totally awesome braiding machine, not a loom. It's still totally awesome but it ain't a loom.

This is a very cool post and as a weaver it's set my mind on fire. All of the technical problems people have pointed out are true, but perhaps surmountable. I think the greatest problem will be getting the extruded fibres to align molecular ways.

As for the loom using extrusion heads instead of warp ends. A typical suiting fabric can easily have 2500 threads across the width, and a good extrusion machine that can create genuinely useful yarn has facilities for melting and stretching the fibre to get the molecules properly aligned. Add to that the majority of yarns will be twisted and then plied for extra stability and better handle and texture and you can see where problems crop up. Can you imagine keeping so many of those things going. It's not just uneconomical it's absolutely bonkers. Awesome, but bonkers.

If I lived in the Culture, I'd totally do it, just for giggles


On a new railway, there are two factors necessary for high-speed running. One is the general track alignment and gradients. The other is the expensive track construction and signaling systems, and overhead wiring.

I would hope that, whatever speed a new Inter-City line is planned to run at, the track alignment and loading gauge are made for fast, big, trains. They might never replace the initial medium-speed infrastructure, but don't shut off the options. At least some elements will reducing running costs a little, but it's like building a warship: a big ship has room for future weapons, and the hull is the cheapest part.


Yup, the trucks and the villages are why it's faster going down the A701, which is easily accessible from the east side of Edinburgh. Obviously it is cross country driving though, so wouldn't suit your tastes. I do recommend it though if it is rush hour and you have to get to the M74; you can get from the bypass to the motorway in an hour or less.

(offer subject to weather conditions on the day and are not guaranteed at all depending on your own driving style)


I've been suspicious of the official story for a long time because there seemed to be a lot of holes. The explanation that seems the simplest while also covering those gaps is this: from the outside, the cover-up of a conspiracy to assassinate the president looks not much different from the cover-up by the people who are covering their asses because they just let their charge get assassinated. Outside of nuclear meltdowns, you can't find bigger shitstorms than assassinated heads of state. There's going to be a madcap dance of ass-coverings and buck-passing.


See also Pearl Harbour. And Lockerbie.


Ah right; I've just remembered where the A701 meets the A720, and my argument about traffic making for the M74-M6 South was based more on Hermiston Gate, Riccarton and Livingston indusrial estates plus a 40mph limit on the A701.


As someone who has just struggled to change a duvet cover with an aching shoulder, sign me up for duvet covers (however lacking in patterns) in a can!


One interesting sidelight on Pearl Harbor is that the US Navy, during the Cold War, used to test Soviet defences with carrier groups, and reckoned on being able to operate for several days, in range of Soviet targets, without being spotted.

How to hide a Task Force.

The parallels with Pearl Harbor are obvious.


@ 184
Two Words:
Jacquqrd Loom
Pre-programmed with punched cards - in the 18thC .....


@ 186
All new HS lines are expected to be to UIC guage, as is HS1


(halfway through writing this it occurs greg's comment was unclear and i'm assuming that he's stating that maybe the extruder fed loom isn't so unlikely as, after all, they made the jacquard loom in the pre-industrial age. I may be wrong, but i'm having far too much fun to stop now)

Ahh, the jacquard loom.

A nice machine to be sure, but the technology required to build it is simply not in the same league as that required to build and maintain an extruder capable of making actually usable yarn.

A mechanical punchcard driven jacquard loom is made of card, wood, wire and cast iron. It can be kept moving and repaired by a reasonably intelligent someone that knows how to use a hammer and pliers and has the ability to bend fencing wire accurately. Also, it is not a great deal larger than the traditional hand loom in use for centuries and doesn't alter
the social dynamic as much as you might think (i am talking about the lifting head here, rather than the automation that allows for automated picking, beating, shedding and take-up.)

The extruder is a different kettle of fish to be sure. It can't be maintained without access to specialist expensive parts built by an advanced first world economy. I'll take as an example the spinneret which is a small, thick, steel cylinder with many small holes drilled in it. These holes are too small too see with the naked eye quite often. Through these you push melted plastic or coagulated gooey viscose. Never mind which, if the process stops, the goo hardens and has to be removed by placing the spinneret in a high temperature baking oven. I'm no expert, but I had the whole process explained to me by the first of many phd students specialising in the extrusion of filament yarn that I've had dealings with and I remember the temperature had 4 figures and the oven was seperated from the furniture of the lab by really thick bricks and a huge abundance of health and safety notices.

So, that's one thing. Each extruder also needs to be able to draw and extend the yarn, precisely to exacting specifications. Also, the melting vat for plastics needs to be precisely controlled in temperature or everything goes wrong. This apparatus needs to take up space as well, and be accessible to human hands, as you need to get in about it to start off new feedstocks and so on

So that's another thing. Also, extruders are BIG. We have a small, single spinneret extruder where I work and it's about 10 ft tall and 15 ft long and 6 ft deep. We have a couple smaller extruders but they can't make more than 50g or so at a time due to the size of their feeders.

