Embroidered Inflatables: Exploring Sample Making in Research through Design

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This paper reflects on the experience of sample making to develop interactive materials. Sample making is a way to explore possibilities related to different materials techniques. In recent years design research has put an increasing emphasis on making as a mode of exploration, which in turn has made such exploration an increasingly popular and effective design research approach. However, sample making is a messy and complex process that is hard to document and communicate. To mitigate this, design researchers typically report their journeys from the perspective of their success, retroactively editing out or reducing the accounts of experiments that did not directly contribute to their goal. Although it is a useful way to of contextualizing a design process, it can contribute to a loss of richness and complexity of the work done along the way. Samples can be seen as instantiations of socio-techno systems of production, which means that they can be looked at from different perspectives and can potentially become the starting points of new design explorations. In recognition of this quality, we aim to investigate ways that samples can be appropriated in future journeys. To do so, we analyzed and reflected on the sample making process of the Embroidered Inflatables as a design case. The project resulted in 27 samples that explored distinct challenges related to designing actuators for soft wearables through the combination of silicone casting and embroidery techniques. To explore the potential of sample appropriation, we invited a fashion designer to a creative session that analyzed these samples from her personal perspective to identify new design directions. We detail the design process, reflect on our sample making experience and present strategies to support us in the process of reevaluating and appropriating samples.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-86
JournalJournal of Textile Design Research and Practice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2021


  • Research through design
  • Sample making
  • Design process
  • Materials
  • Embroidery
  • Soft actuators


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