So, 2000 of those for one loom. They take up enough space to house a fully integrated spinning plant, capable of carding, drawing and spinning hundreds of kilos of yarn a day. And most likely they won't run fast enough to keep up with a modern rapier loom.

On the other hand, give me a workshop, funding, one year and access to the tools and materials available to any british small holder (fencing wire and a wee forge) and I know, for a fact, that I could build a mechanical jacquard loom. In fact, it's one of my ambitions. It'll take rather longer than a year of course as I have neither funding or time, but it's definitely a project on the level of rebuilding a triumph motorcycle in your garage. Building an extrusion head on the other hand is like, I don't know what, but it's something else altogether.

As someone who teaches weaving and is responsible for the maintenance of 60 handlooms and one machine loom I consider the extruder-loom a fantastic thought experiment. Much like a dyson sphere. As they say, such things can be made, it's merely a question of engineering.

I think the idea of genetically engineered spiders dancing around each other as they spin silk is much more doable than the aforementioned loom. It'd be even more awesome too


Para the last -

Your loom has committed an out of cheese error.

With thanks to Pterry and M$ corporation.


Since spiders tend to be cannibalistic, I probably wouldn't bother with the whole spider. However, if I could grow spider spinnerets and their supporting tissue systems in culture (or even silkworm spinnerets) and get a reasonable length of silk out of them before they collapse, that might be a good input for a spinneret-based loom. All you'd need to do for maintenance is keep the feed stocks full and swap out dead spinneret cartridges.

That said, I think you answered the question of why not a spinneret loom quite nicely. Now let's sit back and watch some crazy grad student make a perfectly functional spinneret out of a spinning microvortex of polymer nanoparticles, some well-aimed lasers, and a mucus sprayer on the downstream end to congeal the hot mess into a spun fiber as it gets ejected.


Just read this:
Repairing an airplane engine on a tight budget might become a lot easier --You’ve heard of 3D printing. Now meet 3D painting, which is also called cold spray.

And am now imagining a system using something similar to Fabrican sprayed onto an automated dress form that adjusts to match a body scan, and sprays on clothing in what ever pattern and textures are programmed.


Automation and Convergence are not going to make a better world, technically they can but humanity has exceeded its social carrying capacity. We aren't capable of good enough judgements to tget through many of the problems we face.

I suspect the people in charge , if they think about such things which is highly unlikely probably figure they can handle the unrest with machines.

In not that many years it really wont be that difficult to rig up more advanced smart drones with various nasties and simply exterminate Dalek style unwanted people with some combination of those nasties and simply shutting off most food and essentials in urban areas.

Another less direct option would be to trade fertility for food, you have to be sterlized and submit to registration or even chipping to get aid.

There is also a more peaceful and I think (assuming civilization survives anyway) probable scenarios , gradual population decline.

Get the birth rate down to subreplacement and it never goes up. If the elite say have 2.1 kids and the proles 1.7 than the problem self corrects. In the end after a few hundred years, a small population of fabulously rich people are all that are left.

The real questions to my mind are

#1 Will we have a Greer style catabloic collapse or maybe some kind of ecological collapase first.

#2 Will social unrest do to economic decline reach some critical point before technology allows for supression.

#3 Is it posible for new social movements to adjust things. I see some small trend to this 19th century stylewith the billionaire give away pledages and a greater emphasis on status through generosity as in some Norse and Native American cultures is a posisble evolution

Its not exactly as if the money addicts will suddenly start caring but many are intensely status conscious and if charity or just having staff imporves status they'll go for it

Also many are quite pragmatic being rich is easier and more possible when you have markets and a customer base. Its rather hard to even get to be wealthy when no one trusts anyone, no one can afford anything and 9/10 the human race is your enemy


There is an argument I've heard, to the effect that we are really ruled by two parties (whether in the US or in other nations): the party of the Sane Billionaires, and the party of the Mad Billionaires.

Mad Billionaire: "let's kill everyone and use robots to take their shit!"

Sane Billionaire: "hang on, if we do that, who's going to mow our lawns? (And anyway, genocide is naughty.)"

If we can engineer a signifier shift whereby being a humanitarian philanthropists becomes the way billionaires assert their status, then ... well, it couldn't be any worse than the current situation, could it?

The real problem is that billionaires (and their political proxies) are not, in fact, Evil Geniuses (or sane ones, for that matter). They're just confused ordinary folks yanking on levers they don't really understand. Some of them are confused old folks yanking on levers with no heed for the consequences 20 years down the line because they expect to be (a) dead or (b) the world to be running on the same rails they think it's always been on.

The biggest problem with the ideology of capitalism (that is, the drive to implement capitalism everywhere, as opposed to the theory of how capitalism works where it is implemented) is the disproportionate respect it inculcates for successful capitalists ... who in many cases either inherited their wealth or just got lucky once and made best use of their opportunity.


At least one start-up already does the "we'll scan you and then custom-tailor your clothes for your exact measurements" thing, though their clothing is made the traditional way rather than printed:


This will probably cause western firms to look at automation more seriously:
Not that this seemed to really be helping them escape the poverty trap.



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